The first event of The Coalition, TC/1, is over - and it was an enlightening, eye-opening, and truly exciting three days. A full round-up will follow when we’ve had a chance to get all the nice photos and things back (check out the schedule and workshops for a taste of what happened). But until then, a quick post on the most important things we learned about creative startups when we got investors and incubators in the room on Sunday. It was an eye-opener for me and a validation of the potential of this space - but it also crystalised the big issues that The Coalition needs to address going forward.
The group of 300-odd that came for TC/1 was packed with talent. Not only as artists but as thinkers, ideators, game-changers - all the nice buzzwords you want to say about great startups. It brilliantly underlined the fact that being “creative” is not synonymous with being an artist, and that creativity is a very valuable skill in developing innovative business ideas.
Category changing concepts
Setting them apart from usual "startup" events which tend to be dominated by tech, engineering, and MBA graduates, the pitches on Day 3 at TC/1 (over forty of them) didn't focus on iterations of existing technologies or processes - they were often original, big-picture, category-changing concepts. This ability to think about big cultural, societal and consumer shifts is one that is well suited to the creative community whose work tends to demand they are immersed in cutting edge culture and trends.
Consumer and brand focused
Speaking to some of the angels and incubators on Sunday, one thing they were impressed by was that the ideas coming from TC/1 participants tended to be more rounded, mature concepts than they were expecting (and even we were if I'm honest). They were largely rooted in consumer understanding and needs, with strong brand appeal and cultural connect. Understanding consumers and brands are expertise that many creative professionals have developed naturally during their careers, and that we take for granted. But they are critical and powerful skills in building a startup so this was a lightbulb moment for me.
Lacking business competency
We thought this would be the case and it was. To the same extent the investors and experts were impressed with the “big idea” they were able to see the lack of basic business understanding in terms of market analysis, pricing, revenue models, potential to scale up, and general commercial operations. Even the lack of business cards (which very few people were carrying) surprised some.
And so the biggest issue for creative entrepreneurs came to the fore - no matter how game-changing the idea is, it’s only a good business if you have the right skills, knowledge and mindset to turn it into one.
An initial hypothesis (I reserve the right to change my mind on this after some more investigation!) is that we have two ecosystems with almost opposite problems:
1. The current “startup” ecosystem - has great understanding of business, engineering and technology but is struggling in terms of tapping into consumer understanding, user experience, design nuance, brand thinking, and cultural trends.
2. Young creative entrepreneurs - can come up with big-picture ideas that consumers need and want, with intelligent brand stories and a great user experience. But are lacking the business acumen and tech know-how to turn them into genuinely viable, scalable, and profitable businesses.
Bridging the gap
The startup world is eager to bring creatives and designers into the process to help tech startups with their user experience, design and brand. During the course of developing The Coalition I’ve been approached about this issue several times.
But that doesn’t really help the creative enterprises we are working to support.
So the question we need to investigate is how we can bridge these two worlds in a way that’s mutually beneficial, getting business and tech brains into creative companies, and creative thinkers into tech startups.
We are in the process of figuring it out with some of the investors and incubators who came to TC/1 and it feels like, if we can find a way to do it, the solution could have a critical impact on both ecosystems.