Think you can launch a business in 54 hours?
This weekend I had the opportunity to go to my first Startup Weekend event: Startup Weekend London 2011. Wow, was it fun.
In this post I’ll share my experience with Startup Weekend London, my team’s story, and some tips for Startup Weekend success.
For those who aren’t familiar with Startup Weekend, the concept is pretty simple: Get 300 ambitious entrepreneurs into a room and give them 54 hours to launch a business – you go from idea on Friday to presenting your idea to judges on Sunday (with working demos/websites expected as the norm). Easy! But this is no academic exercise – a host of successful companies began at Startup Weekends, so get it right and life as you know it can be very different on Monday.
Day 1 (Friday evening)
The first evening is located in Greenwich,Londonat the suitably futuristic and inspiring Ravensbourne College, near the Millennium Dome inLondon. After some bonding over pizza and beer (the entrepreneurial aphrodisiac) things get started.
First up is selecting ideas and teams. There are 300 entrepreneurs in the room and before the end of the evening we’ll have selected ideas and got new team mates. The feeling of anticipation is electric as things kick off, with almost every mind in the room aware what could happen if they pick the right idea and the right team.
Entrepreneurs have 1 minute to pitch their idea to the crowd – with the hope it will attract a team able to make it happen. 64 out of 300 entrepreneurs pitched. I was one of them.
I pitched ideas that had been rolling around my head – to create a way to record conversations in Google+ Hangouts (a bit like the way I do for my interviews in Skype). My Friday night Pitch:
After all the pitches, people vote and the most popular dozen or so are brought up on stage and the rest choose which idea want to join. This is a frenzy! People grabbing talent to their teams – it was apparent that developers and (especially) designers were in demand.
Although I got some GREAT people interested in my idea, unfortunately I felt we didn’t have developers to make something real – so had to make the decision to jump ship to another team
Team Decomio is Born!
Luckily I had been speaking to some great guys Gabriel, Terry and James who had a team based on the idea of a creating a ‘revolutionary’ interior deco website type thing. Well truth is, I didn’t fully understand the idea, despite Gabriel’s’ best attempts to explain. I felt a bit dumb for not understanding, so I pretended I did. Something I did realise however was that the guys were really really smart & kick-ass web/developing/UX’ers so that was good enough for me. The startup term is ‘backing the team not the idea’. So I did that. Oh and Vlad joined the team too.
Awesome! Team Decomio was formed!
Day 2 – Saturday
We kicked off, what was to be an eventful day, at a new venue – the fabulous Clerkenwell workshops. Less than 36 hours left to plan, design and build a world dominating business. The pressure was on.
The first thing to happen was a bit of an eyebrow raiser. After a series of short bun fights, about an hour into our first team meeting, our last minute team recruit, Vlad, got the hump and decided to leave team. Ah the joys.
So the original four team members remained and given the fact that were instantly much more productive, and we all got on like a house on fire for the rest of the weekend, I guess he wasn’t missed too badly.
We followed the Lean startup process as a way to give our idea-generation and validation some structure, and by midday we were all pretty convinced that world domination was just a formality (I do believe we had a conversation about what investment amounts we’d accept, while eating lunch – ahhhhh it’s healthy to dream).
Afternoon Startup Weekend mentors came in and ripped our ideas to shreds (in a constructive way) and when the workspace closed, we retired to a fantastic café in Camden, owned by the wife of one of the team, to put the pieces back together over a healthy mix of Fosters and curry.
Day 3 – Final day.
We had about 6 hours to finalise our plan, mock up our demo and create a match winning presentation.
Over the weekend our idea had evolved from an inspirational interior design online magazine to, well an inspirational interior design online magazine with a twist!
Our idea: Decomio was going to revolutionise the way people shop for furniture online, by allowing house proud homeowners to upload pictures of their funky pads, then tag (like you do on Facebook) your funky furniture. People can browse through all the cool pictures and if they like something they see – they can click the picture and buy it (a scientific process we called ‘wow, click, buy!’ ). We earn an affiliate fee; the homeowner gets a cut and the site user gets a funky piece of furniture. Everyone’s a winner!! We figured that it rode on the wave of Airbnb.com allowing people to profit from their homes.
This is what our Decomio.com demo looked like:
The 52 hours were finished. Time was up. Time to pitch:
The Final Pitches
The main presenting hall packed with expectant entrepreneurs, a total of 30 teams pitching their ideas. The format: 4 minutes pitch, 6 minutes questions from judges for each team. It was going to be a long, fun night.
As you might expect there was a mix of the good, the bad and the ugly. Presentations that stood out for me included: Crowdwrite, Mebetyoubet.com, Popup deals and the ‘Hot or Not’ for fusion trends (who I forget the name of) stood out for me.
And ours of course. Decomio.com Startup Weekend Presentation:
And the Winner is…..
Alas, not Decomio.com. Although we felt our presentation was strong, it wasn’t to be. The winners were all great ideas and presentations. Well done everyone!
We all left exhausted, drained but delighted. Yeah we didn’t win but we had one hell of a time. Our decomio landing page is up – why not pop by?
What you can get from a Startup Weekend
So after experiencing my first Startup Weekend, here’s what you can expect to get from a Startup Weekend:
- Experience developing startup ideas
- Contacts and insights into areas you are weak in (mine were UX & development)
- Inspiration from all the ideas and energy from fellow entrepreneurs (no words can really describe this part – you need t experience it)
- Friends. I had a blast with my Decomio team mates Terry, Gabriel and James and hope we stay in contact
Well, quite frankly, no. I honestly can’t think of any. The whole event was amazingly well run, especially given the number of attendees (over 300). Even the food was top notch for the whole weekend (something close to my heart)
Two out of the three final winners had already launched before the event (the overall winners have been going for 10 months now), which does make it a little bit of an uneven playing field for teams that form for the first time on Friday. That said, it definitely adds to the event having these more established teams at Startup Weekend so not sure what the answer is. Perhaps separate prizes for new and established? Not sure, and quite frankly I don’t care. It was great and I can’t wait till the next one
Some tips for future Startup Weekenders:
I definitely learnt a lot this weekend so here’s some tips:
- The most important decision you make all weekend is what team you join on Friday. Make sure it’s balanced with the right number of techies and business people. Too many of either and it’s a recipe for disaster. Example: There was one team (Crowdwrite) this weekend full of amazing techies with a great idea but their lack of any marketing people meant their final presentation let them down, when they really should have won the whole event.
- If you’re patching on Friday, make sure you:
- Stand out! Believe me it’s nearly impossible to remember any one presentation after you’ve just heard 63!
- If I was pitching again, I’d wear something crazy like a funny hat, just to standout from the crowd and so people can spot you later
- When voting starts just after the presentations – run to get prime real estate in the middle of the room. I was too busy chatting to people and ended up on a far corner = lower footfall to my idea
- Do your homework and know what team members and skills you need before hand to make your idea happen. This was my main downfall. I didn’t know what skillset I needed to make my Google Hangouts idea happen, so I couldn’t tell people I needed them. People look to you for leadership here and you need to be able to tell them decisively they are the people you need for the team to win!
- Follow some sort of idea generation and validation process (such as Lean startup methodology) – it really helped us create good ideas and focus on the ones that are important. It’s great practice for your startup too
About Startup Weekend: