after Startup Weekend

Friday night I went to Startupweekend and pitched my idea for goal widgets.  I ended up working on another project, but a few people did show interest.

I had planned on essentially reciting my blog post pitch, cutting it to about 5 minutes with time for audience feedback.   I rehearsed it a few times, and had gotten it down to 7 minutes.  I put the whole talk on 13 index cards and wrote the first sentence on the back of each.  That turned out to be a good system, because if I read each opening sentence, it was still a coherent (if unpursuasive) talk.

But I found we’d only be allotted 1 or 2 minutes.  So I’d cut the part about myself, some of the details about implementation, shorten the user cases, and skip most of the social network prelude.  But, I ended up butchering it anyway.

So much for my public speaking skills.  I think it actually shows promise for the idea itself that anyone had interest.  Several people mentioned that they’d read my blog post or my comment in response to someone else’s post

Startupweekend was held at Microsoft in Redmond, sponsored by the BizSpark team.  I’d guess about half of the people there were Microsoft employees, and there were only a few Macs on site and even fewer designers.  (I even did double duty as a designer.)

It was a great idea, I had some good opportunities to network, and the energy there was fantastic.

What made Startupweekend work?  I think a several things were critical to the success, and a few things that could be done better.

First the good:

Deadlines. Such a short time frame forces you to focus.  You have to make decisions quick and you have to prioritize.  I think in many cases (especially the trivial ones) you make better decisions if you make them quicker.  Dwelling on alternatives just confuses the issue.

We had some technical issues, and made some quick decisions for workarounds that may have hurt our productivity, but overall, the very short deadline was a huge positive.  Three full days might have been ideal, especially if the environment issues had been worked out.

Team. Working together as a team has a great multiplying effect.  Everyone has said it before, but it’s true.  A small group of self-selected individuals can do amazing things in a short time.  The ability to bounce ideas off of one another, and to help each other stay focused is priceless.  We started out with a

Change of Environment. Getting out of your routine & comfort zone, going someplace new, working with new people has a much larger impact than you’d think.  Whatever handicaps were added by the environment (and there were plenty) were more than compensated by the fresh perspective it gave (under the dull neon lighting, no less.)

There were some challenges, as I’ve already alluded to, but nothing really deletrious.  Mainly centered around organization and planning, but it was better to do it poorly than not do it at all.

I have no complaints, but sadly, I’d say the weakest link in the whole weekend was from the host and sponsors.  I’m grateful to Microsoft Bizspark for hosting, but this is what I think could have been done better:

Agenda and Announcements. The whole agenda was a bit hazy.   Beginning with finding directions to the event.   People who don’t live at Microsoft and work on the BizSpark team might not get by with a buried reference to building 33 (and building 25.)  It actually took some detective work to find out that it was hosted at Microsoft.

The event website was poorly designed and didn’t have the pertinent information (or it was hard to find.   Nobody knew how long their pitches should be, how to organize onto teams (online voting didn’t work), or how the weekend would unfold.  Instead of an orientation, they had a few Microsoft speakers giving boring company meeting-style presentations directed at Microsoft employees.

Technical Difficulties. Anytime you put 100+ people in a room, the wi-fi is going to suck.  But it sucked a lot.  And the hosts didn’t notice it because they had private Microsoft intranet connections.  Bizspark was giving out licenses, but that didn’t work smoothely, and if it had, you would have been presented with a download that takes overnight under optimal conditions.  That’s not a big deal, just a perq that could have gone better.  Also, there was another missed marketing opportunity, not for Microsoft, but for the parter who offered hosting, WowRack.  I feel sorry for Ian, who was volunteering to help them.  They couldn’t get VMs set up in the 48 hour time frame.  (To be fair, 1and1.com, our registrar didn’t come through for at least 36 hours too.)

Other than that, the pizza was good, the sandwiches better.  The drinks free (and cold, except on Friday night), and the $50 price tag was a bargain.  A little more organization could have gone a long way to make it even better.

Next post, I’ll talk about the project I worked on at Startupweekend: Backseat Casting.

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