It has been over a two years since I went to my last startup weekend here in Seattle, and the sad part is that it really did not leave an impression. You would think that something like this would, but two years ago, it did not. This year however, I was able to go to Startup Weekend at the F5 building and ended up walking away with not just good ideas, but some amazingly awesome observations of how teams of people can do something very cool.
There is about 2 hours of video footage that need to be edited, and I will be posting those later on, but wanted to write down my general impressions of what it was like this time, because I walked away from the process feeling really good about the state of Seattle Startups, and what I was seeing there.
Unlike the recent controversy down in Silicon Valley about not enough color or women in technology, every team had at least one or more women on the teams. There were many colors sitting around the tables collaborating, talking, joking, and having a good time doing neat things. There were not a lot of white men, but there were many white men amongst the leaders, mentors, and press people who were there. We need to get more diversity of opinion on the outreach side, but the enthusiasm and no barriers amongst the team members were remarkable.
I got to spend some time listening to Tech Stars talking about making the pitch, and it was interesting some of the things they said. The most remarkable and memorable was to shy away from the live demo, because the internet in many of these places is at times unreliable. In a world of reliable internet, it is surprising that the places we are supposed to pitch our companies would suffer from poor internet. The focus on mockups or running them on a computer without accessing data on the internet defeats in my opinion the whole idea of the pitch. I want to see it work, not look at mockups of the product. I was also interested in the idea of not doing a team presentation, rather having one person speaking for the team during the pitch. This keeps the divergent opinions to a minimum when asking for money.
I was also surprised that Tech Stars advocated always asking for money even if money was not the reason to be there. It gives the people you are pitching to an idea as to the valuation of the idea you are presenting, or at least your opinion of that value. You should also have a deep market viewpoint of who else is in the space, how much they are making, what their traffic looks like and other details. It is not enough to be a coder in a garage; you need to get the business and money side of your startup as well. There are not a lot of well-rounded people, so if you are starting a company, make sure you have a businessperson as a core team member to help marketing, modeling, and projected financials for the idea.
Too many teams chasing the dream, by trying to make something that everyone else is making. Original ideas are scarce, but sometimes you really can build a better mousetrap. There were many people and many teams rehashing older ideas from the dot com boom years. I am not sure this is a good thing, but delivery of groceries has shown itself to be a very difficult model to be successful at. It might be time to move on from some of the failed ideas of the 1990’s and see if we can really do something new and novel. That will be tough, again because new ideas are very difficult to come up with and have be successful. We need to teach more original creative thinking in school, work, and play.
Startup Weekend is a remarkable community, passionate in ways that often get drilled out of people as they work for whatever mega corp. they work for. It is an outlet, a creative way of having geeky fun on a weekend and you should understand technology to be there. However, there was plenty of room for other skills, from market analysis to logo design, like all companies they needed support in ways that did not show up at Startup Weekend. I would think that this is an awesome addition to a resume, and a great way of getting hands on experience in what it is like to be in a startup. I think that people with business, marketing, and UI skills need to go there, they would find plenty to do.
I have about 2 hours of video to edit, and will hopefully get it ready by this weekend. In the mean time, it is worth leaving behind this simple thought.
“Those things we do are important, even if no one else thinks they will amount to anything real”. Startup Weekend is like that, important, even if the company never really truly takes off and becomes the next Google. The things you will learn there are lifetime lessons, not just, what you can do in 54 hours of intense company building.
- Google supporting Seattle nonprofit Startup Weekend (bizjournals.com)
- Startup Weekend Becomes Affiliate of the Kauffman Foundation (kauffman.org)
- Startup Weekend Plans to Expand Further Around the Globe with Kaufmann Support (thenextwomen.com)
- Startup Weekend and GTUGs (googlecode.blogspot.com)
- Startup Weekend: Backed by Google and Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation (forbes.com)
- Google Backs Startup Weekend, Tapping Nonprofit’s Global Network of Entrepreneurs (xconomy.com)
- Google Signs Two-Year, Global Partnership Agreement With Startup Weekend (techcrunch.com)
- How to Take a Company from Concept to Creation in 54 Hours (kauffman.org)