My Dublin Startup Weekend Experience

Building a company in 54 hours

Let me start by giving a bit of a back story… At the end of last year I finished working with HubSpot Product team and went travelling South America. Having been back in Dublin now a few weeks I started looking for events in the tech scene to see what was happening. I came across Dublin Startup Weekend on LinkedIn and it sounded right up my alley. It sounded like the perfect event to meet some cool people. What I ended up getting out of it was so much more!

T minus 1 day

Originally when I signed up to the event, my plan was to volunteer my coding skills to a team and go from there. While I was brushing up on some coding to get back into the swing of things I received an email from Techstars containing this post. After reading it I thought to myself

There is absolutely no reason not to pitch!

I spent the next hour coming up with a pitch for an idea I had (Most of the time was spent coming up with a name. Turns out names are hard!!).

Friday (Day 1)

I was totally pumped! I’ve been in tech in Dublin for 9 years now but for one reason or another I’d never even set foot in Google’s building, so even that excited me. The evening started exactly as I hoped. You could feel the energy and anticipation in the room and I immediately got talking to some cool people. Some people had even flown in for the weekend which at the time I found quite surprising. I was buzzing! Every person I chatted to was intelligent and totally wired! After a couple of presentations we split up into groups.

Each group was given two words with which they had to come up with a business. My group was assigned the words Trump and Unicorn. The next 5 minutes were absolute chaos. Eight of us where just throwing random ideas at each other until we latched onto something. It was during this exercise that I realised that every one of these people were just as crazy as me. I felt very much at home. Here’s what we came up with.

A 100% genuine solid fake gold Trump unicorn. It’s an IOT device that tweets fake news at the push of a button. We pictured it as something that would sit on your fireplace. It would be the perfect Christmas gift for any Trump supporter and it can be yours for a very reasonable $49.99.

After that exercise, it was pitching time. I was really excited about pitching as I’d never pitched one of my ideas in front an audience before. There was close to 30 people pitching. After you’d finished your pitch, you then had to sum up your idea on an A3 sheet of paper, set up as stall and try to hustle some votes. Each participant was given 3 post-its, which they used to vote for an idea that they liked. Unfortunately my idea received a paltry 3 votes so I had to join another team. I had seen a team was being formed around another travel idea so I decided to hop on board.

The idea was basically generating an itinerary for travellers based on their interests to cut down the amount of time spent on organising a trip. Not a bad idea, but when we started digging into it, we couldn’t figure out a way to monetize it. So we essentially had nothing… One thing the facilitator kept saying before teams were formed was

Pick a team, not an idea

I now understood what he meant. So here I am on a team, with no solid idea. I’ve no clue who these people are or even if I would gel with them. What have I got myself into!

Saturday (Day 2)

The second day can only be summed up with this image.

We pivoted, pivoted, pivoted and you know what we did after that… You guessed it, we pivoted! It was total chaos, we jumped from idea, to idea, to idea. By lunch time, I was already exhausted and we still didn’t have a solid plan. Turns out a nine person team creates a lot of noise and we were going nowhere fast!

After lunch we got a bit of focus and we actually stayed with an idea that we thought could work for a whole hour! So armed with a decent product, it was time to validate it. We did this in 2 ways, we created a Google form and posted it on social media as well getting out on the street and talking to people (Not an ideal way of getting feedback but we only had 54 hours to build a company!). The feedback we received was very much 50/50, so we were not fully convinced we had something.

Next up it was time to chat to the mentors. They provided us with some very useful insights but the reality is they are just after seeing your product for the first time and they are telling you the first thing that pops into their heads. Sometimes this can be good… other times it can be bad. One particular piece of feedback was to put an enterprise spin on the product. We ran with it. We spent 2 hours going down this enterprise route.

I needed a break from all the noise so went for a walk around the block. The more I thought about the product, the more I didn’t like it. Quite frankly I thought it sucked!! On my way back I chatted to a member of another team. He told me that their team was in total chaos and didn’t even have an idea yet. All they had been doing is talking about blockchain for the last few hours. This made me feel slightly better.

When I got back to the group, I told them I didn’t really like the product and it turned out nobody really liked it. The intensity of the situation, with this huge time pressure caused us to run with an idea that nobody liked or was passionate about which is a big no no. So we back tracked and got rid of this enterprise spin rubbish!

If you are not passionate about what you are building, you will never succeed!

Heading home on Saturday I was completely shattered and still wasn’t fully convinced by our idea. After refreshing bowl of corn flakes and a good laze on the couch, I decided to do some research at midnight. I began researching our target persona and the market opportunity. It wasn’t long before I stumbled upon the gold I was looking for to convince myself that this could be a viable business. The market opportunity was massive and growing at a rapid rate but my favourite nugget I found was when researching the target persona.

73 percent of adventure travellers plan to participate in an adventure activity on their next trip

It sounded to me that our target persona could be very sticky. I could smell the retention. Heading to bed I felt a lot better about our business and dare I say it, I was feeling confident about it.

Sunday (Day 3)

It was crunch time. It was clear that working in one big group was not going to get us over the line, so I started off the morning by writing down all the tasks that needed to be completed on the whiteboard. We split the team into 4 groups: Presentation, Research, MVP and Validation. There was a completely different atmosphere in the room. The noisy chaos of the previous few days was now replaced with a quiet focus.

I can only describe the next few hours as magical. Everything was coming together. The chaotic team was now starting to gel. The looks of I want to kill you were replaced by high fives and pats on the back. The energy was incredible and you could feel the confidence flowing through the team. I was totally energised, which generally results in me dancing around the room and this time was no different. I was strutting around the room with hip hop tunes in my head. I couldn’t wait to present!

My strutting was soon cut short. I thought the presenting started at 6 but turns out it actually started at 5. In 40 minutes time I would be presenting and I hadn’t really practiced at all. Also I was then brought to the Google auditorium. Turns out, the pitching was taking place here and not the Google garage where we had been all weekend. Standing on that stage I felt very show biz. The lights shining on you were blinding and nerves started to kick in. With not much time to go I decided to kill two birds with one stone. I needed some air to chill but also needed to practice, so our team went outside with a laptop to practice the pitch. I did two full run throughs, one was 30 seconds over the allowed 4 minutes. The other 15 seconds under. I was ready!

Almost show time

It wasn’t long before we were all shuffled to the auditorium and show time was approaching. As I was sitting there watching the presentations I was thinking how proud I was of what we achieved in the last 54 hours and was genuinely feeling a bit emotional. Every presentation blew me away. The quality was outstanding! You would of thought each team was working on their business for 2 months, not 54 hours.

As my presentation slot was getting closer, my heart was beating faster and faster. My mouth getting drier and my palms sweatier. As soon as I got up on that stage, all my nerves completely evaporated. Presenting my work in front of a big crowd was something I’ve thought about doing for so long (something you don’t really get to do working as a Software Engineer) and now I was finally doing it. It felt amazing standing up there representing my team!

With all the presentations completed the judges went away to make their decision. Two of the judges went to the bathroom before going to the judges room. They were met there by some people trying to lobby for their team. Was really funny!! So in the end we didn’t win. Actually the guy I was chatting to on Saturday evening who said they didn’t even have an idea won.

To finish off an amazing weekend, everyone made their way to Slatterys for some food and drinks. The amount of people that came up to me telling how much they loved my presentation was amazing!! I chatted to so many people over the next few hours and got tonnes of contact details. At 12 am I felt it was time to head home. What a weekend!

Hanging out in Slatterys

The 3 days at Dublin Startup Weekend were an absolute rollercoaster ride. A ride that I don’t want to get off. After that weekend I’m itching to do a startup. If you are working on a startup with a kick ass product I want to hear from you. If you have a great idea and are looking for a co-founder I want to hear from you.

Contact me by leaving a comment on this post or better yet, contact me on LinkedIn or Twitter

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