You will be judged – A Startup Weekend experience
Written by Joanne
“Which box can I put you in?”
“None”, I replied.
For a dubious looking group of people, it’s a not-so-typical Friday night gathered at Cocoon’s co-working space in Tin Hau. They have chosen to sacrifice their entire weekend of freedom for 52-hours of planning, plugging and pitching. It’s Startup Weekend’s first education edition!
Already not fitting in…
I arrived straight after work and was warmly greeted by co-organizer Kitty Ng (BSD Academy). After being handed an orange nametag signifying my skills and experience in education, I swiftly immerged myself into the crowd… I clocked a few fellow oranges, said hi to some greens (service-providers) and found myself gravitating toward the food table. Munching and mingling there with me were reds and blues (businesspeople and techies, respectively).
The small talk had already begun but along came Marcel Ekkel, co-organizer of the event, to make sure the ice was truly broken. Bingo! Each box on our piece of paper contained a certain skill. The goal was to find as many different people in the room with the desired skills and fill our page with their names.
“Know how to use a business model canvas?” asked a green.
“Ever organized a Facebook campaign?” asked an orange.
“Know about wireframes?” asked a red.
Questions were flying in all directions and my answer remained the same: “No!”
At this point the voices of self-doubt that visit us all from time to time piped up (yes, already!). Nevertheless, I hung in there… I was sure that I also had skills to bring to the table. So I laughed off the fact I couldn’t be put in a box and got busy scoping the skills in the room.
One fast and fun pitch warm-up later and playtime was over. The microphone beckoned any daring individual with an idea in education to win their peers over in a quick fire 60-second pitch. All you had to do was state the gap in the market, your brilliant idea and who you needed to make it happen- web developers, curriculum writers, game developers and so on… Simple!
I fell flat on my face.
Why am I here?
To be honest, I didn’t have any one, fully formed idea ready for pitching when I signed up for this. Ed-tech was also unfamiliar territory, but I wanted to go anyway; talent, creativity and can-do attitudes all in one space? Experts and mentors at hand? Sold! I resolved to maximize every opportunity presented to me.
As per my personal promise, I jumped in the deep end and gave pitching a shot. Just putting myself out there and doing it was a massive learning curve. Ok, I didn’t do as bad as I made out- it turns out I have very high expectations of myself! So I added that to the list of things to remember next time, along with all the mental notes I took whilst watching the other pitches.
Pick me! Pick me!
After casting votes for the ideas we liked best, a third of the ideas remained. For this special 10, the challenge of recruiting the people and skills necessary to make ideas a reality began. My off-the-cuff idea didn’t make the cut, and although teams began forming around me, I didn’t feel myself gravitating to any which one. I rooted for many other groups, but either felt my skills didn’t match their needs, or the group was already too large for me to make a worthwhile contribution.
That’s when I saw three others floating in limbo, having the same dilemma as me. I liked these guys. They were switched on, had great visions in their pitches and we all hit it off too. Sparks flying, we truly got into the entrepreneurial spirit and forged our own path… we made our own team. Badass.
We got busy blending the best of our ideas, stopping just in time to grab the last MTR home…
A new day, a new problem
Saturday presented new challenges. Other than myself, there were three guys in the team… Leo the startup entrepreneur, Ben the finance guy, and Marc the academic researcher-turned-math teacher. We sure hit it off Friday, but for an Ed-Tech event we were no “dream team” skills-wise. We really could have used someone with tech skills to develop a prototype and address some of our app development concerns. Being such a small team, it also had to be all-hands-on- deck from here on in.
To make sure that happened, the team appointed me their project manager for the weekend. Far from being the know-it-all of the group, I took note of their strengths and assigned tasks accordingly. Everybody was important and we spent rest of the day researching, number crunching, tech talking and even laughing…. With all the hard work ahead of us, I was glad to have such a good- humored team to get through it with!
Meeting the mentors
The event organizers were always on hand to help out… Chris Geary (BSD Academy Founder) stopped by with reminders of the judging criteria and Marcel regularly tipped us off on what we should have completed already.
They’d also arranged for experienced professionals to visit us and share their pearls of wisdom. Mark Koester (UP Global) listened to our proposition and left us with some tips about the current market and potential competitors. That really helped us to determine our edge.
We were especially grateful to mentor Jah Ying Chung (founder and air marshal of LaunchPilots) who walked us through the business model canvas template still staring blankly at us. Marc’s on-point responses later in the Q&A session were also largely based on her sound advice. (Thanks, Jah Ying!)
By the end of the day, we were pretty worn out and one man down (fever… far too much excitement!). Despite this, we went our separate ways that night with that quietly confident feeling that we were onto a good thing.
Sunday aka THE day
After a few hours sleep, we arrived charged and ready for the sprint to the finish line…the final presentation scheduled for 5:00pm that day
T minus 8 hours
With work pending and deadline looming, there wasn’t much time for chitchat. Ben worked on product validation whilst Marc finalized some market research. A whizz with PowerPoint, Leo had been drafting our presentation materials. It was a good time to check in on his progress and identify any gaps in the presentation whilst we still had a few hours to fill them.
I worked with Leo to ensure the presentation unfolded in a logical manner, erasing any ‘not-essential-right-now’ information that would just clutter the slides and detract from the main point. Consistent formatting and relevant content to headlines are paramount too — why jeopardize our chances with clashing colours, misused semi-colons or comic sans font?!
The basic content of our slides looked something like this:
- Identify the gap in the market
- Highlight why already existing companies and potential competitors aren’t effective
- Introduce and summarize our business
- Outline the edge over other services
- Demonstrate the user interface
- Detail how the business earns revenue
- Further evidence of market validation
- Social impact
At this point, we realized our vision has shifted since Friday evening and our name is no longer representative of the business itself. Brainstorming is not ideal so late in the game… panic and creativity are not the best of friends! A catchy name and concise tagline define and wraps up your business into a pleasant, unintimidating package. Luckily, a challenge for the most fantastically terrible pun for a name dramatically eased the tension… Out of the madness came a moment of clarity: our (child-friendly) name was born!
The presentation space was reserved and all ours. We walked through the presentation a few times and gave each other some helpful tips. Nerves kicked in!
Allison Baum, co-organizer and managing director of Fresco Capitol, reminded us of the goodies up for grabs and the first few presentations fly by. As we stood the green room patting each other on the back, our name was called….
5 minutes to sell.
Leo proved his presentation skills and achieved just the reaction we wanted… Laughs and nods all around from the audience and judges! Perfect! He was the right man for the job. It doesn’t matter that he didn’t get enough time to talk through the final slide; Marc knew the numbers and coolly and calmly answered the judge’s questions…
We took our seats once again and relaxed somewhat. Just one pitch more, and all that could be done was done. The judges headed out clasping their notes tightly to their chests. The nerves and anticipation in the air were certainly palpable… But even though every team wanted to win, you could also feel the support and mutual respect from everyone in the room.
“You will be judged!” (Chris Geary’s honest words of warning from day one!) The panel returned and took to the stage. Everyone was sitting up straight, eyes forward; ready to hear what the experts had decided…
Staring back at us were the following successful individuals:
- Tytus Michalski (managing director, Fresco Capitol)
- Irene Chu (partner in KPMG China, Head of High Growth Technology and Innovation Group in Hong Kong)
- Crispian Farrow (Learning Technology Advisor and Facilitator)
- Justin Harman (Educational Technology consultant)
Irene Chu cleared her throat.
“Good presentation, team work and sound idea. In moving forward, I encourage them to seek further market validation… Third prize goes to…”
I was very, very happy with that and so were the guys. Of course we were in it to win, and I think everyone should be, but the real winners are those who learn. It’s all about what you do next! We walked away with prizes, certificates, newly acquired skills, top tips, and friends.
I’ve since met up with a few people I met that weekend for a coffee catch up, to get some advice or even get involved with their current projects. I’m very excited about their potential as well as the opportunities opening up to me.
Hong Kong’s startup community is a competitive yet welcoming one. Things get done here in Hong Kong. Does that intimidate you or incredibly inspire you?
No, I don’t want to recommend the Startup Weekend to you… I want to challenge you to it! Or go do whatever it is you’re scared of! Like best selling author Karen Salmansohn said, you’re an unfinished work in progress and “one of the good things about life’s challenges: you get to find out that you’re capable of being far more than you ever thought possible.” So, what will it be?
Joanne works in Human Resources and Communications for a group of schools across Asia and has been living and working in Hong Kong since 2010. Her passion for people, positivity and progression makes her well suited to her role in education and administration. Twitter: @jomariebrent