Startup Weekend is a nonprofit company that aims to provide workshops and intense development environments the ability to network and get together for one weekend, or a 54 hour work weekend, to invent, develop, and create a new idea, launching a new company after the final 3 days are over. Beginning in 2007, Startup Weekend has evolved across the globe, literally, to provide a foundation of tech startups to put the key in the ignition and drive.
In 2011, I took part in Baltimore’s Startup Weekend. Before then I would participate in Hack-a-thons in San Francisco, Atlanta, and others. If I walked away from any of those experiences with anything, I found that it was a tremendous place to build new relationships and network. In Baltimore, I participated with a group of individuals who had actually began a startup a year prior, called TalkChalk. We won 3rd place, which was cool. The idea was basically a way to expand the classroom into Facebook. It was a good idea, but what wasn’t realized was the amount of time it takes to create a completely new LMS. A lot, is the answer.
I also walked away with two other potential businesses that I took part in and a couple of relationships such as fellow bloggers and even some fantasy football friends. I was reacquainted with a couple of old High School friends (go figure, 45 miles away) and had a fresh new inspiration for getting involved with startups. It was a great experience, so I’m here to do it again, except this time in DC.
So from my experiences with Startup Weekend in Baltimore, my San Francisco Hack-a-thons, and even my Atlanta extreme workshop sessions, I thought I would provide a couple of insightful notes on how to get through these.
Notes on Opening Night:
- Go in with an Idea – It’s fun to explore other peoples ideas and there are plenty of them, but it becomes a task to find one that you really like, and if you teeter between two or more groups, you might find yourself alienated.
- Have a Quantifiable Skill – This is the ultimate downfall of startups. So many people do not bring a quantifiable skill to the table. Develop, Design, those are easy to stake a quantifiable claim to ownership. But Marketing, Business, and Communications are very difficult to quantify and often times, having too many muck up the water. Everyone can have ideas and pound the street for business. Not everyone can develop. Identify your core needs and claim those needs with those who have Quantifiable skills.
- Everyone’s an Entrepreneur – Everyone in the room is an entrepreneur, so everyone is selling something, in one form or another. Exchange cards, take the opportunity to network, and meet people. You never know how paths will cross 3 years after the event.
- Developers are Commodities – There is a reason why they limit the number of business, designer, and developer roles. Because they attempt to keep an equal number of all types of assets so there isn’t a lop-sided number of one particular role. Developers are commodities. Listen to every pitch and tell me how often you hear the words, “We are looking for developers”.
- Idea’s are Only as Good as Developed – Do not be afraid to share your ideas. They will never generate money if you do not share them with others. They are only as good as the time you put in to develop them.
Notes on Forming the Startup:
- Limit Number of People – As soon as you see that you have a group of 4+ people together, there are going to be ownership and equity issues. People will have to drop off the project. Extended partnerships just do not work. Keep your group small and simple. What you’ll see is that people will tend to gravitate after the core teams have been decided. There will be very large 7+ people groups at some point, stay away!!
- Equity Disbursement – Have the conversation EARLY! As early as possible, otherwise the entire discussion turns out to be a High School reunion a month after the fact. It’s ugly and petty.
- Partnerships are the only Ships that Don’t Sale – As Dave Ramsey says partnerships simply do not work. Yet why is it that every time I do a hackathon or Startup, everyone is encouraging equal partnership equity. I highly recommend AGAINST doing this. If you do, and I know that you will, remember that this is a new marriage and that you need to be ready.
- Profit Sharing – Want to get around partnerships? Think about Profit Sharing with a minor equity stake.
Notes on Progress through the Weekend:
- Help Others! – I found that helping others is extremely rewarding. One you build a new relationship, and two you get to see how another project is working. Granted, you shouldn’t spend hours on end helping on another persons project, but spend a couple minutes escaping your project and working on someone elses, just to help. It gets your mind refocused and gives you a little bit of a break.
- Eat and Drink – Remember to eat food and drink water. There may be energy drinks, but those don’t necessarily help all the time. Do what you would do if you were staying up working late on a project for 3 days in a row, because you will be. And don’t be afraid to drink a beer if that gets your mind right.
- Equipment – Bring the materials you need to get the project done. Like a Monitor! Keyboard, and Mouse! Bring a laptop that’s not going to hold you back. An Ultrabook with tons of power is Ideal. And also, take a look around the room and notice how many Mac’s there are. It’s pretty funny.
- Ask for Help! – Do not be afraid to go around the rooms and ask others for help. There are coaches that attend for the sole fact of helping others.
- Proof of Concept – Least Level of Effort Proof of Concept. Don’t over-create the unnecessary. You only have 3 days to do this. So stop increasing the scope. Cut corners for example purposes only and demonstrate functionality where the functionality Counts!
Notes on Communication and Sharing:
- Dropbox and Google Apps – Enough said, right? Just sign up for an account just for the weekend, they are free! Share your folders so that everyone can share documents and even Source Control files. No need to go setup a GitHub account for Source Control. Just Dropbox that thing and get to work. Use Google Apps for collaboration and information sharing. It’s all real easy.
- GitHub, BitBucket, SpringLoops – You know who you are if you are going to really use this to the full potential. Often times, getting some of the newer developers onto a Source Control system is more effort than it’s worth. But if you are who you say you are, time to load up Source Control and Ticketing systems. Otherwise, stick to Dropbox and Excel Spreadsheets.
- Twitter – Tweet! And Tweet Deck! The hashtag is #SW_DC as far as I know. Be sure to tweet and monitor tweet deck to see if people need help or are looking for anything in particular
- Bloggers Represent – If you are a blogger, I hope that you are keeping at least bi-daily tabs on what’s going on at the event, taking pictures, and making Startup Weekend’s name even better known.
I’ll continue to post my progress over the weekend. I have two ideas that I may pitch out. One I’d really like to find someone who is good with 3d printing and plastics. The other I might just need a PHP developer, maybe, maybe not. I’ll keep you guys on top of things.