Editor’s note: This is a guest post by Lisa Wang, Co-Founder of Fooze, the 1-Tap Delivery for Your Favorite Late Night Munchies, and member of the winning team of Startup Weekend Food Edition 2014.
“What’s Startup Weekend? What’s a hackathon?”
I remember asking these questions a year ago as my friend raved over the last one she had attended a couple months earlier. I had recently left my job as a financial analyst at a hedge fund and was taking my first leap into the world of startups. I was clueless, terrified, yet excited by the challenge of navigating a completely foreign ecosystem so different from the structured corporate one I was familiar with. With really only the surface understanding that Startup Weekend would require me to “build a company from scratch, pitch to a panel of judges,” and the enticement of enough food to make back the price of my ticket, I accepted the challenge and bought my ticket for Startup Weekend Food Edition.
In preparation, I canceled all my plans for that upcoming weekend. Any invitations to dinner or drinks were put on hold. “Why?” They would ask, “Because I’m going to spend the weekend meeting random entrepreneurs trying to hack together a new food startup.” I received bemused smiles, puzzled laughs, and a couple of nudges of encouragement from my cohort of corporate friends. It was going to be an interesting weekend.
That Friday evening, I entered into a room buzzing with an energy I could only compare to that of the pre-meet jitters I used to have as a competitive gymnast. Flitting around the room, I was surprised to discover that many of the attendees were similar to me, at a transition point in their careers, ready to take the leap and try something completely new.
A few nights prior, I had been facetiously kicking around an idea for a late night food delivery business. After trying and failing to find any half-decent food after midnight, I eventually resorted to some awful combination of $2 pizza and a rampage of Duane Reade’s cookie aisle. So when the Startup Weekend attendees were called upon to give a 60-second pitch of a potential food business, I figured I had nothing to lose, and stood up to pitch my idea,
“Have you ever woken up regretting what you ate last night? Have you ever been out late at night and wished you could get exactly what you wanted with a push of a button?”
Apparently, a lot of people had and after all the pitches had finished, I was able to to quickly assemble a team that was ready to tackle late night food delivery. It was an exciting moment and as the teams were formed, ours got to work immediately mapping out our individual strengths and our product roadmap for the next couple of days.
Over the course of that one weekend, I learned how to create basic wireframes, the importance of conducting user interviews, the difference between flat and skeuomorphic design, the necessity of distilling down a very clear problem, what the term MVP actually stood for, how to determine TAM, the essential elements of crafting a pitch deck, and perhaps most importantly how to balance conflicting ideas, test assumptions, and iterate (very) quickly.
After two sleepless nights, pitch day arrived, and our team had already learned more about the on demand food delivery space than most of us had ever cared to know. What had started as a half-serious idea and a 60-second pitch had now transformed into a project five people had poured dozens of hours of hard work into. We had cobbled together a very basic prototype, created a logo and tagline, interviewed over 100 potential users, calculated initial financial projections, and crafted a well-designed pitch deck to boot. Moreover, despite having a lifelong discomfort with public speaking, I was given pitch practice and critique sessions that allowed me to become increasingly confident even over the course of just a few hours.
Pitch night was one of the more inspiring professional presentations I had been to in quite some time. It was not so much the ideas, but rather the effort and cohesive passion I witnessed among each of the team members who had, for all intents and purposes, been complete strangers just 48 hours prior.
When it came time to announce the winner of the Weekend and my team was called, our entire team jumped up in surprise and triumph. Yes, we had put in an unbelievable amount of effort, but what surprised us was that we had managed to come together as a team that was derived from a host of different backgrounds completely unrelated to startups or tech. While winning a competition like Startup Weekend was indeed thrilling, it ultimately served a more important purpose; it was the impetus that gave every single member of that initial team the confidence to dive headfirst into the intoxicating world of entrepreneurship: of creation, ownership, and innovation that we all had only dreamed of before that fateful weekend.
A year later, I am the Co-Founder of Fooze, the 1-tap delivery app for late night munchies. I took that winning idea and plowed ahead with the same degree of energy and vigor I felt when I first walked into Startup Weekend. We pivoted multiple times based on user feedback, built a full-time team of three, graduated from Food-X, an international food business accelerator in NYC, and just recently launched our beta of Fooze, a little over a month ago.
Looking back, Startup Weekend was but one external factor that nudged me in the direction I am pursuing today. More important than the external push though, was the open and bold mindset with which I approached that Weekend and all weekends thereafter. As I tell many aspiring entrepreneurs, it’s no longer about knowing where you’ll be leaping, nor whether you’ll make it to the other side. In fact, don’t be surprised if you don’t make it your first time… Leap anyways.
Want to experience Startup Weekend Food Edition yourself? Tickets are still available!