Startupfest 2020: 10X

A deeper look at this year’s content, written by Alistair Croll, Content Chair

Our theme for 2020 is 10X. I want to go into a bit more detail about what that means, because for startups, it means everything.

Grow and search

Startups have two core attributes that distinguish them from traditional entrepreneurship, or from large, established corporate incumbents: Growth and Searching.

Startups are, at their core, growth engines. When a hair salon gets a bank loan, the bank isn’t expecting the owner to launch a nationwide franchise—it’s expecting the owner to repay the money, with interest, as a result of operating a predictable, well-understood business.

But if you’re backed by investors who expect a multiple on their investment, growth is essential. You closed funding because your backers expect you to grow.

Premature growth can be deadly. If you aren’t confident of the right product, for the right market, through a sustainable business model, then spending recklessly will doom you. Yet accelerators insist that healthy companies increase customers or revenues by 10% a week. So why grow?

This brings us to the second attribute: Searching. A startup is looking for a sustainable, repeatable business model. It’s trying to craft the right product, and find the right market. Doing these things requires experimentation—it requires users, customers, subscribers. So early on, you’re growing your user base in order to learn what you should be building.

In Lean Analytics, we emphasize that early on, a startup isn’t building a product. Or rather, it’s building a product to figure out what product to build.

Big companies seldom search for new business models (something we’ll be tackling at an event for corporate innovators this summer). And they seldom see the breakneck growth of startups. What distinguishes a startup from other businesses is its relentless search, then rapid execution and growth.

Reinventing ourselves

While Startupfest has been around for a decade, reinventing what it means to be a startup ecosystem platform, we still see ourselves as a startup. That’s partly because we’re by founders, and for founders—and if we’re asking our community to innovate, we should too.

But much has changed in the last ten years. When we launched, startups weren’t comfortable sharing their metrics, their mistakes, and their lessons. Today, startups share more openly. The online world is packed with amazing content for aspiring founders. And there’s a newfound interest in culture, diversity, and work-life balance that’s in stark contrast to the “move fast and break things” culture of 2010.

In 2019, we shifted our content to focus more on deep-dive workshops with experts whose hands are dirty with actual execution. Many of those speakers stayed for the whole week of the event, holding Q&A sessions, impromptu picnics, and dinners across Montreal with founders eager to learn from them. The results were amazing.

This year, we’re adding even more “engineered interactions” to connect startups, investors, corporate innovators, and service providers. We know that the needs of the startup community have changed, and we’re adapting too. We’re bringing in a wider range of partners, and adding focused content for corporates, growth-stage companies, and more.

10X means smart growth

The 10X theme is a reminder that startups need to grow—but also that this growth must be wise, based on actual customer adoption and constant learning. Searching is the only real advantage a startup holds against entrenched incumbents who want to keep the market doing what it’s always done. And for us, it’s a year to do what we always do—something different, unexpected, and genuinely impactful to the fates of the thousands of founders who pass through the Startupfest gates each July.