NOTE: This post was written by Notion Theory and originally appeared on their website. http://notiontheory.com/blogs/how-to-crush-it-at-startup-weekend
If you’re the type who’s interested in startups, entrepreneurship, or the tech scene, Startup Weekend can be an awesome crash course in what it’s like to launch a company. Granted, it’s more the fun part of doing a startup–pitching a product, deciding which customers to target and how much to charge–but a crash course, nonetheless.
Just like in the real world, though, startups are competitive; and winning a Startup Weekend sure isn’t easy.
So, with the next Startup Weekend DC fast approaching, we asked ourselves (as we always do at NotionTheory) “how can we help you, the aspiring entrepreneur or side hustler, crush it this weekend?”
We certainly didn’t have to look far for the answer.
One of our core team members, Brian Sacash, has attended 4 different Startup Weekends, participated in Startup Weekend Next and the Global Startup Battle, and won twice (a solid hit rate!). We asked him what advice he would give to any Startup Weekend participants, and here’s what he said.
1. Solve a Problem
Brian’s most successful Startup Weekend by far was when he and Jeremy Frisch worked on Fuelicity, which is a gas delivery service for car owners. Even though they were confident about the problem they were targeting, they wanted to challenge their assumptions.
So, to validate the idea, they spent the first 12 hours visiting gas stations and talked to potential customers. From these customer interviews, they learned that a) everyone generally disliked having to go the gas station, and b) women often hated going to the gas station more than men.
Having done these interviews, they didn’t have to guess whether they were solving a real problem–they challenged their core assumption that people disliked visiting the gas station and validated the customer’s need for an alternative solution.
2. Keep the Scope Small
There will be an endless list of features your team will want to add to the core idea. Remember you only have 54 hours to build a company. Stick to one core competency and execute on it well.
For Fuelicity, this core competency was on-demand gas delivery. During the weekend, ideas for adding car washing and even oil changes came up, but they pushed aside the add-on services and stuck to the core problem that they had identified. Their clear focus on solving one problem for one customer was ultimately rewarded with first prize and bragging rights over the other teams.
3. Have a Clear Revenue Model
It doesn’t matter how innovative your product is, if customers aren’t willing to buy, your product will likely fail. So, make sure you have a very clear way your product or service will make money. For most of the judges, saying that you’ll monetize your product through advertising is taking the lazy way out. If you’re solving a real problem, then people should be willing to pay for your solution.
Fuelicity decided they would charge their customers a nominal service fee on top of each fill-up. This approach worked very well with the judges because the value exchange between the customer and company was clear, intuitive, and immediate.
4. Prove that People Want your Solution
Based on their early customer interviews, the Fuelicity team knew that they were solving a real problem. Just like a real startup, though, identifying the problem is only half the battle.
By the end of the weekend, Fuelicity had collected 20 email addresses, phone numbers, and in-person signups for the service. (They also had a Twitter handle and a Facebook page, but you already know to exclude vanity metrics.)
They proved that people wanted their solution because they made people give something up to get access. That’s the point of asking for an email address or a phone number: you’re asking your customer to part with something of value in order to get your solution.
5. Have Fun
Startup Weekend is a great way to meet new people, learn new things, and create something impactful. Make sure to have fun while doing it.
If you think about it, the points that Brian laid out will serve you well beyond just the Startup Weekend experience. Listening to your customers, favoring simplicity, and reminding yourself to have fun are all things that you should be doing once you launch your startup for real–and we certainly hope you do.
For now, though, we hope you crush it this weekend and have an awesome time at the event! If you have any questions about those ideas that have been brewing, then feel free to drop us a note at firstname.lastname@example.org. We’d love to hear from you.
By Milan Vukas
This article can also be found on Milan’s website:
The field of entrepreneurship is exploding. Corporations and individuals, governments and schools, are all coming to recognize: entrepreneurship is about solving problems. Once you start to dig into problems, revise common principles and disrupt the status quo, you are starting to do what entrepreneurs do—find solutions to problems. This principle should be valid for all industries and sectors.
But how about education?
A recent infographic presented by the National Center for Education Statistics shows that the United States has slipped from being a leader in education to a society of dropouts and under-achievers. The number one reasons for this phenomenon: a broken and old fashioned school system. That’s why I wanted to explore whether entrepreneurship is valid in the educational field and whether entrepreneurs can come up with the solutions to solve this problem:
After reading an article on how technology may save education for a generation facing a broken public school system and countless distractions, entrepreneurship has received plenty of attention. So, as a startup mentor, I had the chance to attend the Startup Weekend Education DC which took place from July 25th – 27th. It was the perfect event to find out more about how entrepreneurs can change education, but as well to visit startups and meet local entrepreneurs. And it was awesome! Washington D.C. has a very lively startup hub and the entrepreneurs are ready to tackle the big problems. Education is a part of it.
In an effort to come up with new ideas and concepts to improve education and the learning experience of children, around 70 attendees from and around Washington D.C. worked together on ideas and solved concrete problems. They were supported by educators which provided insights into their daily work and helped validate ideas in a real-life context. Here are the startups which were created during the 54 hours:
EdSked – Automated scheduling for principals (WINNER)
Flexicon – Duo lingo for classrooms
Education Equity – Investing into students and their future
ScholarStream – Online collaboration tool for scholars
Pedagology – On demand support for teachers
ReadEngage – The GPS of reading comprehension
GuideStride – Connecting business experts with graduate students
Faction – Note fact checking app
So, can a simple weekend save our broken education system? Absolutely! The global concept of Startup Education is a great opportunity to finally give thoughts of what exactly is not working in education. Stop playing the blame game and take action! You hear it all the time: “it’s the governments fault”, “teachers can’t deliver” or “students are simply too lazy”. I believe if more cities and people would follow the Startup Education model, more things would get done. And entrepreneurship is the most powerful force which has a largest chance to positively impact educational outcomes and disrupt the current status quo. Given the technology and the innovation we see across the world, entrepreneurs will no doubt discover the answers to further improve and disrupt the status quo of education.
I flew back to Toronto, with the feeling that something amazing is happening in Washington D.C. and generally in the education field. Hopefully I’ll be back soon, to explore in depth the scene and I would love to see more entrepreneurs working on solutions to improve education across the world.
And I end this blog post with a call to action to all of the educators, entrepreneurs, students and parents which are reading this article: