In the beginning, I was a little nervous about Startup Weekend Marseille. What? You want me to work with strangers on an unknown project with little to no sleep on a 54-hour deadline? Yeah, I was a little apprehensive. But I had heard great things, and I craved a challenge. So I found myself enrolling last-minute and tossing my sleeping bag into my backpack for the weekend, just in case. I had no idea what to expect.
The format is fast-paced: project ideas are presented on Friday night in 60-second “Fire Pitches”. This year, there were 42 Fire Pitches in Marseille! Next, participants vote on their favorite Fire Pitches in a setting that feels like being in a meat market, where pitchers heckle participants for votes. Once the votes are in, everyone gathers for an informal speed-networking session to form teams around the projects moving forward. Teams spend the next two days developing a business model and building their products, and on Sunday evening, they present a 5-minute pitch to a Startup Weekend jury of mentors, business angels and entrepreneurs. Several activities are peppered throughout the weekend, too : flash conferences, icebreakers, silly YouTube videos, and more.
I ended up joining a project totally different from anything I’d worked on before: an accelerator that plans to turn social initiatives into socially-minded startups in Marseille. It’s an anomaly for Startup Weekend itself, since there is no deliverable product (like a web app); rather, the deliverable would be the offering and business model. I was instantly charmed by that differentiating characteristic, and by the enthusiasm and zeal of the project leader, Fanny. Our team of 7 found a comfy spot to settle into, and we were off!
The weekend itself happened so quickly that I have a hard time remembering the details. On Friday night and Saturday morning, we brainstormed what being “socially-minded” means, or should mean, to the accelerator. Saturday afternoon, we split into two teams to work on the business model canvas (how will we make money?) and the offering (what kinds of partners and mentors will we offer? What are the criteria to get into the program? And so on). Saturday night and Sunday were spent working on the pitch and presentation, with the frenetic, charged atmosphere that you find in college libraries around exam time. We slept little, but time still flew by.
Before we knew it, it was time to pitch. We were 13th of 17th, which we deemed lucky; Marseille’s zip code begins with 13. Seeing the other startups present was inspiring – there were so many beautifully designed presentations, functional products, and fun speakers. And in the end, our own presentation went well. Fanny delivered with the same passion she showed on Friday, and we were thrilled to win a special prize from the jury – the “Coup de Coeur”, or “Judges’ Favorite” for our intriguing “extraterrestrial” startup. I guess not many teams present a startup that will produce startups.
If you’re a fellow first-timer, here is some parting advice from me:
First, think about why you’re doing Startup Weekend. For me, it was a chance to make connections, challenge parts of my brain that I rarely use, and who knows, maybe find an idea to get behind. Realize that everyone’s Startup Weekend experience is different, depending on what you make of it. What do you want to get out of the weekend?
Pay attention to how you feel over the course of the 54 hours. Not physically – okay, it IS important to get some sleep and eat enough – but try to focus on your intuition. Comparing your start and end points can give you insight into what you’ve learned.
And finally, remember that there is no single “best” personality type or background. No matter what happens, you’re guaranteed to come out of the weekend having learned something. It’s impossible to go through an experience this intense and resurface without a takeaway. So enjoy the process. That’s what makes Startup Weekend special.