When I asked Stacy Jasper (pictured above), a participant in the recent Health Triangle Startup Weekend (TSW Health), why someone should participate in a startup weekend, she replied, “To challenge yourself to try something new.” Lucky for all of us, Stacy provided more great advice, and we think it’s too good not to share. So check out our Q&A with Stacy below and don’t forget to sign up for Triangle Startup Weekend: Women, it’s coming up soon!
Stacy is the lead medical writing scientist at Stiefel, a GSK company. She learned about TSW Health through one of the organizers and was the team leader of her team, “Waggin’ Aid.” But she didn’t originally intend to participate in the weekend or be a team leader, in fact she only came to the pitches Friday night to watch and learn. In her own words, here’s her story:
Question: Why did you participate in TSW?
Answer: I work in the healthcare industry, so the health focus of the TSW was of interest to me. My husband has participated before and was planning to attend this event as well, so I decided to go watch the Friday night pitches to hear what topics people thought were important. While listening, I just happened to think of an idea that I thought could be viable and decided to leap off the cliff of my comfort zone and pitch the idea. Both the fact that I pitched and that it was selected to move forward were a shock, but I then signed up for the rest of the weekend…
Q: What was your favorite part of the weekend?
A: Learning so many different things and meeting so many different people.
Q: What was the most valuable part of the weekend for you?
A: Challenging myself to be a team leader.
Q: How did you feel before/during/after the event?
A: Before: Incredibly intimidated.
During: In a complete daze of exhaustion, stress, and confusion (turning around in circles trying to decide what needed to be done next and how to do it).
After: An unbelievable sense of accomplishment for actually participating myself and for having such a small team that really pulled together to create a product that we could demonstrate for the Sunday presentations.
Q: Did attending the weekend give you a better understanding of what startups can be?
A: I don’t think it gave me an understanding of what actually working at a startup is like, but the weekend did provide exposure to some of the skill development (pitches, customer engagement) and challenges (developing a viable business model, defining and prioritizing the product features, monetization) that all startups encounter.
Q: How do you work with a group of people you don’t know for 54-hours straight?
A: Patience, humor, encouragement, and finding the strengths of each person to form an inclusive team…exhaustion and stress make this difficult, but keep reminding yourself that your efforts to get along will help you enjoy the weekend and will result in a better final project.
Q: What advice do you have for future startup weekend participants?
A: You can do it!
Our organizing team also believes YOU can do it. Take Stacy’s lead (and advice) and sign up today!
Directions for Direction: How Startup Weekend DC Helped Us Find Our Way to Landmark
Written and contributed by Stephanie Nguyen, co-founder and VP of Design of Silica Labs, and co-founder of Landmark | Twitter: @nguyenist
Photo source: Landmark Blog
Startup Weekend DC was my first DC tech event. In fact, I loved it so much I participated in 3 of them. Little did I know I would meet one of my now co-founders, Marvin, the lawyer, in line for free pizza. Startup Weekend DC #2 I met Antonio, the physicist. After winning that weekend and gaining some traction a few weeks later, so was born Silica Labs. We had the right team but needed to focus our vision. For a year and a half, we were completely bootstrapped and working with clients all over the world. We tried many different angles and realized the key was to ensure we were solving a real problem.
Fast forward a few months and we participated in Startup Weekend DC #3. The morning of the event because I was lost among a sea of ivory, beige and antique-white colored DC buildings. In hopes that the map showed my actual location, I relied heavily on following a wandering blue dot. It was this that made me realize we found a problem.
Enter Landmark, a navigation app that provides a more intuitive way to walk using the buildings and landmarks around you. “Go toward Dupont Circle Fountain. Take a left when you see the Starbucks. In 4 blocks, take a right at Chipotle on 19th Street.” This simple concept came to us after realizing how many people experienced this moment: You emerge from the metro and your app tells you to go Northwest. You hope you took the right turn out of the metro, only to find that your phone re-calibrated. The blue dot is off-track. You’re lost. You’re frustrated. You turn around, retrace your steps and begin again.
The time is ripe. Landmark wasn’t possible before today. Now, we have smartphones with cameras, geotagging capabilities, and mapping data sources. There are 350 million photos posted on Facebook and 16 billion photos shared on Instagram everyday. We can now use those beautiful photos of our cities to help people navigate.
As we continue to build Landmark, we rely heavily on the support of the community willing to take photos and share them with us. We would love your help in making navigation beautiful and intuitive. Sign up to be a part of our closed beta today at www.landmarkdirections.com and we will send you a link to download the app. For more information on why we built Landmark, check out this blog post and follow us @golandmark.
In retrospect, spending a weekend (or three) helps you really know people, test your boundaries, find co-founders and develop startup ideas. Startup Weekend DC gave us the space to come together as a team and grow.
Startup Weekend DC is joining Up Global’s Startup Women challenge to help create 1,500 female-led startups this year.
In startup fashion, we decided to do more and talk less by producing the first ever women’s edition of Startup Weekend DC with a goal to flip the typical overwhelmingly male heavy ratio at such events. We realize that in startups balanced teams that can execute are important to success, so this event isn’t gender exclusive but rather inclusive. This event will connect people, experience and ideas, and act as a viaduct where leaders, entrepreneurs and aspiring entrepreneurs can innovate and build a venture together in 54 hours. This is a grassroots step towards reshaping the male heavy presence prevalent in startup culture. We hope to welcome more female leaders into the DC entrepreneurial community.
You may ask why DC? Besides having some of the most educated, ambitious, and confident women in the nation, DC was been recognized as one of the top 3 cities for women entrepreneurs. Women led businesses are on the rise and so the choice to startup at the nation’s capital was natural.
To help make this unique event become a reality, we’ve partnered with our local platinum sponsor Booz Allen Hamilton (who has partnered with 1776, a DC based startup incubator, to help spur innovation and solve difficult client challenges by working with startups on a global scale). Our venue partners, 1776 and General Assembly, are also very supportive of this cause to make this event a reality. Blackstone Charitable Foundation is our silver corporate sponsor in this cause via UP Global.
Over the next few days we will share some startup stories from women Startup Weekend DC alumni that have founded startups, and details on the event. Also we’ll spotlight how companies at different sizes and technology are helping drive change at scale. Be part of this movement. Stay tuned. Join us to empower the startup community and innovators in DC and beyond.
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More about Booz Allen Hamilton:
Booz Allen Hamilton is committed to creating an environment where talented women in technology can build exceptional careers. With great excitement, Booz Allen joins 1776 and Startup Weekend DC to empower the next women leaders in technology and women entrepreneurs. Booz Allen is a leading provider of global management consulting, technology, and engineering services to major corporations, institutions, not-for-profit organizations and the U.S. government. As part of its partnership with 1776, it is tackling global-scale problems by working with startups and entrepreneurs.
More about The Blackstone Charitable Organization:
The Blackstone Charitable Foundation has awarded grants made through the Blackstone Organizational Grants Program, an annual program targeting organizations that focus on fostering entrepreneurship and innovation, now in its second year. Through this program, The Blackstone Charitable Foundation is helping innovative organizations pilot, expand or replicate projects or programs that will catalyze the growth of successful businesses, industries, and communities in their regions.
Springboard Enterprise – An expert network of innovators, investors and influencers dedicated to helping building high-growth technology-oriented companies led by women.
iStrategyLabs – A digital creative agency “that invents solutions online and off” based in DC and NYC.
Overachiever Media – A content marketing firm helping businesses create and communicate better.
Community Partners that helping us spread the word on this unique event (and growing):
DCFemtech – DCFemTech is a collective of 25+ Women in Tech organizations in the DMV. Next big event is a Tour de Code for the month of October: 101 sessions and workshops on a variety of languages and topics in development to help beginners learn how to code and design. Follow @DCFemTech for updates.
Fosterly – A DC community of entrepreneurs, creators, and collaborators. Check out the Collaborate Conference January 23 – 24, 2015 where innovators in entrepreneurship, government and technology converge. Follow @Fosterly for updates.
Femworking – Helping build teams of female entrepreneurs that inspire each other to thrive.
Ladies America – A professional society of women helping women.
DC Tech Meetup – #DCTech
We know it can seem daunting to sign up for a 54 hour event without knowing what you are committing to. While our site and the global Startup Weekend site have a lot of great information the about what to expect, we thought the best way to find out what it’s REALLY like to participate in Startup Weekends would be to talk to people who’ve experienced them first hand, past participants. So we’ve interviewed two participants from the recent TSW: Health to give us the low-down on what Triangle Startup Weekends are REALLY like and will be sharing their stories with you over the next week.
Today you’ll hear from Eleanor Ismail (pictured above), a Sales Engineer for Eaton Corporation and Florida State University Alum.
She first heard about TSW: Health from the Council for Entrepreneurial Development’s (CED) e-newsletter, Entrelinks (sign up here), and decided to attend TSW: Health because she, “had been tossing around her idea for over a year and the only thing that was preventing her from moving forward was that she needed a team to help develop the product and business, along with coaches and mentors to better guide the efforts and thought startup weekend could be a good starting point.” She also noted that TSW was a “great venue” to test out her idea and its potential and whether it could be successful.
Eleanor graciously answered lots of questions for us, so check out her answers below to learn more about her experience and advice to those on the fence about attending!
By the way, Eleanor has signed up to participate in TSW:Women, so if you are as inspired by her answers as we are, you should sign up so you can have the chance to work with her!
Question: What team did you work with?
Answer: I had recruited 3 women and 5 men who were talented, well educated and excited about bettering the lives of women. A mix of doctors, engineers, chemists, marketing professionals and web developers. We were called, “Aura“.
Q: What was your role on the team?
A: I was the visionary, motivator and encourager that coordinated and lead the team to work together, think outside the box and deliver a minimal viable product. I was also responsible for pitching to the judges.
Q: What was your favorite part of the weekend?
A: Being in the middle of all the energy and enthusiasm that was present. Learning from a great team, the coaches and volunteers.
Q: What was the most valuable part of the weekend for you?
A: Networking! The connections I made at THSW is what fast forwarded my idea into a reality.
Q: How did you feel before/during/after the event?
A: Before: Anxious and very unsure of what to expect. During: Full of excitement and anticipation. After: Grateful, I never worked with such a helpful and encouraging group of individuals before. I gained a lot of knowledge regarding business and saw new areas where I needed to personally grow and develop further.
Q: Did attending the weekend give you a better understanding of what startups can be?
A: Absolutely. It can feel chaotic, but you will be surprised what can be done with a team. You have to be willing to take risks and be passionate. It’s more than just having a great idea; you have to work hard, be willing to take criticism and seek out help from others. Even if my team had not received the award for best overall team, I would have walked away positive knowing I was leaving stronger and wiser. If anyone is considering starting up a company, participate in a TSW. You won’t regret it.
Q: Would you participate in another startup weekend? Why or why not?
A: Yes, I never experienced an adrenaline rush quit like I did that weekend. Was a lot of fun. I gained a lot of wisdom and knowledge regarding business that will help me in the future. The possibilities of what else could be learned and helping develop other individual’s ideas excites me.
Q: Why should someone participate in a startup weekend?
A: Starting up a company is not for the faint of heart. It takes passion, dedication and hard work. TSW is a great platform to challenge your ideas and yourself. It’s also a great environment for personal growth and development, not to mention networking with other like minded individuals.
Q: How do you work with a group of people you don’t know for 54-hours straight?
A: Good question: You have to be open minded and willing. It’s good to have a mindset that everyone there is wanting and willing to help. It’s not necessarily all about winning, it’s more about learning from each other. Each person has a unique perspective and each perspective should be respected. And simply, have fun!!! Take breaks and spend some time getting to know each other.
Q: What advice do you have for future startup weekend participants?
A: If you plan to pitch an idea, prepare and practice. Trust me, you will be glad you did. Step out of your comfort zone. Don’t be afraid and any idea is worth pitching. Even if your idea doesn’t get picked, it’s still worth being apart of another team and you will feel encouraged. You will learn so much. Be prepared to have fun and allow yourself to be open minded. Be a team player. Lastly, have business cards to hand out to others so you can stay connected with those you meet.
Stay tuned for more advice from another TSW: Health participant, and don’t forget to sign up for TSW: Women today!
The “Rosie the Riveter” image (pictured above) is iconic. When I see it, I think about strong, passionate women working to accomplish their goals and achieve their dreams. But those thoughts aren’t what the image was originally intended to inspire. Originally designed by artist J. Howard Miller for an electric and manufacturing company, it’s purpose was to entice, encourage, and empower women to work in jobs typically filled but vacated by the men serving abroad in WWII.
This particular image, and the other propaganda stressing it was women’s duty to help end the war by working in the vacated positions, was wildly successful in encouraging women to work and keeping the industries running during the war. Women flooded the traditionally male-dominated industries (like aviation and manufacturing), increasing the total number of women in the workforce by six million in five years. In the end, the Rosies contributed a great deal to the American economy and the Allie’s victory.
Today, women remain an integral part of the workforce but are underrepresented in many industries including the technology sector, and especially in the startup community.
We all know the stats:
- Women-led startups receive less than 5% of venture capital
- 3% of tech startups are women-led
- Men outnumber women at startup weekends 4:1
- Women are only 7% of startup executives
To address this disparity and “level the field,” Triangle Startup Weekend is proud to bring you the first-ever Triangle Startup Weekend: Women on October 10th-12th, 2014 at HQ Raleigh.
Like the “Rosie the Riveter” campaign, we hope the event will entice, encourage, and empower women to get involved in the Triangle’s startup community. However, the event is NOT exclusively for women! Our goal is to increase female participation from 20% to 50%, not displace men and discourage their participation. We want men AND women to collaborate, support and encourage each other as they work together to build a startup in 54 hours.
The weekend will operate like a traditional startup weekend, with just a few tweaks to make it more female friendly. For example, we’re working on offering some childcare options so women and men with children can participate.
This is definitely a can’t-miss event, so check out the details on our homepage, sign up on our eventbrite page (earlybird special runs through 9/10 only!), spread the word and check back in for more details!
We hope you’ll join us in our mission to increase female participation in the Triangle’s startup community.
As the Rosies would say, “We Can do it!”
This blog post was written by Marius and originally posted here.
I just came back from the Women Startup Weekend San Francisco and it was amazing, everybody was so happy!
I was feeling really down because startups are hard…and I thought maybe there is a cool startup event happening in San Francisco where I can hang around fellow entrepreneurs a bit. So, I looked at startupdigest.com and there were products featured from female startup weekend attendees. I love female entrepreneurship!
Did you know that only 7% of VC backed startups are founded by women? There would need to be 7 times more women in tech to get to the equal split of 50/50 again! If you look at it statistically, this means ideas that could only have been executed by women have been tried 7 times less and they are lying around, just waiting to be executed.
But now, more and more women dare to go into tech and fortunately, the Startup Weekend peeps have seen this opportunity. I attended the event and it turned out great! Over 80 women and around 10 men were there and worked on 41 projects over the weekend, of which 14 made the final cut to be allowed to pitch for 3 minutes with 3 minutes of questions.
Below are 14 startups that came out of the weekend:
Stylend – Infinite closet, but instead swapping dresses, they are rented out.
Stylend wants to tackle the problem that women have many dresses, but use them rarely. I told the founder that several startups have tackled this problem before (sorry to upset you!). 99dresses.com comes to mind, which actually went through Y-Combinator, but shut down afterwards for several months. They are now up again, but it seems hard scaling this business. Renting dresses instead of selling them doesn’t make the business easier. It makes it harder, because you have to deal with return policies and such, but I always like to be convinced by the contrary.
Joyvite – Find wedding venue easily.
Finding wedding venues is a high involvement process and can be nerve-wracking. Joyvite tries to make that process easier. Worth a try, however there are a few well funded startups already out there managing the whole wedding process such as WeddingLovely and Weddingful.
Mentorshack – Connecting girls in tech to women in tech.
Mentorshack connects teenage girls who are interested in tech with women who have gone through the process of having had to fight their way into this male dominated industry. There are many services out there that help you find a mentor online for all areas, but they seem to have trouble scaling up. For instance, Tutorspree a Sequoia backed company had to shut down recently, however Mentoshack picked a strong niche, which has a good cause behind it. Scaling bottom-up instead of top down is always a good idea. Start small…
Infinitelooks – Shows you what to wear for the day.
Just woke up, but no idea what to wear? Infinitelooks is a mobile app that lets you choose your mood and then displays an outfit that you could wear today based on your wardrobe. Fun idea!
CoHabit – To do list with your roomies.
My favorite app! Know the problem of your roomie forgetting to clean the dishes again? Forgot to water the plants? Founder Allison Cooper can name 20 more problems with “Co-Habitants”. Well now, with the CoHabit app, you have a to-do list for your apartment to keep track of your house chores. Get points by always completing your chores on time, get rewards and all roomies are happy. Strong problem, big market, lovely idea, not too hard to execute in terms of tech and market, this will work! They also won the weekend giving them free coworking space and mentoring.
Storylink – Capturing your grandparent’s stories.
How nice would it be if your kids knew how their grandparents met, fell in love, lost everything and how they built up their lives out of nothing again? Storylink tries to capture these stories. A friend of mine has actually tried the same thing, they had an amazing iPhone app, website, design, everything. However, now they pivoted to doing branded videos, so it might be a tough space, especially because you are targeting elderly people, who don’t use technology.
PredictionLog – Track predictions from individuals.
Great idea! Everyone is always predicting things, but nobody checks if their predictions actually hold true? Well now with PredictionLog, you can predict things and increase your standing on the platform by making valuable and correct predictions (can you please call yourselves Ipredictthat.com actually). On the app, you can see the predictions for this week, be it politics or sports, for this month, this decade, the next 10,000 years, etc. This is actually a great extension to Future Timeline, which gives an outlook into our future of what will happen to humanity until the end of time. Predictions can be upvoted and discussed. Think of a twitter/instagram/whisper hybrid for predictions. It has the same kind of flair as whisper, which shows you the secrets that people tell in your area anonymously. Popular secrets can be upvoted and shared. They just raised $24M. People love anonymous social networks.
Bstreet – Crowdfunding for social causes.
Bstreet gives women a chance to invest small amounts into social causes. Neat idea and always good to start out of the niche and expand later.
Dailybread – Uber for your daily bread.
Recieve fresh bread to your door every morning without the hassle of going outside! This is one of the subscription services, which are the lowest risk startups, since they almost always work. Get a niche product, put up a nicely designed website, do some quick SEO with niche keywords and adwords, and deliver your product monthly to your customers. The thing is though, this works well for durable products such as razor blades, muesli, condoms, coffee bones, since you can distribute through wholesalers easily. Plus, you only send them out monthly. With bread, you have to deliver every day and partner with local bakeries, which requires tons of effort and lots of micro-management.
MIH – Make it happen, set your goals and get people to help you.
Wanna go skydiving? Climb Mount Everest? Learn how to back flip? Set your goal on the platform and people with the same interest, will jump in to help you. Their founder has sold her previous startup, worked as a consultant for 2 years and felt it was time to try a startup again. As well, get offers for the thing you want to do, such as a skydiving experience. This is where the money is. You want to go skydiving anyway, so putting the idea in front of your nose doesn’t leave you with many excuses. Something similar is out there called Evr.st, which helps you to accomplish your life goals. They got $1.5M in funding including Peter Thiel, so it could be interesting.
Grogbot – A robot to mix drinks for you.
Over the weekend, these girls built a robot that has containers (cups), which hold whatever type of alcohol you pour in. Via their Grogbot app, you can select your drink and the robot mixes it for you based on its existing mixes. This can become really cool as a slick designed robot with some glass parts showing its insides and how the drink is actually mixed. Could become a hit on kickstarter.
Flaminga – Block throwaway accounts on twitter.
Do you hate it when trolls on twitter that created an account 15 minutes ago harass you? Well with Flamingo, these throwaway accounts would be filtered out. They could also expand to youtube, reddit etc.
Koffee – Meet like-minded people around you for a coffee.
This is the greatest idea ever, the best actually! However, many have tried such as Highlight or Circle and 100 other startups, but no one has been able to make it work yet. Koffee added a Tinder spin onto it though, which makes it more interesting. You can select the people around you that you want to meet, but only if they select you back, you have a match and can message each other. Tinder wants to go into the “meeting like-minded people without dating” direction actually, we will see. However except for dating, it is hard to grow these kind of social networks if you don’t focus on one specific use case.
Insura – A better insurance finder.
According to the founders whose background is in the insurance industry, there is only 1 website that shows you proper insurances and that is ehealthinsurance.com. However, they ask for the most basic questions such as age, name gender and that’s it. Insura explained they were different by also asking about preferred sports or activities in order to find the perfect insurance. It’s to be seen if this gives them the competitive edge. Ehealthinsurance is massive and to compete with someone you need to be 10 times better, we will see.
These were all the startups presented at the weekend. If you’re a girl and you like tech, more and more events are popping up tailored to introducing women to tech. You don’t have to be super smart to build a successful startup, drive outmatches a formal IQ by far. Most of the 1000+ billionaires in our world are quite smart, but most of them are just as smart as every other college graduate. What made them successful was their drive and their ability to think differently than everyone else.
If you feel your eyes opened now, definitely check out Women 2.0. They have established themselves as THE platform for women who are interested in entrepreneurship and want to find out more.
“Where the girls at?” I asked point-blank to a crowd of more than 60 spectators—and directly at the four judges seated in front of me. That question was how I started off my final pitch at a recent Startup Weekend. In short, it encapsulated my whole weekend—a weekend that was by, for, and created to encourage women to step up and into the startup space.
All Startup Weekends are 54-hour “No talk. All Action” events. You have 54 hours to pitch your idea, form a team, and by Sunday evening have a MVP (minimal viable product) to present to a panel of judges. However, at Startup Weekends around the world, the events have mirrored reality. Women were not showing up, and if they did they were always in the minority. They weren’t the ones pitching ideas. They kept their hands down.
Sounds vaguely like the Harvard Business School gender experiment that’s been making rounds, right? The school “gave itself a gender makeover, changing its curriculum, rules and social rituals to foster female success.” Similarly, Startup Weekend—Women’s Edition was born of the desire to boost the number of women actively contributing, and I could not have been more excited to sign up. As a GOOD Fellow spending the year focused on entrepreneurship education to empower girls, I was thrilled to be attending an event focused on encouraging women entrepreneurs—who I can presume were all once girls!
However, a few days prior to the event, the butterflies started. The emails from the organizers were pouring in, and all of them encouraged attendees to pitch an idea. Each pitch would be given in 60 seconds—no more, no less—to a roomful of potential team members. My mind was a running headline of questions: How could I possibly tell my story + spark inspiration + explain my idea in sixty measely seconds?!?
I’d just embarked on my Fellowship year and I found myself thinking, “I don’t have a well thought-out idea!” To calm my self-doubting nerves and get a feeler for the weekend, I decided to attend the pre-event happy hour. And to my great surprise, all the women I spoke to over our brimming cocktails were feeling the exact same emotions. I felt myself nodding along to the sentiments expressed that night, from fear of pitching to a roomful of strangers, to wanting to attend this particular startup weekend because of a notion that it would be more collaborative vs. competitive—and because being with a roomful of women somehow felt like a great first step into a unknown and often male-dominated world of startups.
Here are the key insights I took away that should be applied beyond Startup Weekend Women’s Edition in businesses, schools, and society:
1. Create a safe “risk-taking” zone.
“I can’t do this.” I heard that statement countless times over the weekend. From self-doubt to pure fear, one thing has to be made clear: whether it is raising your hand in a classroom to pitching in front of a stranger crowd, IT IS SCARY—for men and women. But women tend to succumb to the fear and take the backseat. However, at Startup Weekend Women’s Edition, this “risk” of pitching or putting yourself out there felt more safe. I felt shielded from the big, bad real-world of startups, gender bias, and herd mentality.
The female lead of the team that won first place wasn’t even going to pitch, but the push and encouragement of fellow participants and the “why not?” mentality gave her that extra courage. And while there has been backlash to social experiments that influence gender bias, and although bias continues to exist, these curated and “safe” environments are an amazing tactic to get woman to step forward and take that leap, even if it’s a micro one.
2. Bring the “Other” Together.
Women came to this event because there would be other women. I asked one of the event organizers, Andrea Bouch, why she decided to organize it. Her answer was simple: “I was tired of being the only woman in the room,” she said. Her answer resonated deeply with me. I, along with a lot of other women, decided to come to Women’s Edition so I didn’t have to feel like the “other.” Yes, there were men there as well, but women were the majority and it felt like a community from night one. Each attendee encouraged the others to pitch and put their ideas out there!
3. Encourage both collaboration AND competition.
There was a general collaborative vibe over the course of the weekend, and many of us wondered, “Is this because it’s a Women’s Edition event?” I can’t say for sure, but I do know that, because of the collaborative spirit, I joined forces with two other team leads to form the largest group—with 12 women—at the event. Yet it was the competitive element that forced me to critically think about my strengths and what I could immediately offer to my team.
For example, as much as I love details, I had to admit that no, I probably couldn’t create an illustrator image in the time allocated. I could, however, hold together a team of 12. Management and presentation skills are my strong suit, so my team nominated me to be lead. In a high-pressure and competitive environment, the bullshit is cut and you have to quickly identify your strengths and weaknesses. For an aspiring entrepreneur like myself, that sort of feedback loop to own my strengths and flaws is invaluable.
If we start incorporating some of these changes, we can make a dent on the saddening statistics—only three percent of tech firms are founded by women. My team’s idea “MentorChat” (connecting women to girls via a video-chatting platform) tied for third and I walked away feeling incredibly empowered, not because the idea is ready for market, but because the weekend—and my team—inspired a sense of “I CAN DO THIS.”
We need more “Women’s Edition” events all over the world to inspire more girls and women to stand up and take a risk—even if it is just pitching your inkling of an idea to a room of strangers.
More about Yeturu, in her own words:
I’m GOOD’s first Fellow, and I’m on a yearlong mission to discover the best practices in entrepreneurship education, and figure out how they are (or aren’t) empowering middle and high school-aged girls. Want to learn more? Email me at email@example.com.
If you know me or have read anything from my blog, it’s probably abundantly obvious that I love hackathons and am particularly fond of Startup Weekend. Well, on August 18, I wrapped up my 10th Startup Weekend. I have a bunch of half-written blog posts sitting with reflections on my experiences and learning from these various events. However, with the tenth, I thought it would be fun to pick one thing I’ve learned from each event and do a kitschy 10-things post. There’s nothing really novel here, but I think those who have been to Startup Weekend will be able to relate and hopefully those who haven’t will be convinced to attend.
1. January 2012, “Rise of the Designer” Theme, Seattle, WA
What’s the right size for a team? This was the first time I had ever attended Startup Weekend and the biggest lesson from this event was that a bigger team doesn’t necessarily produce better results. The team I joined at this event ended up with 14 members and a leader who, while a great guy, was not ready to manage the challenges that arise when 14 people meeting for the first time and spend 54 hours in a high-pressure environment trying to deliver on a novel vision. The more people on a team, the more opinions there are, meaning the more prepared and willing the leader needs to be to manage it all. The team had some strong personalities that resulted in a lot of unproductive argument. Naturally, team size isn’t an issue in isolation. Team productivity is the net of all the unique personalities that comprise it, the structure placed around its operation, and numerous environmental factors. It’s important to choose teammates based on criteria that matter to you. Personally, I prioritize people I’d enjoy working with, who are aligned in what they want to achieve, and who have complimentary skills. I look for leadership that is willing to make unpopular decisions and follow through. It’s not always comfortable, but it’s often required to get things done on a tight timeline.
2. April 2012, “Government” Theme, Seattle, WA
Are you asking the right questions? After my first Startup Weekend experience, I was determined to (1) be part of a moderately-sized team and (2) play a leadership role. Before the initial idea pitches, I canvased the room to gather support for the idea I wanted to work on. Fortunately, things worked out. My idea was selected and I had the opportunity to lead a team. In bringing the team together, I was intentional about keeping it at no more than 6 people with a balanced set of skills. With a solid team in place, I focused my attention on putting customer development to practice. On the upside, I learned a lot about interviewing potential customers. On the downside, I spent way too much time putting together a survey. But I did learn a lot about how to tailor survey questions to produce meaningful data while avoiding inadvertent manipulation of the respondent’s responses. The key is to ask behavior-based questions that are indicative of users’ pre-existing behaviors. Making sure questions solicit objective responses ensures that we gather facts rather than supposition and speculation. If we must ask a subjective question, it helps to be aware of psychological influences like anchoring, etc. A great book on the topic of psychological influences is Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion
3. May 2012, General Event, Seattle, WA
What’s a mentor? At this event, I was again in charge of a survey to collect customer data. However, what I learned this go-around was far different from what I learned at the prior event. To gauge whether the survey content would help achieve our goals, I ran it by several event mentors. Each time I spoke with a mentor, the feedback was essentially to rewrite the entire survey. So after each conversation, I would go back and spent over an hour hour carefully crafting a revision. When I got the same feedback a fourth time, I realized I was spinning in circles and that the information I wanted to capture was pretty well covered by the original rendition of the survey. This was the first time I had experienced “mentor whiplash”. When getting feedback from mentors, it’s important to remember that mentors are there to give guidance, not instruction (it’s good for mentors to remember this too!). We shouldn’t necessarily spin on our heels just because someone we deem as credible suggests that we’re going down a wrong path. Usually, better decisions come from seeking out feedback from relevant individuals, internalizing their feedback, and making our own decisions.
4. July 2012, “Women’s Edition” Theme, Seattle, WA
Have you ever walked in a room and been the only woman/man/adult/child/foreigner/student/whatever? If you haven’t, it’s an experience I’d recommend. The Women’s Edition of Startup Weekend inverted the typical male-to-female participant ratio to encourage and inspire women, who are typically less well-represented at hackathons. For this event, the balance of participant gender was set at about 85% women and 15% men. Although I have long believed in the importance of supporting and being inclusive of minority groups, I don’t know that I’ve ever had an experience that made me more acutely aware of being on the other side of the table. It’s one thing to put yourself in that position by choice, for example through intentional selection of friends. It’s something else completely when being a minority is entirely outside your control. I still remember the feeling of walking into the room where things were kicking off and instantly being struck by uncertainty, self-awareness, self-doubt, and a wave of other emotions. This was an eye-opening experience that has helped me to empathize with what minorities go through on a daily basis. It’s up to everyone to choose how they address diversity and minorities, but at a minimum, I think it’s important for everyone to be cognizant of what others experience.
5. September 2012, General Event, Seattle, WA
What do you do when things look dire? I attended this event with a close friend and while we didn’t have a particular idea we wanted to work on, we knew we wanted to work together. Most of the ideas that were selected either weren’t that appealing to us or ended up with teams to which we didn’t think we’d add net value. One of the ideas that was chosen ended up without any team members aside from the person who pitched it. We found the idea somewhat interesting, so we decided to form a small, three-person team. We felt that this team size was an opportunity to get a more realistic experience of what it’s like to be a co-founder. Like real founders, we certainly experienced plenty of ups and downs throughout the weekend (of course, all in a safe, low-stakes, low-risk, time-boxed environment). There were multiple times when we’d asked ourselves why we even bothered continuing with the weekend. We even hit one of these troughs around 5 hours before final presentations. But we pushed through, despite the tight deadline and the continual need to tweak or scrap the business model as we got feedback from potential customers. During the final presentation Q&A, one of the judges literally, word-for-word, told us we were “full of shit”. But compared to what we’d been through the rest of the weekend, the words didn’t phase us for a moment. It was actually great feedback… how can a tiny team possibly deliver on a big vision? Then again, we had persistence on our side.
6. November 2012, General Event, Kirkland, WA
What do you want to achieve? Having worked on a lot of serious projects at previous events, I was eager to work on something (1) fun and (2) hardware-related at this event. I pitched “SlapBot”, a robot that slaps you when you send annoying or mundane tweets and Facebook posts. This quickly becameZapBot, which would give an electric jolt instead of a slap. Although the idea didn’t get enough votes to officially become a project, there was interest from two other participants, so we formed a 3-person rogue team. The initial intent was purely to be a joke and to have fun, but the novelty of the gadget and the positive response from people we showed shifted the tone of our conversations toward evaluating the concept as a serious business. Unfortunately, this resulted in a final pitch was neither funny nor compelling as a business opportunity. It’s important to know your objective, then tailor your actions and train your focus on achieving it. Understand the experience you need to be delivering and deliver on it. Be wary of shiny distractions. I later completely revised the pitch to focus on the humorous side of the concept and presented again in a different context. The second time around, the result was exactly what I had hoped for – lots of laughter and delighted conversation.
7. November 2012, General Event, Seattle, WA
When was the last time you let your hair down? After building a silly device like ZapBot, I was ready to get back to business. I had an idea I thought would be interesting and that might have a business behind it. But then someone jokingly pitched “Cartar”, a keytar for jamming in the car. I was hooked. Try as I might, I couldn’t get the person who pitched the idea to work on it. So, I did what any good entrepreneur would do. I stole the idea (with his permission) and formed another rogue team. From the first night, I started dreaming up what the final presentation would look like. I wanted it to be an experience rather than a presentation – something people would remember. I also wanted our team to have a blast working on the project. Keeping those goals front-of-mind through the weekend, both were achieved in spades. I knew it was a success when one of my teammates, who had been to numerous Startup Weekends in the past, told me that this one was the most fun he’d ever had. I knew we’d delivered on the presentation (1) when Rich Barton, a special guest, stopped looking at his phone to watch our presentation, and (2) when the audience gave us a roaring ovation, the longest I’ve yet seen at a Startup Weekend. I wouldn’t say there was a great business case for the product, but I will say with confidence that we truly captured the potential of what the Startup Weekend experience can be. And all because we focused on having a great time.
8. January 2013, Special University of Washington Event, Seattle, WA
What is a leader and what do they do? At this event, I joined a team comprised entirely of students, non of whom had been to a Startup Weekend before or had any industry or entrepreneurial experience. To be clear, there’s a lot of potential for mischaracterization in that statement. These students were incredible. I’ve met professional programmers who can’t program as well as the budding engineers who were on this team. I’ve also met business people who get locked up in over-analysis instead of making things happen, the way the other members of this team did. But experience is experience and that was the one thing they were lacking. It was clear very early on that this was leading to some decisions that would have led the team down an unproductive path. At that point, it would have been easy to have stepped in and forcefully grabbed the reins to pull things in a different direction. However, this was one case in which it was especially important not to see anyone on the team discouraged. So instead of being direct, I tried encouraging discussion and helped guide conversations down a reasoned path, advocating the collection of data where knowledge gaps existed. This approach worked well as the team didn’t hit the bumps and pitfalls first-time Startup Weekenders usually go through. More importantly, everyone left with a solid experience under their belts and eager to participate again in the future.
9. April 2013, General Event, Portland, OR
What are the rules about rules? Once again, I went rogue. I knew I wanted to work on something hardware related, but the idea I pitched didn’t get picked and neither did the one other hardware project I was interested in (there were a total of three hardware ideas pitched). At this point, I’d had some experience going rogue before, so this time I had a pretty good idea of what I was doing. After it was obvious that my idea and the other one I was interested in weren’t going to get enough votes to be selected, I grabbed the other person and we recruited two more people with complementary skills. The event organizers were surprised when we registered our team with an idea that hadn’t been officially selected, but nothing really forbade this. With warnings of risk and votes of no-confidence, we proceeded with the usual paces, identifying and validating a promising market opportunity, building a solid prototype, and bringing it together with a strong presentation. This might have happened if we had gone along with what we were “supposed” to do, but we were all really glad we took the route we did. Given the choice of betting on luck or betting on myself, I’d choose myself. Rules are designed as constraints, but they’re uni-dimensional in a multi-dimensional world. Shifting one’s view opens up new possibilities that aren’t immediately obvious.
10. August 2013, General Event, Seattle, WA
How much does team composition really matter? Many of the most important lessons I’ve learned at the various Startup Weekends I’ve participated in have to do with team. It just so happens that the most important lessons I’ve learn as a Startup Weekend organizer have also been team-related. At the most recent Startup Weekend I participated in, I had the great fortune of connected with someone who’s skills complemented my own in an it’s-too-good-to-be-true kind of way. As we talked about our areas of interest and backgrounds, lightening struck, followed by immediate clarity. There was no doubt that we were the basis of an ideal team to work on one of the project we had in mind. While other participants weren’t particularly interested in working on the idea, we convinced two talented friends of mine, who were actually simultaneously event organizers, to join the team. The result was an incredibly productive weekend that ran like clockwork. Everyone pretty much knew exactly what to do and got right to it. I think we were all pretty amazed with what we were able to accomplish in such a short timespan, but in retrospect it made sense. We were set up for success from the outset by forming a well-balanced team.
It’s been a long journey since my first Startup Weekend, but looking back, I couldn’t be more pleased with the amazing friends I’ve made, the knowledge I’ve gained, and the seriously cool stuff I’ve helped build. Startup Weekend doesn’t begin to compare to actually founding and running a startup, but there’s no question that the experiences it’s offered will be a major contributor to any success I’m fortunate enough to have.
There are a ton of people to thank for all these incredible experiences, but the list would go on forever. You know who you are – thank you all for teaching me so much!
On July 13th – 15th, Startup Weekend Women’s Edition provided a community that focused on female entrepreneurs in an effort to highlight female talent and embolden a balanced dialogue in the startup world.
Historically, Startup Weekend events have been predominantly male, which we believe calls for an opportunity not to separate the male and female entrepreneurial community, but rather, emphasize the already existing female influence.
In a rapidly-evolving modern world, it is becoming more and more crucial to address the ways in which women contribute and lead – and how women will amplify an already present opportunity to re-envision the way that people around the world approach entrepreneurship.
If you see a demand for a Women’s Edition Startup Weekend in your local community, become an organizer and help us bring together different voices and talents in the entrepreneurial revolution.
Courtesy of Jeff Dickey and the NextCast.net.
Chelsia Hart, RealNetworks
Susie Kroll, Babysitting Startup, Amazon, Microsoft
Monica Houston, Google
Melody Biringer, CRAVE
Jessica Smith, OnMobile Media
Jana Harper, The Mill
Irina Menn, University of Washington, Mercent, Stem