What you can learn from Startup Weekend – and apply to your business
February 1, 2015
I recently finished my second Startup Weekend on Cape Cod. We won third place with Kleenr. co. Last year my team won first place with Afterbook. Startup Weekend encourages entrepreneurship, and startup companies are important for innovation and job growth. Even if you do not join or start a new company, you (and your business) will benefit from attending a Startup Weekend.
What is Startup Weekend?
It is a 54-hour weekend (Friday night, Saturday, Sunday), where participants pitch an idea for a startup company or project, form teams and choose which idea they want to build, and then build them, with a competition at the end. Peter Karlson of NeuEon (started in 2004) deserves our thanks and praise for bringing the Google- and Amazon-sponsored Startup Weekend to Cape Cod. From the website: "Startup Weekend is a global grassroots movement of active and empowered entrepreneurs
who are learning the basics of founding startups and launching successful ventures. It is the largest community of passionate entrepreneurs, with events in over 100 countries and 580 cities around the world. " More than 1,500 companies have been started at Startup Weekends
around the world.
The event is important because it encourages entrepreneurship, which leads to innovation, job creation, and the international leadership position of our country Steve Case, Founder of AOL, cited the Ewing Marion Kauffman Foundation in Bloomberg Businessweek in November 2014 while noting that "Young, high-growth startups account for really all net job creation ... over the last three decades, 40 million jobs have been created from these startups."
What can you learn from Startup Weekend?
Networking: There are a lot of entrepreneurs at the weekend, making it a great place to network with young movers and shakers. My team consisted of me (an insurance advisor and startup enthusiast), Jitka Borowick (Founder of Clean Green Cape Cod), Tom Tuttle (Founder and CEO of CapeCodDJ.com), Devin Donaldson (Founder of The Optimist Co.), college professor Chris Page, and college student Clayton Palmer. In addition, most organizers, coaches, mentors and sponsors are also entrepreneurial and have started their own company.
Get it done: In less than 48 hours, my team developed a product from concept to launch complete with a working physical prototype, online store that accepted credit cards/PayPal, website, blog and logo. We had more than 13 preorders, and conducted an online survey of our target customers with more than 150 responses to help us gauge the market. We assembled a business plan and pitched
the model with a 10-minute slideshow and Q&A. How often in your business have you let obstacles continue to be obstacles because you would not simply get it done? I frequently see the business classes on how to succeed at social media, or hear businesses unsatisfied with their website/advertising, or lacking grounded customer contact. When you only have 48 hours to go from concept to launch, you don't have time to let obstacles get in your way. If you don't overcome, you lose.
Fighter pilot decision-making: Someone in the startup space shared with me what his mentor called ‘fighter pilot decision-making.’ He said that when you're in a jet fight, the person who makes the most decisions the fastest wins. The approach favors agility over raw power in dealing with human opponents in any endeavor. Starting a new company isn't the same as flying a jet, but the point is well taken. Suppose you're testing out three different software solutions. Rather than spend five months
deliberating over which software solution is best (and losing months of productivity), make a decision in the first week. If the decision works out, you'll have saved yourself months of agony. If the decision does not work, then move on to the next solution. You will have only invested a few days/weeks and will still be months ahead of the company that takes five months to deliberate and choose. During Startup Weekend you choose between dozens of ideas to work on, and then thousands of ways to implement the idea. Agility is key.
Part of a team, focused on results: Your teammates are just as important as the idea you work on. You live through the 54 hours doing everything as a team to turn the idea to reality. In business, your people are your greatest asset. By them and with them your idea will thrive, survive, or die. Last year, Rodrigo Passos of HelloDative (a web development company) businesstoolbox recruited me to his Startup Weekend team; he wanted my knack for numbers, public speaking and familiarity with the startup lexicon. I knew I likewise needed a designer, developer and solid idea to succeed. We won first place. So this year, instead of pitching my own idea, I spent the first hour sizing up the cohort. I asked everyone their strengths and which idea interested and excited them most. I wanted to know who I could work best with. I chose an idea that I liked, and then started recruiting for my team. My message in recruiting was: "I want to win, and our team will have the most fun and learning in the process, and we need your unique skills to help us do it." We placed third. My teammates agreed about their top takeaway from the weekend being the team: Tom's takeaway was, "Having great hard-working team members who work in harmony, each offering different and complementary skills," and Jitka shared, "It was a pretty amazing experience to come to Startup Weekend with an idea and work with people you never met before, people with different strengths and personalities, and at the end present a business plan, marketing plan and an actual product."
The tools you need to succeed are at your fingertips: Procter and Gamble won brand recognition and made a fortune by advertising on TV when there were just a few channels. Today, companies have to compete in a marketplace with unlimited choices and niches. This gives niche competitors an advantage. We started building our own web store and website from scratch. Pressed for time, with fighter pilot decision-making, we abandoned our website, salvaged our logo and found a software out there to run a web store for us, for free. In about 15 minutes I purchased a web domain, directed it to our online store, uploaded our logo and team photos, uploaded a product photo and plugged into their checkout software. We shared the link on social media and boasted when we already had a few pre-orders of our cleaning product.
Startups are essential to the success of our country and are happening locally in our region. Even if you do not start your own business (or if you have started your own business in the past), there is a lot to learn from attending the next Startup Weekend in November 2015, beginning with networking with entrepreneurs. And starting today, apply these tips to your life and business. Try it with just one project you've been struggling with and you'll be surprised at your success when obstacles are not an option.
Originally written for the Cape & Plymouth Business Magazine (Original PDF: Startup Weekend)