Last week, I participated with my startup company, CriticMania, in the Web Summit technology conference in Dublin. CriticMania was shortlisted for a spot to present in the Summit's PITCH contest as one of 100 companies representing the current start-up spirit of the world's tech sector. The prize? Major recognition for the winning company and team, plus nearly 500,000 euros in cash and services for the winner. As a bootstrap start up, of course we jumped at the opportunity. We watched as a hundred hopeful and enthusiastic participants (some stumbling, others magnificently) told of their projects--each of them interesting, smart, and beneficial in their own right.
U.S. companies and women leaders were both in the minority, while European companies and young business executives comprised most of this year's shortlist. Still, the start-up language is universal. Conference participants all spoke about the problems we aim to solve through our businesses, what types of teams are behind our actions, and how much traction we can reasonably brag about. The U.S. companies focused their presentations mostly on revenue, whereas our European competitors concentrated on users. This feels like a shift for the U.S., as we are the country that famously sells companies for a billion dollars without a revenue model (ex: Instagram). Some of the European companies had not yet even launched, proving that, this year, ideas and teams reigned supreme.
After our pitch, nearly everyone we met at the Summit had a moment during which they expressed a wish that CriticMania was operating in their country. Even without winning the PITCH contest, this felt like a huge victory. CriticMania enables customers and employees to anonymously text positive and negative experiences to businesses' management teams for immediate feedback. In this way, CriticMania allows consumers' important voices to be heard but ensures their identities are kept a secret unless they wish to share them--the power always stays with them.
One of the most rewarding parts of our time in Dublin was to see how other cultures differ from our own in the global tech sector. We witnessed humble presenters from Poland and cocky scientists from Mexico City and a range of personalities in-between. One message seemed to resonate regardless of origin and background, though, and that was action. We all have ideas, but without action, these ideas are meaningless. The brave souls who put themselves out there to be criticized and evaluated by not only the judges but every competing presenter left me admiring the entrepreneurial spirit even more than I did before I boarded that transatlantic flight. In Dublin, I saw these energetic, risk-taking business adventurers as sages who had dedicated their lives to enlightenment. Whenever I deliver the pitch for CriticMania--be it at a huge world conference or one on one with a potential client here at home, I feel utopia. When someone confirms my theories by signing up for our service as a paying customer, I am called back there.
Seeing an opportunity and creating an entire company to build on that idea is extremely powerful. A painter sees a vision and translates her vision to a canvas. A musician does the same by drumming for his life or strumming her guitar before a rapt crowd. A spiritualist feels God and shares that feeling by voicing a "hallelujah" that even some non-believers might admire. Building a company on an idea is that same actualized expression of vision, but it's also much more than that.
As entrepreneurs, we are tasked with channeling our drive into creating a tangible solution that serves a need for others. To succeed, though, we have to be willing to share this vision and this work with others. Alone, we are each simply an individual action taker, a risk taker, a crazy renegade. Alone, we are not a company. A company might start with the vision of a single person, but it ends as a collaboration of the many unique individuals who came together to build something great. This community is what I saw at the Summit in Dublin. The many fine leaders who were represented there possessed a certain je ne sais quoi, but the winners were people who built a team that was greater than themselves in order to create something truly incredible.
The take away from my time at the conference is this: If you have an idea, go for it. Build your dream. But before you draw a single line or beat a single drum, find a few people who are better than you to help you build something even bigger than your dream--your company.