Tips and Strategies for Startup Weekend from Start to Finish

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.

Logis­tics matter

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 UIImageView / 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!)

Most Importantly…

Remem­ber it’s there to play and meet people! The ulti­mate prize for you is to fully sub­merge your­self to get the full experience.

Random Rants

  • (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!)

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