Startup Weekend: Lessons Learned – Part 2 – Do’s & Don’ts


dosanddonts-kashiThis is the part 2 of my start-up weekend series. In this post, I will be sharing few Do’s & Don’ts that you should consider when attending your next start-up weekend.

(Note: This is totally based on my personal experience and my reflection on it.)

If you missed the part 1 of this series, here is the link: Startup Weekend: Lessons Learned – Part 1

Do’s of Start-up Weekend

  • First of all – just have FUN and ENJOY your time to go through this wonderful experience
  • Keep your idea simple and pitch it as you feel about it. Follow the following 60 seconds structure guideline to pitch your idea: (Don’t practice too much)
    • 5-10s: Who are you?
    • 10-20s: What’s the problem?
    • 10-20s: What’s your Solution?
    • 5-10s: Who do you need?
  • Try to be a Sales guy during the voting period. You got to sell your idea to the audience to get their votes and selected as one of the ideas to be executed over the weekend
  • Write down the name of all the Ideas and Presenters during pitch session to help you decide who you want to vote or join
  • If you are really looking to be part of a project that have high probability of becoming a company then look for a strong team with promising idea and join the project team
  • If you are there to have a great experience and have a good time (like most of them), then join the team whose idea excites you most
  • If you are the team lead, make sure to set expectation up front and make sure everyone is IN the game to play it until the end. If someone is not, then ask them to leave the team nicely.  My advice on how to do this is:
    • Let the team member know what you expect from them with respect to time commitment, skills set, work, outcome, deliverables etc.
    • Clearly define everyone’s role, responsibilities, and deliverables
    • Give a soft time line of Saturday noon to check again with the team if everyone is IN until Sunday evening and can work around their other commitments
    • Put two people on similar task, make one primary and one secondary
    • FACT: It impacts entire team and project significantly when someone decide to leave at the last moment or during the execution time
  • When Building a TEAM, try to have a team of 3-7 people only. Too big of a team is hard to manage during the short weekend. Consider the following when selecting your team members:
    • Complimentary skills
    • Clear and aligned interests
    • Energy and enthusiasm
    • Be open to co-ownership and be prepared to pivot
    • THE TEAM is EVERYTHING
    • Have clear line of interest upfront
    • Must have at least one Business Person in the team
    • Must have someone who plays Project Management Role and make sure everyone is on board and keeping track of the tasks
    • Good to have either a designer or a front end developer
  • Write down all team members emails and contact info on the white board and in your address book
  • Focus only on Prototyping your product instead of 100% perfect solution. What you need at the end is only a functional prototype
  • Identify your MVP (Minimum Viable Product) and The Happy Path that you can develop and demonstrate end-to-end. You can point out rest of the features as to be developed in the future during your final presentation
  • Good User Interface (UI) design is important to stand out, thus pay attention
    • Keep it simple, clean, and effective
    • Use good combination of HTML, CSS, JavaScript for front end, if you do not have a designer in your team
    • When you have a final name of your team / project, create only a simple logo, as it might change after the weekend.
    • Try to start with simple colored Text logo
    • Focus more on website or app design, user interface, and usability
  • Setup a project new email address e.g. on Google and use that account to tie all the other social media and other accounts too, so that project is not tied to any individual’s personal account
  • Create  a project Twitter, Facebook, and Website launch page for your project
  • Create the buzz on twitter and Facebook group of Startup Weekend to inform people about you
  • Create simple Survey using Google Docs or other free tools and gather input from others early in the process – keep questions to 5 – 7
  • Use Google Docs or other online collaboration tools for team collaboration
  • Use Github and Drop Box for code sharing or similar services
  • Create 3 days draft schedule for your team and write it on the white board.
  • Have status meeting schedule every 4 hours or so
  • Do prepare a Financial Model, as it is part of judging criteria, means how would you make money?
  • Get your business people out on road to get real people feedback and perform market research
  • Build the network with all other teams for future connections
  • Build the network with the judges and mentors
  • Create a Yahoo or Google or Facebook group for discussion or document sharing instead of emailing back and forth
  • Provide enough time to yourself for your final Sunday pitch and practice, practice, and practice for Sunday pitch
  • Prepare a PowerPoint, starting Sunday morning, as a backup, in case you have any issues with live demo or technology
  • Team lead and co-presenter must go to presentation room in advance during Sunday morning to test your hardware, presentation, start time, end time, duration on the stage (4 mins are not many for final pitch and they goes by really fast)
  • Execution is very important. You must have at least one happy path of functionality working to demo on Sunday
    • Have one person pitching on the Stage and other on computer to help navigate the product
  • Last but not least, focus on building, building, and building your happy path and MVP

Don’ts of Startup Weekend

Well, while the list of Do’s is long, there were few ‘What not to do during startup weekend’ that I would recommend based on my experience, they may not be true in all instances, but fairly applies in general.

  • Don’t practice your pitch too much. Do not over practice. Especially, don’t think about it when driving to Startup Weekend (I still did, and ended up ignoring this advice. Believe me ignoring this advice doesn’t work.)
    • I realized that focusing too much on the pitch, you may not able to show the passion you have for your idea and the energy you bring to the table. You may get too focused on the structure and content of the pitch and how you deliver it
    • It really doesn’t matter how great your pitch contents are or how well practiced you are. The thing that matter is the energy and passion you show for your project and how well you explain it to the people in 60 seconds to grab their attention
  • Don’t make any assumption about the ownership or the work starting Monday. Before you start putting more hours of your personal time into the product, make sure you have expectations set with team lead on how your efforts will be accounted
  • Don’t assume that your initial team will stay until the end. You will have people chicken out during the weekend and at the last day as well
  • When working on the project, DON’T spend more than 20 mins on any topic to make a decision – have a timer set for decision and if you can’t make it then table it and come back again
  • Don’t spend more than an hour on deciding the name of the company. It will come to you as you move forward (it did for us)
  • Don’t have all college students in your team, especially as developer. Try to have mix of college students and some experienced professional programmers or technical leads
    • The reason I recommend not to have all college students in the team are, they usually do not have industry and practical experience in the field. I noticed they may have conflicting schedule with their exam and classes etc. Lastly, it’s the commitment level from the for the entire weekend and dependability on their skills and experience
  • Don’t use trademark names or logo without permission of the businesses; you can get in trouble starting Monday, as words go around fast
    • We made a mistake of using local pizza business logo on our site and showing the fake deal of FREE PIZZA for prototyping and demo. Well, words went around the campus and students started showing up to pizza shop for free pizza. The pizza shop owners threaten us to sue to use their logo on our project site
  • Don’t take all advices from all mentors and judges. Keep yourself focus on your core and initial idea and only take complimenting advices those can help you refine your idea and execution. Stick to the core of original idea
  • Don’t try to have revenue stream by the end of the weekend. Reach out to the people or business for idea validation and keep their contacts and interest to follow up
  • Don’t put more than 5 to 7 questions on your survey! No one have time to answer 20 questions Does everyone have a survey?
    • This is not required part, but it always helps to show the measures from surveys to the jury
  • Don’t change technologies on mid Saturday afternoon. Better spend time on Friday and decide what platform you are going to build it upon based on teams’ skill set and then stick to it
  • Don’t have your designer spend hours on the logo, as the design of the product is more important
  • Don’t talk and drive the computer together during final presentation. Have someone from the team help you in the demo to navigate the computer

Final Tip:

  • If you truly believe in your idea, don’t give up after the startup weekend, regardless it was selected during the pitch or not.
  • Remain committed, focused, and consistent with respect to execution of your idea (keep making progress regardless how small it is)
  • Remain connected with other people you met including the mentors and judges

I hope this two part series of sharing my experience of attending Startup Weekend will help you during your next startup weekend.

Lastly, if you are still wondering, Why should a software developer attend a Startup Weekend?

Then read the following answer on Quora.com by one of the Startup Weekend Leader (Shane Reiser)

http://www.quora.com/Startup-Weekend/Why-should-a-software-developer-attend-a-Startup-Weekend

Please feel free to share your tips and lesson learned in the comments section below or share this post with your friends on social media.

If you have any questions, please post in the comments and I would be happy to answer. I can be reached at contact@kashifahmed.com.

Cheers!

– Kashi



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Disclaimer: The opinions expressed herein are my own personal opinions and do not represent my employer’s view in any way.