Last weekend I attended Women 2.0’s startup workshop called Will it Launch at the Microsoft office in San Francisco. The offices were located right off of Market Street which made for an easy commute from Fremont BART to the Powell Street station.

The tagline for the workshop was “Ideas are a dime a dozen, and we know talk is cheap. Execution makes you money. So how do you know which startup idea to focus on for success?” David Weekly, founder and CEO of PBworks and Poornima Vijayashankar, founding engineer for Mint.com led the workshop. I will do a separate writeup of the workshops key ideas and resources in the next couple of days. Today’s post will really go over how doing improv has a lot of parallels with being an entrepreneur.

Kasey Klemm led the improv workshop on day 1 and one of the first things we did was yell out “I failed!” As we faced our fear of failure and pretty much got it out of the way as quickly as possible, we were able to continue on our journey to being more productive, instead of wracked with fear on what could happen. Including quickly trying to get to know partners to see what we had in common with them, which is the basis of networking, even though the idea of networking for some of us is really intimidating. Since we had very little time to get to know them, we tried to establish common ground very quickly to have something to present after than particular round ended. Kasey closed his improv session by asking people for words of wisdom.

  • Don’t be afraid to fail, fail in the beginning so you aren’t afraid of it anymore (yelling “I failed! loudly and with full conviction gets you over fear quickly)
  • Network and find common ground with people so you can see how you can help them and how they can help you
  • Make your team look good, they in turn will make you look good (statue game)
  • Share your wisdom with others
Lisa Rowland led the improv session on day 2 and wrapping up our improv session was Dave McClure. During Lisa’s improv session we broke into 2 groups, group A and group B. Group A started as the group that was comfortable making extended eye contact, comfortable touching people, allow their bodies to take up more space with bigger gestures and taller carriage. Group B was the group which was uncomfortable with eye contact, was told to look, then to quickly look away, try to take up less space, and turn their toes inward. The idea behind this improv exercise was to help us learn high and low status behaviors. We milled about the room doing our assigned behaviors and realized how frustrating it was to communicate with someone who couldn’t look you in the eye. We also learned we stuttered and mumbled through our pitches when taking on the group B, low status personas.
  • When pitching use a high status persona, make eye contact, stand confidently, use your space and be confident with your ideas
  • Investors want to invest in people who are confident about their ideas
  • If having a high status persona is not your natural state, fake it til you make it
  • Dave McClure runs FF Angel which is a seed-stage investment program for Founders Fund. He had us play a game called Halfbaked.com where one side of the room yelled out a word the other side yelled out a word and 2 contestants did a pitch about the two words. One of the companies we had to pitch was shittycannibals.com, shows you how quickly you need to be creative in coming up with a problem/solution pitch.
    • “When pitching, the goal is not to get through all your slides. You want people to interrupt and ask questions!”–@davemcclure #willitlaunch
    • Your entire goal for your pitch is an emotional connection –@davemcclure (once you have that wait to build upon it) #willitlaunch
    At the end of the day, to get the most out of the workshop it was best throw yourself wholeheartedly into the exercises so you can push yourself beyond any self-imposed limitations. This is also true with any startups, sometimes you have to quit your day job long before it’s comfortable, so you can really put your efforts in your startup. 
    The events of last weekend, led me to end the “Life of Leisure” chapter of my life to embark on the “Startup Life: Adventures in Making it Happen”, 2010 is shaping up to be an amazing and exciting year.