Each Startup Weekend event is a platform for experiential education in entrepreneurship. In order to make the most of your experience, I’ve put together a few suggested guidelines for working through the weekend. These are my views only, and are not representative of Startup Weekend.
1. Prepare Your 60 Second Pitch
Startup Weekend events are such a great place to find and interact with other ambitious, creative and passionate people. If you want to share an idea, you better make sure to have your 60 pitch prepared. First, I suggest opening with who you are and your skills, then clearly articulate the problem you want to solve and for whom. There are all sorts of fascinating problems in the world – pick one worth solving. Second, define how you propose to solve this problem. Don’t get into the details and certainly don’t talk about how you will “monetize.”
Make sure to impute yourself as a “team player.” People that have the highest probability of attracting top talent are those who are charismatic, confident, and show a willingness to be flexible and participate in the concurrent designing of a new product. Finally, research your idea and the competitive landscape – not doing so makes you appear lazy and naïve.
2. Build a Complimentary Team
I’ve found that teams with complimentary skill sets perform most efficiently. Each member of the team can be assigned an equally important task and then focus on executing on that task. There are four core areas that you need to focus on during the course of the event – customer validation, designing and building of your MVP, business model design and final presentation. With that said, I suggest making sure your team consists of one business development or marketer, two developers (one front-end and one back-end) and one really great designer.
As you assemble your team it is critical that you are totally honest and transparent with your intentions for the weekend and after. Some members of the team might not be prepared to leap off the proverbial cliff on entrepreneurship, others will be. Be prepared to a candid conversation with your team after the adrenalin and euphoria of the weekend wear off.
3. Customer Discovery & Validation
After you have assembled your team and gotten to know one another, make sure everyone understands the problem you’ve set out to solve and who are the people most affected by this problem. These are the people you will want to validate your proposed solution against. Your proposed solution may change during the course of the weekend, but make sure to stay focused on solving the same problem.
It is important that you find product/market fit by finding enough people who are willing to pay for the value created from your product or service. I believe you shouldn’t begin building a solution to a customer’s problem until you have spent time talking with them about your proposed solution and have gathered their feedback/input. I like to take some time checking out the solutions of competitors by using tools such as Compete or Quantcast or simply Googling keywords I think potential customers would use to find my product or service.
With that said, get out of the building and go talk to your potential customers. You can use tools such as AskYourTargetMarket, distribute surveys using Wufoo and get fast answers through MerchnicalTurk. Incorporate this customer feedback/input into the design of the mechanism that solves their problem. This mechanism is called your Minimum Viable Product (MVP).
4. Define and Design Your Minimum Viable Product
You want to get your MVP designed, built and tested in the market place as fast as possible – so you can start making decision on real data.
Eric Reis defines a minimum viable product as:
that product which has just those features and no more that allows you to ship a product that early adopters see and, at least some of whom resonate with, pay you money for, and start to gave you feedback on
When mocking up a MVP make sure you really care about and focus on user experience design (U/X). While this encompasses a lot and given the short nature of the weekend long event, I suggest focusing on bringing together beautiful and powerful visual design with simple usability. Keep it as simple and intuitive as possible. I suggest never giving users more than three options to choose from or three directions to navigate towards.
5. Build Your MVP
Some smart person said “work smarter, not harder.”
I have experienced too many teams that try and build something from scratch when there already exists a really great solution – usually in the form of an API. Don’t spend time building the backend of your mobile app – use CloudMine. Don’t build a payment systems – use Dwolla or Venmo. Use the cloud platform Heroku and be sure to check out Twitter Bootstrap.
6. Business Model Design: Value Proposition and Customer Acquisition Strategy
I implore everyone to read Business Model Generation by Alexander Osterwalder. In it contains the Business Model Canvas, which is a great tool for generating a period of creative deep collaboration between team members, and provides a framework for teams to clearly define the relationships between all components in their business model. But during the course of the weekend I think it is important to only focus on two things: your value proposition and defining how you are going to get your first, 10th, 100th and 100,00th user.
Making sure you’ve designed and built a product that creates value by solving a problem is usually the most effective way of generating more and more users. But you must begin marketing to your customers in one way or another. Spend some time thinking about really creative, fun and low-cost marketing methods to attract customers.
7. Engage with Coaches
During the event you have many smart people who are ready and willing to help you. You are foolish not to take advantage of them. I am not saying that whatever they tell you is 100% correct, but they can most certainly challenge you on assumptions and give you another perspective.
8. Showoff Your Work
The mantra of each Startup Weekend event is “No Talk. All Action” and in many cases, teams will present a functioning prototype – not a perfect one, but a functioning one. This is great! Live demonstrations of prototypes always get a reaction from the crowd and judging panel. But don’t be discouraged if your team was unable to build a functioning prototype, since this is the situation with most teams that are unable to attract at least one developer. Instead, focus on something else your team did really well. Maybe all you and your team could manage was setting up a simple splash page – but you did an amazing job marketing and have 500 people signed up for your beta release. Or perhaps you spent valuable time with potential customer discussing the U/X and have beautifully designed mockups. Each one of these situations present an equally important outcome that can be achieved through varying team skillsets, but it is the team that can tie everything together and deliver a charismatic final presentation who usually wins.
9. Get your Steve Jobs on!
You and your team have worked hard and now it is time to shine! Make sure you impute to the crowd and judges your team’s high potential for success by appearing prepared, fun and excited to show off your work.
The first step is preparedness – practice, practice, and practice. Whoever is going to pitch (I don’t suggest having more than one person) should start preparing at least three hours before.
Next, focus on telling a story and sell a vision. Have some passion in your voice and act really excited about what you have achieved.
Finally be prepared for questions from the judges! Some very common questions include – who are your competitors and why are you different? What are the barriers to entry? How big is the potential market? How are you going to generate revenue? How are you going to market and acquire customers?