As Startup Weekend season is upon us, I thought it was about time that we put together a guide to winning. Having won and mentored at 10+ startup weekends, we have seen the same mistakes over and over. The aim of this guide is to give every single team the best chance at coming away from the weekend with paying customers, and a solid base for a business.
There is nothing worse than seeing a team pitch on Sunday what they could have pitched on Friday. We hope this guide will stop this happening.
In our opinion there are four key areas to keep in mind if you want to give your self the best chance at winning Startup Weekend.
- How will you be judged on Sunday
- How to manage your time over the weekend
- Rapid sales and marketing channels
- Building your prototype
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Visit http://codewithoutcode.com/StartupWeekend and enter in your email address and you will get access to:
- Slide template from Lisa Engine, and Car Values Co (We won using these, but now just use a template)
- One page timeline for Startup Weekend. How we plan out our startup weekend
- Customer Persona map. Helps us target our potential customers reach them, interview them and validate if they have the problem we think they do.
- Ad template to write your ads. If we use paid marketing to test a market this is how we plan it
- UTM Code generator to track your leads. Helps us track our channels and calculate CAC and LTV, proving if our model is scalable.
- Metrics Calculator for your final pitch. See point 5.
If you prefer to consume this as a video I have put a two part video together on our YouTube Channel Code Without Code. Please Subscribe as our plan is to build examples of the most common startup weekend problems for you to follow a long with.
The Second video focuses on rapid sales and marketing and building a prototype without code.
The three judging criteria to win.
To win at startup weekend, you need to have a fantastic pitch. All the hard work over the weekend is worthless if you don’t present it well. According to the official startup weekend page during your final pitch on Sunday you are judged on three criteria:
- Business model
- Customer validation
- Execution and design
The organisers of your event will often give you a guide on how to set up your pitching template to help you.
The first is your business model, and will this idea be able to be formed into a business that is self-sustaining. In other words:
- Have you identify and tested traction channels to get new customers?
- Are customers willing to put their hand in their pocket and pay?
- Does it cost you less to get a new customer than you make from them?
You shouldn’t just talk about it like you would on the Friday night. But how the proof. The line I want to hear is “Here are ads we used on these three channels we tested, X1, X2, and X3. X3 cost us $3 per customer, and X1 cost us $5 per customer”
Tip: Calculate your real channel costs with the intention to show a scalable traction channel beyond just walking around to people and asking them to buy your product. Take screenshots the entire weekend to help with your final presentation.
The second part is about demonstrating what you learnt over the weekend by talking with your potential customers. an excellent way to show this is to talk through your pipeline. The number of surveys and results, customer interviews, sign-ups. You want to talk about how much of a pain the current way they solve this problem is, and the lengths they will go to solve it.
You need to show the proof that it is a real problem, as the judges will assume that it isn’t unless they have experienced it personally. That is your job. Show the judges that you have spoken to enough people to confirm that it is a problem, and it is a big enough problem that they would pay for it. Dollars talk. If they pay, it is a real problem. Your ultimate goal is to get cash from these potential customers. Not just a name or email. Proving that there is a problem, that it is big enough to pay for, and the value is apparent.
Tip: During the pitch, we try to talk about one specific customer interview that highlights the pain that potential customers are experiencing, and what they do to solve the problem. It is best shown with a photo of them holding a $50 note the ‘proof’ that they paid.
The final part of judging based on having a working prototype. We find that this is the part that people struggle with the most. It is important to go out and speak with customers before starting your prototype, but at some point, over the weekend you need to sit down and create something.
This is what you will use to sell to and sign up those customers you have been interviewing. The section below will go into a bit more detail about how to do this quickly and show you what we used to generate about $100 by 11:30pm on Friday night, and all we used was typeform and stripe.
Don’t be put off if you don’t have a tech person on your team. You can create something pretty compelling without a developer. For example, KanyeText.com was built without code in four hours. A non-tech can create a prototype.
Tip: Sign up for Typeform, Stripe, Zapier before the weekend. Become familiar with them as you can use them to string together a prototype.
The week prior to Startup Weekend
One of the rules of startup weekend is that it must be an idea that you haven’t started previously. However, do some market research beforehand. Understand the competition and how other people are solving the problem and maybe go and casually talk to some potential customers about the problem. You just want to make sure that you are solving a real problem.
It also gives you the confidence that you need in your 60 second pitch on Friday night.
You should also sign up with some of the tools that you might use over the weekend, so you can become familiar with them. We go into much more detail later.
- Typeform (collect results)
- Zapier (link typeform to anything else)
- Stripe (take payments)
Tip: If you have more than one idea, do some quick and dirty customer interviews to find out if people care about the problem you want to solve.
The 60 Second Pitch
This 60 second pitch is the hook to get people to vote for your idea, and want to join your team. You must practise your pitch before the weekend and come up with a catchy name. There might be 70+ ideas pitched, and you need to stand out.
The usual layout for the pitches are:
- Who are you
2. The problem you are solving
3. How you might solve it (don’t spend too much time here)
4. What do you need
The problem you want to solve might be huge, and it could tick all the boxes but if you can’t get up and pitch it, it will be hard for you to get the best talent on your team.
Tip: Practice your 60 second pitch at least 20 times. Come up with a memorable name so people remember you and your pitch!
Time management at startup weekends
The biggest mistake that teams make is spending time on things that don’t matter. For example the logo, the brand colours, a very specific phrase. One key take away is just make a fast decision, you can change it later if it is a problem.
If you are spending more time discussing it than it would take just to do, make a choice and move on. In an attempt to help keep you on track I have put together a list
You can download this guide, and a few other tips at our website below.
You want to clarify with your team the problem you are solving, and show the evidence you have that it is a real problem. DO NOT TALK ABOUT THE SOLUTION. Focus on the problem and how you will validate that it is a problem.
- Find out about your team. Why are they there, what is their skill set and what do they want to learn over the weekend. Your job as the leader is to make sure everyone has a good time and gets what they want out of the Weekend.
- Create a Google survey (Spend 10 minutes or less)
- Create a Typeform survey form (15 minutes) and ask for phone numbers and email addresses
- Create a Typeform payment form (20 minutes)
- Set up first paid advertising and direct to payment form (30 minutes)
- Post Typeform survey in facebook groups, and other communities asking for help (30 minutes). Try to focus on groups based on the other side of the world. So while you are sleeping, your forms are being filled in.
- Before you leave plan where your potential customers will be on Saturday. So you know where to find them for your customer interviews (20 minutes)
If you split into groups to complete this it will only take an hour or so. Make sure you use UTM codes in all of your links so you know which channel is giving you traffic and completed survey.
TIP: If the conversion is getting off track, bring it back to trying to validate the problem. It is hard to avoid getting distracted by the solution but you are too early to think about it.
The goal for Saturday morning (or by 2pm) is to;
- Confirm its a real problem
- Understand how customers are currently solving the problem
- Confirm that they would pay for a solution. Saturday morning you have to talk to your customers.
To assist you in achieving this.
- Call the people who filled in your typeform overnight. That is why you asked for a phone number!
- Split the team into groups of 2 or 3 and go out and do your first set of customer interviews for 1.0–1.5 hours. Come back share stories, improve and learn from each other. Go out with a different group.
- Make sure you capture peoples phone number or email addresses to speak with later
You want to use this information later to create a landing page (Instapage, Squarespace) using messaging you heard from your customer interviews.
TIP: You should aim to always have at least two people from your team doing customer validation
This is the hardest period of the weekend. People are tired, hungry and if you haven’t made the progress you were expecting you also might be stressed. This is when teams split up, so now is the time to go and help another team.
The goal by you leave Saturday night is to:
- Prototype with people using it (As early as possible, but by 4pm Saturday)
- Sign up more customers with face to face interviews, and then showing them the prototype
- Draft of your pitch for Sunday
- At least an iteration of your landing page
- Ramp up your sales and marketing. See the next section for some hints about how to do that.
- Help at least one person who isn’t on your team learn something new
TIP: Starting your pitch early helps you identify gaps that you need to fill on Sunday morning.
The goal is to finalise your pitch with just gaps for the latest numbers, and get more sales.
Focus your time on:
- Running through the pitch, and improving it
- Fill the gaps and pull together the screenshots and photos from the weekend
- Speak with everyone who you contact over the weekend and push them to sign up.
- Go out and do more face to face sale for the final push
- Put your price up if you have had sale to increase revenue
- Refine the MVP
- Help other teams.
TIP: Final push so get everyone out to do sales. Calls, Face to face. Prepare for pitching.
The goal for sunday afternoon is to have your pitch polished and locked in. Now you just need to go through it, practise and practise. Go to the pitching mentors get their feedback, and write down the questions they ask you.
I would guess that 80% of the questions they ask during the pitching mentor session will be asked by the judges. So prepare an answer in your backup slides.
In the final hours
- Tally up the pipeline numbers, surveys, customers spoken to, email addresses, phone numbers, sales, and dollars
- Calculate your marketing metrics
- Refine the wording of your problem/solution to make it clear and concise
- Understand how you are different to other solutions (common question is “how are you different to XXXX”
- Run through the 5 minute pitch 20+ times before the pitching mentors arrive.
Depending on the startup weekend you go to, pitches might start earlier than you expect.
TIP: Everyone will be stressed at the last minute. If you follow this guide you will be totally relaxed. So go and help out a few people.
Rapid marketing & sales
If you have a week before the event I would suggest reading through Traction: A Startup Guide to Getting Customers. Best way to read it is with a notepad next to you and every chapter brain storm as many ideas as you can related to your problem.
This book will help you come up with some ideas for you to execute on the weekend. If you are on a tight budget I would recommend that you do a search for vouchers, as often you can spend $25 and get $100 of credit.
Canva for design
Sign up to Canva, as you will use it to design all of your ads. Just use a template they suggest for whatever you are looking at (Facebook Ads, Twitter, etc) change the text and image. Then use it. You can improve it later, remember that this is rapid marketing.
You need to understand who your ideal customer is. The point of doing this is to help you with ad targeting, where to go to see them and talk to them in person. Without this, we have always found that we are constantly asking how to target. This should evolve over the weekend as you talk to more and more people.
If you go the link below, and enter in your email address we will send our what we use for customer personas.
Startup weekend and how to win - Code Without Code
The hardest thing about winning a startup weekend is managing your time and making sure that you hit all the criteria…
UTM + Short URL’s
Before running any ads or sharing links make sure you learn what UTM codes are, and how to use them. In short. They are tracking codes that you append to a URL so you can see where the traffic is coming from. All you need to do is install google analytics in your Typeform or website.
Some providers will automatically insert them for you, such as Google AdWords. Then if you want to run the long URL through Bit.ly, then use that URL to share in communities you will be able to track not just visits to your page but also how many views, and people filled in your forms.
Simple to set up and have running, you just need a Facebook page and a few images. Use targeting based upon the customer personas. Set up 2 or 3 ads per campaign.
Just need a Twitter account, use a big image to grab peoples attention. Once again target on hashtags and customer personas.
Same as Facebook can be set up in their ad platform. You will need an instagram account for this to work.
Look for communities around what you are doing. Share your survey use the words looking for experts to help us. Don’t ask for he sale
Ask for insights and help. A good phrase I have seen used is people just posting “I have had a bad day, what annoys you about running a business that does XXX” you are essentially asking for pain points and for people to tell their problems. This makes it hard to convert people to a survey though.
Becoming more popular, but you can get clicks very very cheaply. Just target a subreddit. Make your ad look like a post as they get more clicks than a straight ad.
Always do this one first, do some research about keywords that match your problem. Check for cost as some keywords can be very very expensive. If it’s expensive for this method wait until you have nailed the problem and have a solution. Don’t forget remarketing on this one so you don’t burn the cost.
Linkedin Search + Hunter
If you are trying to sell to businesses, start with LinkedIn and get a free trial to use sales navigator. You can do in depth search for people that match who you are looking for. Then you can use a tool called hunter.io that will help you find their email address.
You can craft an email to them, but to be honest you might as well send them a Linkedin message asking for help.
Use the hashtags for startup weekend’s that are happening all over the world at the same time as yours. Find influencers in the industry and tag them (we get the most traction with people who have between 10,000–60,000 followers. At that level, they are still managing their own account and seem to get back to you quicker. More than that, and they might have filters set up and they might not see you at all.
Face to face sale
This one is the scariest methods, but it really does work. Walk into stores, stand on the street as people walk past and ask them. Be targeted and think about who is most likely to respond based on your assumed customer persona.
This one will require you to put the google analytics code on your typeform or website. What it allows you to do is to follow anyone who visited your page or from around the internet. With the intention to try to get them to engage with you and your content. Do a quick google search for videos about how to set this up.
ProductHunt.com is a community of early adopters, willing to try any product. If you have a prototype ready by Saturday afternoon or evening posting it to ProductHunt.com can get you a large number of visitors. KanyeText.com was launch on product hunt and we got over 5,000 visitors in 24 hours.
You will need to find someone who is a hunter, so sign up using your Twitter or Facebook account and see who in your community has the little H. They will be able to post, so convince them that they should post it for you. If you can’t the judges aren’t going to believe you. I can hunt so contact me if you want.
Building your prototype
I can’t stress this enough, start with a simple form. Then expand it over the weekend. Do not build what you think is your product without first talking to customer.
Saying that every team should at the minimum have:
- Stripe account (sign up and refund people later)
- Instapage, SquareSpace or another landing page builder
If you want some help about how to use these tools CodeWithoutCode.com will eventually have a large list of example builds for you but now the list is fairly small. However, a good example is the how to build a quoting engine for a cleaning business. But this could be adapted to a number of different areas.
What are you trying to build?
This is a real example of a team at last years startup weekend, who were trying to solve the turnstile problem at train stations.
They didn’t spend anything on the mechanics of the turnstile , they just sat there and did this.
Your aim is to be as lazy as possible by building just enough to learn from. You can still pull the strings behind the curtain. You are still providing value to the people who signed up and that is more important than how it actually works.
Lisa Engine MVP
I was a part of a team at Startup Weekend Gold Coast, and the problem we were trying to solve was that people wanted to share content but didn’t have the time to look for good content.
We built an MVP using Typeform within a few hours were making sales. What we used is below in the screenshots.
Over the 54 hours we:
- Signed up 9x clients at $50, and 21 clients at between $10–$30.
- Posted 56 articles over 54 hours
- Had one person tell us that the ‘on boarding’ of Lisa Engine was really good (it was just Typeform)
We signed up Steve Baxter (Shark Tank Australia, Queensland Chief Entrepreneur) and posted content that he approved, and you can see it even got retweets, replies, and likes.
Tools to use from the Prototype stack
We have built so many tools without code, we noticed that we started to use the same tools over and over. So we put together The Prototype Stack. There will be another video/medium article that will go into a bit more depth about this.
In short pick one from each column. Lisa Engine was Typeform, Zapier, Google Sheets, Mandrill.
Kanye Text is Stripe, Zapier, Google Sheet and Twilio.
The best tools for a startup weekend are:
Is the fastest way to build a nice customer experience and get some details from your clients. It also will let you attach your stripe account and charge customers.
My favourite tool of all time, the team at Zapier are constantly updating the tools that they integrate with. Zapier lets you move that entry from Typeform to Google Sheets, send out an email and do everything in between.
Don’t use a CRM, just use google sheets for the weekend. It is easy to use and multiple people can view it at once.
Stripe is the quickest way to accept payments using a credit card, you can use something like paypal, braintree etc. But Stripe will integrate with a lot of other providers and often to implement it is drag and drop.
My go to webpage builder with hundreds of templates that you just need to change the wording. You can have a website up and running in 30 minutes.
Makes sending and receiving text messages easy. A non developer can do it (link to zapier, to make it even better)
You can do wireframes really fast, they have templates. It is really good to show a quick mockup to customers, to see their feedback.
Spend 5 minutes making your logo, it doesn’t matter. Use this tool.
Prototyping on Paper
This app will let you draw on a sheet of paper, take a photo of it and then build an app for people to use. Really good for use on the Saturday morning if your solution might involve an app, rather than a process.
Thank you for reading this mega post. Comment below and let me know if there is a specific area you want me to break down further in another post or video. If there is something missing, shout out via Twitter. It would be great for this to actually be the definitive guide for startup weekend and just weekend hustle.
I want to see every single startup weekend team making dollars by Saturday from customers they have never met.
If you want to see how we build other prototypes and string them all together we are starting a YouTube Channel Code Without Code. So please subscribe.
Our plan is to build out MVP’s for a number of ideas that we see at a startup weekend. That way nearly every team will have a barebones template to follow to create their prototype.
We currently have two videos for startup weekend up that cover the content above, but in much more detail with a few tips that we haven’t written here.
If you want more information about this go to http://codewithoutcode.com/StartupWeekend give us your email address and we will send you the following.
- Slide template from Lisa Engine, and Car Values Co
- Slide deck from my presentation at Startup Weekend Brisbane
- One page timeline for startup weekend
- Customer Persona map
- Ad template to write your ads
- UTM Code generator and tracker
Please clap if you found this useful, as it will help others discover this content.
You can find me on twitter at