How to Get the Most Out of Startup Weekend

Startup Weekend

Have you ever felt the urge to:

    •  Lock yourself in a room with 300 people for 54 hours
    •  Test your limits of sleep deprivation
    • Get grilled by some of the toughest industry experts around?

If the answer is yes, then chances are, you’re a crazy-ass entrepreneur and you should probably check out your local Startup Weekend.

It isn’t always pretty. It will be one of the most gruelling, mentally-draining weekends of your life. You will go at 1000 miles/hour, and guess what? It still won’t be fast enough.

But, if you can stick it out, you will have gained the equivalent of months worth of learning, building, and networking in one weekend. Hell, you might even start your first company. It worked for Groupnotes.

But you need to prepare before showing up. Don’t bring a knife to a gunfight.

Without further ado, here’s the lowdown on making the most out of Startup Weekend.

1. Make Friends with the Makers

By the end of the first hour, you better be buds with at least one developer.

You will be in a room with 300-400 high-energy entrepreneurs – and everyone wants to meet people. You need to very quickly narrow in on the people that you need to meet. The worst thing you can do is team up with clones of yourself. You need to find people with complementary programming and business skills to help build, test, and validate your product.

You might be talking to your future co-founders, developers, or idea generators. But remember, you won’t have a product unless you have people who can help you build.

2. Know How to Pitch: It’s All About the Story

“You’re not just selling your story — you’re selling yourself” says Matt Gardner of Groupnotes, the 2012 Startup Weekend’s Global Startup Battle winners. If you want the people you meet to become life-long mentors and friends – you better make yourself stand out.

You’ll be in a room full of 300 people who are vying for each others’ attention. If you aren’t able to express who you are and what you want to do clearly and quickly, people will have trouble connecting with and remembering you.

Here’s the kicker – all of your hard work boils down to a 5-minute pitch with a demo.

Ahead of time, you’re not gonna know what the hell you need to say, but there are some things that you can practice.

 

  1. Look at the judging criteria ahead of time so that you’ll rock all the sections.
  2. If your pitch is less than 5 minutes, you should only have one person up there. Make sure that you pick somebody awesome. Make sure that they have a bulletproof understanding of the business.
  3. Give someone the job of brainstorming the hardest questions that the judges will ask. Figure out how to respond to all of these questions from vertical integration to alternate routes to monetization, competitors, etc.

What is Matt Gardner’s #1 piece pitch advice? Focus on validation: “if you cannot prove that this product is needed and has demand, you don’t have a product”.

3. Don’t Build a Company: Build a Product

Entire companies aren’t built in 54 hours. If you’re planning to sit around and form a fully-fledged new venture, Startup Weekend will be a total waste of time. It’s all about kicking ass at one thing —  developing your product.

Leverage the expertise of your mentors to build a strategic plan and core business model around it. Don’t worry about the administrative stuff — that doesn’t need to be perfect. If you focus on a building a quality product, you’ll find that that is what continues to have value beyond Startup Weekend.

4. Expect that People Will Leave

People often sign up for Startup Weekend without really knowing what to expect. Some people will love it, others will go running for the hills. And that is not the end of the world.

Focus on building trust and motivating your team. When people feel like a valued member of the group, they will want to stick around. “Everyone on the team has their specialty, and you need to be able to trust that they will get the work done on time and with good quality”, says Matt. Things get pretty damn brutal, and it can be tempting to quit. But if people are motivated and engaged, nothing will be able to drag them away.

5. Build Your Network: Take Coffee Breaks with 15 People

From your peers to mentors, everyone at Startup Weekend is there because they really, genuinely want to be there. Experienced entrepreneurs are busy as hell, but they volunteer at Startup Weekend for one reason — they love to help and give valuable advice.

If you do it right, you’ll be able to capitalize on that good will for years to come. “Don’t just talk to them, listen to what they have to say” explains Matt Gardner,  “their opinions may be wildly different from how you think, but that’s a good thing – they will help play devil’s advocate”.

These are some of the coolest relationships that you’ll form in your life. You never know where your peers are going to be in a few years, and you never know who will become your most trusted advisors. Most importantly, you ever know what you will learn about yourself.

Have fun. Bond. Make time for 1:1s. At the very least, you’ll have a great conversation.

For many, Startup Weekend is the start of something bigger, so make it count.

Have you been to a Startup Weekend? Do you have any advice for getting the most out of the experience?


Photo Credit: Ana Zhu Photography

About the Author:

Renée Warren is the co-founder of Onboardly, a company that works with early stage technology startups to help them get noticed, secure early traction and most importantly: acquire more customers.  She is a creative thinker and serial entrepreneur having successfully started four companies ranging from restaurants to jewelry design and – finally – Onboardly. She attended Startup Weekend Seattle and had one of the best weekends of her life.

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Comments.

  • http://twitter.com/Francov88 Franco Varriano

    Great post Renée! Startup Weekend is one of the most intense, but high powered events I’ve had the privilege to attend.

    I could only add that you should also make great friends with the sponsorship deals and local reps – like Microsoft Bizspark or the .CO domains. At StartupWeekend Ottawa, these guys are an invaluable resource and can help you launch your startup for nothing. Take advantage all their expertise and knowledge to use the tools put at your disposal to the fullest.

    • http://twitter.com/Renee_Warren Renée Warren

      Hi Franco,

      Thank you and I agree. I guess the relationships to the sponsors will vary depending on where you are and who they are. But, yes, that is a good one too.

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