Friday, May 17, 2013

New Kid on the Block? How We Won Startup Weekend

The following is a repost from the Startup Weekend Blog, a 54 hour event where developers, designers, marketers, product managers, and startup enthusiasts come together to launch a startup.

Ever been that new kid on the block? I have.

Alyssa Mompoint, Image by Greg Go

On a whim, I joined Startup Weekend Bay Area. I didn't know what to expect. I didn’t know what I was getting myself into and I didn’t think I would win. But I did. Now, I’m not a programmer.  I’m not a web designer.  I’m not that business savvy.  Turns out, you don’t have to be.  All you need is the right team who shares your vision (or one that thinks your idea is cool enough to eat and breathe for the next 54 hours). Be ready to lead and be led, be open-minded, and hustle. If you are, well, then I’m confident your idea can win Startup Weekend as a first timer, just like (now BeforeWeDo) did.

Without further ado, here’s what you need to know to win over crowd, the judges and the entire weekend:

1. It’s All In The Pitch. Pick an idea you know, that’s clear, and relatable. The idea I came with was In - Home STD Test Subscriptions. No one likes to talk about STDs (which is a problem in it of itself). It’s not fun. It’s not that cool. So, how do you take an idea that by nature is uncomfortable and get people to pay attention? Make it personal. I started with “Sex is Amazing.” (Mostly because it is and I knew everyone, if not all, have experienced it). When I sat down, the person next to me whispered in my ear, ”That was the most exciting pitch yet.”  

Case in point, your pitch MUST catch the attention of the audience. So, be bold and unique. It is also very important that you practice it BEFORE you pitch at least 10 times to yourself and to someone else. This will ensure that you deliver your pitch with as much ease and confidence as possible. Keep in mind, there could easily be 30+ pitches that night (this event had 37) so be sure yours is the one that sticks.

2. Pimpin’ Ain’t Easy. If you have zero sales experience (I surely did), now is your chance to get it. Here’s the deal--you’ll find some people who are on the fence between putting a post-it on your idea or someone else’s. (Only the top 20 ideas are allowed to create a team). So, you better become a self-proclaimed PR agent to promote and sell your idea as best as you can. It’ll be up to you to convince those indecisive ones which team to join. Know there’s an unfair ratio of business people to developers to designers, so it’s imperative that you walk around the room to ask who hasn’t voted or joined a team yet and if not, why? (In this case, having the actual HIV In-Home test came in handy because instead of explaining how it works, I just showed it. So, if your idea has an actual product that goes along with it, bring it!). If you just stand by your poster, then there is a huge chance that you’ll be overlooked, miss out on votes, and miss out on attracting key team members. You’ll need at least one programmer, designer, and business/marketing person to have a well rounded team. Get to pimpin’.

3. Map Out A Plan First. Develop some type of backlog whether it is by way of an online tool, like Trello, or a white poster paper with markers. We used Trello because it was user friendly, simple, and more importantly it allowed us to visually see who was assigned what, what was currently being worked on, and what was completed. In fact, we also used a white sheet of paper to list the tasks and deadlines to ensure that we stayed as efficient as possible. (Remember you only have 54 hours). Side note: Might I suggest you list and assign tasks Friday night? That way, first thing Saturday morning you’re able to get right to work.

4. Focus And Pivot As Needed, Please. You’re going to be very tempted to want to include all the bells and whistles for your product/service or even attempt to roll out marketing strategies. While they may prove to be critical if you pursue your idea beyond the weekend, they might not be a priority for the Sunday presentation. Think about if your product/service is actually solving the problem. Be honest. For us, the numbers on both a customer side and business profit side signaled for us to pivot to just an In-Home HIV test subscription plan (originally, I wanted to include In-Home gonorrhea and chlamydia tests in the plan package). Why? It was just more focused that way. Disclaimer: You are being judged on execution, the business model, and customer validation. You have 54 hours. Focus, focus, focus. Oh and did I mention focus?

Gustavo da Cunha Pimenta
 via Compfight cc

5. Go Ahead And Flirt A Little. There are coaches there to help you, seriously. Find and schmooze with one. If you’re lucky they may even align with your vision and have a personal interest in your idea. They can give you valuable feedback, save you some time and energy on developing something you really don’t need, and give you an idea that you yourself may not have even thought of. Cheers to John Beadle: your input was invaluable!

6. Use The Crowd And Mentors Wisely. One of the three main things you are judged on is customer validation i.e. do people actually want to use your product/service? There a few ways to achieve this either through online surveys, launching a Google Adwords campaign (unless you have some high rollers on your team, I wouldn’t suggest it because it’s very expensive and again you only have 54 hours) social shares using Facebook or twitter, or more importantly the number of “sign ups” or product sales (nothing beats this) you have by Sunday at 5pm. While we used some of these, you have a room of at least 50+ people. Use them.

This is how I worked it in. When 2 female mentors and 1 female Startup Weekend volunteer came around and asked if we had any questions, I responded by saying, “Yes, in fact, would you be willing to be interviewed about your STD testing experience?” (I prefaced it by saying let me know if you’re not comfortable sharing to avoid offending anyone). Why? Because their sole purpose of being there is to help and women tend to be more open about this topic than men. I then asked one of the females who I interviewed if she would be willing to go around the room for me and ask if anyone else would be willing to share their experience. Not only did this save me recruiting time, but she was able to assure them it’s not as uncomfortable and awkward as they may have originally thought. After all, she had already done it! Think of it this way, it was an easy way to create a little crowd buy-in, make it personal, and we even quoted some in our final pitch.

7. Visualize Your Presentation. Literally. No one likes reading slides. No one likes lots of words. Most of us have the attention span of a gnat. Use visuals for your PowerPoint presentation but use them strategically so that you not only paint the picture that there is problem but effectively communicate to the crowd that your product is the solution to the problem.

                                       Testerly from Max Olson

8. Perfect Practice Makes Perfect. We turned Guy Kawasaki’s 10/20/30 Rule into 5/5/30 to keep the final pitch engaging and focused. Learn it. Use it. Love it. More importantly, saddle down a coach to listen to your final pitch to make sure you’re hitting the points they’re looking. For your final pitch, present it in such a way that you tell a story and create a sense of urgency to engage the audience. Make it clear that there’s a market for your product/service, show that people want to use it, that your idea is better, and oh yea that it can make money.  Now, practice it a hundred times (or as much as time will allow).

One last thought. Drink the beer. Don’t take yourself too seriously. And have fun.  

What have you learned from joining Startup Weekend?


  1. Amazing dairy !I was part of a Startup Weekend Myself here in Bangalore, and it is all that Alyssa had mentioned!

    Great write up, It was like i was part of the weekend myself !


  2. Thanks Shivaram! What was your experience like at startup weekend Bangalore?

  3. Very impressive that you won and extremely helpful tips for other start-ups. Nice job!

  4. Thanks so much! It was a learning experience and hope this inspires you to join startup weekend as well :)


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