Ten Tips for First Timers at the StartupWeekend

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I was introduced to startup weekend two years back in December 2011, where I was just a spectator at the event and was motivated by the electrifying pitches made by aspiring entrepreneurs. The best part was that the event lets us play any and many roles we choose to be, either by leading an idea to change the world, or hacking code to make stuff work or as a designer to create beautiful products.

I thought I’d capture my thoughts for all budding women entrepreneurs, around my experience at the last Startup Weekend, at Delhi in April this year. It was an incredible experience that let my imaginations loose and in just a weekend I was over the barrier of inhibitions to as Nike says, “Just do it !”.

So before I share some tips to get the most out of the Startup Weekend, let me give you a quick background about myself. I work for an IT company and have over the years learnt more organizational processes and systems then I care to. I knew that what I want to do, needs to be more meaningful than just being part of some global IT services machinery.

Before the event started I got time to network with unknown faces. It was fun to connect with people of different hues, freelancers, founders of existing startups and full-time designers and developers.

TIP #1 Walk around, say ‘Hi!’ and chat up people
You will get to do this while the registration process is in progress. Make sure you come in at least 60 – 45 minutes before the event kicks off and you get a chance to meet up people. It is always good to start striking up conversations and getting to know who might be a potential team mate early on.

The event typically kicked off around 6 pm on a Friday evening with a welcome note, followed by quick talks by a few guest entrepreneurs who ‘lead by example’, along with some tips around pitches.

People who were interested to pitch their ideas for the voting round were asked to enroll the name of their idea along with what team composition are they looking for, in terms of developers and designers.

TIP #2 Start forming a team even before the pitches end
Aim for ideally 3-4 team members, including you. More than that and you may find it difficult to settle down as a team and get real work down.

I had already given a thought about my idea while driving down for the event which was around building a product to cultivate entrepreneurship right from childhood.

TIP #3 Have a FUNKY name
Pickup an idea that you feel passionately about. You need a legitimate problem; don’t propose problems that you are unfamiliar with. There will be 20-30 pitches. Choose a name which can be easily remembered when people try to vote.

I was a bit nervous but I decided to pitch anyways. The duration for each pitch was set at sixty seconds. Few were missing the deadline, and some were able to make it inside it. And only some pitches were exceptionally clear and simple in terms of the problem and its proposed solution, with a pinch of humour added.

TIP #4 Plan your pitch in 10-12 sentences

The presentations were followed by a quick dinner post which the ideas were to be voted for. While the dinner was being served, the presenters were lobbying for votes for their ideas from other participants. I was too shy to hustle my idea around and I only managed to ask to talk about my idea to those immediately around me.

TIP #5 Hustle and then hustle some more.
An important part of learning to do a startup is to become good at hustling. This is like a never before forum to practice the art. So hustle your ideas to others and get them to vote for you. Don’t be shy about hustling ever.

As expected my idea did not gather enough votes and I opted to join as a designer with the team with one of the top voted ideas. The team was an odd combination of two designers, no developers, two business guys and one idea guy.

TIP #6 Pick the team over the idea.
I landed up in an unbalanced team and there was probably less of a discussion in which direction the idea should evolve into, then I would have liked. You have to make do with the situation, but it was a good learning experience in the importance of the team for a startup. Ideas can always be turned around, changing team composition is way harder.

We exchanged numbers and emails before we dispersed for the day. But I could see a few groups active right from that evening; many seemed really excited with spending the night out in defining & building their startups.

The next day we met at the venue and brainstormed on lots of features. We were also required to gather some customer feedbacks post the product development.

TIP #7 Lean Product Development : Minimal features + Customer Validation
Define the product with minimal features, with simple design and the first version should be relatively easy to develop. Keep customer reviews as one of the critical TO Dos, which you need to showcase when finally pitching your idea to the judging panel.

TIP #8 Time Management
You need to keep a conscious track of the time in defining the product; you have just 54 hours in total. Actually you do not have even that much, unless you want to give up on sleep and food and meeting people.

Once the product was defined, we divided the work amongst us and each of us picked up work accordingly. Though I felt initially that there were redundant skills in my team I found myself contributing within the team not just with design but also during the product definition phase.

We also got a chance to connect with a few mentors who were around to guide all the budding startups. We got some great insights and guidance on the product features that could be prioritized and helped us relate more to real world problems.

TIP #9 Meet more mentors
The key role a mentor plays for a startup is that they ask the right questions which help you think better about your product. The more mentors you meet, the more questions you get asked help you prepare better to pitch your startup before the judging panel.

For the next day and half we worked as a team to develop and build our idea. Once the product was developed, we thought of putting it in a presentation. We did not get much time to focus on feedbacks though. It become a rush towards the end.

TIP #10 Tell a good story
When you pitch make it interesting and maintain a good flow. Focus on giving an actual demo like to a customer, clearly explain how it works and showcase some customer testimonials.

Out of all the pitches made on the final day I liked two of them. One of them just showcased the demo of the web pages they built, with a neat UI and precisely solved a real world problem with actual customer feedbacks. It was a perfect three minutes pitch. I was nodding my head throughout in agreement. I am sure the judges did too.

Our startup pitch did not win, but I did win. It was an amazing experience which helped me get started on my journey as a designer helping out startups with their UX and design issues, and I am really enjoying it till date.

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