Original Medium post available here.
“But why do you want to build an accessibility tool to evaluate websites and then provide a fix?” I asked the entrepreneur sitting in front of me.
“Existing web accessibility tools, treat the visually impaired like they are mentally handicapped,” the recent immigrant shares with a thick accent.
His team mate, a Brazilian lady with a glint in her eyes pipes up: “Because when I was training students in Sao Paulo, one of the instructors alongside me was visibly impaired. I witnessed daily how he struggled to access online content with existing accessibility tools.”
“That’s it! That’s how you should start your pitch,” I responded, sharing the importance of “leading with the why” when communicating your idea to others.
“Why do you care about the problem? Why are you passionate about solving it?” This is what people who come alongside you — whether team members, partners or investors — must understand because it correlates with your long-term commitment to the project.
A cow bell rang signalling the end of my 15-minute mentoring session with the team from Sao Paulo who moved to Vancouver a few months ago. I get up and move on to the next team, a mixed group of medical students and creative types developing a better solution for measuring heart murmurs.
“The existing solution sells at $500, so we thought we should price ours at $300,” one of them explains their business model.
“Here we go,” I think to myself. Time to explain pricing based on value creation.
At another table, I listen to an enthusiastic university graduate who is developing a peer mentorship platform…for mentors. A senior citizen Japanese man tells me about his solution to prevent drug overdoses at treatment centres. A middle-aged woman is developing a VR based solution to relieve stress in the workplace. A great concept but she requires help with how to sell to enterprise and navigating the lengthy sales cycle involved.
The energy in the room is palpable. Everyone here is fired up about making a difference.
I think to myself: “This is ProtoHack.”
That buzz is why I volunteered to be a mentor at the ProtoHack Vancouver event. That “I can change the world” attitude is why I decided to launch the first ProtoHack in Dubai with a local entrepreneur, Vikas Punjabi, who has been promoting social impact via community movie screenings and events in Dubai for a decade. These are the reasons why Boris Mann and I decided that Frontier Foundry, our venture creation studio, should sponsor ProtoHack Dubai and fly halfway around the world to participate.
In fact, it was participating in a ProtoHack in 2016 which gave me the confidence to kick-start my entrepreneurial career for a second time. The first time around the dotcom crash caused me to pivot my career to real estate finance and advisory services. Fifteen years later I had doubts whether I could pick up on the technology again after being away from it for so long. It would have made so much sense to get a well paying corporate job with one of the big real estate consultants, developers, or lending institutions.
But attending the ProtoHack showed me that it was ok if I didn’t immediately grasp dev-ops, cloud computing, or know how to use the latest framework to develop an app. A focus on design thinking principles, a focus on prototyping and customer validation, as opposed to coding — or funding — as a start is the what is required.
And entrepreneurship is about that intangible feeling in the room, a sense of purpose.
It struck me: this is what I was passionate about in 2002 and am passionate about today.
“Software is eating the world,” as Marc Andreessen said. All companies are tech companies and all solutions to the World’s problems will rely on technology in some shape or form.
I was elated. I had (re-)discovered my “why”.
There are currently ProtoHacks running in 23 cities in 11 countries across the world. The event attracts not only entrepreneurs but employees, business owners, designers/creatives, new grads, and technologists. More so, 30% of the participants are women, in a tech industry where the percentages are regrettably much lower. The event builds bridges between the tech and non-tech community to engage, innovate and solve challenges of the 21st century together.
ProtoHack Dubai takes place May 19th in Dubai. Boris and myself will be there representing Frontier Foundry. To learn more about ProtoHack Dubai, to register for a ticket, or any other information please visit: https://protohack.com/event/protohack-dubai/
If you are interested in supporting the event in any way — we are looking for sponsors, mentors, judges, volunteers, and participants, send me a message!