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Lessons Learned From Startup Weekend

This weekend I attended my first Startup Weekend.

The event went from Friday at 6pm until the following Sunday at 3:30pm.

The days were broken down like this:

Friday

Gather for orientation at 6pm. We checked in and had pizza and drinks in a big meeting room. @dtrenz and some other friends from my Meetup group were there and it was fun to catch up while we ate.

After we were all done eating, we were brought into the large auditorium for the 'pitchfire' event. Before we got started -- the people at Rapt.FM showed us their new KickStarter video and gave a pretty inspiring presentation.

Their CEO, Erik Torenberg, gave a really inspiring speech about his experiences with Startup Weekend events. He talked about his first event, driving down to Chicago with some of his friends, and the mistakes they made. He told us that his pitch was well received and he ended up being in charge of his our Startup Group. He talked about how the group completely fell apart and jokingly (I hope) said his team didn't even get the free point from the judges for participation.

After that the 'pitchfire' began. Anyone that wanted could get in line and give a 60 second pitch for their startup idea. I think all in all there were 54 pitches on Friday. The ideas largely consisted of:

When the pitches were finished, each person who pitched got a piece of paper with their startups name on it and we moved back into the meeting room to vote on our favorites.

This is the first thing I think should have been done differently. The people who pitched were awkwardly wandering around the room with their sheet of paper, trying to get votes ( sticky notes that every participant received three of ). There were a few problems with this:

  1. It was really hard to find a specific startup as they wandered around the room.
  2. It was hard to talk about your favorites with hopeful pitchers standing over your shoulder.
  3. It was pretty awkward when a good 70% of them got no votes.
  4. Things got really awkward when @aiwdesign and I ended up some of the last people with all of our votes left.

If I were in charge I would have had all the pitchers stand at the front of the room giving out more details of their startup. Then I would have had a nice web application that allowed for anonymous voting.

When the voting was done the group in charge picked the 10 most popular and the rest of the startup ideas were tossed.

Then came the second most awkward part of the evening. With the 10 groups remaining the rest of us had to decide which group to join.

Everyone wanted mobile developers

I think @dtrenz was one of the few lucky enough to end up in a group with one.

Our First Big Mistake

We overcommitted ourselves. We found a group that wanted to make a mobile application for the popular game Assassin. We (despite having no experience) volunteered to use PhoneGap to publish a native app that would help facilitate playing the game.

We ended up in a group of 9, sitting upstairs talking about the game and how much more fun it would be if we could add:

Our Second Big Mistake

We didn't understand our Minimum Viable Product. We got it into our heads that the MVP was a functioning mobile application. The real MVP was a great presentation and perhaps a bit of a tech demo. Unfortunately it took us until Sunday morning to realize this.

Saturday

Honestly, Saturday was a pretty stressful day for our group. Things kept going wrong and I think we all started to feel the stress of a failing project. We met with a few really cool mentors but overall spent our time poorly and didn't get as much as we should have done.

I think a few things I would have done differently are:

We had an OK day and I left wishing I can gotten more accomplished.

Sunday

This was the day we really pulled it together. I think we realized how little time we had left before presenting and for the first time really got down to what it was we needed to present.

Kelly really stepped it up and made some great looking screenshots for us. Ian did a great job and put together a demo of our game. The rest of our team really pulled it together with some great slides and a killer presentation.

In minutes I watched our group turn from failed mobile app to excited entrepreneurs.

Our group leader -- Chening -- got up on stage and just knocked it out of the park with a presentation.

We nailed second place.

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