7 Free Tools to Help You Win Startup Weekend

A list of the tools my team used to help us move quickly enough to develop a winning pitch and prototype in 54 hours. We won Techstars Startup Weekend 2017 in Gainesville, FL.

tldr: Glitch for development if you’re technical, Slack for communication, Google Sheets for sharing market research, huge whiteboards for brain dumping, Mentors for filling talent gaps, stick to the Judging Criteria, and Hustle like nobody’s business.

DO THIS FIRST!

Get everyone on your team’s contact info, save it into your phones, exchange emails as well. You need to move at ⚡lightning⚡ s️peed this weekend, and not being able to reach someone because you don’t have their contact info is inexcusable.

Have you heard?

Slack

Setup a free Slack team immediately, invite everyone and make sure they sign in, both on mobile and their laptop. This is a great way to stay in touch when your team is working on their own tasks.

For the uninitiated, Slack is a team messaging service which is replacing email for routine communication between teams, if people on your team are unfamiliar with it, give them a quick breakdown of how it works (like this).

WHAT YOU GET

Reference library of your team’s documents, centralized communication, a common place to drop links, share market research spreadsheets, and organize discussions. Anything important you discuss or share with your team that exists digitally (or can be photographed ala whiteboards) should be put into a slack channel for reference by the whole team.

With Slack, everyone has a common place in the cloud to find the documents you need at 3am when everyone else is asleep. Slack’s benefits to a hackathon team are many and I will not cover them all here (but think recording video calls, setting reminders, and more)


Google Sheets

The first night, at least one team member needs to do market research, preferably someone who knows a little about the industry you will be operating in. Find out the TAM (total available market) for your solution, competitors, incumbents, and their price points.

THIS IS CRITICAL! Not only do judges need to see this to evaluate your idea’s potential, it will help guide the many pivots you will make in those 54 hours. Having clear numbers for this is a huge part of how my team stood out and won!

WHAT YOU GET

Centralized, collaborative documents. Everyone on the team needs access to this info! Share it into your slack channel so everyone can be on the same page, and have access as the document is extended and changed. You will want to do this for your Revenue Model, Cost Structure, Business Canvas and anything else number-y.


Glitch*

This new service is Heroku and JSFiddle mixed together, for free, with npm package management. If that sentence means nothing to you, that is fine. If no one on your team is a semi-professional web dev at least, you should avoid having to write code for your prototype.

Non-technical teams should prototype any website or app central to their solution using a tool that allows drag and drop prototyping. There’s a lot of these, balsamiq is widely used and easy to find info about. (If you have a favorite please leave it in the comments and I’ll add it here!)

Update July 2017: Glitch actually has a lot of great community projects now to use as a starting place or complete web app now, so it may be feasible for nontechnical folks to remix one of those and use it in your prototype.

WHAT YOU GET

A free server, live updates, a really nifty collaboration mode, access to community projects you can easily remix into your own prototypes, and a url to share with your team.

Remixing a similar project allows you to hit the ground running, and start hacking away on a functioning prototype. Glitch community projects are fully functional starting points for you to run with.

My team remixed this Material Design Lite starter project to mockup an app flow, which we could load in any browser or phone to show the judges and potential customers. Keynote is often faster, but it was faster for me (even as a mostly nodejs dev) to just write simple code (YMMV). Using a framework like Material Design Lite also reduced decision paralysis when creating the app’s UI, allowing me to focus on the UX not the UI.

Sending it to the other dev while I slept in (post all night coding session) allowed him to make edits on my version, without a single pull request. We finished the prototype as they were kicking us out of the building to go pitch.


Your markers don’t have to be in Japanese

Whiteboards

Ask your organizers if they will provide whiteboards, extra extra large pads of paper, and dry erase markers. Bring your own markers all the same, and keep one in your pocket.

WHAT YOU GET

Vague ideas, turned to tangible thoughts. Working with people you barely know means you need to get ideas out of people’s heads as quickly and clearly as you can, instead of trying to guess what they really mean. Whiteboards will force you to do this.

Write your ideas out as you talk about them, it helps tremendously to get everyone on the same page. Pick a location for the weekend that has either the biggest whiteboard you can find, or lots of windows, or both. Windows are just whiteboards waiting to be utilized!

My team wrote our Long Term Goal on a window the first night, and kept referring to it to keep our decisions in line. Long Term Goals are, “if this works and everyone is thrilled, what service or effect are we creating for our customers? What will be the benefit to our users, 5 years down the line when we’ve worked out all the kinks?” It’s a powerful way to organize through your solution stage, a la the Sprint Method from Google Ventures.


Thank you so much Paul (second from the right) from OPIE Software! Thank you Caleb and Bamboo Strategic Media for the photos and advice!

Mentors

Get to know the mentors early, and ask each one their specific area of expertise. You may not know you need them until you’re 2 hours from pitch time and realize you don’t have a cohesive revenue model. The pieces will fall into place over the weekend, and these mentors are here to help facilitate that!

However, if you haven’t done your research and the legwork on your problem, they will barely be able to help you. Make sure you do research first!

WHAT YOU GET 💡

Incredible people, from the TechStars community, as well as your own local community. These people are here to help advise you and flesh out the core competencies your team may lack. My team did not have a solid Business person, so we tapped a 6 time serial entrepreneur from the community who was there to help.

We were advised by a marketing expert on our logo, a Biz Dev expert, an AWS specialist, and many others came by just to check in. This saved us so much time! No googling, no debating, just informed experts giving us their honest opinions. Lean on these people where your team is weak, they are here to help you.

The mentors and organizers are incredibly valuable resources, and will help you find what you need via their networks. We needed a 3d printer, and had every organizer calling out to their network to help. After less than an hour, we had a 3d printer brought to us by the same mentor who later helped flesh out our revenue model. (THANK YOU PAUL!)


from the StartupWeekend website

The Criteria

You will be given a judging criteria, which will explain how the judges will be evaluating your idea. Everything you do should be focused around filling out all these criteria! Nothing else matters beyond these things, you can figure out if your solution and business model are “right” after you’ve won. But you won’t get to that point if you don’t impress the judges.

Someone needs to be in charge of keeping everyone focused on this criteria, preferably someone who isn’t shy about telling people to stop what they’re doing and focus. Defending the focus of the group is a very important job, and someone has to do it.

WHAT YOU GET

A direct path toward winning, and requirements to focus and rally your team around. This will be a very important document, and your team’s success will hinge on how well you can address these criteria, and nothing else. Read it. ‘Nuff said.


Always do as much as you can, and more.

Hustle

You cannot win this thing without a level of hustle and can-do that is 120% of what you are normally able to muster. You need to drop the ego stuff, and pull your weight. Not everyone who comes to Startup Weekend has the experience or expertise necessary to lead a team, which is TOTALLY fine! You can make up for that by being the person to jump up and get stuff done that the team needs.

If you are sitting around doing nothing, you are bringing the whole team down, and everyone else has to work that much harder to make up for it. If you are the #1 hustler on a team of people who are checking their phones and unresponsive to your specific calls for help, leave that team. Any other team would be ecstatic to absorb someone with your hustle.

WHAT YOU GET 🔥

Everything else that you need to have a shot at winning the competition, and succeeding in the startup world. You made it to Startup Weekend, and showing up is half the battle, the other half is the hustle. Get. Stuff. Done. Run around pulling together the info and materials your team needs, take initiative. Even if you don’t win, you will impress a lot of people in your community with your hustle, and that’s a great way to find teammates for your next idea.

Show up!

With these tools, and a great team, you too can win Startup Weekend, but only if you show up and put some skin in the game. Get out there in your community and learn from the people who have done this before, commit yourself to the process, and go build stuff!

Find out about Startup Weekends near you by going to https://startupweekend.org/


Thank you very much to the organizers of Gainesville Startup Week, for their months of hard work. Thank you to the judges and all the participants, who made the weekend so stimulating. Having all those talented people crammed together brings out the best in all of us!

*Glitch is created by the folks at Fog Creek Software, who made Trello, and helped create Stack Overflow. This service is super young, but you can be sure it is growing fast under the guidance of Anil Dash and his incredible team at Fog Creek. Also, they have the cutest hummingbird stickers!