This is the second in a series of guest posts between now and SWPgh#6 by past participants and supporters here to share their experiences and insights about what it really means to participate in Startup Weekend Pittsburgh.
Nathaniel Eliason: 3 do’s and 7 don’ts of how to spend your 54 hours at Startup Weekend
After winning Startup Weekend #4 last fall, I decided to have a little tongue-in-cheek fun and pitch a gag company at SWPgh#5 called Fratboxes. Although Fratboxes was a joke, my pitch was meant to show that most teams don’t spend enough time on things that give them the highest chance of winning.
So here are seven things I’ve seen Startup Weekend teams lose the most time on, along with three things they should have put more time into. Don’t make the same mistakes!
Things to Avoid Wasting Time On
1. Social Media
Social media is a “vanity metric.” Having a lot of followers makes you feel good, but don’t make the mistake of using it as “proof” that you have a killer product.
If you don’t believe that it’s a bad indicator, go to sites like fiverr.com and see how you can easily buy thousands of Twitter followers and Facebook likes for cheap. This is how new companies suddenly have thousands of followers.
2. Video Testimonials
Some companies will go out and get recordings of people endorsing their idea. But a video endorsement (1) doesn’t equal sales, (2) takes up a lot of time from your presentation, and (3) everyone will think that your endorsements were either doctored or even coerced..
Instead, try to get quotes from influential entrepreneurs in the region who like your idea. Bonus points if they’re experienced in your space.
3. A Fully Functional Product
Remember, you only have 5 minutes to show the judges how great you are, and only part of that 5 minutes should be spent on the demo. It’s not necessary to have a perfectly working product since you can show an animation of what it will look like to give the judges an idea of what it will do. You can always keep working on it later, but for now the goal is to win.
At the same time, some sort of mock-up or prototype that the judges can see or hold goes a long way. The more senses of your audience that you engage, the more they’ll remember you.
4. The Name
Don’t be the team that gets nothing done Friday night because they’re bickering over finding the perfect name. It won’t make a difference during the presentation, and it will significantly cut into the time you have for the important things.
Part of being an entrepreneur is learning to accept things not being perfect the first time. You have to prioritize to make sure the most important things get done. If everything is equally important to you, nothing will get done.
5. Financial Projections
Remotely accurate financial projections for a brand-new startup are impossible. A “hockey stick” graph showing that you’re going to be worth 50 million by year five is a nice story, but it won’t be taken seriously and it wastes presentation time.
Instead of trying to make wild projections, just talk about how large the market is, and why you’re able to compete in it. Show the weaknesses of the competition, where you fit in, and why you’ll beat them.
6. Making a Live Demo
Please don’t don’t don’t make a live demo. Something will go wrong or break. I saw this happen at my first Startup Weekend and then again at the Rise of the Rest pitch competition in the spring. It’s heartbreaking to see, and you’ll end up spending half of your presentation trying to cover up the mistake.
Instead, just put together a video, some mockups, or some site designs, and show them in the slides. It’ll be perfectly sufficient, and you’ll be protected from anything going wrong.
7. Making a Perfect Website
A perfect landing page won’t win the weekend. Yes, you should make at least a landing page, but you can do that in less than an hour using WordPress or Unbounce. Remember: The judges won’t be looking deeply at your website, so don’t spend too much time perfecting every pixel! Depending on your product or idea, often it’s just enough to have something people can put their email addresses into at the end of the event if they’re interested.
What to Spend Time on Instead
1. The Presentation
The presentation is the No. 1 thing you should be spending time on if you want to win. You could have started the next Facebook, but if the judges don’t know what you did, they won’t pick you.
Make sure your presentation is well designed, easy to understand, well rehearsed, showcases the product, proves it’s a big opportunity, and does all of this while being fun and engaging. The judges should laugh at least once.
If you’re not sure what to include or what format to go with, Guy Kawasaki’s example investor pitch deck is a good place to start. You’ll want to liven it up a bit though.
Aside from a great opportunity to learn about startups, Startup Weekend is also one of the best networking opportunities in the Pittsburgh startup scene. Founders of local companies, angel investors, heads of organizations like AlphaLab and Thrill Mill, they’ll all be there and more than happy to chat and help you.
Don’t just go heads down the whole time and miss this opportunity! Odds are you’ll make some connections that will seriously accelerate your startup education. It could even be a good way to find a job if you don’t decide to keep working on your company after the weekend is over.
3. Validation & Sales
The best companies prove their ideas and even make some sales over the weekend. If you can show up to the presentation on Sunday and say “Not only do we have this great idea, but people have already paid us for it!” the judges will be blown away.
Your product isn’t ready yet? Sure it is. Get people to commit to buying it when it’s ready Kickstarter-style, or get them to pre-order it for a discount. Or do what I did with Fratboxes and put up a sales page, then figure out how to make the product once someone buys.
Last but Not Least …
Have fun! Startup Weekend is an thrilling and intense experience. You’ll make some awesome friends, build something cool, and even if you don’t win it will be a great time. Enjoy it.
Nathaniel Eliason won Startup Weekend #4 with his company Tailored Fit and pitched a satirical company FratBoxes at Startup Weekend #5. You can find more of his work on his personal blog, or by following him on Twitter.