Saturday, January 14, 2012

Startup Weekend: Day 1

I'm finally about to go to sleep after a long evening. I can already say that Startup Weekend has been one of the most incredible experiences I've been through and I feel as though I've already gotten my money's worth in what I've learned in the 7 hours I spent there today.

Startup Weekend Seattle kicks off

Before pitches began, I was able to practice my pitch a few times. People liked it and those who had heard my previous ideas felt that this idea had more footing. I hate when people say "my product is like X for Y", but the immediate reaction of several people was that Keynote Reputation was like Yelp! for people. It does kind of make sense. The analogy isn't enough by itself, but it helps the listener get an immediate mental model of what the idea is. So, in the end I included the analogy in my pitch, which you can check out below:

My (nervous!) pitch

I felt that the pitch itself went well enough, considering that I was extremely nervous. Each of us who pitched had 1 minute to describe our idea in an effort to convince others to help us create a business around it in the next 48 hours. Afterwards, we were given some time to mingle and vote on the ideas. As I walked around, people remembered both me and my idea. Looking for a deeper understanding, I asked how people remembered. As it turns out, the analogy that I didn't want to use ended up being a key factor! The stickers I made also helped.

After voting, my idea ended up with 4 our 5 votes, one of which was my own (we were each given three votes). This was not enough to make it into the top 13, so my idea wasn't one of the ones that became a weekend project. I'm actually pretty pleased with the results, given that there were about 60 pitches and many got no votes. All in all, I was quite impressed with the pitches. There were a lot of great ideas and passionate people.

Since my idea didn't make it past voting, I had to find a team to join. I ended up going with an idea I was pretty excited about and had wanted to work on anyway. In a nutshell, it's an app to leave a friend a gift in a specific location, with the friend getting a notification of the gift when they are within a certain proximity of it.

Aside from the pitch experience, there were three important lessons I'd like to share. The first is that large teams can be difficult to manage. We ended up with 13 team members to start (hmm... I'm not superstitious, but it's an interesting coincidence that it's Friday the 13th, there are 13 teams in the program, and my team had 13 members). There was a suggestion that we split the team in two and have two independent teams work on the same idea. We did not do this though, being optimistic about our ability to work together and make progress on this idea. Easier said than done, but I think we're doing well.

The second lesson was that identifying assumptions and figuring out how to iterate on an idea can be difficult. We found that our conversation frequently fell into details without recognizing that we were making assumptions that needed to be validated. Even in just the roughly 3 hours that we spent as a newly-formed team, we found that we had to modify the idea. This is great though! One of the benefits to having a large team is that we have lots of great input from people with different backgrounds and expertise. The trick is to keep it well-managed.

The last lesson is related to the mention of falling into details above. When talking about the idea and the business, we need to be willing to step out of our traditional roles. When in the depths of solving technical problems, a lot of technical detail is usually appropriate. However, discussing implementation details is not appropriate when trying to figure out the vision and the business model. As the team tried to narrow in on a vision for the idea, there were several times when we started talking about the technical implementation, marketing strategy, sales, design, and more to a degree that was distracting. For the vision, I would argue that these specifics are not appropriate at all. The vision simply captures the fundamental elements of what you want to create. For development of the business model, these various aspects should get more attention, but no more or less than needed. Personally, I found that I needed to make a conscientious effort to step back from the deep technical details I'm used to working with and see things at a higher level.

Before the night was over, one of our devs decided that the team was overcrowded and respectfully bowed out to join a team that was had no devs. We were sad to see her go, but I believe the decision will probably lead to a better experience both for herself and for our team, which was then down to the still large size of 12 people. I expect that we'll face some new challenges in addition to the ones mentioned above because of the size of our team as we move forward, but I think we'll manage through it and come out with something really great in the end.

I can't wait for tomorrow!

Follow my Startup Weekend Seattle experience through the following progression of posts:
  1. Initial thoughts
  2. Pre-Startup Weekend bootcamp (Jan. 12, 2012)
  3. My pitch idea
  4. Day 1 of Startup Weekend Seattle (Jan. 13, 2012)
  5. Day 2 of Startup Weekend Seattle (Jan. 14, 2012)
  6. Day 3 of Startup Weekend Seattle (Jan. 15, 2012)
  7. Post-Startup Weekend lesson summary