Winning When You Least Expect It


Two weeks ago I experienced something awesome. My idea, Project Join, won the first prize at the Startup Weekend St. Gallen, in Switzerland.

Little did I know about the good times ahead of me when I was riding on the train that brought me to St. Gallen. I participated the weekend with the intention to make connections, to network, perhaps to talk about collaboration through Core UX with one or the other new contact. For the one and a half hour in the train I did not think about presenting an idea later that same night.

And yet, that is exactly what happened. Most participants who presented their idea on this Friday evening were thoroughly prepared. They had written down the key elements of their idea. They had repeated their speeches until they felt secure.

“Anything else?” the moderators asked after all were done. “We’d really like to hear some spontaneous ideas, or even if you found a problem you think that should be solved, come on stage and let us know!”. The crowd clapped in a driving pace and as if someone else had slipped into me, I rose from my seat.

In this instant I knew what I was going to talk about. It was something I had kept in the back of my head for years and I called it Join.

Instead of presenting a carefully prepared speech, I directed my attention to the audience, asking them why they came to this event. I looked at a couple of faces and asked them: “Before you came here, did you know with whom you want to talk?” No one said they did. “And yet,” I said, “all of you came here hoping to make new connections and possibly find common interests. That is what Join is about, to help you meet whom you want to talk to.”

The idea goes further, but I will write more about it when it is ready for the public. What I can say now is, that there is little competition in its area, but it is exactly that area in mobility that is of great interest to a lot of businesses. The service goes beyond of what anyone provides today.

The benefit for the end user is extremely simple, but essential to the core: meeting relevant people.

I don’t know what got into me that Friday night. But I felt elevated, delighted, happy when I returned to my seat. I hadn’t felt like this in quite some time. It was a feeling that this was right, a feeling of having found something that is of real interest to people.

So many apps today are saying they are improving people’s lives. Look at how few of them actually deliver on this promise. I’d say the majority of apps is there rather to distract you, than to extend your capabilities.

What happened next on this weekend, I can only describe as a really great experience. My idea got the second most points in the selection process right after all ideas had been presented. Clearly, people wanted to see this happening. We built groups to collaborate on these ideas, to develop them into business models and finally present them on Sunday afternoon, a presentation designed to work like an investor’s meeting.

There were lectures, lessons and group activities throughout this weekend that made me learn a lot and interact a lot with people. There is something great that happens when bright minds meet. There is an increased activity of sparks firing in your brain and your conversations. Geeks become passionate with glowing eyes when they are talking about their ideas.

This alone would have been enough to make this weekend special. But Sunday evening prove to top it all.

All teams presented their shaped-out ideas, complete with how it works, a business model, competition analysis and estimated numbers. We kind of botched our presentation. Instead of 10 slides we had 19. That was way too much for the six minutes we had. Luckily, in the four minutes of Q&A with the jury that followed, we managed to pull up one or the other slide that hadn’t been shown yet. When the 10 minutes were over, we felt still confident about our idea, but we were pretty sure we wouldn’t win the competition.

The third prize was announced, then the second. We hung in our seats relaxed, looking around to see the faces light up of the team that was going to be announced as the first prize winners.

And then they said our names. My partner and I looked at each other with stunned smirks. Was this real?

Aside of everything, of meeting fellow entrepreneurs, of learning inspiring lessons, of being creative together and shaping an idea as close as possible to become reality, the one thing nothing can beat is the moment of the unexpected.

And this moment only happens when you go out there and do it. This is what I took from this weekend: You can do it, even when you are not prepared. But you have to go out there and try.

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