As we saw at the first edition of Museum Rocket, there are more and more amazing startups with great ideas and products directed at museums. Museum Rocket allowed them to meet, discuss their challenges and share their tips.
Here are some learnings that Don Undeen, founder of the Met Media Lab, Carsten Schmitt-Höppner from Fresh Museum, Camille Caubriere and Alizée Doumerc from Guestviews gave us during out first Museum Rocket panel about startups working with museums.
From their experience, you can learn how to face your challenges and make your path easier as a startup, and how you can help startups develop and work with you as a museum.
1. Be reassuring
Some people in cultural institutions are really open to innovation, other are a bit wary, especially if innovation is brought by external people. They often fear that their jobs will disappear, easier replaced by tech or by startup folks. One of the first things you will have to do is reassure people by telling them that you are not here to take their place, but to give them tools that make their job easier. Show that you've done your homework by researching a bit to understand their issues, their specificity as a museum or cultural institution, and who your customers are – both museums and end customers.
Museums may not be the biggest risk takers and may still need to change their mindset to be more open to work with startups, but they definitely want to figure things out. This is where you can help. Show that you can help them embrace innovation and find what fits them best. Be their patient guide and answer their fears.
2. Find your sponsor within the institution
There are people who understand tech and work in museums. You need to find them, because they will support your project, or give you advice to reorient your product so it better fits their needs. It is essential for you to talk with and listen to them, they are your best sponsors.
Then, museums in the US (let's hope this trend spreads to the world!) are creating third spaces : incubators, coworking spaces to be able to learn about innovation. What Don Undeen created, the Met Media Lab, was a place where people could create and innovate without needing approval. Those spaces are another way to have a foot in the door and start meeting people in the museum.
3. Know your challenges
As a startup, you have to take up several challenges: the lack of money, time or a strong network can quickly become a big problem for a small company.
Money and time are challenges when you are still at an early stage, when you quickly need more than your own initial investment and need to sign new clients. To do so, mingle! Meet people at museum events, network, find the right Facebook or LinkedIn groups, chat with them on Twitter. According to Don Undeen, if you can't name three people in the field you want to work in, you are not in yet. Also, don't forget that startup ecosystems grow fast, you can also discuss your challenges with other startups (not necessarily in the cultural field), create your own events to invite museums to meet you and other startups... or attend the next Museum Rocket edition!
4. Show what you can bring
Museums are full of content, they started analyzing visitors data, they experiment with VR... They can be at the edge of innovation, and a form of competition between museums pushes them to be. This is where you, as a startup, bring a lot to the table. Indeed, it is hard for museums to innovate alone. They need you to find better ways to manage their content, know they audience, create meaningful one-of-a-kind experiences to be more attractive. Don't miss that opportunity.
5. Remember why you're there
Why did you start your startup? Alizée and Camille started Guestviews because they love guestbooks and wanted a way to exploit visitors' entries. Don created the MetMediaLab because he wanted to create a safe space where different actors could come and use the museum as a resource to feed their creativity. Even though your project may change, even though you may in the end solve a different problem than the one you used to, even though it may sometimes seem hard – even discouraging –, never lose sight of your purpose. It may be bringing content to the public in a different way, creating innovative experiences in museums or helping museums to make the most of their data. Your purpose is where your motivation and your drive start, so it is essentiel for you to carry on and be successful.