Things learnt at start-up weekend Jamaica 2013

I attended the first start-up weekend Jamaica event with the intention of gaining some experience and learning things from the vast knowledge base provided by the awesome coaches at the event.

The weekend is a 54 hour event, starting from a Friday evening to Sunday evening attended by entrepreneurs from various backgrounds such as designers, developers, marketers, etc. We pitch an idea, people form a team with the ideas they like and they work on a pitch over the weekend. They try to iron out the problem, solutions and business viability with the help of coaches. Being a part of one of the teams, I have learnt a few things;

1. Communicate your problem and solution effectively

On Friday evening, people with ideas will make a 1 minute pitch. These ideas are then voted on and selected as the winning ideas to form a team. A few votes (5+) are required for an idea to move on to the next stage.

If the majority cannot relate to your problem, you may have not communicated it effectively or it just doesn’t solve a real problem. An example of this was an idea pitched by my co-worker Dmitri to help popup shop owners. I didn’t even know what a popup shop was, nor do I want to use one or use his solution. But he communicated his idea effectively, explained what the problem was, what his solution is and statistics of the market size. From that, I would have joined his team, simply because he got me to understand a niche market with a real problem and solution.

Ideas that were not communicated effectively didn’t get much votes, you will notice this by blank stares and expression from the audience during your pitch. If you got this reaction, you’re going to have to pitch the idea to people in the room during the voting session by rephrasing and talking to them on a personal level. If you still did not get people to relate to the problem, think it out before you start anything. If you’re a developer and you can build it, then build it regardless. If you’re not a developer and you cannot convince someone else to work on it, sorry.

You are already a winner if the room can relate to your problem. People will work on things that affects them personally. I pitched a problem I am facing and a solution that I thought might work (wasn’t thought out nor did any research). The room reacted as expected as the problem was faced by many and understood by all.

In this event, ensure you understand the problem, the solution does not have to be the best. One of the main things about start-up weekend is that it is a way to help you refine the problem some more and optimize the solution. It is the first step into validating your idea.

2. Solve one problem and solve it good.

This is something I have learnt throughout the years of building projects that solved many problems and has millions of users. There are many projects like mine out there too….still in source control or on the developer’s machines, never to reach market.

Most of us cannot pay ourselves to work on ideas for months, we do not have the resources of a huge engineering team. Software development costs money and I mean real money. You will not have the time and money to engineer a large scale system for a market that is saturated or an idea that is not validated.

There is a high chance that your problem will be made up of many smaller problems, refine them right down to the very core, then choose one and solve it properly.

Features are not solving the problem, they are not a part of an MVP(minimum viable product), do not even pitch them. If you have features, just write them down for future reference.

Do not be greedy, you are a start-up trying to to start off cheap, narrow down your audience, deal with them on a personal level and take care of them properly.

3. Choose your team members carefully.

All members of your team should be on the same level of understanding.

“9 women cannot have a baby in 1 month”. I believe this also applies to start ups. Keep your team to a manageable size. Your actual start up might require 5 people (designer, developer, business operations, accountant and marketer). You do not HAVE to fill these roles if the candidates are not a perfect fit. You should use the minimum amount of effort to get the maximum amount of work done. This is one of the core goals of startup weekend, you have 54 hours.

The team members should be in sync. Go with your gut feeling, if you do not FEEL the person/people, just kindly say no. You are not here to make friends, you are here to make business relationships and networks.

My initial team ran into this problem after we merged with another team with an idea in the same problem space for the purpose of having more human resource on hand. Both teams didn’t mesh well and time was wasted getting both teams to work together. This ‘merger’ was great experience and taught me what it would be like to actually merge your company and teams with another. Ensure that the merger will mean that your end solution will become better, whether it be productivity output or a product.

4. Focus

Judges are people. People are subjective. Do not tailor your idea for any one coach/judge, get all their feedback and the team should come to a common ground on deciding which direction to take. For my team, every time a coach came around, each one wanted to see the product head in a different way, then we changed direction the moment that coach left.

You are not building your product for those few judges/coaches, you are building it for your users. Listen to your users, then listen to your coaches, then focus as a team. You cannot please everyone.

The same goes for the leader and the team members. The leader has to keep the team focused, I wont get into this as its a whole topic on leadership.

 

Conclusion

Startup Weekend Jamaica was a great experience. The event did what it was set out to do and I got what I went for. I would suggest anyone who create things or provide a service of some kind to attend the next one. There is no way you can attend startup weekend and not learn something that will help you in life.