How to get from an Idea to a Functioning Business in 54 Hours

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.


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


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.

AKLSW Reflections – By Katherine Yang

Katherine Yang, a high school student, signed up thinking she would merely design a few logos and user interfaces. She muses about how that wasn’t the case.

– Pitch an idea to a room of imposing professionals.
– Deliver impassioned speeches about frustrating a singular bee.
– Force the concepts of Nicki Minaj and Twerking onto others.
– Not get booed off stage for making physics jokes.
– Consume such a volume of coffee in so short a time.
– Drive my vision and lead a startup.
– Carry on despite initially being the only one in my team to show up on the pitch morning.
– Utterly lose my shit.
– Pull it off anyway.

These are all things I didn’t think I’d do but ended up doing in 54 hectic hours.

The above list sure as hell isn’t meant to a step-by-step guide to startup success, either.

Even the most renowned ‘syllabus’ for startup success acknowledges that there is no formula for startup success. The only certain methodology is dependent on a single process:


‘Learning’, after all, is the thing you embarrassingly admit to your boss after having failed.

As a full time learner, I may have been slightly put off by this concept. Generally, being a student means consistent learning and limited doing, and Startup Weekend was meant to be a chance to get off of my haunches to actually do something.

But this ‘validated learning’ is an integral strain particular to startups – which really are just methodical bouts of testing assumptions, failing, flailing and learning.

Eric Ries, pioneer/god of the lean startup movement said of ‘learning’, “We must learn what customers really want, not what they say they want or what we think they should want.”

The distinction between ‘What I think the customers want’ versus ‘What the customers really want’ is probably the most valuable thing I’ve learnt.

Heck, that’s all I know, having signed up with utterly no entrepreneurial basis.

With ‘Customer Validation’ as one of the key tenets of the judging criteria, and as the thing that each of the twelve start-ups scrambled to gather in the 54 hour stretch, my naïve mode of thinking shifted away from an ‘end goal’-centric strategy to one based on creating what people want to buy.

It sounds elementary.

But visionary stubbornness, whether it be based on age or supposed experience, turned out to be a huge detriment to many startups.

Time and time again, glimpses of fraught groups and emotion would escape from the one-minute update pitches and neighbouring tables from conflicting interests.

All from that simple dichotomy – ‘What you think the customers want’ versus ‘What the customers really want’.

If the loftiness of the central idea is crumbling under the weight of undesirability, the only way to stay alive is to pivot.

There are three stages to the ‘pivot’.

The reallocation of resources – every one of us started up with nothing so this should be fairly easy.
The reorientation of the startup’s ethos – now, that’s a bit harder.
The admittance that you were wrong – good luck surviving Startup Weekend if you can’t bear to do that.

And if you pivot fast enough, you may be able to gather angular momentum.

(Because physics jokes.)

Thanks Auckland Startup Weekend crew, my awesome team and mentors of all shapes, ages, and professional backgrounds. You’ve all let me be weird. You’ve all changed my life.

I’ve learnt a lot.

And the Winners are…

Auckland Startup Weekend judges Rick Shera, Partner at Lowndes Jordan, Rod Snodgrass, CEO of Spark Ventures, and Lillian Grace, CEO of Wiki New Zealand, were wowed by 12 teams at Sunday Night Final Pitches at GridAKL on the waterfront.

Teams went head to head to impress judges with their business ideas, and Artfé ( came out on top to take first prize. Artfé is a platform that puts art into public spaces that the general public frequent on a regular basis such as cafes. They take art into the world and make it easy and simple for people to appreciate and subsequently purchase. “You don’t know what you want until you see it. This is art advertising itself.”

Team Artfe
Team Artfe

As the winning team, Artfe will receive an EROAD Team Experience, the Startup Law pack from Lowndes Jordan, the Spark Ventures Prize Bundle, not to mention AKLSW T-shirts and certificates to show off.

The runner-up this year was AnchorUp (@bookmyboat on Twitter). AnchorUp is an online market place that is connecting boat owners with boat enthusiasts wanting to rent a boat and explore the waves. They did a fantastic job with validation this Startup Weekend, with several customers already signed up and $900 in revenue!

Team AnchorUp
Team AnchorUp

All in all, it was a fantastic night with a great performance from all of the teams. The weekend was one rollercoaster startup journey that took the teams from idea to business – well done everyone, you’ve ‘gambatted’ and are now officially a part of the startup community. Spread the word, lean-in and play your part in making it grow.

The Countdown is On!

Sunday is action day that just buzzes with excitement. All the participants are rushing to perfect their decks, rehearse for the final pitch, and get ready for their big moment.

It’s all business as teams aim to nail the presentation, WOW the judges, and most importantly, prove their idea is THE ONE and come out on top.

Again, big thanks to all our wonderful mentors for their hard work over the last 48 hours, and our lovely sponsors in making it all happen.

The count down is on – here’s a final update of our teams pitching tonight:

  • Startup School – Train people in entrepreneurial skills so they can easily enter a startup as a founder or employee and leave their boring, unfulfilling job behind
  • Printless – Digital receipts that make everyones lives better
  • Meet a Local – Connects willing locals who show you the best of a city when travelling overseas
  • Procrast – App to help students stop procrastinating on their assignments and set themselves rewards and consequences
  • Precious Sense – Device that protect toddlers from heat related accidents in cars
  • Artfe – Connecting artists to fans in public spaces
  • Foodie.Me – Helping people with dietary requirements, especially self-inflicted, to find recipe inspiration
  • In Five – Nurture a curiosity from people with quirks to share
  • ExpertEase – Finding experts online when you are stuck on something specific
  • AnchorUp – Online market place connecting boat owners with boat enthusiasts wanting to rent a boat and explore the waves
  • Share If U Dare! – Where young professionals help personal trainees grow skills
  • My Ad Space – Online marketplace for ad space

The winning team tonight takes away an awesome EROAD Team Experience, a Lowndes Jordan Startup Law Pack, a Spark Ventures Bundle, as well as T-shirts and Certificates for all team members. Runner-ups will take home a Spark Ventures Bundle, T-shirts and Certificates. We also have special awards and lots of fun prizes!

Make sure you follow us on Twitter @AKLSW tonight for the live action!

Word of the Day – Validation!

After not-so-much sleep and (un)healthy doses of coffee, teams go through the crucial process of validation, validation and more validation!

A lot of changes have taken place in the last 12 hours as teams have debated, researched, validated, pivoted and dealt with the occasionally drama and spouts of despair. They’ve come a long way from ‘just an idea’ on Friday night and are pushing towards building a real business with the help of customer feedback.

It’s coming up end of play Saturday, and all the teams are in better shape with helpful guidance from our awesome mentors and (hopefully) ready to rock on Sunday. Here are the teams as they stand now:

  • Startup School – A 2 month programme to train people in entrepreneurial skills so they can easily enter a startup as a founder or employee and leave their boring, unfulfilling job behind
  • Artfé – A platform that allows cafe owners to easily dress their walls with professionally curated New Zealand art. Through the easy to use website, we enable art buyers to buy this art from the public spaces that are already a part of their day to day lives
  • AnchorUp – Online market place connecting boat owners with boat enthusiasts wanting to rent a boat and explore the waves
  • Skills Together – Online platform for quirky things you can teach and/or learn in 5 minutes
  • Foodie.Me – Helping people with dietary requirements, especially self-inflicted, to find recipe inspiration
  • Find a Local – When going overseas it can be hard to get a feel for the local culture if you don’t know the area. Find a Local connects tourists with regular people acting as tour guides for the day
  • My Ad Space – Centralised online platform for advertising opportunities
  • Share If U Dare – A platform for trainees and students who need practical experience prior to graduation to build a base of networking and a strong CV
  • My Precious – Affordable, easy to use, reliable fail safe tool to eliminate risks of heat related accidents for kids inside unattended cars
  • Printless – Digital receipts that make everyones lives better
  • BNP (better not procrastinate) – An app to help students in high school and university better stop procrastinating by creating new deadlines for things with consequences if they are failed
  • ExpertEase – Online market place for people who are not getting the expected solution to their specific technical problems online and in time and for experts who can provide on demand and instant help and guidance through video sessions

Stay tuned for final team updates tomorrow!

Friday Night Retrospect

Startup Weekend Auckland June 2015 at GridAKL is underway! This was not your usual Friday night out with a raucous happy hour at Wynyard Quarter, there’s more anticipation, more buzz and even more energy.

Nearly 80 participants were negotiating for talent, stretching their boundaries, and delving into all corners of their minds to formulate some resemblance of a plan. After some brilliant ideas and much consideration, the teams are formed as below (for now):

  • Startup School – Intensive programme to nurture entrepreneurial talent and career paths
  • Art Fe – Introducing art to buyers who previously did not have access
  • AnchorUp – Online platform connecting boat owners with boating enthusiasts wanting to rent boats and discover the waves
  • Skills Together – The peer to peer skill teaching platform
  • Foodie.Me – Inspiring foodies with trending recipes from their favourite restaurants and connecting them with fresh produce sellers in their area
  • Find a Local – Connecting locals with tourists to guide for a unique experience
  • MyAdspace – Market space ad space
  • Cup of Sugar – Student swapping services within campuses
  • My Precious – Looking to resolve the problem of parents forgetting their children in their cars and subsequent child deaths
  • Printless – Making the receipt process more friendly
  • BNP – Anti-procrastination app
  • Expert Ease – Online platform to provide solutions through video sessions

In the next 36 hours, the participants are going to roll up their sleeves and dive straight into the thrilling process of starting a business. There will be excitement, tension, exhilaration and possibly tears – but one thing is for sure, there won’t be a moment of boredom!

So let’s crack on and pull those ideas into shape – check back tonight to see how things change after Saturday’s validation and development.

'No Talk, All Action – I'm Mentoring at AKLSW!' – by Sue De Bievre

I am excited to announce that I am a mentor for this years Startup Weekend Auckland, happening 12th June, and is also sponsoring the event. Startup Weekends are 54 hour long events where developers, designers, marketers, product managers and startup enthusiasts come together to share ideas, form teams, build products, and launch startups!

I had the great privilege of judging last years Startup Weekend Auckland, after having been invited to act as a mentor two years ago. Having been involved with 12 startups over the last 20 years, I know the startup phase from the practical business perspective. However, nothing quite prepares you for your first startup weekend where all the energy, research and product build associated with a new business happens – but over one crazy busy weekend with people you may have never met before!

The buzz is very addictive, and one definitely enters into a crazy and exhilarating world with startups, but to be clear, everyone who helps with one of these weekends, from the food preparation to the final judges, all do so on a voluntary basis.

The  Startup Weekend Process

So what can you expect when you enter a startup weekend?  On Friday evening, about 80 participants meet up with the mentors and organisers for a quick drink and chat before the pitches begin – any participant can get up and pitch and usually 20 to 30 people do.  After the pitches, teams form around the best 12 ideas.  Teams self select depending on which idea they like – the less popular ideas don’t get a team and fall by the wayside!

Then it’s into the process of refining the idea and starting to understand the process and tools that are available to the teams.  The idea behind startup weekends is not just to potentially start a business which goes on after the competition, but to teach the skills and framework to develop your company.

Mentors are available to offer advice, develop the team’s understanding of the lean canvas methodology and generally offer support, information and, on occasion, act as arbitrators.  The mentors are chosen from a diverse background so there’s a range of help available from accountants, lawyers, entrepreneurs, marketers and pitch coaches. I hope to provide real value to participants with my extensive experience in startup and small business accounting.

Every event is different and every team has a unique flavour – there’s no right, or wrong, way to do this.  At one event, I watched 5 developers get together – traditionally not a good idea as you should be aiming for a combination of developer, designer and business manager.  They then spent two days arguing about every aspect, team members left, returned and left again.  There was high drama at every moment and no product in sight on Sunday morning but miraculously at the last minute they found their product, market and pitch – and won the event!

This is an amazing opportunity to learn the ‘how to’ of entrepreneurship in a structured way with a team of experienced supporters – but it’s not for the faint-hearted.

AKLSW – Getting to the Action!

GridAKL Map

This is where the action happens, at GridAKL in the Polperro building on 132 Halsey Street, Downtown Auckland. The entrance to the building is right on Halsey Street and there will be plenty of banners and volunteers around to prevent you from getting lost.


If you’re driving in, car parks can be found as marked on the map.  There are also limited street parking available around the area, but take note of the Parking note on this map.

There are some roadworks happening in this area at the moment, so watch out for the detour signs! The easiest way would be to take Daldy St then take a right turn on Madden St.

Taking the bus?

The venue is well served by bus routes. If you’re situated in the city or nearby surrounds, check out the link bus services and schedules here:

If you’re further away, all bus routes and timetables can be found here:

Taking the Train?

Another option is to take the train to Britomart. Full train routes and timetables can also be found in the above link. From there, it’s an easy stroll to Wynyard Quarter along the waterfront and across the Wynyard Crossing.

Looking forward to seeing you there!

AKLSW Nov 2014 Highlights – Ben Tan

Benjamin Tan is the website development manager at snowball effect. He is constantly looking for new experiences and opportunities that will challenge his skills or help a greater good.

Watch the youtube video here

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Sneak peek into Entrepreneurship – Sarvnaz Taherian

Sarvnaz Taherian is a doctoral candidate in Psychology at the University of Auckland. Her area of research is in systems training and usability, as well as conceptual modelling of assistive technology adoption and adherence. She is also the usability researcher at Thought-Wired – a company that is developing a tech-assistive solution for people with severe physical impairments that’s controlled by the electrical activity of the brain. 

I’m currently part of a social enterprise accelerator programme called “The Launchpad” by Akina Foundation, and our mentors highly recommended that we attend Start-up Weekend. I was hesitant but decided to sign up anyway. I spent the whole of last week complaining about how I was going to miss out on a weekend- but by golly, it was well worth it.

Start-up weekend basically swallows you up whole and spits you out into a hyper-focussed, high intensity dimension of functioning and thinking. It enabled me to explore topics and mind frames that I can’t access in everyday life.  For others that I spoke to, it enabled them to reignite lost passions and to get a taste of what is involved in developing business ideas and the highs and lows of entrepreneurship.

The first night, and half of the second day, my team members and I were on an absolute high. We were heads down bottoms up into our business validation, feeling pretty good about ourselves. Little did we know that what we were experiencing was actually the “peak of inflated expectations”. There were massive holes in our business model. We couldn’t validate half of our model, and the business was going to leave us broke. We couldn’t figure out how to pivot and this sent us plummeting into the “trough of disillusion”. The mentors were incredibly helpful, and through Socratic questioning, they helped us come up with other ways of validating our business model and creative avenues to fund the business.

We didn’t quite make it over the trough of disillusion but it was still a really great experience. I learned a lot, made some new friends and ate lots of delicious food! I would recommend startup weekend to anyone who wants to step out of their comfort zone, people who are thinking about starting their own business, and those who would like to test alternative ways of thinking/working.