Three weeks ago, I attended my very first startup weekend in Utrecht. I not only met a whole bunch of great guys, but also won together with my team !
I would like to share some of the excitement I had, together with some tips that might be worth for those who plan to also take the challenge !
1 - Go Pitch !
Seriously. You may think that your idea is worth nothing, and that people will not be interested in it. So what ?
I participated the event as a developer, without any plan. My idea was just to "see what it was like".After a few minutes listening to all those nice guys, I decided to pitch. Guess what? I was the only person finally voting for my idea. But that is not important. What matters is that I took the opportunity to speak in front of 100 people, and can think what I did wrong to improve next time ! Oh, and another thing. The pitcher in our team was one of the last ones to present his idea. It was not prepared, and he got his idea only a few minutes before going on stage. And we ended up winning the competition.
There is no way to read people's mind yet. If you don't throw yourself in the arena, you'll never get feedback. It takes only one minute, but the lessons you get can last a lifetime!
2 - Meet people, discuss, share
Startup Weekend is not about winning a competition. It's about meeting people. Discussing with great guys you probably would never have met otherwise. Being amazed by people's creativity, by the strength of their mind. Realizing that you spend a whole week-end working like crazy, but that everyone loved that ! On top of that, a team of mentors are here to help you. A team of people that already made their dream come true. That own a company and rely only on themselves to pay the bills. How not to be amazed by people like that ?! Tchat with as much people as you can. You can bring them something, and you'll get out of the weekend thousands of times richer; the head full of new ideas and motivation.
3 - Validate your idea
I was not expecting from the staff to focus so much on that. If I think back, more than half our time was spent on validating our idea. Going out, talking to people, listen to people that like your idea; and listen even more to those that don't. The first day of the event, we rushed into creating a product that would help people save the world together. What's more powerful than the wish to make the world better? Well, money is. . . Our first idea was completely wrong, and this is only when we discussed people that we realized that they wouldn't use our product to reduce global warming. . . but to cut their bills ! We had to start over from the beginning, more than half way through the competition!
Think about it, it might lead you to the victory :).
4 - Think Business Model
Startup Weekend is NOT about creating start-ups. The staff will keep telling you that. It is about meeting awesome people, from different landscapes, all motivated by the idea of creating something with their hands. During the startup weekend, you'll be in the middle of dozens of people who decided to spend their whole week-end building stuff. What better place to meet great guys? Thing is, this is ALSO a competition. A competition in which you'll have to be pitched. And be judged. On your start-up idea. The jury will be composed of entrepreneurs, if not business angels. This means that you should spend a whole lot of time finding how to make money out of your idea. Think different. Find several channels. Explore and think beyond the "I'll put ads" or "This will be a paid app". How is your business scalable? What is the competition? This won't be enough for the jury. And this shouldn't be enough for you either.
Let's take an example : Our whole aim is to help people reduce their energy consumption through a game. With GreenGame, you would monitor your energy consumption while playing. You'll earn rewards. But you'll not be alone. You will be able to compare yourself with friends, and group together to achieve greater goals.
If we take it simple, this is a phone app. So let's make it paid, and we have a business model, right? Wrong.
This. is. not. enough.
In which other way could we make money out of GreenGame? We had two other ideas :
- Our game will be played by people that want to reduce their energy consumption. Why not offer them new ways to do so? An idea could be to have affiliates in our game. For example, a user could buy new LED bulbs with a discount, while we also take a small percentage.
- Another idea came up while searching for competition. Who are the biggest entities concerned by energy control? Energy companies. By offering big rewards to users that reduce their energy during given time slots, we could transform our app into a peak shaving tool! The money could then directly come from energy companies, and the app could be offered for free.
Those are just ideas, but the point is to show you that you should dig your concept enough!
5 - Startup Weekend is not a hackathon.
This one is a short one, but still meaningful. I told you that our concept is an app, right? What do you think we developed during the week-end then ? A landing page, and a leaderboard for a twitter hashtag contest.
Total amount of code ? Less than 50 lines.
Our whole idea during the week-end was to VALIDATE the concept. No need for an app that no one wants. We first had to find potential customers!
As a further validation, we created a twitter contest where people could tweet about their today's action for environment. In less than 48 hours, on a week end, we got more than 100 tweets :). You can Check it out here !
Keep in mind that software/hacking is not an end, but only a tool. And as the Lean Startup book states, you MVP is always smaller than you think :).
6 - Keep being awesome
I'll end by saying that if you attend such an event, you are already a winner. And I am not the only one to say that ! Startup weekend brings you so much in a few hours that you won't believe it. I met awesome guys that believe in their dreams more than nothing else, worked for the first time of my life with a designer (best feeling ever), and shared a lot of emotions with my team during this week-end. Joy, Stress, Focus, all in the same package ! And if you consider that I registered only 2 hours before the event, think about what I could have missed !
In the end, it's all about getting out of your comfort zone. Get out, do crazy stuff, meet people and keep your flame alive. You know, that small thing that makes you awesome. :)
Check here to know more about our project. We already have a lot of people interested in the project, so take the challenge and join us !
And of course, let me know about your own experience in the comments. I'd love to hear about it !
EDIT: The project is now dead and the website is down :).