Startup Weekend is upon us again here in Seattle and every time I see the social buzz around the event I can’t help but remember my experience at F5 Networks two-years-ago. Let’s just say it rocked! This was at a time when I was just pursuing the idea of uniting sports fans so I was new to the scene, very timid and had no clue what to expect. Here’s a breakdown of how the weekend works and what happened.
Friday Night Pitches
The weekend kicks off with everyone from coders to designers to marketing and biz dev people meeting up and preparing to either do a 60-second pitch of their idea, or, to listen to the pitches in order to decide what team you want to join.
- The pitches were great and I still remember a few of them, including one involving the creation of a cartoon tapeworm that at the time I was like, “What in the heck?!” I also remember one from a guy who wanted to create new Siri voices, possibly with celebrity voices.
- The audience was super supportive. I got up to give my pitch about midway through and although scary, I gave my pitch and felt pretty good about it! I’ll also never forget walking back to my seat and Startup Weekend organizer Shane Reiser said, “Good pitch!” It’s funny how simple words like that can help give you confidence. Thanks Shane.
- After all of the pitches teams are formed. Attendees are allowed to vote on their three favorite ideas and those with the most votes move forward to work on their project and give their demo at the end of the weekend. Some of those who pitched were really aggressive about working the room to get votes, others, like me, took a more casual approach. I got some votes and even a couple of people who said they’d like to help. Thanks Mike Sharps for your vote of confidence and for wanting to be a part of my team.
- The winners were then announced and those teams could move forward to work on their prototype and demo. I was not one of them and totally bummed. But one of the mentors, Rob Zazueta, told me to stay and build anyway. Thanks Rob for your encouragement and for telling me it was okay to break the rules!
- It was interesting because a couple of the teams that “won” didn’t go on to build. This bugged me because I didn’t understand why they pitched and then got votes when those votes could have gone to other people who were serious.
- Mike and I began mapping things out and creating wireframes in preparation for the next day.
Time to build! While Mike began building the prototype I prepared for the Demo Night pitch. For the pitch you have to figure out how you’re going to monetize your product, your go-to-market strategy, research your competitors, etc. and create a deck. We really needed another team member to help so another attendee, Nikki, got her friend Ellen (now with Kickstarter) to join us. Thanks you two!
There were sessions throughout the day with others in the industry so you could learn exactly how the deck should look for Demo night and what type of research you should be doing. There was no shortage of help available to the teams to help us plow through. I was also using Twitter to talk about the experience and it was cool seeing Tweets of support coming through from friends near and far like Jeff Slobotski.
I also remember how late in the afternoon a couple of people walked in with beer and I remember thinking, “How cool is this!” Indeed I was getting a dose of startup-land and loved it. I walked to the convenience store to get our team some beer too. Here’s a picture of Mike, Ellen and I!
The final day was a bit more intense as people prepared for Demo Night. Remember that tapeworm pitch? Well these guys (I didn’t know at the time, but they were Kyle Kesterson and Dwayne Mercredi) were providing an incredible break from the intensity as they were testing their prototype. They had created a Kinect game of a cartoon tapeworm that tried to eat food like steaks and carrots as they dropped from the top. For the game, the person (in front of the Kinect) was the tapeworm, jumping up to control it’s body and mouth, trying to eat the food. It was absolutely, ridiculously hilarious and lots of people in the room played.
Throughout the day people worked hard to wrap things up in time for Demo Night in front of the public including investors. A couple of teams who had been working so hard all weekend weren’t able to complete their projects and dropped out of the pitches.
This was loads of fun but super scary as well. The room was packed with people from the community including reporters and investors. It was awesome seeing the teams pitch because this was the first time we were seeing everyone’s final prototypes and presentations. There was so much talent happening I was blown away. For my presentation, I don’t remember much other than shuffling my feet a lot because I was so nervous. But it was fun and I was glad to be done with it. The judges questions after weren’t too brutal either and although the judges gave really constructive feedback to everyone, they were also very supportive. I also didn’t know her at the time, but now one of those judges, Kate Matsudaira, is a friend and someone I totally look up to. Kyle, Dwayne and their team won first place for the EwAwesome tapeworm (they deserved it!), and 2nd and 3rd place went to my now friend, Sasha for her “Weatherful” idea which crowdsourced weather photos and another team for the ability to send drinks to friends who were in different cities.
I am so grateful for Startup Weekend because while people worked their tails off, everyone was also extremely supportive. By the end of the weekend, I didn’t feel like such a newbie anymore and felt like I could really do this Startup thing. There was an incredible energy that really motivated me too.
But most of all, it created the beginning of a supportive network that still exists today. I’ve become friends with Kyle and Dwayne and they’re now rockin’ it with Freak’n Genuis (check out their app in the app store here)! Sasha has been a great support and she’s now working for Tableau Software that just went through an IPO. I also became friends with Colin Hodge who was working on something completely different at the time but now is the CEO of BWF. My friend Nick Vivion pitched the idea of your “Bucket List” it was so cool. He’s still killin’ it with his travel videos but he also opened Booty’s in NOLA which has been recognized in Vogue and BBC Travel. Renee Warren was at this Startup Weekend too and she went on to begin Onboardly. Talk about talent galore!
So if you’re at Startup Weekend now, or planning on attending one in the future, remember that yes, you build and create a presentation for Demo Night. But there’s a good chance you’re also building an amazing network of people who are in this fight with you, whom you’ll count on and will be your friends. So take it all in, open yourself up and go for it! It will be more than worth it.