Startup Weekend questions
May 14, 2012 3:21 PM   Subscribe

Have you been a participant, organizer, or audience member at Startup Weekend? I'm trying to understand some things and not go in blind.

My friend and I are signed up for the June 1st weekend. We're both pretty good at hacking things together, and I've done some non-trivial stuff that required architectural thinking and some theoretical CS. And I stuck some trivial Rails boilerplate on Heroku to try it out. But neither of us are fluent in web or mobile stuff: We know we can figure anything out (and then some) if necessary but not do anything pretty or real in 54 hours.

Sure we could hack up something ugly and working and stick it online, but is that the best use of our time? To this end, I am curious about the game behind the game. I am aware of "winners" of startup weekend who are still wandering around looking for programmers, designers, and money.

I'd like to get a VC deal, not "win" startup weekend. Do you have any thoughts? What's the format? At the start, do people go up and do pitches (if they want to) and then participants try to get recruited if they liked a pitch? How big can the teams be? Is there any formal power structure within the teams?

What was the average team size? Do you have a sense that people knew each other beforehand or that teams were partially or mostly made up of strangers?

What are the pitches like? Do people have powerpoint slides prepared before the weekend even starts? Or is it all verbal?

What are the rules? What is the demoing and judging like? Does everyone do a working demo or do some people still have slides at demo time? Do judges ask questions? Do audience members ask questions?

My thought is that rather than coding our brains out, we should read the bios of the judges and focus on a) having a coherent, sensible, reasonable, exciting, customer validated idea, b) a lot on clean, understated visuals, c) smooth, intelligent, confident presenting, and d) having as many conversations as possible instead of being code monkeys.

To this end, I'm thinking that the only "coding" we should be doing is html with maybe a teeny bit of javascript to make a nice, clean clickable demo that has zero functionality behind it. I'm not trying to be disingenuous at all--I'm just trying to play the correct game and do what actually matters to catch the attention of people who realize I'm playing the game that they find interesting.

If you were me, and you've been to this thing, and you wanted to get conversations with VCs, what would you do?
posted by zeek321 to Work & Money (2 answers total)
A VC deal is unlikely to come from this. There are a lot of reasons for this:
-The team does not know each other yet
-Because the idea just popped up, no one can be sure that the team is passionate about the space
-No legal entity has been formed
-The VC just met you
-There is no opportunity for traction
... just the tip of the iceberg... A VC "deal" does not get inked (or even talked about) the first time you meet them.

The format and team size can vary wildly. The groups coalesce based on interest mostly (this can be a little like speed dating).

You might show up with a couple ideas and work through them in a group to see what can be best executed upon with the team and time. Probably no slides yet.

The judging can vary wildly as well.

Focus on whatever you want. Presumably, you will have teammates that will want to focus on the other stuff. What I can say is that ideas and people who present them in a smooth, intelligent, and confident way are extremely cheap. VCs are swarmed by them all the time, it is almost a cliche.

The harder piece is finding a team that can execute. You can see a proxy for that in a weekend by seeing a demo, having a nice deck, potential customer interviews, projected P&L statements, estimations of market size, a list of potentially valuable partnerships, and a team that has accomplished something before.

There are other (read: far, far better) ways to get conversations with VCs than a startup weekend. My advice is that if your goal is to talk to VCs (about what yet, I don't know) then you should pursue that and if your goal is to do a startup weekend, you should do that. They are not the same thing and the overlap is small. There are good reasons to do a startup weekend; this isn't one of them.
posted by milqman at 8:37 PM on May 14, 2012 [1 favorite]

What milqman said about VCs, first of all, and second of all: the "minimum viable product" is not nearly as important as you might think. It all boils down to a 5 minute presentation at the end that needs to convey to the judges that your product is potentially/easily successful and has some positive effect.

Making a full Rails backend is actually not super helpful in proportion to the labor involved. Pretty, non-functional mockups that convey the idea well are actually the most useful. Doing a lot of backend quickly is, however, very useful for showing off your developer prowess.

At the start, people pitch ideas verbally for 1 minute and then they get voted on and a certain number actually get worked on. The amount that get chosen depends of course on the size of the startup weekend. I think the team size is usually roughly 5-10 people, sometimes more and sometimes only 2. There is usually a leader/organizer for each team who probably pitched the idea. Developers are in the highest demand and if you go labeled as one then it's kind of fun to be so popular.

The most useful thing about the weekends by far is meeting people. It's also fun.
posted by aesacus at 11:23 PM on May 14, 2012

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