Over the last year, I’ve done three “Startup Weekends.” – The idea is to propose ideas, form a team, and then try and create a minimally viable business over the course of a weekend. It’s educational, it’s fun, and in some cases, you might actually come away as a co-founder in a fledgling startup.
Startup Weekend is an international organization, with over 300 events all over the world. You’ll probably be able to find one near you, and you should, given that there are upcoming events in exotic places like Tehran, Ho-Chi-Minh City, and Montivideo!
Here’s a couple tips that I’ve picked up along the way :
1. Preparation starts the week before
It’s quite viable, and indeed fun to turn up at Startup Weekend on Friday evening and go from there. But it makes sense to put in some time well before.
If you’ve friends that you’ve wanted to get to know better, Startup Weekend is an excellent opportunity to do something interesting together. Spread the word and see if you can get a group of friends to attend.
There’ll often be a chance to network before the event. This is a great opportunity to figure out what skills are going to be present at the event, and to make connections that will make the team-formation process much easier.
2. Pitch for talent
The Friday night pitches are where participants get to present their ideas to the audience…. in sixty seconds, and without visual aids.
Before the pitches there’ll often be opportunities to network over Pizza – This is a good time to test your idea. Share it with as many people as possible, and get feedback on whether they think it is interesting or not. It’s premature to ask for commitment from others at this point in time. If people like you, and the concept, they’ll sign up later in the evening.
When you get on stage :
- Present the idea in terms that are easy for regular people to grasp : Start first with a description of the problem and opportunity, before talking about your proposed solution.
- Present yourself as interesting and easy to work with. Most participants want to work on something that they’ll own too, so don’t come across as too protective of your idea, or too certain that you know the solution
- Pitch for talent. Being successful at Startup Weekend relies on attracting people to your team who can make things. You’re not asking for approval that it’s a great idea, you’re asking for help to make it happen… make the ask!
Sometimes, the pitches can drag on. Do something memorable and own the stage… especially if you’re pitching towards the end.
3. Who you work with, is far more important than what you work on.
Over a hundred people come together for a weekend but there will probably only be a dozen teams that form. Teams usually range in size from 3-4 at the low end, to perhaps ten at the upper end. This process of team formation happens right after the pitches and it is hella chaotic.
Hopefully after talking, and judging the feedback from your pitch, you’ll have an idea of whether you have many people interested in your idea. If you’re not sure, it’s ok to let your idea go. Twice in past events I’ve shelved my own pitches to work with other teams.
Hopefully you’ll have met other people in advance who you’d like to work with. Get back to them, and find out which concepts appealed to them. Gravitate to that concept, and actively work to form a team that has the skills necessary to work well.
Working on an LED mood lamp that can be controlled from an iPhone at the Maker Startup Weekend
4. Get to work
Startup Weekend is all about action. I’ve frequently seen teams deliberate the business concept as a group for the whole event. These teams don’t win, and rarely go on to succeed.
Instead, quickly split up into roles, and get to work. Agree on a problem statement on the board, and come together on a vague solution statement…. then get at it. If there’s still disagreement, appoint one or two people to do ‘market research’ and another couple people to develop ideas.
One of the techniques I’ve found especially helpful is a ‘Task Board’ – Split a whiteboard up into three columns : To-Do, Doing, Done. Write out tasks on post-it notes, and place them in the to-do segment, then get everyone to pick a task and get working.
The Task Board in Action
Startup Weekend is an easy risk-free way to meet new people and get a total-immersion experience in entrepreneurial culture. I highyly recommend them.
There are also many other good tips in the Startup Weekend Book. – I highly recommend reading it.