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Before attending my first Startup Weekend Auckland last year I was excited, anxious and intrigued. Excited by the opportunity to pitch a startup idea that had been incubating in my mind for a number of months, anxious about how to pitch my idea and intrigued by the whole concept of starting a venture over a single weekend with a group of complete strangers.

I visited the Startup Weekend site on a regular basis to get as many tips, tricks and insights into what lay ahead as the event approached. I listened astounded to a number of great concepts others planned to pitch at the pre-event – beginning to doubt my concepts value in comparison. This being my first event I decided whatever happened I would pitch an idea, if for no other reason than to feel the pressure and get a sense of what it was like.

At the event I pitched my idea – and it bombed! Lesson learnt – no slides make visuals really difficult in this short sharp pitch. Some truly inspiring and intriguing pitches meant finding a team to work with was no easy feat. The range of ideas was amazing. Personal disappointment was quickly laid to the side and I began to feel out an idea that connected with me and a team that felt right to work with.

I hit the jackpot when I came across two guys with previous Startup Weekend experience. They were not just here to learn, as I was, but they were in it to win it. Soon the team gained two more members and the real work commenced. The idea pitched involved a ‘pay as you use’ based insurance scheme. It soon dawned on me that the team was made up of some exceptional individuals who were able to work well as a team.

No Startup Weekend is without its drama I had been told so I expected some bumps along the way. Through the weekend the pitch morphed into a ‘Safer Driver’ leading to ‘reduced insurance costs’ gamified mobile application. We had our fair share of drama, self-doubt, deep-reflection – at one point we got right out of the building and threw around crazy alternatives before driving on with the idea.

It was a relief of sorts to complete our pitch to the judges and finally relax, enjoy seeing what others had done and getting really useful feedback on each of the team’s potential products. Even though we didn’t win – we all learnt a number of valuable lessons during the weekend. Lessons that continue to be useful and that will be added to by future Startup Weekend participation.

We had touched base with industry members during our feasibility investigations and it felt a little strange a few months later to see Tower release a similar concept (SmartDriver – http://www.tower.co.nz/insurance/car/smartdriver/). In one sense it felt like the concept the team worked on had legs – aligned with a sense of regret that we had not pursued it further. As a team we had got together a few weeks after the weekend to make that decision.

The key things I took away from my first Startup Weekend were:

  • An extraordinary sense of achievement from being part of a team of strangers that came together and did something amazing in a couple of days

  • Amazement at the number of inspiring ideas I heard about and saw implemented in a single weekend

  • Disbelief in the sheer amount of stuff that I learnt during the event, from others, about myself, about starting up a new venture…and the list goes on!

The weekend really inspired me. I have a much better understanding of how to approach starting a new venture should the time come and continue to learn and prepare myself for the next Startup Weekend. The insights I gained from working with the other team members has provided me with confidence to try new things, many that were outside my comfort zone before the weekend. I have no fear of failure now, don’t hold my ideas so precious and value feedback on ideas early.

If you have never been to a Startup Weekend event before, want to understand what it is like to work in a driven, engaged team to produce something that you will be immensely proud of, then sign up for the next event. Developers gain enormous insight into what being closely connected to the product means. Business people get to work closer with the implementers than would usually be the case and Designers get to be truly inspired by working on something that they are passionate about and help to mould.

It is not just about being a techie either! You really don’t need to be technical to attend – one of the numerous amazing people I interacted with during the weekend was a tradie who had an idea and was looking to find people passionate enough to help him implement it. His idea ‘pivoted’ to a relief teacher assistant for head teachers and was one of several outstanding outcomes from the weekend.

I recently learnt that the key message for the upcoming Startup Weekend in Auckland is around ‘The application of design thinking to solve problems in our local communities’ so am looking forward to hearing about ideas in this space and many others next month. That reminds me, I best go sign up, I suggest you do the same too!

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Jenny Xu