My experience at Startup Weekend : Artificial Intelligence (+tips)

I’ve always had a big interest for tech community and their amazing events. One year ago, during October 2016, one of my best buddies and previous co-founders (we worked on a food app in Paris) sent me a message about those events called Startup Weekend for which he was an official organizer.

What he told me grabbed my curiosity:

Hey man, I organized a Startup Weekend event a few months ago during the summer. It was awesome: 54 hours challenge, teams of developers, marketers, designers, entrepreneurs all teaming together in groups to work out their most innovative idea & product.
I know there is one happening in a few weeks. First one to actually be about Artificial Intelligence. You should check it out.

I replied :

So it’s like a hackathon right? But there are also non-tech people like business people, marketers & designers?

He told me :

Yep, it’s something good for also business students like you and me. You get to pitch your startup project with your team in front of the jury on final day. Best pitch with idea, product demo & business model wins. You get solid recognition from big institutions like INRIA, Microsoft, etc. and really nice prizes so that you can launch your startup afterwards.

Challenges? I love them. And this one seemed to be pretty unique from all other hackathons I heard of before.

Even though the theme was about Artificial Intelligence (AI) and I had absolutely no knowledge in this field, I thought “why not give it a try?”.

So I ate, for a few days before the event started, books about AI, videos of best AI conferences, speakers, etc to at least learn a bit about this revolutionnary tech field coming up.

1. Friday — Landing in planet Startup Weekend

Excitement was at it’s peak when I reached the event doors. The event was happening at School 42. Founded by Xavier Niel’s (famous tech personality in France), this school has been well-known for it’s succesfull & innovative way of teaching code (no teachers, only students helping each other).

First participants reaching the event

I was glad to discover the place. Startup Weekend staff gave us a warm welcome and a pretty cool bag with some goodies (stickers, etc) + badge for the event.

After a nice intro from one of the Startup Weekend speakers which explained the theme, what participants were expected to do, how many hours for the challenge, what prizes to win, etc., we got to do some pretty fun ice-breaking games and start making friends.

Then participants were allowed to pitch their ideas in front of everyone in the conference room. You could see a few people getting nervous to pitch their idea. But it turned out that more than 20 ideas were presented!

Even though I was hesitant to pitch mine, I did it. And it turned out that lots of people loved it.

What was my idea all about?

When living in Shanghai during my studies, I had to open a bank account and get a money transfer from France. So I went to a Chinese bank but nobody could speak to me in English. And I didn’t speak Mandarin. So I simply drew on a piece of paper what I wanted to say: map of France, arrow towards China, euro money, stick-man figure of myself.
Not only did the banker understood what I was drawing. But she also replied to me with her own drawing aswell!
So I thought, why not develop an app which can translate what you write but with images? An image is worth a thousand words, and can be the fastest & simpliest communication tool sometimes.

Once all pitches were presented, the best ones had to be elected! So everyone of us had 3 stick notes and you had to put those stick notes on each “Idea board” that you were interested in. Those stick notes served as voting points.

After the best ideas being selected, groups had to be formed. You could see developers, marketers, designers, entrepreneurs all teaming up and getting excited for the projects they wanted to work for.

2. Saturday— Work, work & mentors

After a first Firday night brain-storming with their team, participants came back early on Saturday, excited to finally start working this out.

You could see everyone focused and really passionate about what they were doing. Stick notes were starting to invade every walls of the co-working spaces, with business canvas written on it or to-do lists.

Early morning, while the developers in my team were doing massive coding, I was taking care of the design & business part.

Lunch time was pretty good! We got some sushis and pizza all over the weekend. I remember one of my team workers telling me to stop working and grab a slice of pizza. I was totally obsessed with my work and really stimulated by the startup/tech vibe over there.

Sushi time!

Saturday was also the special day for electing your mentor and getting feedback from him. Indeed, Startup Weekend had a few mentors (people from solid tech or entrepreneurship background) who were available to help teams out during the afternoon.
I remember having great mentors for my team such as Michel Cezon, Paul Strachman and even french celebrity Taig Khris.

Michel Cezon (middle), one of my great mentors during the event.

Mentors provide you excellent feedback, and they also serve as coaches aswell.

Michel Cezon was present every day during the event to look at each team’s project. He is one of the mentors who made us strongly believe in our startup idea. We are very thankfull to him and are still in contact with him nowadays.

Startup Weekend is really fun. I remember having Nerf gun fights organized by the staff. At some moment, you would be working on your tech product or business plan, and suddenly receive a nerf bullet in your back. War is war. You have to get a nerf gun and respond then ;)

Who knew that building a startup was also about fighing in Nerf wars?

We also had tons of other social games so that teams could take a break from their work and have a good laugh all together.

I remember our Saturday night finishing pretty late. You only have 54 hours so you wan’t work to be done and pitch deck to be ready for Sunday’s final jury.Around 2 am or 3 am, after the red bull pack being over, you could see some teams heading back to their homes to get a few (precious) hours of sleep.

3. Sunday— D-Day

Sunday is the final day for teams to finish up their startup project and then present their product + pitch in front of the final jury.

I remember that day our developer was working hard on the MVP (Minimum Viable Product) which is considered as the prototype. We were wondering at some moment if we should do a live demo of the app or not. After hesitating a bit, we finally decided to do it. The risks can be big (demo failure, bug, etc), but if it works, we would have proven to the jury that our technology exists and actually works.

I was glad to have an awesome developer in my team.

For my part I was finishing the pitch deck with my marketing friend in my team. We were also making a few extra slides in case the jury would ask us questions about our financial part, revenue, market validation, etc.

Validating your market is important. You have to show that your product fits to a demand and could be succesfull if launched on the market. Those people in the jury have all expert backgrounds in tech or business, so you’d better convince them in the best possible way that your startup could actually work.

Half an hour before the final presentations started, I was training on the pitching with my team.

As the team leader & initiator of the project, I was designated to be the speaker for my team, so it was important that I’d practice in front of my colleagues the pitching and collect feedback from them to improve my presentation.

During the afternoon, teams started to present. Everyone was pretty excited to show what their hard work was all about.

1,2,3 .. Gaya here we go!

At the end was our turn. Team Gaya. We start the presentation by showing a video of a student in China, unable to communicate with a local, which would introduce our problem statement.

Then I talk about our solution. A revolutionnary app which can translate sentences, words into images thanks to an AI technology. People get interested. We show them the demo. Start transalting a few sentences for basic scenarios when travelling such as:

“ Where is the ATM?”, “Where can I find a Taxi?”

Then we do a joke. We explain a scenario where a man is in a nightclub and he wants to flirt with a local with who he can’t communicte in her local language. We write a sentence in the app .Translates “I like you”. The app works and translates it perfectly with cute images of a boy sending a heart to a girl. People laugh and smiles are everywhere.

Comes next in our presentation all info about our Market, Customer Validation, Revenue Model, etc. We only have 5 mins to present so we want to keep it short, but with the best info to provide to the jury.

At the end the jury asks us some questions, mostly all technical. Our developers do an amazing job at answering the questions.

After all presentations over, there is a short break where participants can go get some air, then come back in the room and the top 3 winners are announced.

After 2 teams being announced, we hear “and now the #1 winner of Startup Weekend is … GAYA!”. My team and I burst with joy and we run towards the stage to get the congratulations and receive our prizes. It was an awesome feeling, especially after working so hard during the weekend.

Our team Gaya with Deputy Director of INRIA

We had congratulations from the jury and all participants. It was nice to feel so much support for our project. Some people even gave us new product feature ideas for our startup. In the end, all projects of participants were brilliant. Each team came up with very interesting AI startup ideas.

During the night of Sunday, we made some last social games with the staff and all participants. We had a few drinks in the buffet they had organized and we exchanged business cards, facebooks profiles, between friends we made during the event.

Startup Weekend is a brilliant event to work on a startup and product idea during a weekend. It is also a great way to meet people from different backgrounds and all interested in tech. You will work hard with your team, go through some epic moments, but also have lots of fun! I think Startup Weekend is one of those beautiful events part of tech community in the world. Should you go for it? Absolutely.

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And now here are a few tips that I wish I’d knew before doing a Startup Weekend. I think those are important to be expressed, especially after what I experienced during the event:

Tip #1 : You don’t need to be an expert in the theme (ex: AI). But try and learn a few stuff about it before the event!

Tip #2 : Pitch your idea no matter what. At first I hesitated to pitch mine because I was thinking I hadn’t enough knowledge about AI. Well look where it got me: I won the Startup Weekend! So always pitch no matter what. You will not regret it :)

Tip #3 : Got a small team? That’s good! At first when I made my team we were only 4 whereas all other teams were at least 7 or 8. I thought it was a problem but it turned out to be actually a great advantage. The fewer you are, the less talk/debates there is, and you can more focus on your work. Also, in small teams everyone knows what they have to do, whereas in big teams it might be more difficult to coordinate everyone and optimize productivity.

Tip #4 : Developers? Work hard on making an MVP which you could demo during the final day. Check out the bugs and make it look functional.

Designers? Make people love the product with an awesome design. Also help marketers with the design of pitch deck : readability & simplicity

Marketers? Remember to validated your market, show customer validation, phone a few friends, do some polls on facebook. Also very important: THE REVENUE MODEL. Think about something that will actually work. The jury likes projects that are credible. This is not only about having a cool idea. This is about making a startup and business that works :)

Team leaders? This is all about product management (which I love to do). Check every 2 hours how your teammates are doing, if they need help, how long they will need to do their task, etc. Prioritize the tasks in the team: what needs to be done first? second?. Make everybody feel good and try to all share the same vision of the project.

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I hoped you liked this article and wish you a great Startup Weekend!

Also remember the next Startup Weekend : AI will happen in Paris the 29/09/17.

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More info about me?

Charles Loumeau, 23 yo Master’s business graduate, looking for a job in either France, India or USA 🎓

😁 Tech entrepreneur / Product manager :
 • World Tech Scene: Online media & tech community worldwide.

  • Food Hunter: Smartphone app, find places to eat in Paris late at night, between 00h and 6am (MVP available).
  • Gaya: AI smartphone app, translates text, words, sentences into images!

🚀Digital Marketer + Designer:

Bonus: I’m also a street artist! Check out my website

Feel free to reach out!

Mail: charlesloumeau@gmail.com

Twitter: @chazloumeau

Linkedin: /in/charlesloumeau