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Startup Weekend is a global phenomenon that takes everyday peoples’ business ideas into reality. The catch is that you go from 0 to 100 in 54 hours, hopefully having a functioning, and even profiting, product by the end of it.

As the Business Development Executive of a Chartered Accounting firm, and considering myself quite the marketing strategist, I jumped on the opportunity to attend despite having to also move out of my flat that weekend.

The event this June had 93 people attend. There was a myriad of developers, designers and marketers with dreams in their pockets that shuffled down to the GridAKL at 5.30pm on a Friday. All for similar reasons; to test their own business ideas, to meet potential business partners, to push themselves. What better way to meet future collaborators?

Initial pitches included Apps that track your gaming skill vs liquor consumption, to car baby monitors, and peer-to-peer boat rental. My pitch, News Avalanche aspired to combat world idiocracy – think Facebook meets Tinder for gripping news, facts and history, with a Candy-crush revenue model.

I landed in a team of 8 with 6 of us being leftover pitchers. We had a nice mix of marketers, developers and designers. Our team, Meet a Local, was solving the problem of connecting foreigners in a new country safely with locals who contain the insider knowledge, that unforgettable and meaningful interaction you often don’t get on a Contiki.

The hardest thing for our team was actually defining the real problem we were solving. Once we got that down, everything flowed from there.

The mentoring process was one of the most valuable aspects to SW. Starting with the Lean canvas method, all teams defined their audience, marketing channels, and how they were going to actually make money. There were fantastic mentors and investors present and at team disposal for the weekend. Connor Archibald from Lightning Lab, Sue De Bievre from Beany Biz accountants, Tim Dove from Cluster Creative to name a few, have been through this process as both attendees and coaches.

Notably, all teams were trending through the same motivation and despair throughout the weekend. From being generally pumped on the Friday night, to having all our hopes and dreams destroyedon the Saturday, to rising from the ashes amidst panic for Sundays polished pitches. For Meet a Local, our moment of despair was realising we didn’t cover competitor research properly with a big market player having a similar offering. The mentors had us redefine our problem,then we all clicked back on track.

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“One lesson for me was to not underestimate anyone. The two ideas I had initially shrugged off, came first, and second place.”

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Finally on Sunday night, pitches arrived. Despite having rug doctored my flat until 3.30am the night before, I drew energy from apprehension, pride, and Ganbatte (the Japanese phrase of ‘try your best’ that resonated through the weekend). Meet a Local was a live, functioning website. The Judging panel contained- Rick Shera (Lowndes Jordan), Rod Snodgrass (Spark Ventures), and Lillian Grace (Wiki NZ). They did their best to find holes in our 54 hour project. Overall our pitch received positive feedback from Rod, saying that a need was present and partnering with a Telco would be an effective marketing strategy (though of course you would say that Rod).The peer-to-peer model such as Uber, AirBNB and Tinder had a heavy influence on many of the business ideas this 2015.

One lesson for me was to not underestimate anyone. The two ideas I had initially shrugged off, came first, and second place. The winner was ArtFe’ a beautifully executed idea of using empty café walls to sell low-cost prints for artists. Two clear problems were solved, cafés short of cash, and artists short of cash.

After it was all over, I talked later that week to Ken Brickley, the CEO of BidBuddy, who was on the panel of #SMCAKL and coincidentally attended a recent Startup Weekend. He came runner-up, but used the weekend to test his idea of a Facebook API which he has now used to grow his current business successfully on a global scale.

Though News Avalanche wasn’t addictive, Startup Weekend is. It shows you how much can be achieved in a short amount of time, and above that, changes your mind set on committing to an idea and taking action. No matter your age.

Jenny Xu