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Katherine Yang, a high school student, signed up thinking she would merely design a few logos and user interfaces. She muses about how that wasn’t the case.

– Pitch an idea to a room of imposing professionals.
– Deliver impassioned speeches about frustrating a singular bee.
– Force the concepts of Nicki Minaj and Twerking onto others.
– Not get booed off stage for making physics jokes.
– Consume such a volume of coffee in so short a time.
– Drive my vision and lead a startup.
– Carry on despite initially being the only one in my team to show up on the pitch morning.
– Utterly lose my shit.
– Pull it off anyway.

These are all things I didn’t think I’d do but ended up doing in 54 hectic hours.

The above list sure as hell isn’t meant to a step-by-step guide to startup success, either.

Even the most renowned ‘syllabus’ for startup success acknowledges that there is no formula for startup success. The only certain methodology is dependent on a single process:

Learning.

‘Learning’, after all, is the thing you embarrassingly admit to your boss after having failed.

As a full time learner, I may have been slightly put off by this concept. Generally, being a student means consistent learning and limited doing, and Startup Weekend was meant to be a chance to get off of my haunches to actually do something.

But this ‘validated learning’ is an integral strain particular to startups – which really are just methodical bouts of testing assumptions, failing, flailing and learning.

Eric Ries, pioneer/god of the lean startup movement said of ‘learning’, “We must learn what customers really want, not what they say they want or what we think they should want.”

The distinction between ‘What I think the customers want’ versus ‘What the customers really want’ is probably the most valuable thing I’ve learnt.

Heck, that’s all I know, having signed up with utterly no entrepreneurial basis.

With ‘Customer Validation’ as one of the key tenets of the judging criteria, and as the thing that each of the twelve start-ups scrambled to gather in the 54 hour stretch, my naïve mode of thinking shifted away from an ‘end goal’-centric strategy to one based on creating what people want to buy.

It sounds elementary.

But visionary stubbornness, whether it be based on age or supposed experience, turned out to be a huge detriment to many startups.

Time and time again, glimpses of fraught groups and emotion would escape from the one-minute update pitches and neighbouring tables from conflicting interests.

All from that simple dichotomy – ‘What you think the customers want’ versus ‘What the customers really want’.

If the loftiness of the central idea is crumbling under the weight of undesirability, the only way to stay alive is to pivot.

There are three stages to the ‘pivot’.

The reallocation of resources – every one of us started up with nothing so this should be fairly easy.
The reorientation of the startup’s ethos – now, that’s a bit harder.
The admittance that you were wrong – good luck surviving Startup Weekend if you can’t bear to do that.

And if you pivot fast enough, you may be able to gather angular momentum.

(Because physics jokes.)

Thanks Auckland Startup Weekend crew, my awesome team and mentors of all shapes, ages, and professional backgrounds. You’ve all let me be weird. You’ve all changed my life.

I’ve learnt a lot.


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Jenny Xu



  • chesterWinstor

    So now that Startup Weekend has changed your life – Where to from here Katherine?

    • K.

      An endless expanse from here, chesterWinstor. Freaking terrifying, isn’t it?
      I’m reconnecting with a few other high school students I met at AKLSW to build a support network for all of our seperate ventures.
      Watch this space!