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On the weekend of the 29th of April, I participated in my first ever Startup Weekend. I won’t be the only participant to say that it was a learning experience, and one that I am incredibly grateful for. There was a lot to take away from the weekend and two weeks on, these ten lessons are still ringing strongly and are indeed lessons that I will endeavor to bring into my work and to my next Startup Weekend.
Startup Weekend doesn’t really kick-off until the pitches start. As a newbie, sitting in the audience listening to the pitches my initial reaction was to assess pitches based purely on the feasibility of the idea. In hindsight, this was my first mistake. By Sunday it became evident that even ideas that sounded ridiculous came through. Why? Because they had great people. It’s not just about finding an idea you like enough to stick to for a weekend, but also finding a great team. Ultimately the weekend illustrated that business is not just about the idea, it’s also heavily reliant on the people. You can have the best idea in the world, but if you don’t have a strong, reliable team to work on it and bring it to life then your idea isn’t worth the napkin you scribbled it on.
People make are what make a successful business.
Utilise the collective networks of your team, your Startup Weekend cohort and your mentors. Everyone knows someone and someone’s milkman just might be the key to solving your problem.
Who know can be as important as what you know.
Getting everyone to agree is a bit like herding cats. For example, you and your team will be discussing your options for your marketing channels and everyone has a different idea of how it should be done. Everyone shares their opinion, people change their minds and you end up going around in circles. In the end you take the majority vote and move on with what most people thought was best. Two hours later someone in your team questions the decision and you are back to square-one arguing over something your thought you was decided. The whole team comes to a stand-still and uses their limited time trying to get this person on board with the decision rather than using the time on other tasks. It is important to accept that people are always going to disagree and that making some form of a decision and sticking with it is better than spending time trying to get everyone to agree.
Stagnation is the killer of progress
It is important to have defined roles and responsibilities. Working to such a short time frame means that you need to manage all of your resources as effectively as you can and your team is your biggest resource. You need to allocate work and give everyone their own key area that they are responsible for. It makes life easier if you can set these roles at the beginning of the weekend and appoint a single leader who keeps everyone accountable and on track. In relation to point (3) above, It also makes decision making easier if each person has the final say on decisions related to their allocated area. Without defined roles and responsibilities it is also easy for some parts of the business to be missed or to not be as well developed as others. Ideally tasks are allocated based on strengths but if everyone in your team is good at coding then someone needs to bite the bullet and take on marketing or the business model.
If no one knows what they are doing, then nothing gets done.
I cannot stress this enough. While having a validated, robust business idea is important, it doesn’t mean anything to anyone if you aren’t able to communicate it in an effective way to the judges (this is a competition after all). It is easy to get hung up on the finer details of your business. Your team may have every aspect of your businesses accounted for right down to the name of your delivery guy, but if you don’t put time and effort into collating all of this into a short, effective and well presented pitch – no one is going to know!
Your audience doesn’t know what you don’t tell them
You don’t need a business degree or be a developer to be able to contribute. Everyone has experience, skills and knowledge that they can bring to the table. It doesn’t matter if you are a CEO or an avid stamp collector, having ideas and being committed to following through are more important than being ‘qualified’.
Diversity has its own value and it is often diversity that gives rise to lateral thinking.
Continuing on from the point above, it is important to remember to not just take people at face value—there is more to someone than just their job title and their qualifications. You might have someone on your team who works in web development but is actually a bit of a foodie. Someone else might be a philosophy major but their grandad has a history of building and operating businesses. Point is, take time to get to know your team; where they come from, what their hobbies are—you will be surprised with what you uncover.
It’s not just qualifications and work experience, but latent skills and knowledge that can have a big impact on your project.
You only have one weekend to get your businesses from zero to hero and this, undoubtedly, puts a lot of pressure on you and your team. As a result there is this underlying assumption that you have to work for 54 hours straight or you will fail. This is not the case. You need to learn to recognise when you and your team aren’t being productive and to take a break, go for a walk, grab a coffee or go home and get some sleep. There is no point soldiering on for the sake of it, if you aren’t making any progress then it’s time to refresh and come back later.
Spending quality time working on your project is better than spending lots of time and getting nowhere.
Those people in the blue t-shirts aren’t just there to look pretty, they are there to help you. It can be intimidating and make you feel vulnerable sharing your ideas and your problems with them but that’s what they’re there for. They are a wonderful resource, full of insights and experience that you have untapped access to for the weekend—so make the most of it! Sure, you won’t always like what they say but they say it for a reason. They aren’t trying to be mean, they are just trying to help you grow your business. After-all, if they were mean they probably wouldn’t have volunteered to spend their whole weekend helping out!
Don’t shy away from getting feedback, an outside opinion is often just what you need.
The project you work on over the course of the weekend probably isn’t going to be the next Google or Uber, so don’t put too much pressure on yourself and your team. There will definitely be points where things will get tense with your team or you feel like giving up, but it’s only one weekend. By Sunday night it won’t be the hard times that you dwell on it will be what you have achieved and the comradery you have with everyone else involved.
Building a business over a weekend is more than what most people can say they have achieved!
All photos courtesy of Erica Austin, Ministry of Awesome
Aurthor: Samantha White
Original Article: http://www.uce.canterbury.ac.nz/blog/lessons-from-startup.shtml
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