Friday at 6pm, I walked into a building where I only knew 3 of the ~60 people there. I got in a line with 30 of them, stood in front of the room and pitched an idea for a startup which I felt had a compelling business model. Unfortunately, it was half-baked and the rest of the room didn’t vote mine into the top 12 so I joined a team who was selected. Over the next 56 hours, we created a fully formed business, focusing in on the problem, solution, customer validation and business model. Between two VERY talented coders and an AMAZING designer, we had a prototype to demonstrate in front of a crowded auditorium during the final round of the 2013 Kansas City Startup Weekend.
What did you do this weekend?
While I should have been at home fixing things on the house or getting my lawn mowed before a week of rain…I recognize how fortunate I am to have the freedom (AND EXTREMELY UNDERSTANDING WIFE) to take part in an event like this. I’ve talked multiple times on the merits of hack-a-thons; KC Startup Weekend was no different, and my favorite one so far!!
In addition to being the longest and most in-depth, I went into KC Startup Weekend with my eyes wide open giving me a better perspective. I learned a lot…enough to fill this blog for a year. Rather than make you wait, here is a rapid fire session of the bits of wisdom I took away:
- Take the opportunity to “scare the shit out of yourself”: Startup Weekend is not a place to play it safe… Pitch your idea, butt into conversations, talk to people you don’t know, ask dumb questions, work on something you don’t understand, take initiative. You’re with a group of people who are trying to do the same thing and they’re going to celebrate failure with you (it’s ok here). Don’t miss out on the fun!
- Don’t fall in love with your idea until someone else has: You’re smart….but so is everyone else. So if your pitch doesn’t make the cut…go find something that will stretch you to new limits.
- Dive in, get committed: You have a pass for the weekend, use it. Work 16 hours straight, go get a beer to talk about the day, take a nap, wake up thinking about your project, get back to work. It’s a riot and it’s not something you get to do every day.
- Embrace the luxury of a deadline: the VERY real pressure of getting something delivered by presentation time gives you the excuse to start cutting scope from your project. If you’ve done your research on the problem and the target customer, what’s left is only the most essential features. Your future customers will thank you.
- Connect with everyone: Seriously, the people around you are the future leaders (or existing ones) of your community. Don’t miss out on collecting business cards, following them on Twitter and building new relationships.
- Take free advice from people who have been there before: We experienced “Mentor Madness” midway through Saturday…we had to take a walk, decompress and digest the feedback. We marched back into our room with a renewed focus, fresh with insight from some very wise people who were nice enough to give us some tough feedback…it saved our project.
- Play to your audience: First your customer, then your judges. We had a sweet solution for our target customer….unfortunately none of them were sitting in the judge’s chairs. Keep that in mind and tailor your presentation accordingly. Find a way to make the judges care.
- Practice, Practice, Practice: Your entire business is only as good as the final presentation…don’t fill it up with needless words or a busy PowerPoint. You’ve been working 56 hours for this moment!
We didn’t walk away with any awards (well…we did come in 3rd as “crowd favorite”) but I feel like a winner. I have new friends, a better appreciation for GitHub/social coding, a new comprehension of design and an experience that I can’t erase. Startup Weekend will be back in the Fall….who’s coming with me?!?!