The following is a guest post by Marketing Intern Katie Finley and was originally published on the UP Europe blog.
Don’t be afraid
‘Networking’ can be just as terrifying as being lost in a labyrinth, minotaurs abound, but the type of people that show up to Startup Weekends in the first place are generally people you’d want to hang out with. Networking was the first planned activity at Startup Weekend Dublin, and between the enticingly shiny Google gift bags and abundance of on-site burritos, I ended up meeting some pretty incredible people with interesting backstories.
Icebreakers needn’t be excruciating
Post-burrito acquisition, we scurried back over to the main part of the room to ponder how they made those chairs out of clothes to get our entrepreneur on, beginning with – surprise! – an icebreaking game. While ‘icebreakers’ are often a cringe-worthy noun (think of the last time you played Animal Sounds), Half-Baked, in which teams select two random words and pitch a business idea, went over well. There were some great pitches involving a book boat and a hangover robot, and another delivered almost entirely in puns. My team’s idea involved rating rollercoasters based on their hurl-worthiness (you can download the app here) (just kidding).
Don’t be afraid!
Half-Baked got everyone up and going for the real Friday night pitches, and fifty people lined up to give it a go. Joining the pitching queue is a bit nerve-wracking, but once you get going (and your allotted sixty seconds start to melt away), it’s not overly perilous. There were a ton of innovative ideas – bring something to write them down with if you don’t have a supersonic memory – and the organizers executed an epic microphone-passing dance to keep the pitches moving along.
Find a designer
Succeeding the Friday night pitches is the Sticky Note Thunderdome, in which all of those who pitched vie for those elusive adhesive votes of their peers. Twenty ideas made it to the next round. Assembling a balanced skill set for your team is critical to success (you can’t go off counting your sticky notes before they’re sitting at the table next to you, contemplating the rounded boxes of a Business Model Canvas and sippin’ on some fancy Google juice with free-floating fruits). My Flatcheckr team was short a designer; we gamely decided to give it a go anyway, and survived with the brilliant help of Kathryn Parkes. I vaguely recall wandering around (a bit like a dodgy watch salesman at times) to recruit twenty minutes of other designers’ time (cheers to the two designers that helped us out, you guys were absolutely fantastic). The lesson here is while you’re navigating the team allocation process, be aware of the skills and expertise you have and don’t have – execution always trumps idea.
Divide and conquer
Setting tasks and dividing up to accomplish them can be a good way to ensure progress – don’t get stuck talking, as the 54 hours are over before you know it. I remember looking up from starting to put together our deck to see Ciara and Eimear killing it on the business model and rollout strategy front, Suzanne analyzing the competitive landscape, and Steve coding up the website. Conquer!
Don’t freak out
It gets a little intense toward the end – I can’t count the number of times I said “I have no idea what I’m doing” to Deb, or “I’m too scared to pitch on Sunday” to Eimear, or “Club Orange actually has real orange bits!” to Ciara. But most teams are in the same boat – or at least, a similarly aimed pod of canoes – and are pivoting throughout the weekend, constantly encountering obstacles, changing the idea, and having a good time with it. And if you do end up panicking, perspective is always good: you’re at Google (and as such, in the midst of both an epic coffee machine and a swing set), you’re working on a cool project with brilliant people, there is a seemingly infinite supply of triangular-shaped sandwiches from an unknown triangular-shaped sandwich source, and the judges probably won’t consign you and your sandwiches to the Moon Door if the pitch does not go as planned.
Last but not least, get stoked for the Sunday pitches.
The final presentations were incredible. The winning team, MedXNote, killed it with an inspiring pitch and a product that will solve a real problem (go Niall)! The Office Rage Apocalypse pitch was both spectacular and hilarious, and fittingly won the Most Entertaining Pitch award. All of the teams had super impressive pitches showcasing what can be done by like-minded entrepreneurs in a single weekend – I was absolutely blown away.
All in all, the weekend was an incredible experience (thanks organizers)! I wish all the teams the very best, and can’t wait for the next Startup Weekend adventure.