I’ve been part of two Startup Weekends already and I must say there is nothing like the energy of founders trying to turn an idea into a startup in a scant 54 hours. Here’s some of what I learned and did over that weekend:
1) The Pre-Startup Weekend. I made soft connections and went to tech events before Startup Weekend, asking around who’s going while I’m at it. I also caught up with a few friends who were going to the Weekend via Facebook, Twitter and through meetings offline. I’ll explain later why I did this.
2) The Idea. Thinking up an idea can be a struggle. Here’s what I did.
- I thought about the idea way before the Weekend. For my own idea, I tried to find out if startups needed a better way to connect with mentors and discovered that yes, they do. Find a problem that bugs you and try to find if there’s a solution out there right now. If there isn’t anything,that’s a valuable startup idea right there.
- Believe in your idea and the problem it solves. For me, I really believe that mentorship is important for young businesses to thrive. If you believe your idea and how it will change the world, that goes a long way in attracting people to your team.
- No idea yet? The most popular ideas are either fun or world changing. Again, make sure that you are really convinced yourself that the problem is worth solving.
3) The Pitch Day. When Friday came, I practice pitched my idea against real people. Don’t be afraid to share your idea since it will attract people to your team early on. Also, talking really loosens the vocal chords and removes a bit of the tension.
I made my pitch short since one of the odd things about the venue is that people are split into two rooms, so you need to run or jog between them. It also helped me keep my idea nice, tight and easy to grasp. If you can communicate your idea in just three sentences, go for it.
4) The Pitch. Three things: what is the problem you are trying to solve, what’s the solution and who do you need. I really thought about my answer for those, which made my pitch flow much more smoothly.
Remember, the pitch is for building a team so point your guns towards the audience composed of devs, geeks, designers and biz guys. The first sentence matters and gets their attention. There are 60+ pitchers, so lots of other ideas to go against. I started with, “Your startup is doomed to fail.” Ominous (and hopefully it didn’t discourage people from their own ideas) but it got me a reaction, which is what I wanted.
5) The Team. Remember those soft ties I made earlier? With a few acquaintances around, you now have a bit of support for your idea. Even before the voting, I tried to invite people to join my team already. It’s execution that matters after all, and nobody can do that alone.
Recruit people who are willing to work on the idea even after Startup Weekend, which was why I made soft ties before. I’ve found that people are more comfortable working with guys they already have a relationship with.
6) The Concept. The first night is a great time to really solidify your idea into something doable. Darius “Bubs” Monsef, a 500 Startups mentor, shared a few solid questions that you should ask the team to turn the vision into a product.
- What’s the simplest version of the idea?
- What’s the most engaging feature of that simple idea?
- What technology do you need to leverage to make it happen?
7) The Minimum Viable Product. Good morning, now we build! Everything you need should be already be provided by the organizers but knowing the local infrastructure, there will certainly be hiccups. We had a couple of power outages (thankfully our machines were unhurt) as well as connectivity issues.
Set up a local server and work there, deploying it after hours at home. You don’t need things to go live anyway and the judges don’t expect you to. Or bring a portable hotspot, that also works. Finally, make sure to bring extension cords for all of your team’s machines.
Start putting together a product that is simple and engaging but most importantly answers the problem you set out to solve.
8) The Validation. Once you have a product, go ahead and show it to potential early customers and get feedback. The afternoon/evening of Day 2 should be all about validating your assumptions. Don’t delay this to the next day like I did since everyone will likely be very busy doing last minute commits and polishing pitches.
Note if your solution does answer the problem (you might need to explain the parts that aren’t built yet) and use your learnings to iterate and improve your product.
Our goal in Startup Weekend was to learn as much as we could about our problem and thankfully our market was right there (startups) so we could test our assumptions and get the feedback we needed. I think that would be a good goal for you as well: aim to maximize learning and not getting a well-polished finished product out the gate.
9) The Mentors. One of the best things about Startup Weekend is that mentors come to you. Don’t waste it! For us, we got inputs from as many mentors as we can and validated out assumptions and solutions with them. They’re really there to help and they will gladly share what they know, including things you might not have thought about.
Turn their inputs into actionable tasks but defer those that you can’t implement right away or aren’t going to contribute much to solving the pain point you are addressing.
10) The Final Pitch. The last day is all about iterating the product based on inputs from your customers and finalizing your pitch deck. You’re given 4 minutes to pitch plus a 2-minute Q&A. What do you need in the pitch?
- Customer Validation
- Execution Plan
- Potential Business Models
- Demo, if you have one.
The winning team in Startup Weekend Manila 2012, Kiddle, had a very nice presentation that integrated their demo right into the slides. It was a wise move since demoing a solution over the slow internet will kill you. The primary goal of the slide deck is to show the judges that you executed well over the weekend and that you nailed the solution in the head.
You’ve been working on the product the whole weekend so what you’re going to say should be second nature to you by now. If it isn’t, feel free to use a cheat sheet like me.
11) The Q&A. Also, be ready to answer the judges’ questions. If you’ve done your homework (and went beyond just coding a product), you’ll be able to answer them without breaking a sweat. Some of the tough ones are:
- How do you scale?
- How are you sure that people will buy it?
- You need X to make this work. How will you get X?
12) The After Party. It’s time to celebrate! Startup Weekend is over! While doing that though, plan your next steps as a team. Iron out when your next meeting will be, what you need to do now (more customer development, most likely) and who will do what. We did our first huddle the holiday after the weekend, to keep the vibe alive.
Remember, the purpose of Startup Weekend is to build a startup not a project. Focus on really building it out and make a difference in the world!