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

(image source: LinkedIn)

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

(image source: Wikipedia)

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

(image source: necrophone.com)

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

(image source: Wikipedia)

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

(image source: Flickr)

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

(image source: Flickr)

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








Looking back at the Startup Weekend experience

By: Christoph Hartling, Lendy, the Winner of Startup Weekend Fall 2016

Startup Weekend Oulu Winner Lendy

 

It is almost exactly three months ago, when I made myself on the way to the city center of Oulu to participate in the Startup Weekend. Up to that point, I didn´t really know what was expecting me at the Startup Weekend Oulu, the only thing that was running through my mind was, that we somehow had to create a company within 54 hours!

When I arrived at the Business Kitchen venue, I was warmly welcomed and suddenly surrounded by dozens of young and likeminded people. Shortly after, the pitching started and I was impressed about the wide variety of different ideas, but also curious about how these ideas will develop during the Startup Weekend. After that, everything went really quick, we formed a team of four enthusiastic students and lost no time working on our business idea.

Even though, most of our team members had never participated in such a startup event before, we never felt lost or uncertain about our next steps. I can fairly say, that this was mainly through the great support of the Startup Weekend mentors.

In retrospect?

  • We got our own office space.
  • We launched our first website.
  • We found our first customers and early adopters.
  • We worked together and got supported by Finland’s biggest bank ─ OP Financial Group.
  • We went to Europe´s Leading Startup Event – Slush.

I guess answering the question, if it was worth participating at Startup Weekend Oulu is unnecessary, even if you have only read the last few sentences!








Five months later

By Marjaana Annala, Go Swap It, the Winner of Startup Weekend Oulu Spring 2016


Creating Go Swap It

Whenever someone asks me what Startup Weekend was like, I always have difficulties answering to it in a short way. To me, and I believe to many others as well, it meant a weekend where you totally step out of your comfort zone and do things you never thought were possible before. So how do you explain everything that happened, or everything that lead there, in a couple of sentences?

My best variable so far is this.

After a lot of pondering, I went there with an innocent idea that was a result of a 3-minute conversation with a friend a few months earlier (“Hey you know what would be cool?” “Oh yes that WOULD be cool!”) but no actual clue of what I should do with it. Truth be told, I still had no idea what I was going to do when I got there. To pitch or to not pitch my idea? I was extremely scared of even the mere idea of that.

I also did not have any idea of what I should do during the weekend – or how to do any of the things I should do. Complicated, huh? But shortly after I arrived I realized that it is perfectly fine, because on top of unlimited coffee and food, what was offered was unlimited support.

So I guess what happened was that a bunch of genius minds got together, were inspired by the same idea, joined forces and started working. No talk, all action, they said. And it truly was just that. All you really need to do is stop thinking, roll up your sleeves and start working.

Five months later?
I have my own company with the same awesome people I met at Startup Weekend.
I have pretty much my dream job.
I also have at least some kind of an idea what I’m doing.
As icing on the cake – and most importantly – a whole lot of new, amazing people in my life.

That is the beauty of Startup Weekend.








Entrepreneur’s Iconic Journey (Comic)

#entrepreneurfail Iconic Journey

 

I recently had an entire conversation with a startup founder with a handful of emojis, some bitmojis, and a picture.  As time is of the essence for founders, not a second should be wasted on non-essentials.  Who has time to type out words?

An entrepreneur’s love story can be portrayed in a series of icons:

  1. Firstly inspiration hits and an entrepreneur must do all he/she can to woo the idea.
  2. As the entrepreneur tries and tries to finds a customer, the sweat and tears change the love story  into a tragedy as we are not sure if the entrepreneur’s efforts will ever live up to the idea.
  3. The entrepreneur gets it in his/her head that a sure way to expand the love for the idea is through investors.
  4. The entrepreneur gets used to rejection and feels hopeless.
  5. The entrepreneur’s emotions go into a pit and he/she wonders if it was ever really true love with the idea?  Perhaps it is time to give up?
  6. When the entrepreneur is seconds away from giving away the true love of his/her life, the first customer materializes.  The skies break, and the sun shines through.

What’s your iconic startup story? Let us know in the comments below.

This was originally created by Kriti Vichare for #entrepreneurfail: Startup Success.







#SWDub takes a full swing with these 12 ideas

The votes are in and the top 12 ideas selected to be worked on over the weekend. In no particular order here the ideas to be turned into startups.

1. The Alpha Project – An ethnic minority youth empowerment initiative

 
2. FitMyBits.com – Online retail to help you get the best ‘bra’ fit

 
3. CliqCAD – Build Computer-aided drafting  (CAD) in seconds

 
4. SeeMyBuild – Go into the virtual reality world of architecture and construction

 
5. Comrade – Connecting people with similar outdoor interests. 

 
6. The Adventure Pack – Build groups to have amazing travel experiences

 
7. LunchBox – Pre-book your meal and pick them up. No queues.

 
8. FoodPlus – Discover restaurants closest to you with great deals

 
9. Freelancer – Connecting freelancers to clients

 
10. Appetizing – Book restaurants closest to you with meals you want

 
11. MingleConnect – Fixing the networking problem at conferences

 
12. Style Mix – Get customized fashion items result based on machine learning

There you have it. The teams will be going through the process of drain dump, and refining their ideas with help from mentors and coaches tomorrow, all to come up with an MVP to be pitched to the judges in the 54th hour.








Gymy does the double at #SWDub

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54 hours later and we’ve come to the end of the road for #SWDub – April Edition. Just like any other Startup Weekends, we’ve had a fair share of pitching, coaching, mentoring, hacking, pivoting, re-branding, munching, drinking, among other things.

We even had a session with mentors sharing their failure stories.

Of all 11 ideas, here are those that made it to the big stage for prizes:

The team behind Sober Sean was awarded special recognition for showing team spirit. According to Eamon Leonard, a #SWDub judge, this was very important and essential to the success of any venture.

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In 3rd Place – 11th Hour, the startup idea to help pubs and bars get last minute employees. The mobile solution was very impressive and definitely meets a need for businesses.

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And in 2nd Place – Xiron, an online platform that helps gamers book coaches in order to improve gaming skills through one-on-one play, feedback system, and community rankings and ratings. The judges were mostly impressed with the idea as it explored a sector that has is very underestimated especially when it comes to revenue and profitability.

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And the winner for the April 2015 edition of Startup Weekend Dublin is Gymy, a startup that describes itself as the Airbnb for Gyms, allowing users make on-demand bookings for gym sessions. The team also won the prize for best pitch from the judges for a very well rounded presentation.

The winning team will be headed to Startup Festival in Berlin, courtesy of the DCU Ryan Academy. They also get to go on to Startup Next, one of Europe’s best incubator. Many thanks to our other sponsors – Bank of Ireland, Google, The T-Shirt Company, European Pioneers, WeDevelop, and Currency Fair.

Till next time, which should be at the June edition of Startup Weekend, keep doing epic sh*t!

That’s all folks!
– @NubiKay. Signing out.








#SWDub Mentor Series: We need more cyber security startups

Paul Watson is a full-stack web developer and current Chief Technology Officer at Storyful with 12 years of experience in the industry. His primary technical skills are in Ruby on Rails, SQL, JavaScript, HTML and CSS. 

On this second edition of the #SWDub Mentor Series, sponsored by Bank of Ireland, we reached out to him to tell us about his role at Startup Weekend as well as his expectations for the upcoming event.

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Storyful’s Web Front-end Developer, Serena Fritsch and CTO, Paul Watson

 

Q. What are your thoughts on Startup Weekend and how have you participated?

I think this will be my fourth Startup Weekend, all in the mentor role, and each time I’m blown away not only by the ideas but by the people there. The organizers and other mentors are the best Ireland has and the teams are so diverse.

I have also come to see that the Startup Weekend is one of the few hackathon-type events that results in long term change, real businesses and ideas come out of the weekend, go on to secure funding, growth, and becoming success stories.

 

Q. What is one sector or space you’d like to see more ideas from during the Startup Weekend?

That will definitely be Security. This is because even since the last Startup Weekend in November there have been further breaches (Sony) and the industry is getting even more investment from all sizes of business.

The industry also needs novel ways of protecting data and systems, the established ways are not working and startups are great at bringing new thinking to an industry. Moreso, social media platforms are lagging when it comes to team based security. The password to your million-follower Twitter account is shared amongst your whole company? That’s crazy!

 

Q. What tip do you have for participants and area of expertise are you happy to help with?

Everyone in the team has to talk to potential customers, not just the designer and the business person. Everyone hears something different when a customer speaks and that all needs to be collected and discussed.

As to my area of expertise, I can help out on all matters technical including: front-end, back-end, infrastructure, but I always need product-context to give good
technical advice.

Use Ruby! Don’t use Ruby! It depends.

That’s it from Paul. You can catch him on twitter at @PaulMWatson. He’d also be around mentoring and coaching teams at the Startup Weekend Dublin. Do share and stay tuned for the next post in the #SWDub Mentor Series courtesy of our sponsor, Bank of Ireland.








Ideas vs. The Execution of Ideas (Comic)

#entrepreneurfail Thinker Doer

This one is dedicated to all of you soon to be new graduates. What a bigger driver? Strategy OR the tactics to bring those strategies to life?  The answer is that it depends on the role you will pursue. However for the entrepreneurial path, there is only one answer: BOTH are equally important.

To those thinking of going to work at a university: to succeed you have to excel and shine with your thinking and ideas. Your varied thoughts and points of view will be rewarded.

To those who will be joining the eventual ranks of middle management, Dilbert, and the cast of The Office, be ready to run nonstop if you want to succeed. You will get promoted based on how many things you can juggle and how well you can keep them in the air, not by generating ideas.

And finally to those thinking of jumping off into the startup deep end, ideas and execution are two sides of the same coin. Both are equally essential and skills in both will get you closer to success.

What are your thoughts? Share in the comments below.

This was originally created by Kriti Vichare for #entrepreneurfail: Startup Success.








10 ideas to be pitched at the #SWDub Finals

It’s the final day at the November edition of Startup Weekend Dublin and the clock gets closer and closer to the 54-hour mark.

SEE: #SWDUb recap from the first and second day.

Starting from 15 ideas, teams have pivoted, rebranded, closed shop, joined forces and here are the final 10 to pitch at the #SWDub Finals.

10. Baffle is an on-line raffling platform, Done-Deal style.

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9. Utripia wants to customize your perfect trip
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8. Elected allows voters better learn and engage with politicians

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7. Cajou connects home cooks with guests around a city

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6. Behabit is a parenting aid to turn good behaviour into habits

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5. Find Me helps you stay connected to your pet wirelessly

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4. Cooler is all about real-time, geo-located, targeted promotions

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3. Yes! Buddy Fitness is your motivation mate

yesbuddy

 

2. Gift Me is a fun efficient way crowdfund presents that your friends will love

GiftMe

 

1. O! Seppe is an interactive, tailored, cost effective staff induction solution

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All the best to all the teams pitching. Follow @SWDub for live updates from the finals and tweet us your favourite ideas using the hashtag #SWDub.








A recap of the first day at #SWDub

The November edition of Startup Weekend kicked off in Dublin on a very high note. It was interesting to see a good number of entrepreneurs – designers, developers, and business people gathered for an amazing weekend.

It sure didn’t take long before the ideas started flowing. The ‘Half Baked‘ activity just went to show how creative people could be on the fly with ideas like Green Samurias, Unicorn Shampoo, and Baby Microphone – solutions to real life problems with interesting business models too. 

SEE: 5 tips going into Startup Weekend

An amazing dinner was made possible by our sponsors Burritos & Blues and Tom Crean’s; and really cool schwggs from Google (for Entrepreneurs) and Bank of Ireland.

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It was great to see people pitching startup ideas and forming teams across different areas including health, mobile, communication, social media, enterprise, productivity, educationtravel and more during the night. You can check out some of the favourites ideas here.

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Perhaps the most important word for the evening was from event judge and Googler, Anatolyl when he said:

Day 1 of Startup Weekend – #SWDub ended with 15 teams looking to build products and solutions, validate, and pitch to a panel of judges at the end of the weekend.

Follow their progress on Twitter and Vine – @SWDub and tweet us your experience using the hashtag #SWDub.