Startup Weekends attract a wide range of participants, including innovators and inventors who may be unfamiliar with the “lean startup” approach to creating a business that SW advocates. Zurich Startup Weekend shared this great primer that will give you a grounding in the concepts and language you’ll see at Startup Weekend. We’ll also be sharing some definitive readings as the Weekend approaches.
Lean startup model: Eric Reis turned his blog into a recently published book, The Lean Startup, which was #2 on the New York Times Bestsellers list. (Inc. Magazine featured a condensed version of Reis’s book if you want further reading. Essentially, Reis developed a business model that encourages startups to find out as quickly as possible whether or not the business idea/product/service is viable. The path to achieving this learning is to create a rough version of your product that goes into a cycle of testing, iterating, testing, iterating, testing, and iterating until the product is viable. An important part of this process is early and frequent customer validation. The lean startup model came out of a concept in manufacturing where small batches are created so that there is minimal loss of time and money if the market isn’t interested in that version of the product. The same lean process works well applied to technology too. When creating a web-based tool or an app, you can create a mockup to garner feedback without building the actual product or feature, for example.
Minimally viable product or MVP: This is not the same as a prototype! In the Lean Startup model, the goal is to create and test the smallest piece of a business to see if there’s a market for it. Reis defines the MVP as “that version of a new product which allows a team to collect the maximum amount of validated learning about customers with the least effort.” Essentially, you’re looking for the minimum set of features needed to learn from your early adopters because you want to learn early what users want and don’t want. It limits spending time and energy on products that no one really wants. Most teams try to develop a minimally viable product during a startup weekend, not the whole business. It looks great to judges if you’re able to validate your idea/product during the weekend. You may be asking, but how do I do that?
Customer validation or validated learning: There are a number of ways to learn about your customers and what they like and don’t like about your product/service. There’s also a big difference between what someone might say they like and what they’re willing to buy or do. The best validation is showing that customers/users will in fact want your product/service and be willing to pay for it.
You first want to see if there’s any interest. For example, if you already have a free product but are curious if people would pay for some additional features, you could add a button to your site that advertises the new version (which you haven’t built yet!). If a number of users click the button, then you have begun validating that customers are interested. If no one clicks, then all you’ve wasted is the time to develop the concept—you haven’t spent excessive money and time on something no one wants.
During a Startup Weekend, you’re likely to focus on establishing general interest in your product or service, and if you’re lucky, getting some users to act. There’s not a lot of time to build significant traction. One way to establish initial interest is to create a landing page.
Landing page: To test the viability of an idea, a single webpage is sometimes created to see if anyone will sign up for the product/service. There are several pre-built free pages out there to create landing pages for mobile devices. What’s great about these programs is that they provide data: how many times the page was visited, how many visitors were unique, how many actually signed up.
Here’s an example: The concept for this youth-only site was to provide both advice on creating a business (how to pitch, how to develop an idea, how to market) and to provide a platform for students to pitch their ideas to get seed funding (micro-financing for teens). Our hypothesis was that a student would post a video pitch and then use social media to send it out to his or her network. Friends of friends might also contribute until the student received the money he or she needed to launch a business or community project.
Here are the steps we took to validate the concept that weekend:
- We created a landing page and used social media to blast to contacts of everyone on the team. (KickoffLabs showed 73 unique views and 17 users signed up.)
- Again using social media, our team sent out a request for any teenagers who had an idea to pitch. (One 13-year-old relative of a team member uploaded a video late Saturday night!)
- Once we had the site minimally functional, we posted the teenager’s video pitch and at uploaded a PayPal donate button. (Our featured teenager needed $60; $40 was raised before final pitches on Sunday night. She had the rest the next day!)
For a Startup Weekend, this exercise demonstrated a good conversion rate, and was a fairly solid proof of concept!
Conversion rate: It’s one thing to get users to your site; it’s quite another thing altogether to get them to act/buy/participate. For example, if you send out an email directing folks to a landing page, the first conversion rate will be how many viewers actually click on the link to that landing page. Then the next level of concept validation is how many of these users actually sign up. It’s possible to have more levels of increased engagement beyond this, of course. Each increased level of engagement provides more validated learning about what customers will do. In the Teenstarter example, one measure of a conversation rate would be that out of 73 people who viewed the landing page, 17 actually signed up by providing their emails.
There are other ways to validate what your customers like: interviews are often used.
Interviews: Interviews are a great way to gather information during and after a Startup Weekend. Just because you are an educator does not mean that you should assume that you know what all educators will want—still take the time to get feedback from other teachers and administrators. Other participants, organizers and mentors can help you get in contact with people outside your own educator circle. Asking educators on other teams is one good method to gather some immediate input. Showing two or three versions of a product works well to provide you with specific feedback about features.
Mockups: Remember that you do not have to create a full product to get feedback. A mockup can provide the same information with much less time investment.
Traction: Once you’ve validated your concept, you next want to build traction, something that’s unlikely to occur during a Startup Weekend because of the condensed timetable but definitely an area of focus as you move your business forward. Traction means building a set of early adopters and being able to get those adopters to do something. For example, if you’re building a community-based site, then your traction would be connected to how many users are interacting on your site. If you’re selling a product to schools, how many schools have signed? If you’re interested in investors, then they will be interested in your traction.
When you’re at Startup Weekend, learn as much as you can from other participants and mentors about other effective ways to develop your concept into a viable business!
The Startup Weekend judging criteria are broken up into three sections. Teams are judged according to the following 3 criteria:
- Business Model
How does the team plan on making this a successful business? Have they thought about (either solved or identified problems) competition, how to scale, acquiring customers, their revenue model etc?
- Customer Validation
Are teams building something that people actually want? How well does the team understand their customer and their customer’s needs? Did the team get out and talk to customers? What is the value proposition to customers?
Have they established a “Minimal Viable Product” for the weekend (software, hardware, etc.)? *Note: an MVP is the minimum set of features to be able to start collecting data. Does it deliver a compelling and captivating user experience? Were they able to demo something functional?
Startup Weekend is about connecting the entrepreneurs, makers, and innovators in our community toward solving real problems by building new viable businesses from scratch in one weekend.
The main event on Friday night is called Pitch Fire. Anyone with a new business idea will be given exactly one minute to tell the room what problem they intend to solve, how they propose to solve it, and what kind of team they need to assemble.
Pitching is Caring
When our community comes together to share the problems we see, and the solutions we’ve conceived, powerful things happen. At Startup Weekend, it’s common to discover a handful of people that are deeply interested in the same things we are. Sharing our ideas is a first step toward discovering the resources and relationships we need.
It’s not required or expected that every participant pitch a business idea, but it’s strongly recommended! The experience of pitching to an audience and discovering whether your message is clearly understood by all is an important part of the entrepreneurial journey.
If you don’t bring an idea or aren’t comfortable pitching, that’s okay. Just bring your passion, skills, and tools. There are many important roles to play throughout the weekend. You’ll find a good business idea to work on, have tons of fun, learn new things, eat great food, and meet some amazing people.
Sell Your Solution; Sell Yourself
While people are listening to your idea, they’re also observing you. They’re considering whether they want to work with you in close proximity for the next two days. They’re assessing whether you seem able to work well with a team and sustain the business going forward.
You Bring More Than an Idea
As a member of the team, you hope to assemble you’ll want to quickly include a note about who you are and what you bring to the table. There’s no room in a startup for someone who is merely the “idea person”. You also bring experiences, skills, attitudes, relationships, resources, etc. What strengths do you have which are relevant? Why are you the right person to explore and execute a solution?
A simple 60-second pitch may look like:
:10 seconds – Introduce yourself.
:20 seconds – Describe the problem you’ll solve.
:20 seconds – Describe the solution.
:10 seconds – Tell us who/what you need to pull it off.
Choosing a Name
During your initial pitch on Friday night, your goal is to communicate clearly, be memorable, and generate interest in your idea. Choose a working title which is simple, descriptive, and memorable. Don’t worry — you can change it later. Imagine what someone would think about your idea based on the name alone. Without hearing your pitch, would they be able to guess what your business is about?
Practicing Your Pitch
Practice to a timer. On Friday night you’ll have exactly 1 minute to pitch your idea. It goes by fast. Practice to a timer a dozen times before you get up and do it front of an audience.
Practice with people. Practice your pitch with a variety of people. Try it on a grandparent, a friend, a coworker, a classmate, and a few strangers. Stick to your one minute pitch when practicing on people. After you pitch, ask them what they think you’re trying to do. You’ll discover what aspects of your pitch are unclear and learn to correct them so that people understand your proposal the first time.