Photo courtesy of Darin WhiteA maker’s guide to building a startup – the Maker Expo story Alexandra Satok July 29, 2015 Communitech, Ecosystem, Events, Featured, News Behind every startup lies a question that underlines the problem at hand. For Darin White and his colleagues, the question that confronted them was quite far-reaching: how do we unite a region to celebrate the art of making? The solution they came up with is Maker Expo. Maker Expo is a volunteer-driven, non-profit, one-day gathering of makers. The expo team has high hopes in place for the event’s inaugural launch on Sept.19 at Kitchener City Hall. Organizers expect to host 10,000 attendees at a display of more than 100 makers who have already registered. Maker Expo aims to celebrate making in the holistic sense. From software to hardware, from blacksmiths to bakers, makers of all things are invited. Though open to those outside the area, the gathering is sure to encapsulate Waterloo’s organic do-it-yourself spirit. Like any startup effort, Maker Expo sports a product, a team, a brand and a need for investment. With a fixed deadline of Sept. 19 in place, the team has faced an exciting and expedited startup journey. White is not only the sponsorship and media organizer, but a tech-loving maker himself. He sat down with Communitech to talk Maker Expo, and share startup fundamentals learned through building the event. Find your ethos The first thing the Maker Expo team set out to do was define their ethos, or set of guiding beliefs. White suggests that as a team, it is imperative to deeply and unanimously understand exactly what you have set out to do. “One thing is to kind of get everyone together and just figure out, what is your ethos,” he said. “What do we all think? Not in a heavy, spiritual way, but just kind of generally, do we all agree on what this is?” Tell your story People often ask White to explain what he means when he says ‘maker.’ The explanation is loose-knit and best defined on a person-to-person basis. He found himself creating a blog to capture the stories of a series of makers to help tell the larger story of Maker Expo. “So you see it’s costume makers, it’s robots, and then it hits you … it’s just creating stuff,” White said. White believes telling your story is a great way to engage customers, whether it is writing a blog or just using a symbol. Communitech uses the goat to tell its story. Show up everywhere White insists that as a young company, you have to make yourself visible to your target markets. As a team, you have to make a point of not only telling, but showing, your customer what you do. The Maker Expo team has made a habit of popping up all over the place. They have showed up everywhere from Cambridge, to Hamilton, to the Tech Jam recruitment fair, to downtown Kitchener’s Summer Lights Festival, to the Communitech Hub. White said the more you show up, the more people want to know what you are about, until whatever you are promoting creates a gravity all its own. “It’s about educating the public about what this is,” he said. “Getting them excited about all this, and figuring out where they plug in.” Pick memorable numbers White understands that in a world congested by advertising, it is increasingly important for brands to be memorable to their customers. “We pick memorable things like Canada Day as the [maker signup] deadline, or pick 10,000 people in downtown Kitchener, and explain how that’s not unreasonable,” he said. Whether it is your Kickstarter funding goal or the date of your product release, Maker Expo has shown that picking numbers that matter can help make an impression. Keep the momentum going Building a company is all about inertia. Startups must work at not only building momentum, but keeping it up in the face of obstacles. Being able to get things done and to keep moving in the face of imperfection has been a key propeller for Maker Expo. “That kind of energy, it can go both ways,” White said. “If things aren’t happening, then less happens, and if things are happening at light speed, then more stuff continues to happen. People feed off of that energy and feel inspired to do stuff.” Believe it will work In the startup world, success is never a sure thing. Most people know that going in, including the Maker Expo team. Nonetheless, White said that the belief that things will come together is a vital anchor in the startup process. “The most critical thing, which I think makes entrepreneurs and startups successful, is that you need to have some type of belief that it’s going to work out,” he said. “You kind of have to have some ignorance of failure, [and believe] that this will just work.” Let go of ownership Wanting to cling to something we have created is part of human nature. White knows that leaving room for one’s startup to evolve is one of the most challenging steps for entrepreneurs. “The surest way to kill something after the startup phase is to hold onto it too tightly,” said White. “There has to be space for things to grow on their own, and I think that will happen with Maker Expo.” Be a maker White agrees that the journey of a maker and an entrepreneur are not that different. He believes the maker mentality is unique, however. The shift from doing to making is the difference between vertical thinking and horizontal thinking; improvement and innovation. In tech, the maker is capable of disrupting and shaking up an industry, he said. “The best makers have no internal limits,” White said. “They are just intellectually fearless in that way. I wish it was more common, and I think it can be. It’s just an incremental change for people.” As White says, whether you’re a developer, a writer or a basket weaver, “we are all makers.” Seeking to discover your inner maker? Sign up to volunteer or attend Maker Expo, and take the first step.