Seattle community not amused as group apologizes for hijacking Startup Weekend’s brand

Startup Weekend and the Seattle Tech Startups email list are basically hallowed ground in the Seattle startup community. Trusted and well respected, both are seen as tremendous assets that help entrepreneurs get their ideas off the ground.

So, you can imagine the outrage when a group at the Lean Startup Machine competition this past weekend “tested” what amounted to a copycat idea called Startup Curious Weekend and then touted it on the Seattle Tech Startups list.

“If you’re a company looking for great, experienced developers, Startup Curious Weekend is for you. We’ll vet the devs, you’ll bring some folks from your team, and everyone will have a fun coding and activity weekend together,” according to a message posted to the STS list.

Not only did the group essentially take concepts behind the popular Startup Weekend events and used a similar name, but they presented a logo of the organization and touted an endorsement from Clint Nelsen, one of the creators of Startup Weekend who later said he was not directly involved in the effort.

Bizarre.

It turned out to be a short-lived experiment as the Startup Curious Weekend site was later taken offline and Justin Wilcox, one of the folks behind the effort, apologized.

“What our team did was a mistake. In my opinion we shouldn’t have used Startup Weekend’s brand, and the trust they’ve built in that brand, for the sake of testing,” Wilcox said. “We also clearly shouldn’t have used Clint Nelsen’s tacit endorsement as a green light to impersonate him. To Clint, the Startup Weekend team, the members of Lean Startup Machine, and the folks on the Seattle Tech Startup email list we misled, we are very sorry.”

It may take some time to repair the damage. While some on the STS list were quick to accept the apology, others said plenty of damage had been done.

“This is beyond bad. What you did is immoral and illegal,” wrote EveryMove’s Marcelo Calbucci, a frequent contributor to the STS list.

Wilcox tells us that he learned some valuable lessons, and he shared some of those with GeekWire after we asked why and how this happened. For one, next time, he said they won’t “hijack” a trusted brand in the community. But there’s more that he learned too. He writes:

  1. Fog of War – in a high pressure situation, where our team was intensely focused on a goal, the risk assessment portion of my mind wasn’t fully operational.  While we had a tacit endorsement (albeit, in retrospect, it probably wasn’t fully informed) from a Startup Weekend co-founder, more than anything we didn’t fully consider the consequences of our decision.  I think Clint said it best himself, “testing a lot faster than thinking.”
  2. Appropriate vs Inappropriate Testing – as startups begin test their business models first, and build them second, now’s an opportune time to chat about appropriate versus inappropriate types of testing.  Using a landing page to sell users a product that doesn’t exist is a far cry from using someone’s brand, but it’s still not fully honest.  We won’t be the last team to cross the line, but a little discussion could make that line brighter.

“In the end, we think this 14-hour test proved there’s viable interest in an event like this. We did however, do it in a crude way that may have caused unintentional consequences. For anyone who feels misled, or for whom we caused undue stress or frustration, especially on a weekend, we sincerely apologize.”

  • amq

    Is this maybe why Marketing people should be included in the process?

  • http://theleanstartupmachine.com Trevor Owens

    To be clear this kind of behavior is NOT encouraged at Lean Startup Machine. The LSM team was not aware of this test and immediately reacted negatively when we found out about it.

    That said this seems to have been blown out of proportion.

    By the way John- Lean Startup Machine is not a hackathon. I would appreciate it if you read our website before writing about us and calling us something we are not. Not trying to be mean just want to make sure this error is corrected so people don’t get the completely wrong idea about what we do.

    Please see here: http://leanstartupmachine.com/faqs/

    • johnhcook

      Thanks Trevor. I’ve changed the word hackathon to competition in order to better illustrate what you guys are about. Hope this helps clear things up.

  • http://twitter.com/RedRussak Red Russak

    haha…I can’t believe this went from STS stir crazy to making the news #FAIL

  • clintnelsen

    I don’t have any hard feelings toward Justin and team, the reaction has been so strong from the community I hope it blows over soon. He’s taken some pretty tough body blows, he came forward very quickly to right a wrong and took full responsibility. I respect that. The actions were bizarre and methods were flawed, but I’m sure before pressing “send” there was no malice on Justin’s end and that’s what matters most. This is certainly already water under the bridge for me personally as well as SW brand confusion. I think we should all let this go. It was really cool to see the community rally around SW though! When the zombie apocalypse happens, there is no doubt I want to be holed up with you guys in Seattle! Those zombies won’t stand a chance!

  • ChuksOnwuneme

    Oh boy, from STS mailing list to Geekwire. Oops…

  • guest

    Positioning this as a “test” does stretch credulity more than a little.