News & Views

The Do Start-Up Weekend / Event Debrief

by Contagious Contributor

The Do-Lectures gets their attendees to Do too / Sarah Buggle reports

Do Start-Up is the latest iteration from the Do Lectures -- an annual series of inspirational lectures set against the backdrop of Fforest camp in Cilgerran, Wales.

Enduring the Welsh weather and bad wireless connection, speakers and attendees travel from all over the world to camp out for three days and nights. The 21 talks huddle 100 attendees into the lecture tent where speakers from global internet gurus to local business owners take to the stage, passing on life lessons and practical startup advice.

Founded in 2008, this year it broke from its usual format. Introducing the reason behind the change, its founder David Hieatt revealed it was William RosenzweigThe Republic of Tea founder who urged him to get attendees to do something too. 

The 72-hour experiment divided attendees into six teams. Each team was led by an expert in the field they were to tackle -- looking at social issues ranging from British manufacturing and affordable housing to child learning. The aim was to come up with a feasible business solution and teams were helped along by Skype-talks with ex-Do Speakers and hands-on workshops on bootstrapping, branding, technical and legal advice. 

The Lectures /


Andy Middleton, founder of educational adventure company TYF, began the weekend's events urging us to follow the logic of trees and focus on optimisation before growth. IDEO partner Owen Rogers referred to this as 'the big strawberry test'. He urged us to go for the smaller one, that has grown as it should and will taste better. Our obsession with equating growth to success is a real problem, pointed out Jenny Fielding of BBC Digital Labs, as '72% of start-ups fail due to premature scaling'.

Owen Rogers asked us to bring our focus on design into our business models and question the value proposition of our brand. Social media expert Brandon Mendelson explained that you 'should have a plan from customer 1-1000'. Getting these basics right was something lawyers Alex Tutty and Jonathan Rees were on hand to help with, sharing their advice of IP 101 for business and funding set ups. 


'What is it to give yourself to an idea?' asked The Amazings founder Adil Abrar in his frank talk about the darker side of doing good -- the sacrifices we make for the passions that drive us. As business owners took to the stage, their individual passions shone through. 

Scott Davis brought his experience in Michelin-starred kitchens back to his Welsh home, setting up his restaurant cnwd. Despite the reality of working with cottage industries and the fickle 'duck man', his passion for quality making it worthwhile for him. For Decoded founder Kathryn Parsons, her drive came from the fact that 'the amount of fear around code is huge'. Her ambition is to dispel this by teaching people to code in just a day.

Having said no to 21 projects in the first nine months of business, Damon Collins of communications agency Joint clearly lives by his word, explaining: 'Your time is the most valuable investment you'll ever make.' The importance of focus also featured in Moshi Monsters founder Michael Acton-Smith's tips for a 'Killer Start-up', reminding the tent: 'the main thing is to keep the main thing the main thing'. 


The weekend was not about just making a business: 'No one needs a new app,' explained David Hieatt. Rather, it was about addressing the question: 'Where's the next Patagonia going to come from?'. Brand strategist for cycling attire brand Rapha Collyn Ahart asked us to look for the purpose of our brands in culture, asking: 'What stories does the world need you to tell?' 

The weekend's final speaker was Zach Klein, founder of video blogging site Vimeo and DIY, a community encouraging young people to become makers. He told the story of his journey from creating his first businesses with the sole incentive of getting rich (he sold Vimeo to the first buyer) to DIY, which he says he never wants to sell. He encouraged us to create companies with no horizon and 'build the business you never want to give up'. 

The Start-Up

On the final morning the groups, now halved in size, pitched for a slice of the £40,000 fund raised at the previous night's Do auction. David Hieatt, Michael Acton-Smith and Owen Rogers formed the panel, picking out three winners: 

Crafted in Cardigan -- an incentive to keep local talent in the area through creating a space for them to meet and make things.

Tentoring -- a ten-minute online mentoring network that emails experts who have signed up when a query specific to their knowledge area is submitted. They then have just 10 minutes to respond before it expires.

Doobox -- an outdoor adventure kit that children receive through the post, which got the bonus of a personal investment from Michael Acton-Smith. 

In Zach Klein's talk, he mentioned that 'being an entrepreneur is like jumping off a cliff and building your wings on the way down' but the weekend's energy and achievements were summed up by compere Duke Stump who referred to the Do Lectures as giving attendees 'the permission to jump.'