Things I (re-)learned at Startup Weekend

I just spent 54 hours at the Start Up Weekend Perth #SWPERTH10.  I had a great time, met interesting people and learned heaps

Most of the things here in this list are in the  Startup Weekend promotional material, and in the prep emails the event organizers send you. There are no secrets here.  But often this old dog has to experience it, to really understand.  What is the saying, experience is the best teacher, that is why it is so expensive?

Observation: The 54 hours isn’t much time, you need all the wood in your group behind the same arrowhead.

Lesson: Pick a team with a clear problem with a solution that you understand.   If the team is still searching for their problem/solution after Friday night, there isn’t time to complete all the other steps.  There will be pivots on lots of details as you learn from your customers, but winning teams don’t waiver that much from the core of what was presented and discussed as the group forms on Friday.

Lesson: Start on the pitch on Friday night.  Run through your presentation every 4 hours as a group until you are giving it in front of the judges.  The organizers provide a suggested outline.  Working on the pitch on Friday night, seems silly, you haven’t done anything?  Go through the pitch deck as a team.  This lets everyone understand from what lens the judges will use on Sunday. It will help focus the group.

Lesson: Focus.  If what you are doing isn’t going to be making the pitch better or not making something necessary to close sales it can probably wait.  More on making sales later.

Observation: The Startup Weekend challenge is to validate a business idea.

Lesson: Know the Lean Startup Canvas. It is what drives the content of the presentation. If you don’t hit all those points in your presentation, the judges will help by asking about them. It is amazing how quickly we all lose sight of the canvas as we go about our tasks of making a website, talking to customers, running the numbers.

Observation: Good presentations take time to prepare and practice.

Lesson: Chose your best presenter early. Have a competition on Friday night of who can articulate the problem/solution the best. Best might not be just based just on performance; who represents the market or solution the best?  For example, a product targeted to women might be the best presented by a woman.  If the presenter hasn’t done a practice of the complete presentation by 10:00 AM on Sunday,  time to panic and refocus everyone!

Observation: The gold standard of a successful team at SW is revenue from real customers.

Lesson: It’s the weekend.  It is very hard to get revenue for a Business to Business play on the weekend. Pick a target market that is accessible on the weekend. If you still are hanging on to your B2B idea, pick a niche like small coffee shops where the owners are going to be around. Still want to pursue that B2B idea, prep your professional network beforehand, so they will be available for market validation.

Lesson:  Know MVPs (Minimum Viable Product).   For Startup Weekend the MVP is just enough UI to demonstrate value to get that revenue.   All other behaviors of your solution can be implemented in the “Flintstone” model of an MVP.  What if the Flintstone approach is still too hard? Have all the other MVP paradigms at your fingertips.

Lesson: Solve A Today Problem.   You are not going to successfully invent and communicate a new way of living in 3 days.  Facebook would not have won an SW back in the day.  Who would have thought that people need to see cat video for hours and hours each and every day.  But Uber certainly would have won, because people have a lot of hate for the traditional taxi experience, but they still need to get places each and every day.

Observation: The only tech the judges are going to see are through your presentation.

Lesson:  Know how to use design tools. When everyone on the team has a working knowledge of design tools and design resources things get done.  Even the business guys and hustlers, need to present the sales process and financial model with some graphics.   Don’t want to learn Photoshop or Sketch (neither do I), be proficient in Powerpoint, now how to use Fiverr and grabbing graphics off the web.  When the bits get flying everyone needs to contribute to the visual look of the presentation and the MVP.

Lesson:  It is not a hackathon. The only technologies I’ve seen built at SW are websites and visual mockups I’ve spent too many hours at SW cursing my lack of facility with design tools and delegated to do that because I’m the “Dev” on the team.  Note to self: remember to brush up on my design skills (like I told everyone else to do) before the event, and be better at not taking on design tasks that I hate.

Observation: Startup Weekend is an amazing learning opportunity

Lesson: Have fun. The eventual goal is to build real businesses, but only rarely do real business birth directly from SW events.  So lighten up.  You’re there to push your own personal envelope and learn something.  We all learn better when we are having fun!

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