Startup Weekend Advice For First Timers

Startup Weekend!

Two weekends ago (January 27-29), I attended and participated in a Startup Weekend event (http://startupweekend.org/) in Storrs, CT at the UConn campus. Let me begin by saying that if you have been considering attending a SW event or have never even heard of SW, visit the website and signup immediately. It is an incredible learning experience which I think would be beneficial for anyone, but especially if you are interested in working for a startup.

Below are a few tips I have for anyone attending a future Startup Weekend event,

Meet and Greet: 

  • Try to review the mentors and organizers bios before you go. Seek out the ones who work in areas that interest you and try to make a meaningful connection.
  • Introduce yourself to everyone you can! Seriously, everyone who attends a SW is doing so partly to meet new people like themselves, so don’t be shy!

Pitches Time:

  • PITCH! I think for the full experience this is really important and I think everyone should do it. Practice it several times in advance, being sure to keep it under 1 minute. Be energetic and memorable. The best ideas don’t always win the voting period, the pitches that people remember do.
  • Pay close attention during the pitches, have a pen and paper and write down the name and general idea of pitches which sound interesting to you. This is important for later.

Read on for more tips about the rest of the weekend!

Voting Period:

  • You can use all three of your votes on one pitch. This is important to know, and something I didn’t realize until after voting ended. 
  • If you want your pitch chosen, campaign hard for it. Be loud and be energetic. Hustle people into voting for you.
  • If a pitch gets 10 votes there is a good chance it will be one of the ones chosen, so you only need to convince 2 other people to use all of their votes on your idea (obviously if they do that means they will be a part of your team)
  • If there was an idea you wrote down which you really want to be a part of, leverage your three votes in exchange for a spot on their team.

Night One:

  • First go around the room and do quick introductions, telling everyone a little about yourself and what you think you can contribute to the team. 
  • Next iron out what your minable viable product (MVP) is going to be. This is the most important thing to do before you start working on anything else, as your goal for the weekend should be to have a rock-solid MVP.
  • Realistically you won’t do much work on the first night so instead focus on things which can help you tomorrow. Set up a group GoogleDocs and any other organization tools you want to use. If you have a name setup a Splash page (http://www.kickofflabs.com/), Twitter account and Facebook page.
  • Get some sleep! I know it is tempting to dive right it and get as much done as you can the first night, but resist. Day two is not only the most important, but it is also the longest- you need to be at 100%.

Day Two:

  • Finish deciding on your MVP if you haven’t already. Assign work, but set time-limits, once the time-limit is up reconvene and update each other on your progress and then re-adjust the assignments accordingly.
  • Your goal should be to have as polished a demo as possible. If your idea is too technically difficult for 54 hours you can fake it, but make sure you have something visually finished for the presentation.
  • Create questionnaires for distribution regarding your product. This along with email signups on your Splash page, Facebook likes and Twitter followers will be your validation for your final presentation.
  • Begin devising your business plan. A great idea is awesome, but in order to win SW you are going to need to monetize your idea and have a business plan. Do research on the space and competitors and try to show your 3 year projection.
  • Begin working on your presentation only after everything else is finished, worst case you can do it all on Sunday.
  • Move around regularly, barely moving for 12+ hours will only hinder your productivity. You need to stay fresh and focused!

Day Three:

  • You should be putting the final touches on everything: front-end, back-end, website, business plan and validation. This is the final push so stay focused!
  • Start working on the presentation no later than Noon. If you are using PowerPoint or Keynote keep it to a maximum of 7 slides, but I would suggest 5. Keep the slides simple, to the point and visually appealing. Be creative, just like the pitches being memorable goes a long way.
  • Begin practicing your presentation an hour before they start. Make sure to keep it under five minutes. If you can, try it once in the space you will be using for real.
  • If you need any last minute advice seek out the mentors and judges, they should be around and are great resources.

Final Presentation:

  • No more than two people should give the final presentation. With so little time you don’t want to waste any of it by juggling between speakers.
  • Try to break it down to: 1 minute for the problem, 3 minutes for the solution and the final 1 minute for the business plan and validation. 
  • Spend some time going over questions which you believe will come up during the Q&A, and make sure to prepare answers for those. It doesn’t matter if they’re mostly bullshit, looking like you know all of the answers is half the battle. 
  • Enjoy the work all of your fellow attendees have accomplished. It is very inspring to see what people are able to be accomplished in so little time. 

Before You Leave:

  • Talk with your team and make plans for what you intend to do now that the weekend is over. Try not to lose momentum if this is an idea you guys are interested in pursuing further.  
  • Talk to as many people as you can, try to make some last minute networking connections. Try to introduce yourself to the groups who impressed you during the final presentations.
  • Seek out any of the mentors/organizers whom you are hoping to meet with after the event is over. Let them know that you intend to e-mail them and that you are hoping they could meet with you to offer any advice they might have.

Once Your Home:

  • Follow up via email with everyone you wanted to within the next few days.
  • Get some much needed rest!