7 Tips to Help You Win Startup Weekend

I should probably say “7 tips to help you maximize your chance to win Startup Weekend,” because if more teams follow my advice, there will only be a one winner anyway. And quite frankly, it still doesn’t guarantee anything because there are judges that decide and pick the winners.

I’ve mentored a lot of teams on Startup Weekends over the past few years and I noticed that the top 3 teams have always had something in common. They succeeded in validation, business and product – what are the categories for judging criteria? Here are my 7 steps that help you succeed and maximize your chance to win Startup Weekend.

First things first, though. Winning Startup Weekend feels great, and it gives you your 15 minutes of glory on the stage. Actually, winning any startup competition feels great.

However, winning any startup competition will never make your business successful. It motivates you, gives you some head start in reaching out to partners, advisors and maybe customers, but that’s it. Therefore, your long term goal should never be to win a startup competition.

A quick tip before I get to the particular steps: a complex idea or product (like an enterprise software) isn’t usually a good idea for Startup Weekends, because it’s very unlikely that you will be able to validate the problem and idea as well as build the prototype.

Startup Weekend can help you a lot anyway, because the mentors are experienced and can help you get the idea to the next stage (and even connect you with your potential customers).

Just have in mind that your chance to win is smaller, because Startup Weekend is mostly about learning the lean approach and it is much faster and easier with small projects.

Step 1 – Prepare elevator pitch

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Every Startup Weekend starts with the pitching where the participants pitch the ideas that they want to work on. The pitch is only 1 minute and there can be 20 people pitching, so make sure that you prepare for it.

Don’t try reinvent the wheel with what you say and make it simple. Instead of figuring out the super unique original pitch, practice its delivery at home in front of the mirror. I take a video of myself when I’m preparing for an important pitch and don’t finish practicing until I’m happy with it.

This is what Ross from Australia used when he won the Startup Weekend in Perth:

Hi, My name is _____ and I’m here today to invite you to join me in <business name> that <main value proposition>. My background is in <relevant background> and I’ve seen a problem/opportunity where <problem/opportunity>. I think we can solve this by <how you do it>. I need <mobile app developer / web developer / UX designer /etc.>

One super important thing here. Don’t talk about features when describing value proposition. The value proposition is the benefit the the user or customer will get, while feature is the way of providing that benefit .

Step 2 – Build Your Team

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I’ll be getting back to the judging criteria, because that’s what you need do well in order to succeed.

You need to validate your idea, create a business model and execute well and you need to build the team that can do all of that. It means covering business (sales and marketing), programming, and design.

Being the CEO doesn’t mean you’re the only one who coordinates the team. Your job is to motivate the team by putting much effort into the project and doing the most leg work, not by saying what has to be done. It’s important that every team member has their clear role, understands what she or he needs to do and accepts it.

Once the roles are clear, make a brief plan for the whole weekend and include a short, 5 to 10 minutes long, and catch up every 2 hours. That will help the whole team understand what you need to focus on.

A secret tip: don’t be afraid to talk to people and literally recruit them for your project. Get to know the people before the elevator pitches start.

If you like someone, pitch them your idea and ask whether they want to work with you.

If you don’t find anyone, do it after the elevator pitches while everyone is voting. Recruiting more people also means more votes and better chance that your project will be selected.

Step 3 – Validate, Validate, Validate

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I’ve mentored over 100 startups on startup competitions. If I exclude a few exceptions, validating that the idea that you are working on is resolving a real problem is the biggest issue during Startup Weekend of each and every team.

I’m not blaming the teams for that, because they don’t know how to do it, schools don’t teach it. You can read more in my post on Techstars Blog. If you are lazy and want only some bullet points, here you go:

  1. Talk to the real people (not family and friends) that are your target audience and literally start as soon as can. There was a startup working on a service for homeless people and they went to the park to talk to homeless people. If they could do it, you can do it as well.
  2. Ask the target audience about what problems do they have and don’t pitch your idea. That would bias them and it’s very likely that everybody would like the idea. However, the fact that someone likes the idea doesn’t mean that the idea solves a real problem.
  3. If you validate that the problem exists, learn more about how are the people solving the problem today and who they are. This will help you understand how complicated it is for your potential customers to solve the problem today, and what might be the customer segments within your target audience.

If your target audience are families, go to the mall – families go there on weekends.

If you have a B2B idea, use your network and ask for introductions. It’s very likely that someone that you know knows a doctor, accountant, lawyer, etc.

Go where your target audience is and talk to them. It’s out of the comfort zone, but that’s where the road to success is.

If you don’t validate that the idea doesn’t solve a real problem of real people, you can’t win.

Step 4 – Create a Business Model

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Startup is a business and business needs to earn money. Therefore, you need to understand:

  1. Who is your customer?
  2. What exactly is the customer paying for and how much?
  3. How are you going to acquire the customer? (it’s called go-to-market strategy)
  4. How much does acquiring a new customer cost? (it’s called customer acquisition cost)

A great way to understand all the relationships in your business is to fill out the business model canvas. I’m pretty sure that this is also one of the first things the Startup Weekend organizers recommend you to do.

What is important here is that the customer lifetime value, what is the total revenue from a customer, needs to be significantly higher than customer acquisition cost. If not, your business doesn’t have a chance to be profitable.

You should also know how big is your market, but you don’t need to go into too many details. It’s not easy to do so during the weekend, and understanding who your customer is and how are you going to get them is much more important.

A secret hint is to use Facebook advertising demographic targeting to define your audience find the approximate number of people interested in the topic.

Step 5 – Get Traction

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54 hours, and especially during the weekend, is an extremely short time to get the first user or even customer. But if you manage to get them, it usually counts and is more important that problem validated by interviewing your potential customers. This is because customers are the ultimate validation.

Don’t try to fake it with friends, because the judges are smart people and can figure that out.

You may also think of how the hell could you get users and customers when you don’t have the product ready, and it’s a totally accurate question or concern. A great work-around that also counts is to create a landing page and collect sign ups from people who are interested in your idea and want to know when you launch. If you get them to pay at least a few dollars, euros, or whatever your currency is, that’s even better.

Don’t spend money on paid advertising. Reach out to your network on social media, ask mentors or organizers for some introductions and post (don’t spam) to Facebook or LinkedIn groups.

Building a simple landing page with a tool like Instapage takes an hour (including the integration with Google Analytics and Mailchimp), so there is literally no excuse for not doing it.

Also, even though you are a designer or developer, don’t waste time with building a custom landing page. Rather spend that time on building and designing the product.

Step 6 – Build MVP

(image source: Crisp.se, ©Henrik Kniberg)

MVP stands for “minimum viable product.” There are tons of definitions of what exactly an MVP is, but don’t worry about them. They would only distract you.

Think of an MVP as a product that provides its users with the basic solution to the problem that it’s solving for them. For example: 

  • the MVP of Uber could allow you to order a car and a driver to accept your order. No payments, ratings, discounts, animated cars, etc. 
  • the MVP of Facebook could allow you to create your profile, connect with friends and publish a status update with comments. No photo upload, no chat, no videos, no Facebook pages, no groups, etc. 

Even if it may look like that, an MVP isn’t an excuse for a sloppy app full of bugs. The MVP has to work well, the user experience needs to be good and it needs to look good enough. It has to help the users resolve the problem and be excited about the upgrades that you will be doing.

54 hours is not a lot of time, so avoid spending time on figuring out whether the button would be dark blue or light blue. Some people say that if you aren’t embarrassed for your MVP, it usually means that you spent too much time on it.

I wouldn’t take it literally at a Startup Weekend, because design is also what matters. However, having beautiful screenshots and slides will not help you if you don’t have anything that works.

Step 7 – Prepare the Final Pitch

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Many teams underestimate the power of the final pitch and don’t spend enough time on preparing it. It’s important to realize that your pitch is the only 4 or 5 minutes to convince the judges that your project deserves to win.

Don’t forget that there are going to be 10 to 20 teams pitching. How many of them do you think the judges will really remember?

  1. Your pitch needs to be super smooth.
  2. The story needs to be crystal clear.
  3. The details have to address the judging criteria.
  4. It needs a WOW! factor that the judges will remember.

Of course, the presentation needs to look nice as well. Powerpoint and Keynote have a lot of templates that are good enough.

Now it’s clear that you will need a few hours to do a good pitch. Ideally, one team member should spend the whole Sunday working on it.

However, the final pitch isn’t only about the slides. It’s also about delivering them. Being sharp, full of energy and speaking natural like it’s the most common thing that you do is also important.

Delivering the pitch is as important as the content and one doesn’t work with the other one. So practice, practice, practice. Use the mirror, pitch to mentors and ask for feedback, record the video (or at least voice) so you can hear yourself – I know, it feels embarrassing. But get over it. And deliver like a king.

A secret tip: anticipate the questions from the judges. They will very likely ask similar questions to what the mentors ask you. Prepare the answers. If there is anything that you want to say and don’t have enough time, give the judges only the hook in the pitch. Manipulate them into asking the questions that you want them to ask.

A secret second tip: learn who the judges are and tweak the presentation for at least one of them. For example, if one of the judges is an investor, focus on the opportunity and how big of a company could you potentially be. If there is a judge from the same industry as your idea, spend the most time of presenting to him.

That’s it. Good luck and have fun! Let me know in comments how did it went and if anything isn’t clear.

This was originally published here








8 Tips for Dealing with Competitors

Competition is a strange topic. It is both underrated and overrated. This may seem like a contradiction, but it really isn’t.

Startups often don’t spend enough time understanding the market and spend too much time worrying about competition once they launch.

In this post, we look at different aspects of competition and how a startup can deal with its competitors.

Do the Market Research Before You Launch

Before you launch your startup, you need to study the market. Startups are about the opportunities, and to identify an opportunity, the founding team needs to do market research.

The worst way to start the company is to start without understanding the market.

Just identifying the need and talking to customers is not enough. Part of the initial research is also understanding the competition. Who else is working on this problem? Are they small startups or big companies? How long have they been at it? How are they doing? Are they succeeding? If not, why not?

Understanding the competition is critical, because the opportunity may actually not exist.

Sure, customers may want the product, but competitors may already have a good enough offering. Founders rarely spend enough time doing market research and really understanding existing competitors, yet it is a critical part of launching a successful company.

Beware of ‘No Competitors’

There are a handful of red flags that turn off investors. One of them is when the CEO of a startup says, “We have no competitors. No one else has thought about this, we are the first ones!”

No matter how you look at it, saying you have no competitors is not a good thing.

First of all, by definition, all good ideas are competitive, and all real markets have competition. Lack of competition may imply lack of opportunity. Either there is no customer need, or the opportunity is small and not compelling.

More often than not, investors know the market better than founders and can name competitors better than the founders. This is also a bad situation, because it means that the founders either didn’t do their homework or did it poorly.

Either way, when a CEO says his or her company has no competitors, this creates immediate concerns and trust issues for potential investors.

Know Your Past and Future Competitors

When investors think about opportunities, they don’t just think of them in the present moment. The founders are expected to know about competitors who failed in the past and about potential future competitors as well.

For example, people have worked on Artificial Intelligence and Virtual Reality before and those efforts didn’t quite succeed.

Many startups are working in these spaces again and say that this time things will be different. While that may very much be true, the investors want to know what exactly is different now, what conditions didn’t exist before, and why this time is going to be different.

Similarly, it is important to think about who else may enter the market. This is a much more difficult dynamic to predict because by definition, predictions are difficult.

Investors often ask the founders what would happen if Google or another large company went after their market. While not possible to predict, it is good to think about this question and be ready to answer when asked.

Figure out Your Competitive Differentiation

Market research and studying your current, past and future competitors eventually boils down to one thing—what is your differentiation?

What is your unique insight? Why and how are you different? Why does this difference matter enough for you to win?

This is why having Founder-Market Fit is particularly important. Founders who have experience in their specific market typically have unique insights and are able to come up with offerings that are differentiated.

A good differentiation is typically product, go-to-market or sales advantage. Product advantage is created when your product is substantially different in how it works from competitors’ products.

Go-to-market advantage is based on channels that you are able to secure that no competitors can lock in. Sales advantage is typically based on your experience and deep understanding of the customers.

Keep Track of Your Competition, but Ignore the Noise

Most founders spend too much time worrying about competition on a daily basis. News is extremely noisy—someone launches something every day. If you follow every single bit of news from every one of your competitors, your life is likely a major emotional roller coaster.

In the end of the day, it is not what your competitors do, but rather what you do that matters more. You don’t have control over product releases, sales and PR of your competitors—all you can control is your own business.

Focusing on creating the best possible product that your customers love is your best defense against competition.

Instead of reading daily news about competition, set up a quarterly, or at most monthly, review of both competitors’ news and more importantly, products. This way you can keep track of what’s happening without the stress involved in following your competitors daily.

Accept and Play “The Idea Exchange” Game

When I was running my startups, I remember that feeling I would get when a competitor launched something that we had previously launched. A competitor stole our idea! Even worse, they executed it better, and no one gave us credit for being first.

Founders often complain about this situation. The reality is that this is now an accepted reality. Today, companies readily copy products and iterate on each others’ ideas. There is no protection for ideas; they are basically free to take.

Founders should just stop complaining and assume that their ideas will be copied.

The product and the business needs to be able to survive in the environment where pieces of UX and user flows are being copied.

In exchange, you as a founder benefit from taking ideas from your competitors’ products. Much like they copy your ideas, you can copy their ideas.

Build Relationship with Your Competitors

While sharing secrets with competitors is a bad idea, being friendly in general makes sense. Competitors are typically the most knowledgeable folks about the space besides you, and it is interesting to talk to them and get their perspective, again, without revealing too much.

Founders tend to run into their competitors at conferences and events, and naturally have the opportunity to connect. By building the relationship with your competitors you are both helping co-create the space, and getting to know your competitors as people.

You never know what the future holds. It may make sense for you to join forces or create a partnership. Markets with big opportunities tend to consolidate, so investing in a relationship with your competitors is likely a net positive for you.

Win with Your Heart and Mind

Once you are in the market, you compete on the product and your unique approach to the problem. No one but you knows exactly what you think and what you are building.

You win because of your unique approach, not because your competitors did or didn’t do something, copied or didn’t copy you.

Ultimately, competition does not matter nearly as much as your vision and your resilience.

You win by imagining the future and taking your customers, your company and the world there. You win with the product that is unique to you, with the business execution that is yours.

No competitor can take it away from you because they don’t see the world the same way. Your competitors aren’t you.

The best founding teams have their eyes set on the vision, their true north, and go there, regardless of what the competition does or doesn’t do.

The best founding teams win with their hearts and minds.








BBVA Open Talent 2015 Competition

The BBVA Open Talent, is a startup competition inspired on the open innovation model of BBVA, with the main objective to identify the most innovative projects, support them, look for sinergy and implement them in the organization. The three concepts that best define the essence of BBVA Open Talent are entrepreneurs, startups and open innovation.

The competition is thought for entrepreneurs and startups with technological, innovative and centered on the fintech topic projects. This is the seventh edition of an international contest aimed for entrepreneurs and startups. We want to foster innovation in the financial ecosystem, in these topics:

  • Mobile banking
  • Payments and money transfer
  • Consumer Loans
  • Cryptonetworks
  • Alternative loans
  • Risk analysis
  • Investment managementes
  • Financial inclusion and education
  • Fraud management

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BBVA Open Talent takes twenty finalists per region and provides them an opportunity to present to reputable judges. All finalists will spend the day before the competition interacting with key global BBVA executives and decision makers. Even if you don’t walk away a winner, you’ll walk away having gained new experience and insight that can’t be found elsewhere.

During the immersion course, winners will spend a week in Mexico gaining first hand experience with the LATAM market and international scaling. This is paired with a week spent in London, spending more time with venture capitalists, embracing the local startup ecosystem.  It’s access to powerful thought leaders like none other.

Winners will also have the opportunity to enjoy a unique experience in El Celler de Can Roca, appointed as the best restaurant of the world in 2015, with the Roca brothers in the heart of their restaurant and in La Masía, their innovation center.

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Also, the Special Award for Financial Inclusion of BBVA Open Talent 2015 looks for startups with digital financial solutions for low income customers or small business. The winner will travel to Maputo, Mozambique, to pitch his project in the Global Policy Forum in September 2015 and will also participate in the Immersion and interaction program.

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How to apply?
To apply, just follow these simple instructions:
2. Fill your application, and in question number 43, select Techstars.
3. Done!
Good luck!
For more information, go to: http://bit.ly/OpenTalent15
To see this post in spanish, click here. 







10 Questions Judges Ask Startup Entrepreneurs

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The biggest startup battle in the world is currently taking place, so what better time to brush up on the things you need to present to judges, if you want a fighting chance at taking home the big prize. Assuming that your product demo went well and your user interface and experience was compelling, here are ten questions that you can expect to hear from the judges at your startup competition.

  1. What proof is there that this is a real problem?

  2. What proof is there that this is the right solution?

  3. What is your defensibility? (i.e. Why won’t an existing company do this? Why can you do it better and/or faster?)

  4. How will you get your first 100 customers?

  5. How big is the market? (i.e. How many people can potentially use this solution?)

  6. How often does your product show up in your user’s day or week?

  7. What will be your phases of product and business development?

  8. How will you monetize and scale?

  9. Why is now the right time to solve this problem?

  10. Why is your team the one who can pull this off?

 

Anything missing from this list? Add it in the comments section below.








Calling All Education Entrepreneurs: The Largest Startup Competition in the World Wants You

November sure is a special time of year! Not only did President Obama officially declare it National Entrepreneurship Month, but the largest startup competition in the world, Global Startup Battle (GSB), is just nine days away! Taking place November 14-23rd, GSB 2014 marks the first time education entrepreneurs will have their own track within the competition to showcase their latest and greatest innovations. Titled Education, Empowered Track, nine of the biggest players in the edtech industry will be joining the public to determine the most promising new edtech startup of the competition.

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The Largest Startup Competition in the World

Every year during Global Entrepreneurship Week, UP Global, gives entrepreneurs in over 250 cities around the world the opportunity to compete for prizes designed to help them move their startup forward. The competition is called Global Startup Battle (GSB), and past and present partners include Google, Coca Cola, Amazon, Sprint, Bigcommerce, and more. With over 30,000 people taking part this year, it will easily be our biggest GSB ever! Check out last year’s winners, as well as the GSB 2013 infographic, and be sure to visit the website to find out more about what you can expect from GSB this year.

The Education, Empowered Track is GSB’s First Education-Focused Contest

This year, Education Entrepreneurs and General Assembly are proud to be co-hosting the first ever Education, Empowered Track within GSB. Thousands of people at 10 Startup Weekend Education (SWEDU) events and over 200 general Startup Weekend events will be participating, and we expect more than 300 teams to be building solutions for education over the span of just 10 days. Ideas will be judged on four categories: Education Impact, User Experience, Execution, and Validation. (See here for full judging criteria). If you’re feeling disappointed by the current education offerings, have an idea to make things better, or want to contribute to the movement to innovate and improve education, then participating in the Education, Empowered Track is a great step for you to take.

Powerhouse Sponsors, Judges, and Prize Packages are Included

This year, we’re excited to announce that General Assembly is the official sponsor of the Education, Empowered Track. As one of the largest and most successful education organization’s in the world, General Assembly is excited to work with education entrepreneurs during GSB to improve the way people learn, increase access to education, and ensure that everyone is empowered to be a thinker and maker.

The Judges are also incredible! New Schools Venture Fund, Pearson Affordable Learning Fund, Edsurge, Class Dojo, and the Institute for Global and Online Education have all joined General Assembly to ensure participants get the opportunity to showcase their products to some of the biggest influencers in the space of education innovation. (See the full list of judges here).

$20,000 USD in General Assembly Courses, $5,000 USD Living Stipend, One-on-One Mentoring Sessions, 40 Hours of Support, Legal Startup Kit, and Social Media Super Powers. This is the current prize package, and there’s still more coming in every week! Organizations are eager to reward the brightest minds coming together to improve education, so be sure to check back before November 14th to see what awesome prizes are added!

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Anyone Can Participate

The GSB competition begins with a Startup Weekend event taking place during the 10-day span of GSB (November 14th-23rd). Dispersed throughout the world, these events welcome anyone and everyone to dabble in the world of entrepreneurship and work as a team to build an innovating new product and startup. Startup Weekend is known as the weekend-long experiential learning event that helps people turn their idea into a startup in less than 54 hours. The motto is No Talk, All Action, so if you have an idea that you want to pitch, or a desire to contribute your skills and ideas to an existing team, be sure to sign up to participate, before spots run out.

10 Startup Weekend Education (SWEDU) Events Are Taking Place During GSB

Anyone participating in a Startup Weekend event during GSB, who builds an edtech startup over the weekend, is eligible to participate in the Education, Empowered Track. It’s important to note that there are two types of Startup Weekend events: general Startup Weekend events are referred to as such, whereas Startup Weekend Education events are often times referred to as SWEDU. The elements that make a SWEDU event different from a Startup Weekend is that 25% of the participants are educators, all the Coaches and Judges at the event are experts in education and education technology, and all ideas being worked on over the weekend are specifically focused on solving an education problem. Both types of Startup Weekend events will be taking place during GSB, so irrespective of which type you sign up for, as long as you’re developing an education solution, you’re automatically eligible to participate in the Education, Empowered Track.

Here is a list of all GSB events, and below you’ll find the 10 events that are specifically SWEDUs.

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Education Entrepreneurship is Year-Round

Anyone who wants to innovate education gets a unique opportunity to participate in a Startup Weekend or SWEDU event during GSB and compete for awesome prizes and major international exposure! However, we want to make sure you know and understand that the opportunity to utilize entrepreneurship to solve problems in education is something you can do year-round. Education Entrepreneurs is the official community within UP Global that specifically focuses on leveraging entrepreneurship to improve education outcomes.

Recognizing that people aiming to innovate education face unique problems that require unique solutions, Education Entrepreneurs has created a suite of programs to specifically help education entrepreneurs along their journey. Programs include SWEDU, Startup Digest Education, bootcamps, meetups, resources, and a global network of Community Leaders who are eager to help. Located in all six major continents, Education Entrepreneurs makes it easy for anyone, anywhere to play an active role in shaping the future of education.

Learn more about the Education, Empowered Track

Check out what else is going on at Global Startup Battle

Follow all the Education, Empowered action on Twitter using hashtag #GSBedu

Got questions? Email EducationEntrepreneurs@up.co