The right approach to validate your idea during Startup Weekend

No problem – no startup. Every successful startup solves a problem. Without a problem, there is no solution and therefore no business. If you want to succeed on Startup Weekend, you’ll have to quickly validate that your idea solves a real problem in order to have enough time to build the right prototype and prepare the business case. 95% of teams that I mentored during four or five Startup Weekends used the wrong approach to validating the problem and their ideas. Therefore, they had to double (or even triple) their effort if they wanted to fix it and still get a chance to succeed. I am going to quickly explain you what is the mistake and how to avoid it to validate whether your idea solves a real problem.

Wrong validation

You validate whether your idea solves a real problem by doing customer interviews and asking them questions. If you only assume that everyone would like what you are doing because you like it, you can stop doing it right now.

“Assumption is a mother of all screw ups.”

If you aren’t Steve Jobs or Henry Ford, validating whether your idea solves a real problem is much safer way to start working on your startup. So let’s imagine that it’s 1999 and you just had an idea of a small music device that could store hundreds of songs – iPod. What would you ask the potential customers during the customer interviews? The teams that make the mistake and use wrong question would ask something like the following:

“Hey, would you mind answering a quick question? I’ve got this idea and would like to know, if you’d like having your music stored in a digital format instead of a CD and thus being able to listen to many more songs than you usually are?”

The answer to such question would almost always be similar to “That sounds like a great idea!”. The reason is that people would like to have many things. Flying cars for example. But that doesn’t mean that they need them and are going to pay for them at this time.

Correct validation

It happened because the idea was pitched as a part of the problem validation. Pitching the idea will very likely bias or influence the answer. In this very early stage, you don’t need to validate whether the potential customers like your idea. Instead, you need identify whether the problem that you want to resolve is big enough for them. Therefore, validate the problem, not the idea. I believe that the best way to do so is to use the three magic questions that I’ve seen introduced by Lean Startup Machine. There are some variations of them of course, but the logic behind stays the same.

1. What’s your biggest problem when doing the ABCXYZ?

This tells you what the people really think about it and what they consider a problem.

2. How often do you experience the problem and what do you do when it happens?

This shows you how big the problem is as well as what is the current solution. Do they experience it every day or only a few times a year? Of course, don’t ask this question when the person doesn’t have any problem.

3. If you had a magic wand, how would you resolve it?

This is a real magic. You will even learn what you need to do to resolve the problem.

That’s it, simple as it goes. Use these three magic questions, talk to real users and not only friends. You will not need more than an hour to validate whether your idea solves a real problem and keep working towards winning Startup Weekend.

Good luck!



Founder & CEO at Mentegram and entrepreneur innovating healthcare and mental health.

Startup Weekend idea – get inspired or refine

Disclaimer: this blogpost is focused strongly towards tech startups, but Startup Weekened welcomes all non-tech ideas, actually they are more attractive to judges and mentors.


Use resources mentioned below either to get inspired or to refine idea you are having.


Hype cycles

Check emerging technology trends according to Gartner.  Their position on the hype cycle curve can help you to understand possible future trends as well as to imagine what road ahead do you have if your idea fits into one of those trends.

Try to google for industry specific hype cycles as well, for example you can find digital marketing hype cycle.


Crowdfunding platforms give you a decent sense on what the crowd wants and is willing to pay for. Kickstarter is famous for it’s overviews and yearly summaries filled with interesting data. Besides you can browse popular projects, most funded projects etc. Take your time and click through. It’s worth it.

Seed investments

Seed programs are best fit for very early products. Look to others who made it and got the trust on investors.


There is a lot of seed money on the market, but Neulogy, Ceedtech and Launcher are among the most visible subjects.


Estonia was as well a part of Soviet block after WW2. Although couple of times smaller than Slovakia it is well known for its state reforms and startup ecosystem. Look what’s cookin’ in there.

Global players

Not enough? You can still go and look at Techstars, 500 Startups, etc… investments.

Think big

“You get what you settle for”.
-Thelma and Louise

Do you have sneaking suspicion of a multi-million or billion idea? Then look where the biiiig money do flow in.

Patent database

Especially for engineering type of startups it is worth checking whether the idea is not protected with IP rights.


Search for topics which interest you, and see which companies are getting funded. If you are having idea, look for similar companies and try to understand what does and what does not work for them. Of course, don’t forget to do quick general market research on established companies in your sector (google it :)) and make sure that you know what your USP is. The best proof that you hit the right thing is that people or companies will want to pay for it.  Don’t focus on I like your idea…, and such. Most of the times people liking your thing are not people paying for your thing.

Appendix – popular topics

There are popular topics which pop up at almost every Startup Weekend. These usually “solve” general issues mankind deals with, like dating apps, time management / productivity apps and wide range of community apps (food, travel, etc.). The second category of very common areas are ideas reflecting current disruptions – as car ride sharing, taxi apps, smart houses or IOT stuff these days.

Mentors and judges tend to have rough questions, because they “already saw it”. I do not advise you not to pick such topics. In the end, “everything” was already invented and there is still a lot of space to improve. But be well prepared on what you competetive advantage will be and how to enter rivalling market. This are some of the topics you will work to detail during our Startup Weekend Zilina marathon.

Get the tickets for Startup Weekend Zilina 2015 here. It’s a bargain for what you will get! 🙂 See you there.







All good things are three

Hi all,

while working hard on the upcoming Startup Weekend Zilina #3, we wanted to share some bits of what we think is really exciting:

  • The event will take place – and essentially the event will be unofficial opening party of – brand new shiny office and co-working centre Banka Zilina, we’ll be there first!
  • Great names are coming; starting our facilitator – Vidar Andersen, with mentors as well as coaches (stay tuned as we will announce them one by one here and on our Facebook channel)
  • There will be more volunteers taking care about our precious 54 hours, so all should be much smoother
  • We are feverishly chasing sponsors to get the best prices for our winning teams and we might have some free beer as well (hopefully it works out, keep fingers crossed)

To put all of you into a Startup Weekend mood, we’ll host a Warm Up party as well, on the 28th of October at Stanicka Zariecie. We are preparing exciting surprise as a part of it, will share the details soon, so come, bring your friends and spread the word about it.


WE WANT YOU! Do not forget to book the date 7-9.11.2014. Another fantastic Startup Weekend is just around the corner ;).


Three years in a row – that is already a something. A lot of thanks goes out to those who help. Without huge effort of volunteers and partners SWZA would not be possible. Attend and help to fuel the change in Zilina!

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