So I just attended Startup Weekend Hong Kong 2012. It was a wonderful event to meet people and better than all conferences I’ve been going to in terms of networking – it was just that much cooler to talk to people who’ve been working hard at the same place as you, than your typical 3 minute name card exchange.
I was lucky enough to incubate a project with a wonderful team that eventually got the Best Mobile Application Award (the project is shophop). Here are some tips / experience sharing:
Pitch Night (Friday Night)
Your initial pitch
At Friday night you can pitch your idea. Needless to say you really need to have one ready and pitch it to get the best out of the experience.
The objective of your initial pitch is to convince enough of your fellow entrepreneur audience that your idea is good and that they’d like to see it happen.
Try to have broad, general ideas
This is your typical “know your audience” advice. Your audience will be other entrepreneurs with very different backgrounds. One fellow pitched a wine focused app and seemingly had a more difficult time.
Make it visual
There will be countless people pitching their ideas. Making people to even remotely remember your idea is insanely hard. Depending on your venue’s equipment most of your audience might not even be able to hear you very well.
The paper / logo that you show will be very important. Draw something unique and hold it straight to the audience during your presentation. Your piece of paper may easily curl over if you’re not careful. Definitely use a marker to make your paper visible from a distance.
Get to the point
Say clearly what your project’s name is and what it is for, then proceed to persuade the audience of your project’s raison d’être. Don’t waste your time doing those gimmicky things like tearing your piece of paper apart or play a drama – the key point is to get your message across.
It’s probably a good idea to wait 10 – 15 people give the pitches and observe the logistic. Is it feasible to not use a microphone? How’s the viewing angle from the audience like?
Selling your initial pitch
People will start voting for their favorite ideas after the initial pitch. Get ready to keep pitching because most people will have forgotten your idea.
In general people you need to be actively selling in order to get more votes. It’s generally a numbers game so just sell to more people enthusiastically about your idea.
Recruiting your team
If your idea get selected you’ll be out selling your idea again – this time to recruit your team members.
Know what you want
Will you make a Web app or mobile app? How much design does your concept need? It’s important to know those things so you know what people to bring to your team but more importantly, telling people concrete things that they can do in your team will make people feel more concrete.
Go viral with recruitment!
Ask your initial team members to help recruit members for you!
The Real Work
Work allocation is important
This ties to the “know what you want” point above. You’ve only got a couple of days and it’s too short to waste time micro-managing people. After you settle down your team, discuss briefly on the general direction and big picture, then split off into self-managing “mini-departments”
Make sure that everyone / every pair of people has a general chunk of work that will take them all the following time to finish. In my view a big common issue other teams had was that they spent way too much time talking and not much time doing. I suspect that is a result of not having clear allocation of work and then people start to get idle and start discussing high level philosophies.
Getting out is even more important
Startup Weekend is very heavy on the Lean Startup Model, Customer Development and friends. That means you get a lot of extra points for getting out of the building. Definitely take the time to do it.
Screenshots are fine
Depending on the number of coders you have, you’ll probably want to settle at creating screenshots and then slapping it in an
ImageView. Remember it’s about focusing on the presentation and nothing else. It’s probably not wise to do auxiliary things like actually integrating with Facebook / LinkedIn when screenshots will suffice to let everybody fully understand the idea.
Be realistic with what you can finally achieve in the demo. That will depend very much on the number of coders you have on the team and whether they were already familiar with the tech stack you’ll be using.
Don’t sweat the small stuff
The objective of the work is to give an awesome presentation at the end. Remember that well and restrain from detouring into stuff that probably will not make it into the final presentation.
In general, an effective way to resolve debate is to ask “will this lead us to a better presentation that the judges will like more?”
Research the prizes
I did not even know there is such a prize as “Best Mobile Application” before it was announced. While the whole thing is more about the experience, it’s probably a good idea to know what kind of prizes there would be so you can tune your direction a bit.
The Final Presentation
This heavily depends on your location and your panel. For example in from the LA winning team SnazzyRoom‘s experience it seems to be all about showing the demo (totally awesome video), whereas in here Hong Kong the winning team FilmSkout managed to do it with a static Web page*.
Other than that, good luck!
How Not to Do It
I can’t help but to mention a fellow team to illustrate my points above. There was a team that went about doing a hotel price optimization project. The idea gained traction and the team leader formed a team and all was going fine.
The idea was pretty solid, your typical data analytics project. A rather sound business model and the team leader seemed smart.
Unfortunately, the team leader decided to run a lecture on price optimization and perhaps some potentially PhD grade econometrics, the first thing after forming the team. As far as I could tell they did not build any working product prototype * nor did they get out of the building. A couple of members left the team probably because they did not have clear tasks assigned to them while the team leader was too busy lecturing people.
* (I did not get to see the other teams’ presentations because the presentation venue was crammed. If I said anything inaccurate, flame on!)
Remember it’s there to play and meet people! The ultimate prize for you is to fully submerge yourself to get the full experience.
(The rants below are mainly about the Hong Kong event)
It would have been great if the judges could explain more about their decision. Well sure there are the published judging criteria but an elaboration on how the winning team fulfilled all the criteria best would be good for learning. Suggestions for teams on how they could have done better in terms of the judging criteria would also be great. After all, the ultimate purpose of the event is for all participants to learn!
As part of the Best Mobile Application Award we got sponsored membership by CoCoon – an entrepreneur co-working space kind of thing in Hong Kong. The prize was called “3 month membership for the team.” Interestingly, their definition of a team was 4 people when we had a 5 people team. That means we can’t really use it. The average team size of the event was about 9 (100 people with 11 selected projects, IIRC). They were either expecting half people to drop out on the first night of the event, or just that much out of space. Weird, to put it peacefully (FYI this is after they upped their prize from the original 1 month for 1 member, woot!)