The Initial Pitches
Expect a crowd at the initial evening of pitches. You’ll register, get your T-Shirt (believe us, it’s a badge of honor once you’ve completed a Startup Weekend to wear you T-Shirt around town). You’ll hang out and meet some of the other people you’ll get to know better over the course of the weekend and maybe even meet a judge or two that will be voting on the best presentations on Sunday. When the event starts, you’ll gather around with everyone else to listen to a couple of really inspiring stories from people we’ve invited to talk to us, and then the real fun will begin.
You don’t have to pitch a startup idea, but, hey, it’s part of why you’re there. If you have an idea for something you think might make a cool product or a good business, why not tell everyone else about it? You might be surprised by how many other people there think you have a great idea. And the chance to get up and pitch an idea – that is invaluable. Whether you start your own company or work for someone else, learning how to quickly tell other people about an idea is an excellent skill to have.
Once all the pitches have been presented, teams of varying sizes will form around the most popular ideas. After the coaches, judges, and spectators head home for a good night’s rest, the facilitators and attendees get down to the business of building a business in 54 hours. The judges won’t be a part of the action again until they hear the polished pitches on Sunday, but the coaches are back on deck by mid-morning on Saturday.
Building A Company In 54 Hours
Saturday is a long, fun day. You’ll learn so much about what it takes to put a company together, and you’ll meet some new friends along the way. Whether you’ve signed up as someone with technical, artistic or general skills, you’ll learn a lot from your team mates. The most successful teams decide quickly how to work together and support each other. This doesn’t mean you have to agree with everything you hear – not at all. You should speak up with your ideas or concerns, because a team is only as strong as the contributions of their team members. Don’t be afraid to try something new, either. Startup Weekends are a great place to learn new skills, because you’ll find other more experienced people to learn from and quite a few coaches who have years of experiences who can help guide you.
Coaches will circulate through the teams by mid-morning, and it is important to understand what they do for you. Coaches are not there to make decisions for you. They’re available to help you make better decisions by sharing their insight from their own experience. Not all coaches will have founded their own startups, though – some are talented with specific skills that can really come in handy. Be sure to ask someone about their background; it will help you make decisions if you get conflicting advice. This is something one coach told a team at a recent Startup Weekend, and it’s worth repeating, “”Ok, so here’s the thing. The last coach just threw a bunch of water at you in one direction, and now I’m going to throw some in the completely opposite direction, so you’ll be sloshing around in the pool and have to figure out which waves are the ones you want to ride.”
As the day progresses, the weekend’s organizers will gather you all together from time to time to begin a new part of the process. You’ll learn how to test an idea to see if people would actually want to buy it. You’ll learn how to track all the information you collect. And you’ll learn how to use all that information to make decisions about your business idea. Don’t be surprised if you discover holes in your initial idea. You may decide to change your idea altogether or tweak it. Don’t feel bad about that – it is part of the process and happens all the time in startups.
Polishing and Pitches
Once the coaches leave on Saturday, you won’t see them again until Sunday just a couple of hours before the final event. You’ll learn how to get your presentations ready and how to polish what you’ll say. The coaches be there to offer suggestions but mostly just to help you practice in front of someone. It is easier said than done, but really do try to relax and enjoy the process. You’ll have just as much fun listening to the other teams pitch, and each of your teams will have worked hard for this moment in the spotlight. When all of the pitches are completed, the judges will all file out to discuss their perceptions and vote on the teams they believe earned top spots. You’ll have a few minutes to hang out with your team mates and visit with other team members. When the judges return, they’ll announce the winners and give a little feedback. This is the tough part, but it is also part of the process, and whether you win a top spot or not, be sure to seek out the judges after the event to find out what they thought of your project. You’ll gain some great insight and advice.
Everyone Really Is A Winner
While winning is really exciting, please remember that winning isn’t the only “win” you’ll take away from participating in a Startup Weekend event. You’ll leave with skills you didn’t have on Friday night. You’ll have spent one weekend learning what some entrepreneurs take years to learn, and you’ll discover whether you like being an entrepreneur or not. And whether you earned one of the top spots or not doesn’t mean this has to be the end of the road for your idea. Most people do not create a winning company the first time out. Or the second. Or third. Sometimes, but not often, it takes honing in on the product, addressing the pain points, and maybe changing your idea yet again – 0r even starting over with something new.
The best part is that “not winning” at Startup Weekend really is still winning. Whether a team is named as a finalist or not, the experience is well worth it.