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Thursday, July 25, 2013

(TOT) Thought on Thursday - Startup Weekend Eve - (throwback post)

Since I'll be attending startup weekend this weekend - I thought it would be appropriate to revisit a post I wrote after my first startup weekend. Let me know what you think:

 (originally posted 3/5/13)

Top 7 things I learned from Startup Weekend

 So I had the opportunity to to attend the Columbus Startup Weekend event. It's a weekend event where you get 54 hours to take a business idea from rough idea you just thought up on Friday night of to an actual business plan you're pitching to investors on Sunday night. It was a great experience and I'd like to share a little bit of what I learned.  

1. Prepare your pitch and make it unique, funny or be a girl - So I definitely attempted to prepare my pitch ahead of time but when I actually got up and pitched I guess I looked nervous -like a deer caught in the head lights. At least that's the feedback I got from a couple people immediately following. It could have been the fact that it was easily the largest crowd I've ever spoke in front of -  100 to possibly150 people. Needless to say my scaredy-cat pitch did not get chosen on Friday. 

Those that did do well had one of the following qualities: 
  •  UNIQUE One of the pitches that didn't win top 10 but that is still sticking with me is the idea of a Tech Haunted house. The guy actually went over on his time but, man, I definitely gave him one of my votes because I'm into art and tech and I would've loved seeing those two areas come together to scare people  either on a reactive of subtle (think singularity) way.
  •  FUNNY: Some of the most memorable pitches were ones that put big jokes or lots of little jokes into the pitch. One of the last pitches was -in my opinion  a horrible idea but, the pitcher was completely confident and humorous with his idea and he got votes. Ended up being in the top 10. It turns out when he got around to re-pitching the idea on Sunday it was actually beginning to make sense.
  • BE A WOMAN*\: This may just be a Columbus thing but I think it might be universal - there are a lot of guys here. Some are geeky, some not so much. So when a woman goes up and pitches they gain attention instantly. Of the 5 girls I recall pitching. 4 of them got a ton of votes. 2 -3 of them were in the top 10. This was out of about 40 pitches. Not to say they weren't good ideas. Some of them were. Just to give you an idea of the ratio there though - there were easily 100 people there on the first night, of those 100+ I'd say about 9 were of the female persuasion. Side note to my fellow black people in case you're wondering - yup - our numbers were even (sad but predictably) less.

2. Network, Network, Network - I think another reason I didn't really get that far with my pitch is because I thought I had the perfect idea and didn't want to share it with too many people. One thing I learned too late about the voting process is that extroverts rule - immediately after the pitching, pitchers are supposed to go on a campaign of their idea. Now those who tried to meet as many people as they could before pitching got a disproportionate amount of votes. I made the mistake of meeting a couple cool people and then hanging out with one person for about 20 minutes straight before pitching began. When the campaign process started I was immediately at a disadvantage because it looked like I was trying to hard sell people while others were just talking to the new connection they had just made earlier.

 3. Form a team of people with deep knowledge in 1-2 different, different areas: 

I'll be honest, that first night I was about to go home broken and defeated that my idea was not chosen. I'm glad I stayed around and developed someone else's idea. I followed a guy I met at another networking event and we both joined a team centered on a music app. We had the perfect mix of people too. Here's why. 

We had the very analytical guy without the ability to code - Market Research 

We had the very analytical guy with the ability to code - Developer

We had the business-focused guy - COO and/or CFO 

We had the very artsy yet focused guy -  Designer or Creative Director

We had the very artsy, people person - Idea Originator / Founder

Then there was me - Honestly I'm bad at self evaluation so it's hard to say. I felt I was keeping us focused and working on marketing strategy but who knows what my team thought.

4. Sacrifice Perfection - the only time that I started to get annoyed was when I was a little bit low on energy, everybody had just got their food to eat and I was submitting an application on Saturday so we could pitch on Sunday - then I was going to get my food. I read the application off to everyone and everyone was OK with some minor tweaks except one member who kept wanting our tagline to be the PERFECT tagline. We came up with a bunch of good ones and then a GREAT one and the holdout kept hemming and hawing over if the tagline was perfect enough. Don't do this. Don't hem and haw over something so minor. The model's going to change anyway, the markets going to change anyway and something as minor as the tagline can be changed quicker than the speed of thought - maybe even while you're doing your final pitch.

5. Prep, Prep,  Prep on Sunday - We didn't really do this. The funny things is that we had a definite idea of what we were going to do on Saturday evening. By about 1:00  on Sunday (2.5 hours before we had to give our presentation in) we determined we had to change a couple things in our presentation. And we kept changing ...and changing things until it was the last minute - mainly due to the next point:

6. There is such a thing as TOO MUCH mentoring - I personally thought the more mentors we'd have the better a presentation we'd have. WRONG! If there is a mentor critical mass - we definitely reached it.. Some said to only go with 2 slides. Others advised us we had to start with 6 slides and possibly add more. Some said we should have one presenter others said we should have multiple people doing the pitch. Some said tell a story others said go straight to Problem/Solution.  Although we were fortunate to get feedback from just about every mentor at our event this definitely added to some last minute analysis paralysis.  

7. Explaining revenue is important: Since this is a business competition, it kind of helps if you explain where you're going to get your money from. Our presenter was definitely someone who can speak in front of a crowd in fact he does this just about every weekend for fun. Yet we also had a numbers guy backing him up the primary presenter who knew all the facts and figures like the back of his hand.

Although we didn't win overall it was a great experience - well worth the $100 I paid to get in. 

How about you? Have you ever been to a Startup Weekend event? What was your experience like? Would you add anything else? I'd love you to share by adding a comment below.

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