My First Startup Weekend in Auckland

In April, 2011, I attended the inaugural Startup Weekend event in New Zealand. It was held in Auckland and had around 45 participants, and 15 mentors / judges.

For those that don’t already know, Startup Weekend is a 54 hour event where entrepreneurs, designers and developers get together to come up with and execute a business idea. If you haven’t been to a SW I couldn’t recommend it enough. It is one of the most exhilirating, fun and learning-filled environments – where entrepreneurs flourish and thrive.

The first Startup Weekend was a minor failure for me and our team. Eight people got together because of an idea for a mobile app.

Then we got into the nitty-gritty research and talking to potential customers. What we found was that there was a WAY BIGGER PROBLEM. So we sat down and discussed the problem and what we had learned. We discussed for hours different solutions and prototype ideas. We must have discussed things for over 70% of the weekend. The rest of  time was spent coding up a quick protoype of an idea we all agreed on (last-minute) and preparing for the pitch.

When we finally pitched it wasn’t too bad (well executed pitch) and we could answer questions from the judges about the business. However, as a team we didn’t have a consistent understanding of the problem/solution space.

I consider this a failure of the weekend at achieving the primary goal: “Execute a startup idea in 54 hours”. But on so many levels this was a personal success.

With every failure comes multiple lessons and this is what I learned from the event:

  1. Every team needs a shared vision. The great thing about SW is that the team gets together because they all love the idea. But, the idea is subject to change when customers give feedback. What you need the team unified on is a Vision – and this must be related to the idea. I think if our team had been interested in the vision for the product, we might have still been together today; we are not.
  2. During SW, every team needs a leader. Because many SW teams are incredibly large, there are always a lot of opinions and perspectives to account for. This is one thing we failed to manage in our team. We discussed at length what everyone thought and didn’t have a system for making decisions. At SW, a leader could be useful. Someone who makes an executive decision quickly, so that the team can move forward. Now, you must realise that I do not agree with this in every day startups. I believe you need consensus in a startup team – because you are building a business on someone’s effort, they need to be bought into the decision. So at SW because there is only 54 hours, this may not be possible, so a leader may need to take command of this.
  3. Execution. Execution. Execution. Many teams produced prototypes, comprehensive business models and validation during the weekend. We did not produce much substance ourselves. Some might consider that SW’s purpose is to have a protoype to present to the judges by pitch time. I don’t agree with this at all. But, the team does need a thorough understanding of the problem and potential solution based on customer-sought validation and research. A comprehensive business model + slick pitch will always beat a team with a prototype that fails on the other sections. (A prototype is good, but not essential.) My point, though, is that the team should focus on validating their problem and potential solution by focusing on customers. This is real execution and how things work in the real world.

I spent $79 to attend this event, and I can’t explain exactly why, but that weekend was SO full of value that $79 seems insignificant now. (Plus you get 7 meals included in your weekend, insane!)

My weekend was so full of fun, energy, amazing people (participants and mentors) and learning that I had to be more involved!

And…that is when I asked to be involved in the organisation of the second Auckland Startup Weekend. This is what I learned there.

—————–Startup Weekend New Zealand—————–




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