Below is a repost written to encourage others to be at Charlotte Startup Weekend
Participating in Charlotte’s Startup Weekend (CSW) may not lead to startup fame, cash or prizes. What spending the weekend at CSW will lead to is an understanding of getting an idea from nothing to something, meeting some incredibly talented people, and potentially discovering talents you didn’t know you had.
I missed the first two CSWs and signed up in Fall 2011. My teammates & I on Cribsheet won and did gain some notoriety. The following Spring 2012 the team I was on My Autopilot didn’t win, but it was an inaugural member of RevTech Labs and received a cash investment. So for Spring 2013 I wrote the following advice to prep Katie Levans whose PlateShare idea didn’t win either but was accepted into RevTech’s 2.0 class and did recently win a prize:
The goal of Startup Weekend is to simulate the process of going through a startup. You do not have to have a team already assembled. In fact it’s discouraged. Startup Weekend is about encouraging new business ideas & innovation so you shouldn’t be walking in with a fully laid out business plan. For the other participants some of the joy is getting to work with people you may “know of” in the CLT startup community but haven’t actually had a chance to work with previously/professionally. The creative/collaborative energy of the team is one of the best experiences to enjoy.
Arrive early-ish before 6pm. The food is quite good, last year it was Pure Pizza from 7th St Public Market. There are always vegetarian options (but not necessarily vegan or gluten free, unless you request them). When you arrive and register you’ll be given a color coded name tag. The colors change from year to year but each color associates to a developer, a designer and non-technical. Learn those color assignments because that will help you target who you want/need to talk to as you work the room before pitches start.
As you talk to people and identify their skills ask why they’re there. Some enjoy the creative process/want to try new skills, some want to be part of a company that will make a real go of it, others want their own pitch to get picked. Absolutely connect with the designers, because your team will really struggle without one.
The reason to work the room beforehand is that everybody with an idea pitches. Once pitches are done, everyone votes and the 6 or so pitches/ideas that received the most votes are picked as that weekend’s startups. Everyone should then go work on one of those 6 ideas. So the reason to work the room early is twofold, identify those with the skills you need for your team and to also solicit votes for your pitch.
Watch last year’s pitches and compare those to the companies that were selected. During the pitch what will attract people is a genuinely interesting problem and a UNIQUE way of tackling it. Do not forget to say in your pitch the roles/talents your team needs.
Once on a team you want to keep your focus on what is known as the minimum viable product (MVP). That is the product or process with the fewest number of features that demonstrate what the company does so that users can accomplish their goal. Having at least one graphic designer can help so that the user interface is well designed and enjoyable. If you have a second designer, creating mockups for the development team or the presentation for the judges can be a real strategic asset.
The judges that participate in CSW are from the Charlotte community who’ve created and sold their own startups. What they want to see in Sunday’s pitch is
Validation of the Product
Figure out if people are interested in your product as quickly as possible. Previous teams targeting products for the restaurant industry have gone out on Friday nights to talk to bar managers and customers. Don’t forget your fellow CSW participants, you can survey them. If you talk to potential customers and no one is eager for the solution, come up with a new idea! This happens a lot even into Saturday. Part of your team should make a website, a twitter account & a Facebook page for the company and fill them with marketing copy. Use all the free CSW goodies like .co domains, launchrock templates, etc.
The venture capitalists that typically are the judges like to see a 10x return on their investment. Let’s say your idea gets picked on Friday. At your presentation on Sunday when you go through what problem the company is trying to solve and how the solution does that there should be a part where you ask for X amount of money to start the company. For instance let’s say you ask for 1,000,000 per yr. Let’s say the amount of money for your market is 1 billion spent per year to use your app. The app’s income would be 1 billion, the return on investment is 99%. All of this is fake but it demonstrates the type of numbers & terminology the judges want to see used. Someone in the team will need to google the industry numbers and figure out the addressable market/ROI. If your addressable market is too small change the business model or the market.
Nonprofit doesn’t mean it has to lose money. Making money is a means of being sustainable and only a signal that what the company does provides value that customers want. Look at http://www.kiva.org it has a social mission & investors are paid a return for their risk. Discuss why your product or business model is better than your competitors. If your product has no competitors you may be chasing a market no one wants.
Startup Weekend can be a tremendously rewarding experience when you are open to change. Your pitch may not be picked; join one of the selected teams who have an idea that is particularly challenging or who have members you don’t know. Your professional expertise may not be used; learn about an industry/vertical new to you or try new skills by filling in a missing role on your team. Most of all collaborate with your team members, you’re there to help each other build the best product & presentation. Like life, you’ll get out of Charlotte Startup Weekend what you put into it. See you there!