How I Measure an Event's Success, or Why Facilitating a Startup Weekend is So Addicting

I often catch up with other Startup Weekend organizers to see how their event went. What they tell me usually starts like this:

“It went great! We had 60 attendees, there were 35 ideas pitched on Friday and 10 teams presented on Sunday.”

Those numbers matter, and they’re an easy answer to give when someone asks how the event went. I still catch myself doing it when people ask how my event went.

But that’s not how I measure success.

The first Startup Weekend I organized was in Des Moines, Iowa. All I cared about was getting 50 attendees.

We had less than 20.

The second event I organized was in NYC. All I cared about was getting everyone to pitch.

Of the 100+ attendees, only 20 pitched.

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Me facilitating an event in NYC a very long time ago. Note the girl on the right more interested in her phone than whatever I was saying.

At the time, I told myself that both events were a failure.

Looking back now, I know that both events were great, but because I had already decided that success was a specific number of attendees or a certain attendee:pitch ratio, I wasn’t happy with the outcome.

Then Carmen happened.

Before my third Startup Weekend, a woman named Carmen emailed me. She wasn’t sure if she she should come to Startup Weekend. She said she doubted that anyone would value her skills. She was a writer for a children’s television show and she didn’t know if or how her background would translate to the startup world. I told her to come by on Friday and I’d let her eat pizza and watch the pitches for free, and if she wanted to stay, she could buy a ticket then.

A couple of weeks went by and I forgot about Carmen’s email.

Then on Friday night when I was welcoming attendees, Carmen introduced herself. She looked uncomfortable. She shrugged a lot. I told her to get some pizza and start meeting other attendees. She said she just wanted to watch the pitches and then she’d probably leave. I smiled.

Something must have inspired Carmen because halfway through the pitches, there she was, pitching, her face this time wearing a little less frown than before.

Then Carmen’s pitch got votes. Her expression changed again. She was rubbing her hands together high in front of her as if she was waiting to hear some good news. Soon  she was forming a team. Her chin lifted a little higher. Excitement was pouring out of her and others noticed. People started forming a circle around her.

Carmen ended up leading her team to a victory that weekend and giving the final presentation on Sunday herself. The Carmen that presented on Sunday was not the same Carmen that e-mailed me two weeks earlier. The old Carmen was shy, scared, unsure. The new Carmen was confident, energetic, curious. Everything about Carmen had changed in less than 48 hours.

After the presentations were done Carmen came up to me, tears in her eyes, to tell me the event had changed her life. The hair on my arms stood up.

It was in that moment that I realized I had it all wrong. It wasn’t about the number of participants or how many teams formed. It’s about the effect the event had on people. Did it change the course of someone’s life? Did it change the way someone looked at the world, or at themselves? Did it turn a timid girl into a confident woman?

Now, when I facilitate or organize Startup Weekends, I look for a change in just one person. If I see someone light-up the way I’ve seen so many others light-up at Startup Weekends all over the world, I declare the event a success.

That should be our #1 goal as event facilitators – to “light-up” as many people as we can. Facilitators aren’t just there to herd cats through the schedule. I think of facilitators as “activators,” looking for those beautiful souls just waiting to be awoken to new possibilities. Waiting for someone to tell them that yes, they too can be an entrepreneur. They too can have control over their lives.

For me, it takes just one of those to make the event a success.

And that moment when I see a change in someone – that’s the addicting part of being a Startup Weekend facilitator.

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Startup Genome: a visualization tool for your startup community

The following is a post from Shane Reiser, Co-founder of Startup Genome, active Startup Weekend Facilitator and former COO of Startup Weekend.

When I was working as COO of Startup Weekend, I recognized a common need of Startup Weekend organizers around the world: a better way to understand their community.

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Most organizers were mapping their community in one way or another – some on paper, some with mind-mapping software, some just in their heads – but in almost every case it wasn’t exhaustive and it didn’t benefit from the collaboration of the other organizers and the other community builders who care about their city.

Enter Startup Genome; a free an open platform that helps you understand your community.

Startup Genome curators can:

  • visualize growth and funding trends over time in your community and get insights into key stats of your community’s founders like median age, gender, and number of repeat founders.

  • visualize relationships between startups, entrepreneurs, investors, and the accelerators, incubators, non-profits and the other organizations that impact their community.

  • keep tabs on the alumni network from your Startup Weekend events as the startups evolve and the participants connect

Our curator network currently features more than 500 members (including 40 Startup Weekend organizers and Startup Digest curators) building maps in over 300 cities across 46 countries. As a Startup Weekend organizer you’re pre-qualified to join us – you’ve already shown the commitment to your own startup community that we’re looking for. We’ve pre-seeded the maps with data from CrunchBase and other sources and we’re looking for those with local knowledge to refine them.

Startup Genome is made possible through a grant from the Ewing Marion Kauffman Foundation, the world’s foremost foundation for entrepreneurship. Kauffman’s track record for projects at this scale is probably familiar to you – they helped Startup Weekend and Startup Digest get off the ground.

We’re just beginning to realize the benefits of mapping to better understand a community – join us so that your community can benefit, too.

Start here to see your communities map and then click here to learn more about being a Startup Genome curator.