3 lessons from SWMontrealby Stuart Macgregor (@macgregor_stu)
I had the privilege of attending Montreal's Startup Weekend this past weekend. How we made it is still a mystery to me, what with the blizzard we had to drive through. But at least it allowed us to come up and refine our idea we were going to pitch this weekend.
For those who aren't aware of Startup Weekend, a brief overview from their website.
Startup Weekends are 54-hour events where developers, designers, marketers, product managers and startup enthusiasts come together to share ideas, form teams, build products, and launch startups!
So: come up with an idea, make it as fast as possible, then pitch it to a panel of judges who have a wealth of experience in the startup world. How hard could it be?
Thankfully, I was part of a solid core team in MBS, with our designer, business, and dev roles already split up amongst ourselves. We also took on two more people; Adrian, a backend developer, and Stéfanie, a designer and marketer.
Looking at the projects presented, and the trials we went through, I'd like to share with you what I took from startup weekend.
3. If you're going to fail, fail fast.
This is fairly well known in the startup world, but it bears repeating. Everyone has a good idea, but very few people follow through with their ideas. Even when you do follow through with an idea, it doesn't always work out. Such was the case with one of the groups. Their idea, while useful, was not easily monetized. Knowing this, they abandoned the idea.
Failure is never the ideal scenario, but it's a fact of life. If your project is failing, recognize that, and move on.
2. Have a clear and concise pitch.
As a developer, I was fairly insulated from this side of our project, but it's probably the most important factor in any startup, let alone a presentation that has to be pitched to a panel of judges. The pitches at SWM were nothing short of amazing. You could tell the weekend was dominated by business people. That said, there were a few things I noticed from the presentations I liked:
- They all had a demo, or a beta, available. Even if the demo wasn't fully operational, it framed their idea in a functional light. This was key to winning the judges over. The top three startups (as determined by the judges), all had demonstrations.
- They were unique. While all the presentations had similarities (business plan, the actual idea, etc.), the presentations that really caught my attention had something special about them. For instance, CrowdMedia had their full platform being demonstrated in the background, with their talking points corresponding to what was on the screen. It really highlighted the product's features, and the problems it was solving. We did the same at Dashbook.
- Each pitch had a story. They all had something that tied the product into a real life situation. This really tied the problem, the solution, and the product together into a cohesive presentation.
1. Build your product to ship, not to pitch.
This is, without a doubt, the most important thing I learned this weekend. Many people look at events like these as a starting point. A way to get in contact with like-minded people, and hash out their idea, without ever really creating something. Sure, they'll have a business plan, financials, even projections. But without a product, you're standing on nothing. This directly ties into point two, where all of the interesting pitches had a demonstration of some sort. By building a product as if it needs to get out the door that weekend, you're creating an environment that operates at maximum speed. Is it stressful? Sure, but so is being part of a start up.
This correlates directly to the work we do. As a services company (albeit with our own internal projects), our work has to be completed in the best way possible, as fast as possible. This doesn't give us permission to cut corners, but it does force us to narrow our focus. Without something concrete to build towards, most teams would be left wandering through their project, and more importantly, their time. By having a concrete goal, to say "This iteration of the product must be build by this date" you establish a clear goal to reach, and establish a launching point on where to start the product.
Overall, I learned a lot this weekend, and had my fair share of stress, fun, and caffeine. These were just a few of the points I picked up from my experience, and I hope to pick up a few more on my next trip to Startup Weekend.