Over the weekend of January 15-17th I participated in the Startup Weekend at Cal Poly. As crazy as it sounds this was my sixth Startup Weekend! A Startup Weekend is a global 54-hour long competition to create new businesses. According to the organizing group, 12% of the teams at a Startup Weekend will continue to pursue their idea after the Weekend is over and locally we have dozens of new businesses that include a Startup Weekend in their story. In this event 107 really smart and motivated individuals came together to pitch ideas, form teams, build plans, and present them to the world.
As the CEO of a successful, 20-year-old, digital marketing business an obvious question might be why would I burn an entire weekend to work on a new business? There are actually several reasons that this is important to my business. These events contain many of the people that will go into our communities and launch businesses; as a marketing company I have to be prepared to serve them and help them go to market. The bottom line is that it is tough to partner with people you do not understand.
First are the ideas
Innovation is a critical part of running any business and the longer the business has been around the more challenging innovation becomes. The Startup Weekends are nothing if not innovating. By being at the event I got to listen to the ideas of 100+ smart people pitching 60+ ideas. If your business needs to think about what’s next, this certainly provides a wealth of information to consider. I have been in hundreds of brainstorming meetings within businesses and I have never seen so many ideas generated in such a short period of time. The second phase of the ‘idea generation’ process is a crowd selection process that allows each person to choose their top 3 business ideas with no bias. Once this is done the top 12 ideas move forward to the next phase.
Next are the Teams
After pitches and crowd selections comes the team formations; 107 people rapidly divide and evolve into 12 teams in about 10 minutes. Some may think that this would result in a number of dysfunctional teams but amazingly it does not! This is because those who are attracted to this event all want to innovate and change the world which requires a certain type of person.In addition, the crowd was balanced by the event registration which controlled the mix of business, design, and engineering talent in the room. The end results were 12 teams, each with a reasonable balance to them. In our team we had 3 business persona’s and 2 developers with a goal of reinventing the retail checkout experience.
Next are the Plans
With the teams in place the hard work begins and here we experience the typical business evolution. We started with one concept but ran into problems that nobody had thought of before. In response, we pivoted and changed the idea again and again. This happened three times over the second day but, unlike in a normal business, there was no friction simply because everyone had expected to have to pivot the idea in the first place. Just imagine, a frictionless change process in a business! That truly is what happens and it is because of the expectations and the types of people attracted to the event. Almost every team went through one or more pivots before the team gelled around a refined idea that had 100% buy-in from the entire team. When you have this harmony amazing things can happen.
Next Tell all your friends about your Goals
The final step of a Startup Weekend is the presentation and judging. In our event we had 12 teams doing business presentations after 3 days and every team was successful with no on-stage disasters. From here many of the groups decide to continue with their idea and they have already introduced their idea to the world.
So Why Do I Do Crazy Things Like Startup Weekends?
- It expands my network into the next generation of businesses
- It makes me think about innovations from new perspectives
- It lets me see trends as they emerge from the minds of innovators
- It gives me a chance to put my ideas in front of 100+ smart people and judge their reaction
- Some of these might be clients in the future
- Even if the business never launches the people in the will likely launch something else
- It’s fun to hang out with smart people and discuss challenging ideas