From PO to Entrepreneur – My CoFounders Retreat Experience
In this blog post, I want to tell you about my journey in the last years. It starts as a software engineer at Bosch and led to joining the CoFounders Retreat (an entrepreneurial program in Bali). I want to share the things I learned and the steps I took before I joined this 1-month program. As well as tell you about my CoFounders Retreat experience in Bali. Continue reading to enjoy it! 🙂
Slowly but steady
Everything started in April 2018 when I attended the Entrepreneur University, a german conference about entrepreneurship, marketing & personal growth. During two intense days, I came in touch for the first time with topics like social media marketing, split-testing using landing pages, a grateful mindset, and other topics. Actually, I didn’t even hear about most of these topics before. My mind was blown. And a new world of cool things to learn opened up to me.
After this, I started software-has-bugs.com to jump into the digital (business) world and share my knowledge about product ownership with other people. The fact that people can make money online by writing their own blog amazed me. At the same time, it was a great way to share my thoughts with my colleagues in our parts of the world.
To learn more about the tools & techniques that help entrepreneurs to launch businesses, I signed about for a startup competition at Bosch. The competition included workshops about the value proposition and business model canvas. As a person that is always looking for the best tools & techniques, I used these to improve my skills as a product owner.
In the second half of 2018, I started to read more books about creating value with your products. Out of these, Lean Startup from Eric Ries and Strategize from Roman Pichler were my favorite reads.
This boosted my motivation as I was learning many new things and tried them out as a product owner at Bosch. It helped me to grow from a technical product owner role into a more strategic one as well.
Why embrace entrepreneurship?
You may ask why am I doing all this? My motivation is to work in a fast-paced & flexible environment. Working on a purely digital solution amazes me as it allows a much faster integration of user feedback into your product compared to creating physical products like a car or laptop.
In my opinion, building something people actually need and to improve it continuously is very rewarding. I love to work together with interesting people and to build a solution that creates value to its users. To follow up on this dream and find like-minded people, I applied for the CoFounders Retreat. I joined the 1-month program to learn more about how I am today and what I what is my role in a startup team. One month seemed reasonably fast to figure this out.
Vollgas! My CoFounders Retreat Experience
The CoFoundersRetreat is a 4-week program that combines working on a startup idea in small teams and mentoring sessions to develop your personality. Yoga, meditation & fitness sessions are provided in addition to stay focused during the intense 4 weeks. The program takes place on the wonderful island Bali.
Week 1 – Idea Pitches & Forming Teams
After a 20 hour journey, I arrived at the Pertiwi Bisma 1 resort. The resort is embedded well into the jungle. The view from the lower pool is amazing as it really feels like you have the jungle on your fingertips.
The kickoff of the program was Monday afternoon. After a delicious & healthy lunch, all participants met the founders of the CoFounders Retreat: Narcis, Tirsa, Fyo & Tommy. They started with a short introduction session by themselves and it was our turn afterward. Every participant gave a short introduction about themselves. Getting to know each other was really cool. I think the most common point was that everybody wants to approach their life differently. Not following the predefined paths society has ready for us.
After the quick start, everybody moved into their rooms to get ready for the first tribe night including “speed dating” to get to know each other. Because of the long travels, we went to bed early to get ready for the exciting days in front of us. And most importantly, for our first Yoga session at 7:30 am.
Pitching our ideas
The first three days started with a lot of networking. Still, we were a group of many different people. Basically, we were a melting pot of different talents, personalities, and goals and it was up to us to get to know each other. Preparing our idea pitches for Wednesday morning was our first challenge. The goal was to form teams around the “best” ideas by voting after the pitches. As my personal goal was to figure out my role in a founding team, I decided to pitch myself and rather join the idea of somebody else. You can see the slides of my pitch below.
I explained why keeping software development simple is so important. With new technology trends like blockchain, artificial intelligence, robotics, big data, etc. the complexity of our software solutions increases continuously. This is great from a developer point of view because it raises new challenges. Nevertheless, this means a huge investment for a company during development until a shippable product is available. For me, the solution to this problem has two components:
One is software craftsmanship. In the last years, I saw a few projects with huge codebases that were hard to maintain. Excellence in software engineering helps here to reduce the risk of unexpectedly high costs during software development.
The best code you can write is no code!
The other component is to build products iteratively and focus on the essential needs of a customer. If we keep the customer in mind, we can reduce the numbers of build features, spend less money on development and launch a service or app much faster.
After the pitches, we voted for four ideas out of the circa 14 pitches. The selected ideas were:
- A platform for real estate developers & investors
- A sustainability project with the idea to deploy artificial reefs into the ocean
- A platform for creatives, models & companies in the fashion industry
- A customer experience focused CRM tool.
As I was looking for a purely digital started to build from scratch I decided to join the last projects. With Gita, Kirsten, and Liz we had a great interdisciplinary team with backgrounds from event management, customer experience & sales.
A CoWorking dream – Komune Resort
On our first day as a team, we went to the Komune Resort which is approx. 1 hour away from Ubud. This was a great co-working experience as we were sitting directly at the beach and drinking fresh smoothies. Our first step was to think about the commercial viability of our idea. This we discussed in our first session with our business mentor Chris Robb on Friday ( http://chrisrobb.asia/ )
Learnings Week 1
- If you surround yourself with like-minded people, the energy you experience is really powerful.
- Although I am not into Yoga / Meditation, it helped me to balance my mind and body for the first intense days. Especially, while talking to many different people, it helps to stay focused.
Week 2 – It’s not all roses
The second week started with some communication problems in the team. While Kirsten, Liz and myself, were really motivated to work on our idea, we ignore that Gita was not able to follow us. Tuckman’s storming phase hit us hard. After a relieving conversation on Wednesday, we continued to work on our idea. Fortunately, we were able to intensify our discussions with a workshop about our team values led by Narcis & Tirsa from the CoFoundersRetreat team. In the workshop we decided that our most important values are:
- Transparency / Openness / Truthfulness
- Fun & Joy
- and sharing a common vision
Seek Discomfort: Record a Workshop
Actually, I wanted to introduce the whole tribe to story mapping because I think it helps you break down your idea into its essential parts. This is especially important for the short time we have in Bali. On the other side, I was always afraid of recording a lesson about user story mapping and upload it to YouTube afterward. Thanks to Tirsa, who pushed me to actually record a video of it, you can re-cap this moment on YouTube:
Learnings Week 2
- Sharing the same team values and a similar work attitude are important to keep a team running smoothly.
- A balanced interdisciplinary team makes things much easier as everybody can bring in his/her own strength. It helps to get a complete picture of your idea.
- Creating a survey isn’t simple. And it’s even harder to make people fill it out.
Week 3 – So many things to do
With the beginning of the third week, it was clear that there was still a long path to go. We started to split up the team to work simultaneously on different things. Kirsten worked on our marketing plan. Liz created a Google spreadsheet on a 4-year budget plan. And I worked on defining our core features, a simple mockup and calculating the required IT budget for the first 4 years. All these activities were supplemented with short masterclasses on the Bullseye Framework of Marketing, Sales, Community Management & collaboration techniques for remote teams.
Designing my dream life – A private break-through
There was still an important point on my CoFounders Retreat experience bucket list. I wanted to find out how I imagine my perfect life:
- What things would I like to do?
- What is important to me?
- What’s irrelevant?
I already figured out one of my strength is to help other people structure their thoughts. When it comes to developing a business from an idea, I feel really comfortable as it something that regularly is required in software development. At the same time, my “German” attitude plays its strength and I am really enthusiastic about cleaning up chaos. I figured out that for a new team with a new idea this can be really useful.
Now, the question was how does this connect to my life?
A digital native – not a digital nomad?
For me, the major step was to find a title for the person I want to be. The term digital native incorporates many things for me. As a tech guy, the first thing that comes to my mind is that I fancy digital solutions. Distributed teams, online investing, new apps (e.g. for meditation, managing your bank account or communication) are just a few examples.
At the same time, I always struggled to perceive myself as a digital nomad. In the last 6 years, I list at 10 different locations which made it hard to really feel home somewhere. Instead, I am looking for a more permanent home base. In my perception, this desire doesn’t go with calling yourself a digital nomad. The good thing is a digital native can be whatever I want it to be. If you are thinking now: “Why is this now so important for this guy. It’s just a phrase!”. I totally agree but at this moment it made a difference to me.
Building my digital native life gives me the opportunity to make my own decisions. One example is investing money in real-estate. As it cannot be done completely digital in Germany, I decided to rather invest in other assets that can be managed just with a computer (and knowledge about the asset for sure). The term digital native helps me as a tiebreaker if I need to make important decisions in life.
Learnings Week 3
- Getting all numbers for a budget plan is so much work
- If you don’t find a competitor, you didn’t do enough research
- Don’t lose yourself while working on your startup. Take time for yourself to reflect what is going on.
Week 4 – Pitch day
The last week was all about the upcoming pitch. On Wednesday afternoon we had the chance for feedback from an investor from Portugal. This helped us to refine our pitches for the next day. Two and a half days to prepare the pitch would have been enough time. As usual, there were classes in the last week which we didn’t calculate with. On the other side, the classes were about fund-raising and structuring the pitch. Two very helpful topics for Thursday.
In the end, the time past by so fast. We woke up on Thursday. Pitched our ideas and the CoFounders Retreat found it’s ending. Despite the pitch, there were two highlights in the last week. First, we took the time to sit down and write letters to everybody. Everybody in the group took an hour to write positive things about each tribe member. As a result, everybody got his personal “love letter” with feedback from everybody. Second, the pitch day ended with an amazing party at “La Brisa” in Seminyak.
My CoFounders Retreat Experience – Summary
Looking back to my time in Bali it was totally worth it. For me, it was the right program at the right time. While I don’t want to brag with the work I put into my personal development in the last year, it was an important foundation. All the books, podcasts and blog posts I consumed and created gave me the pole position to make the best experience out of the CoFounders Retreat. At the same time, the whole group was a major part of this and I am happy to be a part of this community!
Finally, I want to thank Fyo, Tirsa, Narcis & Tommy for the great time and all the best success for future retreats! #tribe1
- Title Image: CoFounders Retreat Ltd. – All rights reserved