One of my LinkedIn connections, sent me a link advertising Startup Weekend, a competition where groups of people who’ve never met take a concept and turn it into a functional, profitable business over the course of one weekend. It’s hectic, challenging, inspiring, exhausting and exhilarating. I read the description on the Startup Weekend website and immediately bought a ticket.
About the Event
For those who haven’t been to a Startup Weekend, the format goes as follows: Arrive and get extra-inspired by a very short talk delivered by a startup-oriented business professional. In our case, we were pumped up by Resumator CEO, Don Charlton. His energy and humor put everyone on the edges of their seats and primed the attendees for the awesome weekend ahead. Then we played an epic game of Rock, Paper, Scissors to break the ice. That was followed by a brief presentation of what to expect over the course of the weekend. Then pitches were made. Many attendees brought came prepared with a fresh idea for a new business and were given 60 seconds to pitch the idea to everyone else. About 40 pitches later, we had 15 minutes to cast three votes in total on any of the business ideas. The top 16 ideas were announced and teams were formed.
Attendees (about 120 in total) consisted mostly of MBA’s, Designers, Developers and Entrepreneurs, allowing teams to recruit the talent needed to bring their concept to life. I joined a team called 360 Showings. The concept leverages new 360 degree image and video-capturing technologies to enhance the experience of listing and showing homes for both realtors and home buyers. After working tirelessly for about 30 hours in total, we had our final pitch ready to present. Sixteen teams were allowed 5 minutes to present and a few minutes to respond to a panel of judge’s questions. Thanks to a technical issue, we had the pleasure of being the final team to present 360 Showings. The judges voted based upon the following criteria: Business Plan, Customer Validation, Technical Execution and Design Execution. We did well enough to place third.
What I learned
Never pass up an opportunity that allows you to use your skills
Although I didn’t get to use my usual 3d design skills, which is how I make an income, I did get to use creative problem-solving skills, story telling, project management, writing and graphic design to help our team build a company. Using some of my secondary and tertiary skills reminded me that I can always be useful, no matter the circumstance.
People often have skills outside their day job
Our team was lucky enough to have a wide range of skills at its disposal. However, in order to cover all the bases, some of us had to use our secondary and tertiary skills. For instance, though I’m an industrial designer, I had to do some web design. One of our team members works as an iOS developer, but proved to be a good project manager and speaker. Another MBA student filled the role of researcher magnificently. A real estate agent doubled as a photographer, videographer and website coder. Virtually everyone on our team had various skills outside of their day job, that allowed us to fill the gaps and get all tasks accomplished.
Get outside your comfort zone
I’ll admit. I signed up for this event spontaneously and a couple times leading up to it, I considered backing out. This was obviously going to put me outside of my comfort zone, physically, emotionally and socially. However, I’m glad I stuck with it because I believe i made some invaluable contacts as well as enjoyed the whole experience. And I may have landed myself a position in a new startup.
Likeminded strangers can help you grow
We all are guilty of loving our own ideas and getting comfortable with being our only critics. I’m especially guilty of this as I work alone day in and day out. Having a few healthy arguments in the early stage of designing our business and how we’d present it reminded me that our own ideas, aren't always the best ones. Luckily my team members were all adults and we argued like it. This means that nobody was afraid to disagree, and better yet, we respected each other’s ideas and after getting the feedback from a couple mentors, reached solutions we all agreed with. Being around people who match or exceed your level of maturity as well as understanding the common goal from a different perspective, can really help you grow as a designer and business person.
A great idea without great execution isn’t worth much
There were some great ideas that other teams pitched, yet I suspect the reason they didn’t place is because of a lack of execution. I don’t mean that no effort was made to execute the idea, but it simply was’t done in a business savvy way. Just like an okay idea can be worth a lot of money with excellent execution, the opposite is true. The team that placed in first was very well executed. I realized that much of a business’ success is how it’s executed, not just the idea.
Your community is teeming with energy, so use it
Being new to where I live in South Western Pennsylvania, my experiences in Pittsburgh have been limited to a few day trips. This was the first time I’ve interacted with other creative Pittsburgers, and it was great! The positive energy, enthusiasm and good vibes far exceeded my expectations. To somebody who works from the living room everyday, this was refreshing. There’s a good chance every community has even a small group of people who are interested in what you do or have complimentary skills and similar goals. I encourage you to seek these people out and get to know them and feed off of the creative energy.
I’m fortunate that I was able to participate in Startup Weekend Pittsburgh this past weekend and even more fortunate to be invited to the event by somebody who I’d never even met before. I grew a little bit during the event and had lots of fun and learned much about a community that’s in my backyard. Hopefully some of what I learned inspires you to get active in your creative community, or reminds you of valuable lessons you’ve learned in the past.