10 Things We Learned from Winning Startup Weekend

There is always that point when an idea is ready to be shared with the world. When your “baby” needs to evolve outside the womb and be worked on by others to get to the next level. For Ryan and I it turned out just what our idea needed was a Startup Weekend. For months prior there had been one idea, one question constantly on our minds.

“How do we make giving more impactful, easy, and fun?”

We had done a ton of research and were headed in a direction, but were frustrated at the pace we were working at towards our vision (ideas always feel like this, right?). Serendipitously a thoughtful friend sent us the link to a Social Entrepreneurship & Startup weekend at USF, and we immediately knew we had to go.

The first day I listened to some great leaders from companies talk about Corporate Social Responsibility, and smaller businesses talk about creating startups with sustainable business models (Many who were Benefit Corporations). My brain was firing on all cylinders fueled by conversations about social impact.

Then, we went into Startup Weekend mode. The crowds left and we were put in a room with 100 perfect strangers. We wrote down our team name and were called up first to pitch our idea to get to the next slot. I’ve spoken in front of crowds this size 100’s of times and never felt so nervous, but luckily we were picked to move on to the next round, recruiting help.

54 hours later and about the same number of coffees, our team created a minimum viable product, and CrowdHero was born. We pitched to the judges alongside many great ideas — and ended up winning. The weekend was an emotional rollercoaster chalked full of ideas and devoid of sleep. Looking back here are a few things that either helped us or maybe slowed us down a bit that might help you if you ever decide to go (which we suggest you do).

1) Pitch an Idea You Can’t Live Without

It may sound like common sense but people sense your passion. They want to work on something that they care about. Give them more than just a product pitch, show everyone why the world can’t live without your idea. Also, practice 20 plus times as sixty seconds goes really quick. (Great job, Ryan)

2) Recruiting is the Key to Success

You won the first round, but don’t stop there. This is probably your most important part of the entire weekend. Immediately there was a frenzy to recruit the right team. We had a couple key people who had done these before and started recruiting us into our wonderful team of 8 (Thanks, Dhiraj!).

3) Connect Everyone Quickly

Form a bond. Find out why everyone is on the team, get their quick bio, along with why they came to startup weekend. Everyone on team CrowdHero believed in helping nonprofits and shared their stories of volunteering. Learning about why everyone was passionate about the idea was hands down most amazing part of the weekend (1000 smiles to you, Anu).

4) Focus Your Passion & Stay on Point

This was my biggest personal learning from the experience. If you came with the idea, it’s OK to do a quick download of what you’ve researched. But, you have to remember that it’s everyone’s baby now. To paraphrase Frank Zappa: Ideas are like parachutes — they don’t work unless they’re open. Defending your idea instead of opening it up can make you long winded, and distract the team when they’re heads down, working. (Great callout, Miranda)

5) Ideate Like IDEO: Diverge then Converge

This is where things get interesting, or very very confusing. People will have the greatest ideas, and you want them all. We didn’t want to stop that flow, but, we could have put in place a bit of time limits, bumper lanes, and phases around the idea storm. IDEO has a great method for this based around human centered design. (Thanks for the ideas Olivier, we’ll converge faster in the future)

6) Let Voices (Especially Quiet Ones) Be Heard

Practice active listening. People can be quiet for many reasons. They may be a critical thinker, speak a different native language, or to the last point can’t fit in a word edgewise (which I think happened at times, sorry Yi). Einstein said “Quiet life stimulates the creative mind”, which we found out to be true with designs that rocked.

7) Measure & Drive Team Productivity

Your goal is to present and win, but that presentation is made up of many different work streams, both business and technical. Everyone on the team needs to be firing at full capacity or you aren’t getting to your goal, and people are underutilized. Scrums are a great way to find out why people aren’t productive and get everyone on the same page. (Next time we’ll help you lay down code AND rhymes quicker, Devon)

8) Let it Go: Everyone Will Make Mistakes

You cannot be everywhere at once. There will be times when you will ask yourself, why is this person talking about an exit strategy in the middle of a hackathon? But, remind yourself, treating this like a real business is a valuable exercise. And, mistakes at a startup weekend are far better than mistakes once your startup is off the ground. (How much was that office space again, Clinton?)

9) Sell the Vision not the Technology

Anyone who finishes a minimum viable product or prototype in 54 hours either A) cheated and worked on it before or B) really needs to come work for us. Like, right now. Contact me. The reality is no one expects you to build everything in 2 days. When it comes to showing barebones product or what your experience really will be, always choose the latter. (Sorry for not showing more of our awesome prototype engineering)

10) Have as Much Fun as Humanly Possible

This might be strange to have to say, however things will get stressful at some point. Remember freaking out in college finals due to lack of sleep? I don’t, I’m too old. But, I would imagine it’s a similar thing. Be playful. Play music. Have dance offs. Take walks. Crack jokes. Grab beers. And, schedule a follow up private hackathon for your idea with your team that’s even more fun. (It’s coming team!)

What we learned from winning startup weekend had nothing to do with winning.

Of course, we’re happy our idea was picked because it was the catalyst we needed to get to the next phase of development, and we’re overjoyed to have met such an amazing team, many of whom are still pushing forward to make CrowdHero a reality. But, the reality is we could have come in last place and we would have learned the same things, and had a blast doing it.