SWPgh Stories: Follow Your Fear, Find Your Adventure

This is the final 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.

Andrea Wetherald: “Startup Weekend is an invitation to be your bravest self”


A year and a half ago, my team won Startup Weekend. My company, Share Closet, was brought to life by a group of people who were strangers to me the week before. Before we get too far into this, I should warn you: This is not a blog post about how to win Startup Weekend. That will cost you a mojito! (Just kidding. The trick to winning is extensive market research and having a team made up of the greatest people on Earth.) This is a blog post about doing something you’re afraid of, being vulnerable, finding your tribe, and starting an adventure.


Out of the Comfort Zone

I was terrified of Startup Weekend — I hate public speaking and felt nervous about sharing something I cared so much about, with people I barely knew. What if they don’t like my idea? What if I tell them about the research I’ve done so far and I sound stupid? What if I break out in hives on stage and forget everything I was going to say and pass out in front of everyone?

In improv comedy, there’s a saying: “Follow the Fear.” Although I didn’t know it yet, that’s exactly what I was doing at Startup Weekend. I was pushed out of my comfort zone and into a second family. I couldn’t be more thankful for the friends and mentors I met that weekend, and the wonderful adventure that was launched because of it.


Be Your Bravest Self

I’m not working on Share Closet anymore. (That story will cost you a mojito.) I’m at peace with it: I’m currently working at a job I love, another Pittsburgh startup called LoyalTree, with some pretty wonderful people. And I spend almost every night with a group of lunatics from Steel City Improv Theater. I wouldn’t have been led to either of those things without Startup Weekend. If you’re reading this and thinking “I could never be brave enough to pitch my idea in front of a room full of strangers,” follow your fear! Startup Weekend is an invitation to be your bravest self, and to find a group of people who will support your adventure (and to get barely any sleep, and to probably get a cold).

It’s worth it! You can do it! Find your adventure!

Andrea Wetherald won Startup Weekend #3 with her company Share Closet. She is also an account Manager for local startup LoyalTree and an avid member of Steel City Improv Theater.

SWPgh Stories: Making the Most of Your Weekend

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.

Nineteen tweets and 5,000 followers ... looks legit, right?
Nineteen tweets and 5,000 followers … looks legit, right?

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.

When it comes to Startup Weekend, your landing page needs to do just enough.

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.

2. Networking

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.

SWPgh Stories: "It's All About the Journey"

Hello, everyone! Today is the first in a series of awe-inspiring guest posts between now and SWPgh#6. We have an all-star lineup of past participants and supporters here to share their experiences and insights about what it really means to participate in Startup Weekend Pittsburgh. Today, we’re proud to bring you Lee Ngo. So take it away, Lee.

 — Christian Moreno, SWPgh#6 social media contributor

Lee Ngo: Winning takes back seat to community, creativity, innovation

I am addicted to Startup Weekend Pittsburgh.

Lee Ngo
This is what Startup Weekend addiction looks like.

Since I moved to Pittsburgh two years ago, I have competed once, volunteered three times, and I’m about to organize twice: first for SWPgh#6 on Nov. 21-23, and then for Pittsburgh’s first Startup Weekend Education in February. And yet …

… I have never won or even placed.

My first experience was the greatest experience of my life. I was a competitor on a well-rounded, savvy team working to improve academic performance — and we had our asses handed to us by apps that:

Lee's Nixon salute
Going out a winner … er, loser.

I am jealous of the winners … for about a day.

Ultimately, it did not matter if we won or lost. In fact, our company still continues on, much to everyone’s surprise (even ours). And there are many other teams that have done well in spite of not winning or placing, but went on to do some interesting and fantastic stuff:

  • Inktd: a platform for tattoo artists to book their clients in an orderly manner
  • MaxMyTV: an integrated social media and home media tool
  • MegaBits: a massive multiplayer online game that uses geolocation
  • Nymbus: a way to integrate mobile technologies into the live event experience


Startup Weekend is a sprint. Entrepreneurship is a marathon.

Some ideas keep going, and others are done by the end of the competition. A few don’t even make it to the presentation round, but we do everything we can to encourage them to go through the journey. Why? Because it’s all about the journey.

You don’t have to be a rock-star coder, a heralded artist, or a hotshot salesperson. You just have to be open and willing to be inspired by something new. It helps to be fearless, and it helps even more to be friendly.

SWPgh is 100% volunteer driven. We are not motivated by personal gain, for if we were, we’d be doing something else. We love the rush of entrepreneurship. We are addicted to teamwork, creativity, innovation, and theatricality. Above all, we do it for the community.

Group photo.
This photo is missing something: You.

I come back every year because it’s the most fun you’ll have in the entrepreneurial world of Pittsburgh.

Join us. Startup Weekend was created just for you.

Lee Ngo is a co-organizer of Startup Weekend Pittsburgh and lead organizer of Startup Weekend Education Pittsburgh. He is also the founder of Scholar Hero, which was conceived at SWPgh#2.

Five Things You Need to Know About SWPgh#6

Let the countdown begin! It’s a little more than 3 weeks until our sixth Startup Weekend Pittsburgh, and we can’t wait to show you what’s in store.

Now maybe you’re a Startup Weekend newcomer, wondering if this event is for you and whether you should participate. Maybe you’re a battle-tested startup veteran, thinking it’s time to pitch your next great idea. Whoever you are, here’s what you need to know about SWPgh#6:

1 You’re guaranteed to meet and work with amazing people.

Startup Weekend attracts our community’s most passionate makers and doers. This isn’t just a happy-hour. By spending a weekend to create companies that solve real-world problems, you’ll build long-lasting relationships with your teammates, competitors, coaches, sponsors, volunteers, and attendees.

2 You’ll sharpen your skills and pick up new ones.

With a whole weekend dedicated to letting your creative juices flow, Startup Weekends are perfect opportunities to work on a new platform, try public speaking, add to your portfolio, hone vital teamwork skills, learn a new programming language, or just try something different.

3 You’ll get face time with community leaders, thinkers, and doers.

Kicking off SWPgh#6 will be keynote speaker Justin Mares, author of the book “Traction: A Startup Guide to Getting Customers.” And facilitating throughout the weekend, we’re thrilled to have Jon Rossi, a one-man Startup Weekend dynamo and the founder of mydealerservice.com. There will also be amazing hands-on coaches who will mentor your teams, and a host of sponsors including Google, Saul Ewing, AlphaLab, No Wait, The Hardware Store, C-Leveled, Pittsburgh Technology Council, and Wall-to-Wall Studios, with even more to come!

4 You’ll learn more in 54 hours than you thought possible.

Startup Weekends are all about learning through the act of creating. Don’t just listen to theory — build your own strategy, and test it as you go. You don’t need to have a startup idea to participate. Because at Startup Weekend Pittsburgh, creating companies is just the tip of the iceberg. We make entrepreneurs.

5 Tickets will go fast.

SWPgh#6 will sell out before you know it. General registration is $99, with student tickets set at $49. Your ticket covers meals, snacks, access to exclusive resources from our sponsors, and of course, all the coffee you can drink. What are you waiting for?

Got questions? Email pittsburgh@startupweekend.org.