10 tips to grab a stage place at Startup Weekend

Last weekend, I dragged my buddy Rudolf to my third Startup Weekend (first as participator), this time in at the GreenBridge incubator facilities in Oostende, Belgium (where Marvin Gaye wrote his Sexual Healing).

Startup Weekend is a 54-hour weekend event, during which groups of developers, business managers, startup enthusiasts, marketing gurus, graphic artists and more pitch ideas for new startup companies, form teams around those ideas, and work to develop a working prototype, demo, or presentation by Sunday evening. (Source: WikiPedia)

As of July 2015, the concept Startup Weekend has reached 135 countries, involving over 210,000 entrepreneurs. Impressive.

Tip #1: Pitch a reasonable, scoped idea that solves a clear problem

Don’t try to build a huge platform, or solve the biggest problems in the world, focus on something specific with a clear purpose and large potential client base, preferably something you know a lot about.

Tip #2: Prepare your initial pitch

In one minute flat, you get to pitch your idea to the crowd of fellow-pitchers and non-pitchers.

Tip: prepare this in advance. We didn’t, pulling it out of our… hats minutes before game time (due to very busy times). Having a good pitch makes your idea clear and increases the chance your pitch gets voted for to get built.

Tip #3: Speak clearly, into the mic, and with enthusiasm

Not so difficult to remember, but it makes a difference and will set you apart from the mumblers and mono-toners.

Buddy Rudolf giving his pitch on an emergency drone for hikers

Tip #4: Always be hustling

Everyone gets 3 votes to give on their favorite idea(s).
If you want yours to make it, talk to the people voting and convince them why your idea is better, faster, stronger.

If you hear a better idea than yours, or one that you get all jittery about, by all means join their team!

Tip #5: Figure out what your team needs, and keep it small and lean

If you’re building an app and you’re not a coder/designer: get a designer and front-end developer. Proposing an idea? You might need a marketeer.

Stick to the core profiles that you need to get as far as possible during the weekend, and trim the fat. Every brain is a new opinion that possibly slows everything down.

We were building a physical card, a web app, and primarily aimed at women. Our team: Me, the team lead/marketing guy, Rudolf as designer/front-end guy, Sadern as back-end developer and Udani, the girl with excellent ideas and position to validate our assumptions. Perfect.

* Rudolf, Udani, Sadern and I*

Tip #6: Use the Business Model Canvas

If you don’t know what the Business Model Canvas is, read my blog post here or YouTube away.

It will quickly identify the key components needed for your idea/business, like customers/clients, resources, value proposition, costs and revenue streams, and identify possible problems (like resources, technology or IP).

Doing this exercise is bound to bring more ideas (we came up with: offering it as a gift, partnering with brands, partnering with designers, etc.).

00h24 the first evening — Business Model Canvas, roadmap and some user flow done

Tip #7: Scope down and make a plan

First, decide on the simplest version of your idea, your MVP, that you would like to show on Sunday during the final pitches.

Trim all the fat, don’t try and build the entire thing (unless you have awesome developers) using frameworks and version control if you can mock it up quick and dirty (the looks matter more than the code, it’s just to demo, most likely).
Make a plan of what you need done by when. Things like in our case user flow, wireframes, application demo, card design, pitch, social media accounts, surveys, one-pager, payment possibility, etc. Order them by importance, so you focus on what you absolutely need during the finales, the rest is extra (and will help). Assign owners of the tasks. They don’t have to complete them by themselves, but they need to make sure they get done, and grab who they need.

Tip #8: Done is better than perfect

Build quickly. By the end of the weekend at pitch time, you probably wished you had a day extra. Or just an hour. Build fast, validate with your teammates or coaches, tick it off and move on to the next.

Keep pushing. We worked until 2am both nights to get as far ahead as we could, avoiding winding down too much or diving into weekend beer mode.

Day 2 at 14h07, Rudolf (bottom left) building the demo-app, Sadern the back-end data, and me working on the presentation.

Tip #9: Get your pitch perfect

Sculpting a great pitch takes tremendous effort.

  • Make sure your story makes sense. The problem, solution, market size, team, the usual pitch deck suspects.
  • Make it pretty. It helps your chances. 4:3 slides are a no-no.
  • Add in humor. Make them laugh. If inappropriate, swap for alternate emotion, but make sure they feel something.
  • Validation is important. Include how you validated your idea with actual people that should use your product.
  • Show off your traction, or even sales. How are your social media channels doing? How are people interacting and what are they saying?
  • Demo your solution, and this can just be a mockup, doesn’t really matter. They just need to see it, and you get to build it properly later.
  • Practice your pitch, so you don’t stumble or need to read from your slides or cards. Something I neglected in favor of progress, and it hurt us.
  • Test, if you’re using your laptop or another, showing a demo or not, make sure everything technically works.

We went for a compelling first slide with proper logo and attention-grabbing tagline

Tip #10: Pitch with conviction

The only thing to do now is bring your A-game, and hope the jury sees it your way. Some quick tips:

  • Don’t have too much coffee, or any
  • Go to the bathroom before your nerves kick in
  • Take a few deep breaths and keep your shoulders open and back straight
  • Speak clearly and with enthusiasm, into the mic, try not to uhm
  • Face your audience, look them in the eyes
  • Smile

* Or do whatever this move was during our final pitch*

Hellogram ended up winning third place, after a mobile keyboard and a box of hardware toys (like Arduino’s) for teachers and kids. Congratulations!

Cloudoki, that's us, are application architects and developers.
We also organise hackathons for companies.
Get in touch if we can help you.

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