50 hours to build a business
I have now completed my second start-up weekend. This piece talks through the steps involved in completing a start-up weekend and successfully pitching your idea.
I am an Economics and Finance student in UCD. We have many economics, statistics, and finance modules although one area that I felt I was missing out on was the innovation side of finance. How to build a successful business and the finance aspect to it, be it securing funding or financial modelling. The first start up weekend that I did was through Techstars, a well-known international seed accelerator and start up weekend organiser. The second one was through a society in my University known as DataSoc. The later being virtual due to the current pandemic. Both were incredible experiences and equally as engaging.
Going into the first start up weekend I had little knowledge or experience into the world of startups. I did not know anyone attending the weekend, so I felt I was really throwing myself into the unknown. The best way to do it!
Friday is an introduction day. Both introducing you to each other, and each other’s ideas. Sometimes weekends are themed, or else it is open to whatever industry you think you can improve. The first activity is generally a warmup exercise to get your thinking cap going and to introduce you to a few others. We were split into groups at random and were given two random words that we had to incorporate into a potential business idea. I cannot remember the exact words we were given although I remember the somewhat ingenious idea (joke) that we came up with in the five minutes that we were given. If someone defaulted on a payment, then we would get a van to wait outside their driveway and when the occupant decided to leave in their car the van would drive ever so slowly in front of the car. I would hazard a guess and say that traffic and loan might have been the words.
After the bizarre but fun warmup exercise was complete, we had the opportunity to pitch our ideas. The best ideas were voted on and then you had the choice to enter whichever team you felt suited your interests best. I would recommend pitching your idea, no matter how silly you think it is. Someone will always have the same point of view as you and you do not get many opportunities to tell a large audience about an idea that you have. The rest of the evening was introducing yourself to the team and talking more about the idea.
The main bulk of the business is created on the Saturday. In the morning you start off with a sheet of paper with a problem being a ten- or twenty-word statement, and a solution being similar in length. In my opinion the less thought that has previously been put into the idea, the more fun the weekend will be.
That morning you talk with your team and come up with a slightly more refined version of your idea. For example, my idea at this point was “An app for students to get in contact with likeminded individuals based off their interests”. After talking with your team, the solution statement begins to alter slightly based off what the others feel are the most untouched solutions to the problem currently faced. After all, there is no point in rolling with an idea that already has a very good solution on the market. Having said this, it is possible to get ideas from current solutions and adapt them to your local market.
Before lunch, the team attends two mentor sessions. The mentors are usually serial entrepreneurs or are well respected in academia. I must say these sessions are incredibly helpful and a great opportunity to ask questions although your idea generally gets pivoted dramatically and you come out feeling confused. It is not essential and sometimes not a good idea to take everything that a mentor says as gospel. They are there to brainstorm with and to ask questions. It is best to have an idea as to what industry they work in and to use this information when asking questions. There is no point in asking them about a completely different industry to what they work in as they might only know as much as you know about it. After deciphering what the tutors tell you and talking through them with your team, your idea begins to pivot. Generally, you feel this pivoted idea has more validity as it has been molded by experts in the start-up world.
The afternoon comprises of lots of market research and validating your idea. Once the solution has been refined (the most difficult and time-consuming stage usually), you need to carry out some analysis. You need to pinpoint your customers, be it institutions, businesses, or consumers. Is it a B2B, B2C or B2G? Maybe it is a non for profit or a charity organisation. Generally, you want to framework your business in a way that contributes to society in the best way possible. For example, we wanted to allow students to make new friends which would benefit their mental health.
Once you know who you will be targeting with your business, it is time to carry out a survey to assert whether your problem is real. A simple and clear 4/10 question survey on google forms shared across the right platforms or even on the street. I have seen some very poorly designed surveys at these start up weekends. Make sure to not have leading questions and not to have contradicting questions. Leave the survey up over night but keep checking to clarify whether your results are in favor of your idea or not.
Next you should look at undergoing a competitor analysis. There might be similar businesses out there that you can pull ideas from. This is where you really hone in on your USP (Unique selling point). Your business wants to be able to do what this and this can, but add this extra benefit that makes it worth creating a whole new business around. For example, my idea was that you can match with new friends like Bumble BFF but can chat in group chats like Whats App while also having a superior matching system then Bumble BFF would have.
Next you need to look at potential income streams. I find this section the most engaging as it has that finance element to it that I enjoy. Firstly, find some statistics on market size. If it is students, elderly in care homes, or certain interest groups. Make sure to be precise as to what your market is. You do not want to say that your market is for 18 to 65-year old in your country. This would be incredibly difficult when it comes to marketing. Ideally you want to go as niche as possible, while also maintaining a feasible market size to keep the business afloat. Once you have found your market size you can decide the price at which you can sell your product or service at. This is not always that simple as you might have multiple income streams. Make sure to find the income stream that is the most fair and realistic. Next you can find your TAM (total addressable market) which is the revenue opportunity available.
If you have a developer or graphic designer on your team then they should really be working on a rough prototype at this stage. Something to make your idea into reality for the judges to see so that they are not just having to visualize it.
Next is the route to market and advertising. How will you get your product or service out there into the market? Most markets are incredibly crowded these days so having a clear market to target as well as a clear USP will make this a little easier. Be it running add campaigns or dealing with Student Unions or pitching to companies in certain sectors. This stage really depends on your business type and customers. Just keep thinking of the end user!
Lastly is a rough breakup of an investment needed to get your business started and an outline of what you want to achieve in the next few months or years.
Saturday is a long one and involves a lot of work. If you are getting on well with your team then the time will fly, and you will enjoy brainstorming these steps.
Sunday morning is generally quite intense. There will be a guest speaker who will give you some insights, some of which you can apply to your business so listen out. Then it is time to refine your pitch deck in time for the final. I recommend spending 20 minutes or so finding a suitable pitch deck, as having a clear layout is crucial in catching a judge’s attention. Once your pitch deck is ready then finalize who will pitch and run through it several times. I recommend getting a fresh pair of eyes to look over it and to listen to the pitch. Ideally this person will ask you questions to prepare you for the Q&A that follows the pitch. By the end of the weekend my idea turned out to be quite different from when we started. “An App that Clubs and Societies can use for their group chats and event notifications combined with an in built feature to mingle among people with similar interests.” — An all in one social communications app for students with the Universities being our target market for sales.
I hope this will give people an idea of what is involved in a start up weekend and might even give someone inspiration to enter one themselves.
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