This post was written by Mathis Gardon.
At the beginning, we were a team of three friends : developers, coworkers and technology lovers, all eager to learn a bit more about innovation with no idea what we were doing. We won the startup weekend of Grenoble (France), the city we live in. Here are some key takeaways from our experience.
Before the weekend
1) Find a pitch idea that fits well in a startup weekend & that you identify with.
We left out a couple of good ideas that didn’t seem like a good fit both for our profile and for the startup weekend format : we were 3 developers who wanted to write code, so we looked for an idea we could prototype over the weekend, and we wanted an idea that was rich and open enough to be challenged and would not lead us to a dead end. When Jeremy suggested a simple need he had for writing down & organizing important life events he wanted to remember, it gave us a strong feeling that there was something to do with it but we didn’t know exactly what : it needed to be refined. In retrospect, it was a big part of our successful weekend, even though we didn’t know it at the time.
Friday Night (Lights) : One minute pitch, finding votes for your idea and finding teammates (aka. 3 developers lost in the wild).
2) When trying to meet people to convince them to vote for you, jump on potential voters like starving vultures on a prey. Seriously. We were 3 developers, so we tried to talk to people to make them identify with our pain point. We managed to get 3/5 votes, while others were much more convincing and managed to get at least 15 votes by themselves (we were three). If you don’t have enough charm skills, get prepared to see your idea stop there. (The only reason our idea was kept is that we were already 3 and we voted for ourselves.)
3) Finding your teammates : try to speak with anyone around you, no matter what their profile is. It was late, we were all tired, but in the end the people we met at this moment enabled us to push our project much further than we expected. That’s how we welcomed two new members in our team that are now full part of our story. If you’re a developer, I know you don’t like talking to strangers. Go ahead, it’s okay for the week-end 😉
Saturday : Brainstorming on features and finding a business model (aka. “business model wanted, dead or alive”).
4) It’s hard to find a business model. Very, very hard. We started brainstorming Saturday morning on a ton of cool features, we had brilliant ideas, and the first question our coaches asked us was : “how are you going to sell it ?”. Snap back to reality … For developers like us, the features were what was important, we wanted to build a terrific product. But the reality is that we had absolutely no business model. Finding one was the hardest thing of the week-end, and we spend most of our saturday challenging our ideas with coaches. Which leads us to…
5) Use coaches, and then use them again. There will be times where you won’t need coaches, but on Saturday it really helped us decide what was important in our concept, what could be monetized and how. In the end, they did not bring the ultimate solution but they made us find out new options and ideas for business perspective.
6) Go out and ask people what they think of your concept. We had around 200 potential customers available : the other startup weekend participants. It’s a very good source of data to determine if our pain point is everybody’s else or not. We tried to apply the concepts behind Lean Startup on this one, and it helped to confront our idea to the real world.
7) Try to stabilize your minimum feature set and business model before the end of the day to start working on your prototype and the sunday talk. We were a little short on both, and that caused a rough talk preparation on sunday morning !
8) Decent sleep! It may sound like a good idea at first to not sleep all weekend and have more time to develop the business model and prototype. For us, it was the exact opposite : we slept full nights and it helped us stay focused and creative throughout the weekend.
Sunday : Make the prototype functional, prepare the presentation and pitch ! (aka. rush hour).
9) We built our prototype with simple web technologies, making it very goal focused on showing something for the final pitch and nothing else. If we have one thing to tell you on building a functional prototype is : make it quick and dirty, but make it work. At least once. It is not a hackathon, focus on what your are going to show for the pitch. It doesn’t even need to be working for the pitch, which leads us to …
10) Record a video of your prototype for the use case you want to show and speak over the video during the talk. That’s what we did, and it helped us eliminate the uncertainty of the demo effect : no crash, no risk of connectivity failure etc !
11) If possible, try to relate to people on your speech : our product is about reliving good memories, so we demoed a timeline of our startup weekend with a custom video at the end, and it resonated with the audience. Use this emotional bond if you can.
After the weekend
12) Even if you are not aiming to be in GSB, try to create a 1 minute video of your concept during the weekend, and make it in english : we were absolutely unprepared to win, so when we realized we had less than 24 hours to create an english version of our concept (name, catch phrases, prototype etc), all while having to get back to our own jobs on monday, it was … bad. You may as well come with some material already at your disposal 😉
13) You can win a startup weekend without prior experience : we basically had no idea what we were doing when entering, we had never participated in a startup weekend before, but by finding the right team members and listening to advices, we managed to win the first prize !
14) You & your team can decide of what comes next : certain projects were just a nice weekend adventure, but others are still active. For us, we decided to pursue our project with the Global Startup Battle (in which we were selected in the top 15 teams of the innovator’s circle) and are planning the future release of an MVP.
Thank you for your attention and best of luck on your next startup weekend !
The Restory Team. http://restory.co/.