Tips to survive a Startup Weekend

You’ve probably heard, read or even been part of a Startup Weekend. So you probably know that it is a 54 hour race to develop an idea into a startup. It takes place from Friday to Sunday; you have the opportunity to go on stage and pitch a startup idea; if your idea is selected you will form a team, develop it and present what your team has created to a panel of judges. Simple, right?

The whole event is designed to help you to learn and apply techniques like the Elevator Pitch, Business Model Canvas and the Lean Startup methodology. Startup Weekend aims to connect you with potential partners and co-founders who can combine their resources and abilities to build a validated prototype as fast as possible.

If you’re attending for the first time it’s important to understand that this is a massive learning exercise, so don’t expect to walk away with the next Facebook or Tesla after just one weekend.

Here are some tips to clarify what the weekend is all about:

Trust the process (honesty is the best policy)


Time to pitch! – SWAKL, June 2015

On Friday attendees will have 60 seconds to give their best idea. After pitches are finished, all attendees will vote on their favorites, and using these votes the top ideas will be selected to be worked on over the weekend. Maybe your friend proposed an idea, but that is not reason enough to vote for him. If we want to give value to Startup Weekend and the efforts of many people who organise it, we have to get the best ideas to the the finals. Here is where the policy of honesty applies: Vote for the idea you think is addressing a real problem and is innovative, interesting, and could have a global impact. This way we all have an awesome experience.

Build your capability, not a business

Can I pitch my existing business? Is this event the ideal place to promote my products or services? It is not. Startup Weekend is designed to be the most effective platform for creating new businesses from an idea to a prototype over the weekend. If you have an idea and it is selected, it is an excellent opportunity to find talented people to help you develop it – the central value for participants is the spirit of complete collaboration. The most important thing is to team up with new people and learn new things.

There is no age limit to participate!

Around the world, the age of Startup Weekend participants ranges between 11 and 76 years. Startup Weekend is open to everybody. Anyone can have a good idea and the skills needed to achieve it, whether a business person, designer or developer. Our main mission is to promote entrepreneurship to all.

In Startup Weekend we are all equal

Team work! – SWAKL, June 2015

“Judges and mentors know everything”. False. Every Startup Weekend we have excellent mentors and judges, all of them from different experiences and backgrounds. They may offer suggestions and opinions, share a personal experience, speak out their minds about the product but this does not mean that they have the final word.

We must consider this world of entrepreneurship, as a space where everyone must contribute something. Maybe some entrepreneurs are more experienced or have achieved success earlier, but that should not make a difference between entrepreneurs, judges and/or mentors. We have seen partners or co-founders of companies that already have some popularity sitting at a table to continue undertaking Startup Weekend, and transmitting their experience and knowledge to amateurs entrepreneurs.

No talk, all action!

Startup Weekend is the perfect place to experience startup life, the “rules” are simple: Come share ideas, form teams, and launch startups.
And very importantly, not everyone can be a winner but we can guarantee you this: Work hard, play hard, be open to learning and you will never forget this weekend.

So… Are you ready to participate in Startup Weekend Auckland?

Introducing the SWAKL team

Startup Weekend is 100% volunteer run; twice a year we hold the event in Auckland. As many of you will know, pulling off an event requires a tremendous amount of work and dedication, which is why we wanted to take a bit of time to celebrate the incredible people who have banded together to bring you #SWAKL November.

We talked to a few members of the team to get some insight on what it takes, straight from the horse’s mouth…
Why do you do it?

Richard (Lead organizer): I was asked to be a mentor a few years ago, which was my first experience with Startup Weekend. I was deeply impacted by what I saw and experienced. The highs and lows that come with the intensity of the weekend bring out strengths and creativity that people never knew they had. It can be a profound learning experience for any who take part in whatever capacity. As a result I decided I’d like to help make that happen for others.

Colart: Four years ago I felt like a corporate misfit with no real home in the New Zealand ecosystem. The Start-up weekend crowd found me and took me in and now I feel like part of a tribe that is making a real difference for the better. By being involved with Startup Weekend I found a way to help others to bring humanity back to business and to build beautiful businesses. Humanity is facing some grand challenges and I see this movement along with others as a natural response which I’m proud to be part of.”

David: I attended Startup Weekend first as a participant. I enjoyed the startup weekend environment and wanted to help others to experience it too.

Laura: I first attended Startup Weekend as a participant in 2013. When I arrived I was completely overwhelmed and felt like I didn’t belong at all. By the time I left on Sunday I was an immensely proud member of a community. This was due to the incredible participants and organisers who were so equally challenging and inspiring over the course of the event. Startup Weekend was hugely impactful in my life, so when the opportunity arose I leaped at the chance to enable people to get involved and realize their potential.

What is the hardest part about organising Startup Weekend?

Colart: The hardest part about organising a Startup Weekend is forming the core organising team and helping this team to stay engaged and functional. There are many moving parts to organising an event like this and it needs a diverse set of skills and lots of capacity. Given this is a volunteer run organisation the challenge is in attracting people with the right skills who are also enthusiastic about helping start-ups.

What is the best part of organizing a Startup Weekend?

Richard: Seeing the attendees get really stuck in to doing their thing at the weekend and feeling comfortable that we have everything rolling for them. It’s also a privilege to work with such a great team of other organisers who have each others’ back.

Colart: One of the most rewarding moments for me has to be in 2013 where a relatively inexperienced Startup weekend organising team managed to pull off an amazing event for 95 participants. It was a combination of support from the wider community, mentoring and guidance from the Startup Weekend national directors and a highly engaged volunteer team that won the day.

David: Lots of hugs from the organising team.

Advice to participants:

Richard: Hold nothing back: get out of your comfort zone, get into your stretch zone and find the edge of your panic zone! Every time you hit one of those boundaries you push it out a bit further.
Go for it with everything you have and push beyond that. The payback is immense and the insights will be realised over future months and even years.

David: Be prepared for a rollercoaster of emotions, from fear, frustrations through to epiphanies, excitement and exhilaration. You’ll love it!

Startup Weekend FAQs

Startup Weekend is fast approaching! We thought you’d probably have some questions, so here are a few that we hear often…

How do I know if this event is for me?
Attendees backgrounds are roughly 50% technical (developers, coders, designers) and 50% business (marketing, finance, law). What unites all attendees is a common interest in entrepreneurship. Attendees range from serial entrepreneurs to those who are completely new to the startup scene. Every participant is interested in working with a like-minded, motivated and skilled team to develop a product or business in one weekend. If this sounds like you, then this event is definitely for you!

Do I have to pitch an idea?
No, but we encourage you to! You can pitch an idea you’ve been thinking about for years, or something last minute you think of during the event. It’s a great experience and invaluable practice for public speaking.

If you don’t want to you can come along and join a team. You’ll get a chance to vote for and join your favourite pitch on Friday evening.

If you’re on the fence about pitching, come along to the pre-event and have a practice during some pitching games.

Can I pitch my existing business?
No. Startup Weekend is designed to be the most effective platform for growing new businesses from the ground up over the course of a weekend. A key facet of the weekend – and a central value for participants – is the spirit of complete collaboration, buy-in and ownership. We’ve found that having existing businesses in the mix undermines this spirit, in addition to creating an imbalance between those ideas that are truly ground-level.

What happens if my idea isn’t picked?
The purpose of the Friday crowd-sourcing isn’t to exclude certain ideas, but simply to highlight the most popular/high-potential pitches and end up with a manageable number of teams – ensuring that each team has a variety of backgrounds/skills. If your idea isn’t selected but you’ve formed a team around the idea, you’re welcome to work on it over the weekend. If you decide to do so, however, please tell the event Organiser, as this may be an issue regarding your teams’ eligibility for prizes.

Do I have to attend all three days?
Apart from Organizers, selected Coaches, Speakers, and press, everyone who attends the event is expected to participate all three days. This is important not only to preserve the ‘vibe’ of the weekend but also to minimize distractions/disruptions for working teams.

What if I don’t know anything about coding, or designing?
That’s ok! We need hustlers, hard-workers, and business-minded folks just as much as technical talent. Without all three groups, our event wouldn’t happen. I assure you, there is plenty of work to be spread around!

Ok, but how does this event actually work?
On Friday evening, a bunch of entrepreneurial strangers get together, listen to an opening talk, and then begin giving 60-second pitches of their ideas. Anyone can pitch any idea, and we pitch until all ideas are exhausted. Then, the group collectively votes on what they perceive to be the “best” ideas to work on over the weekend as a general guideline for which ideas to form groups around.

Teams will consist of developers, designers, and business-minded individuals. Over the next 54 hours teams will work hard to validate, test, prototype and build their idea, before presenting on Sunday evening.

For more info on how it works, check out our last blog post.

Where can I sign up?
Tickets always go fast! So make sure you get yours as soon as possible! Head over here to get your tickets today >

So what is Startup Weekend all about?

Startup Weekend is the world’s biggest learning programme for entrepreneurs.


It is a 54 hour programme from Friday night to Sunday morning that brings together designers, developers, entrepreneurs, and experts from all domains to do amazing things.

All Startup Weekend events follow the same basic model: on Friday night anyone is welcome to pitch their idea for a startup. Teams form around the top ideas (as determined by popular vote) and embark on a three-day frenzy of business model creation, coding, designing, and market validation.

Throughout this time you will receive mentoring from some incredible leaders in the Auckland business scene. You will be tested not only on your skills, but your ability to work on the fly and push yourself. Then when you think you’ve reached your limit you will dig even deeper to keep moving forward.

On Sunday evening the weekend culminates with presentations in front of fellow participants and entrepreneurial leaders from Auckland – yet another opportunity for critical feedback!


Be prepared for:

  • Flurries of activity
  • Complete pivots and changes to ideas
  • Working with a wide range of people
  • Being challenged and required to articulate your obstacles, setbacks and wins
  • Discovering and developing new skills
  • Improvising
  • The emotional highs and lows that come from throwing yourself wholeheartedly into an idea.
  • Awesome food and even better people!

So what is Startup Weekend?
It is intense, inspiring, exhilarating, motivating and exhausting. It’s your opportunity to become part of an important culture growing within NZ and the world.

If this sounds a bit like you then head over and get your tickets today and stay tuned for our next post on frequently asked questions that will really get you into the #SWAKL zone.


How to get from an Idea to a Functioning Business in 54 Hours

Startup Weekend is a global phenomenon that takes everyday peoples’ business ideas into reality. The catch is that you go from 0 to 100 in 54 hours, hopefully having a functioning, and even profiting, product by the end of it.

As the Business Development Executive of a Chartered Accounting firm, and considering myself quite the marketing strategist, I jumped on the opportunity to attend despite having to also move out of my flat that weekend.

The event this June had 93 people attend. There was a myriad of developers, designers and marketers with dreams in their pockets that shuffled down to the GridAKL at 5.30pm on a Friday. All for similar reasons; to test their own business ideas, to meet potential business partners, to push themselves. What better way to meet future collaborators?

Initial pitches included Apps that track your gaming skill vs liquor consumption, to car baby monitors, and peer-to-peer boat rental. My pitch, News Avalanche aspired to combat world idiocracy – think Facebook meets Tinder for gripping news, facts and history, with a Candy-crush revenue model.

I landed in a team of 8 with 6 of us being leftover pitchers. We had a nice mix of marketers, developers and designers. Our team, Meet a Local, was solving the problem of connecting foreigners in a new country safely with locals who contain the insider knowledge, that unforgettable and meaningful interaction you often don’t get on a Contiki.

The hardest thing for our team was actually defining the real problem we were solving. Once we got that down, everything flowed from there.

The mentoring process was one of the most valuable aspects to SW. Starting with the Lean canvas method, all teams defined their audience, marketing channels, and how they were going to actually make money. There were fantastic mentors and investors present and at team disposal for the weekend. Connor Archibald from Lightning Lab, Sue De Bievre from Beany Biz accountants, Tim Dove from Cluster Creative to name a few, have been through this process as both attendees and coaches.

Notably, all teams were trending through the same motivation and despair throughout the weekend. From being generally pumped on the Friday night, to having all our hopes and dreams destroyedon the Saturday, to rising from the ashes amidst panic for Sundays polished pitches. For Meet a Local, our moment of despair was realising we didn’t cover competitor research properly with a big market player having a similar offering. The mentors had us redefine our problem,then we all clicked back on track.


“One lesson for me was to not underestimate anyone. The two ideas I had initially shrugged off, came first, and second place.”


Finally on Sunday night, pitches arrived. Despite having rug doctored my flat until 3.30am the night before, I drew energy from apprehension, pride, and Ganbatte (the Japanese phrase of ‘try your best’ that resonated through the weekend). Meet a Local was a live, functioning website. The Judging panel contained- Rick Shera (Lowndes Jordan), Rod Snodgrass (Spark Ventures), and Lillian Grace (Wiki NZ). They did their best to find holes in our 54 hour project. Overall our pitch received positive feedback from Rod, saying that a need was present and partnering with a Telco would be an effective marketing strategy (though of course you would say that Rod).The peer-to-peer model such as Uber, AirBNB and Tinder had a heavy influence on many of the business ideas this 2015.

One lesson for me was to not underestimate anyone. The two ideas I had initially shrugged off, came first, and second place. The winner was ArtFe’ a beautifully executed idea of using empty café walls to sell low-cost prints for artists. Two clear problems were solved, cafés short of cash, and artists short of cash.

After it was all over, I talked later that week to Ken Brickley, the CEO of BidBuddy, who was on the panel of #SMCAKL and coincidentally attended a recent Startup Weekend. He came runner-up, but used the weekend to test his idea of a Facebook API which he has now used to grow his current business successfully on a global scale.

Though News Avalanche wasn’t addictive, Startup Weekend is. It shows you how much can be achieved in a short amount of time, and above that, changes your mind set on committing to an idea and taking action. No matter your age.

AKLSW Reflections – By Katherine Yang

Katherine Yang, a high school student, signed up thinking she would merely design a few logos and user interfaces. She muses about how that wasn’t the case.

– Pitch an idea to a room of imposing professionals.
– Deliver impassioned speeches about frustrating a singular bee.
– Force the concepts of Nicki Minaj and Twerking onto others.
– Not get booed off stage for making physics jokes.
– Consume such a volume of coffee in so short a time.
– Drive my vision and lead a startup.
– Carry on despite initially being the only one in my team to show up on the pitch morning.
– Utterly lose my shit.
– Pull it off anyway.

These are all things I didn’t think I’d do but ended up doing in 54 hectic hours.

The above list sure as hell isn’t meant to a step-by-step guide to startup success, either.

Even the most renowned ‘syllabus’ for startup success acknowledges that there is no formula for startup success. The only certain methodology is dependent on a single process:


‘Learning’, after all, is the thing you embarrassingly admit to your boss after having failed.

As a full time learner, I may have been slightly put off by this concept. Generally, being a student means consistent learning and limited doing, and Startup Weekend was meant to be a chance to get off of my haunches to actually do something.

But this ‘validated learning’ is an integral strain particular to startups – which really are just methodical bouts of testing assumptions, failing, flailing and learning.

Eric Ries, pioneer/god of the lean startup movement said of ‘learning’, “We must learn what customers really want, not what they say they want or what we think they should want.”

The distinction between ‘What I think the customers want’ versus ‘What the customers really want’ is probably the most valuable thing I’ve learnt.

Heck, that’s all I know, having signed up with utterly no entrepreneurial basis.

With ‘Customer Validation’ as one of the key tenets of the judging criteria, and as the thing that each of the twelve start-ups scrambled to gather in the 54 hour stretch, my naïve mode of thinking shifted away from an ‘end goal’-centric strategy to one based on creating what people want to buy.

It sounds elementary.

But visionary stubbornness, whether it be based on age or supposed experience, turned out to be a huge detriment to many startups.

Time and time again, glimpses of fraught groups and emotion would escape from the one-minute update pitches and neighbouring tables from conflicting interests.

All from that simple dichotomy – ‘What you think the customers want’ versus ‘What the customers really want’.

If the loftiness of the central idea is crumbling under the weight of undesirability, the only way to stay alive is to pivot.

There are three stages to the ‘pivot’.

The reallocation of resources – every one of us started up with nothing so this should be fairly easy.
The reorientation of the startup’s ethos – now, that’s a bit harder.
The admittance that you were wrong – good luck surviving Startup Weekend if you can’t bear to do that.

And if you pivot fast enough, you may be able to gather angular momentum.

(Because physics jokes.)

Thanks Auckland Startup Weekend crew, my awesome team and mentors of all shapes, ages, and professional backgrounds. You’ve all let me be weird. You’ve all changed my life.

I’ve learnt a lot.

And the Winners are…

Auckland Startup Weekend judges Rick Shera, Partner at Lowndes Jordan, Rod Snodgrass, CEO of Spark Ventures, and Lillian Grace, CEO of Wiki New Zealand, were wowed by 12 teams at Sunday Night Final Pitches at GridAKL on the waterfront.

Teams went head to head to impress judges with their business ideas, and Artfé ( came out on top to take first prize. Artfé is a platform that puts art into public spaces that the general public frequent on a regular basis such as cafes. They take art into the world and make it easy and simple for people to appreciate and subsequently purchase. “You don’t know what you want until you see it. This is art advertising itself.”

Team Artfe
Team Artfe

As the winning team, Artfe will receive an EROAD Team Experience, the Startup Law pack from Lowndes Jordan, the Spark Ventures Prize Bundle, not to mention AKLSW T-shirts and certificates to show off.

The runner-up this year was AnchorUp (@bookmyboat on Twitter). AnchorUp is an online market place that is connecting boat owners with boat enthusiasts wanting to rent a boat and explore the waves. They did a fantastic job with validation this Startup Weekend, with several customers already signed up and $900 in revenue!

Team AnchorUp
Team AnchorUp

All in all, it was a fantastic night with a great performance from all of the teams. The weekend was one rollercoaster startup journey that took the teams from idea to business – well done everyone, you’ve ‘gambatted’ and are now officially a part of the startup community. Spread the word, lean-in and play your part in making it grow.

The Countdown is On!

Sunday is action day that just buzzes with excitement. All the participants are rushing to perfect their decks, rehearse for the final pitch, and get ready for their big moment.

It’s all business as teams aim to nail the presentation, WOW the judges, and most importantly, prove their idea is THE ONE and come out on top.

Again, big thanks to all our wonderful mentors for their hard work over the last 48 hours, and our lovely sponsors in making it all happen.

The count down is on – here’s a final update of our teams pitching tonight:

  • Startup School – Train people in entrepreneurial skills so they can easily enter a startup as a founder or employee and leave their boring, unfulfilling job behind
  • Printless – Digital receipts that make everyones lives better
  • Meet a Local – Connects willing locals who show you the best of a city when travelling overseas
  • Procrast – App to help students stop procrastinating on their assignments and set themselves rewards and consequences
  • Precious Sense – Device that protect toddlers from heat related accidents in cars
  • Artfe – Connecting artists to fans in public spaces
  • Foodie.Me – Helping people with dietary requirements, especially self-inflicted, to find recipe inspiration
  • In Five – Nurture a curiosity from people with quirks to share
  • ExpertEase – Finding experts online when you are stuck on something specific
  • AnchorUp – Online market place connecting boat owners with boat enthusiasts wanting to rent a boat and explore the waves
  • Share If U Dare! – Where young professionals help personal trainees grow skills
  • My Ad Space – Online marketplace for ad space

The winning team tonight takes away an awesome EROAD Team Experience, a Lowndes Jordan Startup Law Pack, a Spark Ventures Bundle, as well as T-shirts and Certificates for all team members. Runner-ups will take home a Spark Ventures Bundle, T-shirts and Certificates. We also have special awards and lots of fun prizes!

Make sure you follow us on Twitter @AKLSW tonight for the live action!

Word of the Day – Validation!

After not-so-much sleep and (un)healthy doses of coffee, teams go through the crucial process of validation, validation and more validation!

A lot of changes have taken place in the last 12 hours as teams have debated, researched, validated, pivoted and dealt with the occasionally drama and spouts of despair. They’ve come a long way from ‘just an idea’ on Friday night and are pushing towards building a real business with the help of customer feedback.

It’s coming up end of play Saturday, and all the teams are in better shape with helpful guidance from our awesome mentors and (hopefully) ready to rock on Sunday. Here are the teams as they stand now:

  • Startup School – A 2 month programme to train people in entrepreneurial skills so they can easily enter a startup as a founder or employee and leave their boring, unfulfilling job behind
  • Artfé – A platform that allows cafe owners to easily dress their walls with professionally curated New Zealand art. Through the easy to use website, we enable art buyers to buy this art from the public spaces that are already a part of their day to day lives
  • AnchorUp – Online market place connecting boat owners with boat enthusiasts wanting to rent a boat and explore the waves
  • Skills Together – Online platform for quirky things you can teach and/or learn in 5 minutes
  • Foodie.Me – Helping people with dietary requirements, especially self-inflicted, to find recipe inspiration
  • Find a Local – When going overseas it can be hard to get a feel for the local culture if you don’t know the area. Find a Local connects tourists with regular people acting as tour guides for the day
  • My Ad Space – Centralised online platform for advertising opportunities
  • Share If U Dare – A platform for trainees and students who need practical experience prior to graduation to build a base of networking and a strong CV
  • My Precious – Affordable, easy to use, reliable fail safe tool to eliminate risks of heat related accidents for kids inside unattended cars
  • Printless – Digital receipts that make everyones lives better
  • BNP (better not procrastinate) – An app to help students in high school and university better stop procrastinating by creating new deadlines for things with consequences if they are failed
  • ExpertEase – Online market place for people who are not getting the expected solution to their specific technical problems online and in time and for experts who can provide on demand and instant help and guidance through video sessions

Stay tuned for final team updates tomorrow!

Friday Night Retrospect

Startup Weekend Auckland June 2015 at GridAKL is underway! This was not your usual Friday night out with a raucous happy hour at Wynyard Quarter, there’s more anticipation, more buzz and even more energy.

Nearly 80 participants were negotiating for talent, stretching their boundaries, and delving into all corners of their minds to formulate some resemblance of a plan. After some brilliant ideas and much consideration, the teams are formed as below (for now):

  • Startup School – Intensive programme to nurture entrepreneurial talent and career paths
  • Art Fe – Introducing art to buyers who previously did not have access
  • AnchorUp – Online platform connecting boat owners with boating enthusiasts wanting to rent boats and discover the waves
  • Skills Together – The peer to peer skill teaching platform
  • Foodie.Me – Inspiring foodies with trending recipes from their favourite restaurants and connecting them with fresh produce sellers in their area
  • Find a Local – Connecting locals with tourists to guide for a unique experience
  • MyAdspace – Market space ad space
  • Cup of Sugar – Student swapping services within campuses
  • My Precious – Looking to resolve the problem of parents forgetting their children in their cars and subsequent child deaths
  • Printless – Making the receipt process more friendly
  • BNP – Anti-procrastination app
  • Expert Ease – Online platform to provide solutions through video sessions

In the next 36 hours, the participants are going to roll up their sleeves and dive straight into the thrilling process of starting a business. There will be excitement, tension, exhilaration and possibly tears – but one thing is for sure, there won’t be a moment of boredom!

So let’s crack on and pull those ideas into shape – check back tonight to see how things change after Saturday’s validation and development.