After our win at Startup Weekend Vancouver in Nov 2011, I often get asked what do I think it takes to make it to the top spot. I have given it a lot of thought and looked into past winners from all over the world. I also recently had a chance to mentor at two Startup Weekends – one in Vancouver and one in San Francisco which further sharpened my insights.
First, and most important, ALL who show up and participate are winners. This is not just following the trend of giving everyone a medal. Regardless of who you are, participant, or mentor, you will come out of this experience with new insights and energy. This “build a company in 54 hours” experience is a great opportunity to try something you have never done before and in entrepreneur speak, when you leave your comfort zone to explore the unknown, you win.
That said, the learning can’t occur in the absence of competition, for after all this exercise is meant to give you a taste of world of building a real business. So teams get to present and be judged by a panel of experienced leaders. While each panel has its particular perspective, it’s important to realise that much of the current best practices in the startup world come from the work of three thought leaders: Steve Blank, Eric Ries and Alex Osterwalder. It would be very useful even if you can quickly scan some of their writing online, but their books are the triad #mustread of any tech entrepreneur. Some other names that are heavy influencers of the startup world are Guy Kawasaki, David McClure and Jessica Livingston and their blogs and videos I highly recommend.
So going back to the question, how would you know if your team has what it takes to be declared a winner? I have created a checklist – the closer you are to answering yes to all, the more likely it is for you to be an (official) winner of a Startup Weekend:
1. Can you explain what your solution does in 30 seconds and even better – in under 10 words? Use words a six years old would understand and center on the core of what the idea is, without which the concept would not exist. Also it’s useful to be clear on what you are (a site, an app, a service) and are you B2B (business selling to business) or B2C (business selling to consumers).
2. Do you have a great name for your concept? It helps to identify something good enough fairly soon as it makes it easier for the team to bond, for setting up domain names and social media as well as reaching out to do market research.
3. And speaking of market research, do you know what the “pain” is? Have you gathered any stats? Have you actually gone out and interviewed potential users?
4. Do you know if they like the solution you propose and would they use it? Even more importantly, would they pay for it, and if not, who would?
5. Businessy stuff – what is the market, who are the competitors (and don’t say none!), how would you acquire the users? It’s not enough to have a pain and imagine a solution – the question is can this be a real business.
6. Have you heard at least ten people tell you why it can’t be done or it won’t work? Seriously, most great ideas are the ones who everyone initially dismissed. Persistence, perspiration and sheer bloody luck lead to success, but there are many discouraging voices and forces on the way. That said – if at this point, your team realizes that something major is wrong – people don’t like the solution, won’t pay for it or someone has already done it all, DON’T PANIC, I have seen teams pivot twice and still go on to win, so hustle and do share the story of the journey in your pitch as it wins you props!
7. Do you have a working demo? Screen shots won’t do if you want to win. After all, why else are there developers on the teams?
8. Do you have a kick ass design? Yes indeed, that is why there are designers in attendance.
9. Is your presentation top notch? Usually one presenter, easy to follow flow, slides with big fonts and elegant look.
10. Can you help the judges see that your team that has bonded, had fun, achieved learning AND could actually make this concept into a real company?
BONUS point: If you do a great job with all of the above, what is your X factor? How are you different, funny, memorable? What can you do outside the box that makes the judges and the audience go WOW? I have seen teams make team t-shirts (and extra nice if they also feature Startup Weekend as well as sponsors’ logos), distribute muffins to the audience donated to them by a baker who would use their service, spread nickels on the stage to illustrate “if I had a nickel for everyone who thought this is a good idea”, do a demo with live video streaming from a nearby sushi restaurant, get media coverage before their presentation and land their first B2B sale with just a demo product. All of these things imply thinking out of the box and getting out of the building.
So all the best, fellow startup weekenders, and don’t forget to finish your presentations with a ASK!!! Please share any thoughts you on this topic so we can help make the experience even better.
Alexandra T. Greenhill is the Co-founder and CEO of myBestHelper (connecting families with the right caregiver for their loved ones), 1st place winner 2011 Startup Weekend Vancouver and 10th in 2011 Global Startup Battle.