This weekend I got to take part in Philly Startup Weekend!
Startup Weekend is a world wide organization dedicated to hosting events to help educate and inspire entrepreneurs. The goal is to launch a startup in 54 hours. There have been several past Philly incarnations leading to some well known companies. I’ve always wanted to go but have had too many commitments. This weekend worked out and I’m glad it did.
The overall format is pretty self explanatory. For us there were about 110 attendees, 50 pitches, 16 projects selected based on a popular vote via stickers and then informal team formation. The teams worked on their new startup for the next two days with occasional drop-ins from local coaches to help out. The event hosts 4-minute presentations with 3-minutes of Q/A from the the judges for each project. Things closes with awards and a final party/mixer.
What I Liked
The attendees I interacted with were good people. No one there was slacking, nor did I see people looking to milk free work out of volunteers for their pet projects. Everyone genuinely seemed to be there to learn and do what they can to launch these startups.
The coaches that showed up were extremely helpful and provided great feedback as we matured our startups.
Overall, the whole event was a blast.
What I Didn’t Like
The venue / wifi. Once work started it was clear the organizers couldn’t support everyone on the main floor via wifi. Workbridge who is located in the same building was gracious enough to host moving a few teams up to their offices to help the congestion and while it did fix the wifi issue it also disrupted the “single open floor plan” which I think is extremely welcome for events like this.
The value in having an open floor is that you’ll overhear ideas and problems your fellow attendees are having and be able help each other out. It’s a great way to meet people and share ideas. On our 2nd floor space each team was isolated into their own offices so there wasn’t as much cross communication as I would have preferred. To balance things I took walking breaks back down to the main floor and talked with people. Even just having the ability to see the other team’s whiteboards was pretty interesting.
Some Take Aways
When you are given a project to do with a team of people, make sure you modify your plans to get the most out of these people and their skill set. Don’t get bogged down in that you are missing out on a specific developer or designer skill set. If you have someone who has experience with WordPress, figure out how to integrate WordPress into your solution. Make the most of what you have. Embrace constraints!
The overall entrepreneur community is maturing. I think it has been common to think that having a working prototype at the end of a weekend like this is a major goal however from my experience this weekend I was very pleased to see a larger percent of time focused on customer validation and the business model than code. More than working code what I think you need to at the end of the weekend is strong visualization of your product, and this need not be working code. I think UI renders or even a mocked up Keynote deck that fakes your website or app suffices. What you don’t want to do is let the complexities of the code implementation get in the way of prototyping different ideas during the weekend.
I helped out with MentorShake, a website that aims to help connect mentors with students. Over the weekend during our validation we actually got back a lot of contradictory feedback from mentors on what they wanted and also struggled with the business model. By presentation time I think we ended up with a pretty good business plan and verbal commitments from over a dozen locals who were willing to be listed as mentors. Time will tell if the idea has legs but if you’re local to Philly and interested please sign up to the mailing list by visiting this page.
I’d like to again thank the organizers of the Philly Startup Weekend. It was a great time and I appreciate their hard work. If you are at all interested in this kind of thing I recommend you be on the lookout for a Startup Weekend in your area.