Learnings from Startup Weekend

Over the weekend 18-20 March, I again took part in a Startup Weekend. This one was run by QUT Creative Enterprise Australia in Brisbane and focused on Creative Tech.

The almost 90 participants from a wide variety of backgrounds were all teeming with anticipation on the Friday night as we drank beer from The Good Beer Co and ate food from the Little Back food truck. Following dinner we all assembled for the opening and soon the pitches begun.

There were numerous ideas presented- from 3D printed casts to localised coupons and waterproof board shorts. I myself pitched a way to bring all of my online portfolios into one place (like Behance, Dribbble, Twitter, GitHub and Bitbucket) so my resume stopped looking like a link aggregator. At least 45 people threw their ideas into the mix, each allowed just 60 seconds to convince everyone, before voting began.

The top 15 pitches were chosen to form teams, and I ,along with a few other folks from Studio39, chose Lunchbox Meals. A way for affordable, healthy meals to be hand delivered to you at selected hubs in Brisbane CBD.

The team of 8 set out to validate the idea, starting an early round of interviews with locals at the polling booths and farmers markets on Saturday morning. We heard good things, but also found people would love it to be delivered. We returned for some absolutely amazing pastries (which I need to find out where they came from, because I would travel back to Brisbane just for them).

We then set out to get pricing on meals, with one local catering company offering to make them for $6 each. This didn’t leave much room for transport, storage or marketing, let alone profits or last mile delivery if we were to sell them for the $9-$10 each mark.

While this was happening, myself and the other devs in the team set out working on social media, landing pages and Mailchimp campaigns.

As the day rolled on and the research and mentor advice started adding up, it became clear that the idea was less and less feasible. And by 6pm we had decided that it wasn’t going to work. With this decision, and some more food, we put our heads together and decided the next plan would be to work on the idea I had originally pitched.

During this transition, we saw the departure of three group members and named our new startup Composit. That night we had some beers, stretched our hands and started putting together a prototype.

Sunday morning came and we were diligently working away, instructing our two Hustler’s to start validating with the 90 people in the room next door who were our target market. We got very positive feedback and over half of them signed up on the spot. However, not all was well. My confidence was lacking due to our short time frame and therefore minimal plan.

The afternoon rolled around faster than expected and before we knew it, we were practice pitching in front of a room of coaches and mentors. I forced myself into the pitching position: I knew the most about the product as it was my idea. They had some great feedback, which caused a late afternoon pivot just two hours before we were set to do the real thing.

By now, I had heard that not everything was bad. We arguably had something in our idea. After a few more practice pitches in front of the team and some revision to the pitch deck (and a beer) I was ready. Somewhat.

The pitch order was not revealed to anyone until it was your turn to go. We all watched each other in a sort of excited/nervous/uneasy mix of emotions.

Just a few pitches in and our team was called up. I started with a crack at the last team, which got a few laughs, and raised my confidence levels slightly. And then I just went for it and pitched my heart out. We only had 5 minutes to get our problem, validation, business plan, marketing plan and solution out for everyone to understand what had taken us at most 54 hours (around 23 for us) to get our head around.

Watch the video here. View Slides here.

The feedback from the judges wasn’t all bad. Although Steve called our idea “shit”, he also told us that our problem statement was great. Overall the other judges seemed receptive, with a few asking how we would actually get people on board and how whether our not-yet-patented unique algorithm was working (we at least know what we need to make it work).

After that we enjoyed the rest of the pitches, beers and networking before heading back to the Gold Coast.

TL;DR

So, what did I get out of all that? After all, I did title this post Learnings from Startup Weekend. Well, having now been to two of these events I have a much clearer definition of what’s needed and what future Startup Weekend participants should know.

  • Fail fast, fail early– you’ve probably heard this before, and it is absolutely true. We should have recognised our original idea wasn’t going to work much sooner. Recognise when something won’t work and just get rid of it. Don’t become attached like one team who admitted in their pitch that they failed validation, but continued anyway.
  • Get shit done– again, a common one. Get started on it and get working straight away. Get team members working on everything that needs to happen- marketing, code, business plan, validation. This roles onto the next point…
  • Leave the building– yes. Go outside and talk to people. Validate, validate, validate.
  • Talk to coaches and mentors– pick out some of the mentors or coaches relevant to what you are working on. Talk to them, see what they think. You *will *get conflicting ideas and suggestions. The challenge is to use the information you get to pick a strategy that works for you.
  • Start your pitch early– lunch time Sunday is too late. You should starting preparing your pitch, practicing it and refining it by mid morning.
  • Have a solid plan– marketing and business. You can have a working prototype, great. But what the judges look for is some proof that your plan to get your idea to market will work. What specifically are you going to do? Why or how is it different from your competitors? Why will people use your product?
  • What’s the problem? Be specific with your problem and why it needs a solution. Does it affect you personally? Someone you know? Great! Use that. Be personal with it.

Above all else:

  • Have fun and meet new people! You will (should) work in a team with at least some people you don’t know. Use this as a chance to grow your network, learn about others, and have an awesome time just doing something awesome.

Finally, a huge thanks to QUT CEA and the team, Dwight for hosting, all of the coaches and mentors, the judges and everyone who participated. It was a great event and I can’t wait for the next one!