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Joshua Rea and Liam Holmes won the Sydney Startup Weekend with their mobile app, Flixy, which connects people with last-minute cinema deals. Here’s Liam’s story about how one weekend can change many lives.  

You can do this, you can do this, you can do this… I kept running the words through my head hoping they would create enough momentum so that I could step through the door.  I hit the final landing, took a deep breath and stepped from the quiet stairwell into a room that was buzzing.  This isn’t me, is it?  I’m into Macs and tech and all that, sure, but I like my job, I like my boss, do I really want to do my own thing? 

Everywhere I looked people were in conversation, some gesturing wildly as they held court, others locked in conspiratorial gatherings while they leaned forward and scanned the room to ensure nobody was eavesdropping on the creation of the next Facebook.  Others looked like they were at a BBQ and still more were focused on fueling up with pizza and beer to help them power through the weekend ahead – these guys were clearly veterans.  My head was swimming. 

Welcome to the Global Startup Battle.  What’s crazier still is that the scene I was witnessing in Sydney was being repeated in 130 cities across the globe.  Astonishing.

I’d come alone and I’d never done anything like this before.  I was petrified but I soon found out I wasn’t the only one.  I got into some fun conversations before the weekend formally began and I was beginning to feel like I belonged and that maybe something might come out of this.

Most people turn up to the Startup Weekend with an idea and a plan.  I didn’t have an idea and my plan was simple – to meet some great people and figure out what this whole startup beast was all about.

The next thing I knew I was sitting through a stream of endless pitches, some great, some terrible and some I had no idea what they were about.  But one grabbed my attention more than most.  It wasn’t that I was that sure about the idea, I just felt a sense of gravity towards it and the person pitching.  Joshua, an unassuming Kiwi with razor-sharp focus and a glint in his eye, was pitching about helping people who see trailers in cinemas to book the tickets while they’re in the cinema.

I wanted in and I was sure everyone else would, too.  But in one of those curious phenomena of startups most people don’t see what you see.  Turns out it was just the two of us.  One team of two against 15 other teams in a high octane, pressure-filled weekend of hypothesising, testing, validating, building, convincing, coffee guzzling and pitching.  Other teams had up to eight people on them, one team even had 6 developers and another launched and sold their startup during the weekend and this was all happening in Sydney, whose beachy reputation hides a more competitive side.  This is no small pond, let me tell you.  The pressure was fierce.  The voice in my head roared back: Bring it on!

Josh and I quickly took inventory:

–        Programming Skills

–        Design Skills

–        Experience Launching a Startup

–        Massive trust funds we could raid

We had none of these above.  If the Startup weekend was a hackathon or about building the best looking prototype then we were sunk.  Fortunately, it’s not.  In fact, by the end of the weekend we soon realised that not having those skills helped us from getting distracted and bogged down in stuff that feels productive but actually isn’t.

What we had was even better, what we could do was worth ten times any guru programmer, UX designer and money man rolled into one.  We had hustle and lots of it.

Like most people, I don’t really know anyone in this world with the skills we needed.  But hang on, that’s bullshit, when you really think about it you actually have way more resources and people you can call on than you think you do.  Not only that, your friends do as well, so whatever you need is only two phone calls away 99% of the time.  Or in our case, a Skype call to Sweden.  My good friend, Grant, has just moved there and he is a photoshop ninja – quick, grab the laptop!  He was our guardian angel during the weekend – always coming up with exactly what we needed.  “Grant, we need an icon, now!”

We spent all Saturday coming up with ideas, testing, getting shot down, listening to feedback and then coming up with a new idea.  Wash, rinse, repeat.  By Saturday night, we’d nailed it.  From the outside I’m sure the teams around us felt a bit sorry for us.  They had mockups designed, code written and had called a few friends to test their ideas on.  All we seemed to have done was talk, work the phones and send emails.  No mockups, no code and not enough members to have a group hug that wouldn’t have been awkward.

From then on we worked the phones and called some massive hitters in the movie industry.  We’d spoken to cinema managers and dodged gatekeepers and worked the system to reach the key decision makers.  They took our calls even on a Sunday morning.  We were relentless.  I had finally discovered my inner Ari Gold.

Our idea was so laughably simple, so obviously good that not only was it easily validated but it was a touch scary that nobody had made it happen yet.  It’s weird but you almost want to walk away and leave it to ‘someone else’.  I shut that voice down hard.  We want to build an app that connects movie-goers with last minute cinema deals. Enter Flixy.  Flixy helps cinemas fill seats and users get movie deals.  Win-win.

By 4pm we had locked away some deals with cinemas and validated our idea on both sides of the market without a single line of code or a single sketch of what the app would look like.

In the end, we lost one minute of pitch time from starting late due to a computer issue and finished 30 seconds early, too.  Josh was a machine gun and his bullets were all validation, validation, validation.  We won.  Two strangers with none of the hyped startups skills had beaten out 16 teams.  The story of the underdog is well alive in Australia.

Since then we’ve had meetings with CEOs and have already got a new team member on board.  In just 12 days I’ve gone from a shit-scared outsider to being a part of something I never, not in a million years, would have expected to be a part of and I’ve never been so excited, scared, energised, tired and determined in my life.

Good things don’t come to those who wait.  Good things come to those who hustle, who ask the next question, who make the phone call and who simply must speak to the CEO (yes, I’ll hold, he’s expecting my call, thank you very much).

It’s  not about winning competitions (as much fun as that is) but about leveraging the lessons of the weekend and using the momentum to springboard to greater things.  There are a bunch of great people out there you can meet at these events and already they’ve gone out of their way to help us.


For more information go to www.flixyapp.com/about-us

Photo Credits. Anna Zhu Photography & Film.

Claire Topalian Claire Topalian
(@clairetopalian) Blog, Professional Writing, Communications and PR Specialist. I craft compelling, mission-driven content for companies and individuals that amplifies brand awareness, fosters community, and drives engagement. My experience includes work with tech startups, major corporations, and international non-profits. @clairetopalian