Having done Startup Weekend twice, and even leading a team once, I’m not going to lie – it’s an intense weekend. There’s a lot you can do, a lot of unknowns from hour to hour, and the prizes you could win can make for a lot of additional pressure. I’ve seen people just give up because they couldn’t handle it.
But it’s not actually that hard to handle. You can even get some sleep in the process! In order to do that, you just have to know what you’re getting yourself into. And you need to know what you’re really getting yourself into. No sugar-coating. With two weeks until the big day (okay, days) it’s time to get a bit real.
First things first – if you have the chance, go to the boot camp on Saturday. My experience doing it was simultaneously awkward and educational – and it helped me refine my Friday pitch well enough to get a team together. When I came back in the spring, I skipped it. I’d already been to it once, I should remember everything, right? Nope.
Let’s say you get there on Friday, you pitch, and hooray! You’ve got a team together. Great! Don’t get attached. You’re going to learn a lot, very quickly. Among the things you will learn – your idea needs to change to best meet the market. Or, maybe it’s going to look different from how you imagined because of the time limit. Something is going to happen, like it happens to every business. The best leaders are flexible.
Speaking of flexibility – even if you aren’t leading, you’d better be flexible. Do what you don’t do. Startup Weekend has categories for different skills, but on the ground, they don’t matter. I’ve always signed up as a Developer, but I’ve gone on sales meetings and designed logos. You get so much more pushing out of your comfort zone. It’s hard, but if you do it, your experience (and your team’s) will be much better.
So, hooray! You’ve made it through the weekend, it’s Sunday pitch time! Don’t get your hopes up. Startup Weekend is a competition, so of course many teams won’t walk away with prizes. The prizes are sweet, but they aren’t the point. The point is learning and developing new skills, getting prizes are just a nice bonus. And if your goal is to keep your idea going after the weekend, it doesn’t matter if the judges pick you or not – companies have run for years after “losing” Startup Weekend.
All of which is to say: don’t get discouraged. The first rule of startups is persistence. If your pitch doesn’t get a team, that’s no reason to give up on it. If you find yourself or your team struggling to make progress, shift gears for a little while. Success comes from constantly doing. You can’t build a company without building; you can’t win Startup Weekend if you don’t participate.
(Oh, also: don’t eat all the food you get. You will go into a food coma.)