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Michael LaRue and his team were the first place winners of the 2012 Santa Clarita Valley Startup Weekend. I sat down with him to get his perspective on the event and to find out where he is at with his startup, Zejoop, which was launched in a whopping 54 hours and continues to grow today!

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Some background info on Michael and his expectations for attending Startup Weekend:

Michael is a former aerospace engineer with a long career in defense, working on programs such as the Space Shuttle, the B-2 Bomber, the Global Hawk UAV testbed, and numerous national security satellite programs. He attended the event because he wanted to try his hand at project management and to see if a fledgling idea he had could actually come to life in the form of a startup! At this time Michael was navigating through a career transition from defense contracting to tech, and in reflecting on this period, Michael said “My future in tech started on that weekend in November 2012; it’s an unfinished story – we’ll see how it turns out.”

Zejoop before Startup Weekend:

Michael came to the event wanting to work with several developer friends and so they met up just before the weekend to plan how they would present two potential startup ideas. While Zejoop in its infancy was the second choice idea, the team agreed that Zejoop likely had more appeal as a better business case and Michael became excited to see it evaluated. In regards to exploring this idea at a Startup Weekend, Michael noted, “I can’t think of a better way to vet an idea and determine if it is worth pursuing.” In the spirit of lightning-speed startup pivots, Zejoop changed its identity from its original name, “Muster”, just two hours before the demonstration to the judges.

Learnings from the weekend event:

– Establish and promote a winning vision, and project confidence
– Have, and express, confidence in your team – let them do what they do best and don’t micromanage
– Don’t panic – there will be dicey times, but with capable people and dedication, obstacles will be overcome

On exiting Startup Weekend and joining the real world of startups:

“It is important to note that despite the excitement and satisfaction of winning a Startup Weekend competition, it is no easy task, nor is it a given that a team will stay together to execute into the future. People enter the event for different reasons, and because of reality and other commitments not everyone is guaranteed to have the availability, interest or desire to carry on as a fledgling startup.” Mentioned earlier, Michael was looking for a new full-time commitment and Zejoop was the perfect new pursuit.

By winning the event, Michael and his team were invited to sit down with Clearstone Venture Partners a month afterwards to demonstrate Zejoop and get an expert evaluation as well as feedback from Jim Armstrong, an accomplished player in the field of venture capital.

Prior to the event Michael had never delivered a single line of code for anything outside of his undergraduate programming classes. Since that weekend, he has learned the skills to become a full stack developer. Additionally, Michael has enjoyed promoting the app as well as performing market research (read more about these experiences on the Zejoop blog post: http://blog.Zejoop.com/Zejoop-rocked-grand-prix-san-jose-a-whole-trip-recap/ ). Additionally, Michael obtained a provisional patent for Zejoop this year!

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Where is Zejoop today? Where is Zejoop headed?

Zejoop is now currently deployed as a fully functional public beta at https://www.Zejoop.com. It recently received a landing page makeover which is now fully responsive and presents well from desktop to mobile, and all points between. Poised for user growth, Michael will soon shop again for investment, this time with a real pitch deck and “ask”. For the last three years the startup has been purely bootstrapped.

Recommendations for future participants:

– “Pay attention to what the coaches say as you have an opportunity to interact with them over the course of the weekend – we were lucky to have great coaches – I did not get one scrap of ‘bad advice’ from any of them, and if you think you know better than the coaches, there is a good chance you are wrong.”

– “Make sure that your startup leader is comfortable with the numbers and can convincingly make the case for monetization in articulating a preliminary business plan – after all, a startup is a business proposition – tech alone won’t win.”

– “Try your best to field a working, deployed, live demo – the weekend is a test to execute both technically, and business-wise – if you can’t demo your project then you will be operating at a deficit during the final judging. Don’t worry though, today’s modern tools make this goal well within reach.”

– “Approach the final pitch as if it is a dynamic storytelling occasion or skit, rather than as a static informational presentation.”

To conclude, Michael said “… let me encourage you to enter the event and have fun. I certainly did, and to exemplify it I’ll share how I summarize it in one sentence: We laughed, we cried, we coded, and we won! Claim the same at the conclusion of the second Santa Clarita Startup Weekend event this November 13 – 15; good luck!”

Start using Zejoop for your casual event planning needs. Learn more by visiting https://www.zejoop.com .

Tom Beckett