On the weekend of the 5th of October we participated in the San Francisco Startup Weekend at Hack Reactor, a programming Bootcamp based in San Francisco. For those who have not attended a Startup Weekend before, the general idea is to pitch something (or pick from others’ pitches), find a team to work with, and attempt to validate and build a product over the course of 48 hours.
As Startup Catalyst participants, we were all required to pitch something. I generally find public speaking quite daunting, and am not used to pitching ideas, so this was a nerve racking experience for me, however Peter Laurie, our program coordinator, went through a thorough pitch practice a couple of nights before, which was very helpful in preparing our elevator pitches. I was pretty amazed at how naturally pitching came to some of the group. Some of the standout pitchers from Startup Catalyst were Tex, Astrid, Marisa and Jack, who all sounded really confident and were able to communicate their ideas very effectively.
Over the course of the weekend I worked on a web app called Gigs, which was basically a service to connect small pubs and restaurants with local musicians to play in their venues. Pretty quickly the roles within our group were assigned, and I was tasked with business development, which involved trying to do some validation of our idea/assumptions and determine a revenue model.
Having never really taken on a business development role in my previous startup, this was a new experience for me. I was definitely pushed to do tasks that ordinarily would be delegated to a non-tech founder. I found the experience both difficult and rewarding. As the focus of a Startup Weekend is usually validation of a problem and/or solution, I encouraged the group to put aside development of the product and instead focus on trying to get some interest from local venues. We started by researching and compiling a list of possible venues that we would then go out and speak to. On the Saturday of the weekend, we split up into groups and sought out some potential customers.
Our general strategy was to go into a venue (and maybe buy a beer or two), ask who was in charge of music bookings, and try to speak to them for 5 or 10 minutes to determine whether the problem we were trying to solve was valid, and whether they would be interested in our solution. Despite (and maybe because of) the fact that San Francisco is synonymous with Startups, most of the venues we spoke to were not interested in speaking to us when we told them we were trying to form a startup.
After a couple of attempts, we noticed that the venues at first assumed we were musicians trying to book some gigs and under this assumption they were much more open with us. Once this realisation sunk it, we formed a new strategy, which was to pretend to be a band trying to get some gigs, and this way we found out a lot more about the problem domain. Unfortunately this also meant that we couldn’t attempt to sell them our solution, however it went a long way in helping us validate and/or invalidate some of our assumptions regarding the idea.
Sunday was used to prepare some solid product mockups, and get ready for our final pitch, which would occur that evening. Some of the pitches were really impressive. Most notably from Startup Catalyst, Marisa and Jack both killed their pitches, and their groups ended up placing first and second respectively. Marisa’s team was called Gradient Security, and they were working on a complex security solution for software developers. Jack’s group was called Wolfpack, and was trying to solve problems surrounding team management in organisations.
It was really apparent that they were both passionate about their ideas, and knew a lot about the problems they were trying to solve. Furthermore, Marisa’s team, Team Gradient, had some great engineering talent, including Adam Hibble from SC, who spent a sleepless weekend smashing out product code. Jack and his partner Nick Burge worked very hard to validate their idea, built a great MVP, and even identified some underlying issues that some of the teams at the Startup Weekend had experienced, their causes, and how they could have been avoided, which looked great in their pitch.
Startup Weekend was one of the highlights of the Startup Catalyst trip for me. Whilst my group did not win, I felt as though I learnt many new skills, mainly due to being pushed into a business development role, which is not ordinarily something I would do. I will definitely be much more comfortable doing product validation and customer development in my future startup endeavours. Whilst this was my first Startup Weekend, it definitely won’t be my last.