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Surviving Startup Weekend

 |  Community Startups Team + culture

What’s the best way to prepare for Startup Weekend?

Startup Weekend is a 54-hour event held in many cities and regions around New Zealand and internationally. It gives the full experience of creating a startup business, from inception through to market launch in one weekend.
At the beginning of the event, contestants get one minute to pitch their best business idea. These ideas are collected and the participants are given a brief period to choose ideas, mix and form teams. After the teams are formed the game is on. It’s up to everyone to effectively pull their weight, test, validate and launch their startup over the weekend.
This post isn’t a definitive guide of how to kick ass at Startup Weekend, but offers a list of usable tips to give you the edge at your next Startup Weekend.

Stay flexible

Roman voting

Your pitch doesn’t work, your idea doesn’t get chosen, you don’t get a developer in your group or you lose a teammate. It happens and you need to expect that it won’t always be easy. There are only really two solid days to make your team’s idea fly. So quickly resolving arguments, building clear strategies and making solid decisions on matters of importance is vital. If your team can’t decide on something consider using roman voting (have your team on the count of 3 produce either a thumbs up or a thumbs down, majority rules and everyone is given 3 seconds of choice making).

Understand what you’re shooting for

Eric Ries author of The Lean Startup describes a Minimum Viable Product as a version of a new product which allows a team to collect the maximum amount of validated learning about customers with the least effort. This is what you should be shooting for. Something to put in front of your target market to give your team a place to start and learn from. Understanding that you’re pushing to get something basic that will give value (somehow) to a market segment. Take this great idea you have with all of the amazing things it does and pull out a single thing, the most important and central to what your product does. This is your Minimum Viable Product. Make it the focus, to get that one feature up and running.

Throw Haymakers

“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. In a nutshell, all of your hard work boils down to a 5 minute pitch and demo of your product to the judges. This means that even for the strongest business models, the team who cannot articulate it, in less than 5 minutes, under pressure, in an engaging and concise way is out of luck.
Ahead of time, you’re not going to know exactly what questions will be thrown at you or how you will answer, but there are some things that you can practice.

Pay close attention to the judging criteria and you can plan a strategy to smash all of the sections in the 5 minutes allocated. Make sure you’ve covered all the aspects of the Lean Canvas and most importantly that you’ve given some thought to what the judging panel will want to hear.
Remember that you might be a technician, and explaining how things work in monotone voice might do the trick in the office, but this weekend you’re a dancing bear who has 5 minutes to entertain, wow and get your point across. A little bit of empathy and humour will take you a long way here too.
Focus on validation “if you cannot prove that this product is needed and has a demand, you don’t have a product” … if need be, make your pitch shorter, funnier and use more visual examples.
Start thinking about how to present your product early, as early as Saturday night if possible. This exercise of explaining what your product does to other people will actually reinforce your product development process by pointing out the parts that are confusing or overly complex.
If you are going to do a live demo practice it A LOT. It’s Murphy’s Law that “Anything that can go wrong, will go wrong.”, so come prepared with a backup just in case it does. That said, slide decks can be pretty boring, live demos are better and if you’ve got a working prototype, this is something that you should be shouting from the rooftops.

Leave your comfort zone

Hate public speaking, or talking to strangers? There’s a very good chance that during the weekend you’ll need to step far out of your comfort zone. Recognise this as an expected given and don’t shy away from the situation when it presents itself. You can only do your best! Embrace the opportunity & see it as a challenge to grow beyond the skills you’ve already mastered. If nothing else the weekend will firmly reveal areas for your own future professional development.

In Summary

Startup Weekend is a fantastic opportunity to prove to yourself that you’ve got the making of an entrepreneur. Perhaps you’ve got a great idea already? Spend a weekend validating it and building a team!

Or maybe you can offer your skills to a team? Diverse skills are always needed; no matter if you’re a designer, developer, social media expert, team leader etc, chances are good that your skills will be put to use.

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