3 Things I Learned At My First Startup Weekend
For those of you who aren’t familiar with Startup Weekend, it’s an event that spans the course of an entire weekend where you create a company within 54 hours, from ideation to execution. The event is sponsored by Techstars, a global network that helps entrepreneurs succeed. In addition to Startup Weekend, Techstars is known for their three-month accelerator programs and also curates Startup Digest and hosts Startup Week in various cities worldwide. Throughout the course of the weekend, you’ll be provided with a wide array of resources to help your startup come to life, including having a group of mentors, investors, and founders who are there to give advice and feedback. Several startups have been conceived through Startup Weekend including Rover, Haiku Deck and Foodspotting which is a true testament to the opportunities that the weekend-long event has to offer.
I attended UCSB’s Startup Weekend where my team and I came up with Pocket Science, an apparel brand whose mission is to eliminate the need to choose fashion over function. Our idea came about after discovering a common pain that was highly prevalent amongst college-aged women. Since carrying a bag can be a bit of a nuisance in certain situations like when you’re at a concert, music festival, and bar or nightclub, many women have started making the decision to leave their bags at home. Stuffing their essentials in their pockets also wasn’t an option since most pants catered towards women don’t have deep enough pockets. Hence, this left a lot of young women without a place to store their necessities such as their phones, IDs, keys, cash and credit cards. This led to a huge problem. After going around Isla Vista and talking to our target customers, we learned that they were frequently losing their belongings, as well as dropping and breaking their phone screens often since they didn’t have a proper place to put them in. We created a minimum viable product that consisted of both a bra and a garter belt with a pocket sewn onto the side.
*Pocket Science ended up winning third place and people's choice (woooo 🙌🏼🙌🏼🙌🏼)! We also received a free patent and an hour of legal consulting.
1. A little humor can come a long way
Everyone knows that great storytelling is important to disseminate your startup’s vision and convey the need of your product/service to customers. However, if you can make your audience laugh while you’re at it, you’ve struck gold. When it comes to the art of storytelling, there are two routes you can go down - the sad, compelling route or the funny route that entertains people. One thing that our team did that I felt won us both third place and people’s choice was the fact that we did a comedic skit at the beginning of our pitch that made the audience laugh. We painted a picture of just how much of a pain it is to carry your essentials with you without a bag by reenacting a real life situation so people could better identify with it. With the help of a few pencils, erasers, a calculator, and some peanut butter, our skit left the audience cracking up in their seats. If you can make your audience laugh, you’ll become more relatable by showing them your human side.
2. Presentation is key
In business, presentation is everything. How others view your product/service affects its perceived value. The image you project out into the world influences people’s impression of you and your company. No matter how good your product/service is, if its value isn’t being properly communicated and understood, people aren’t going to know its worth. In addition to the skit, our team put together a simple and easy-to-read pitch deck, organized in a streamlined fashion with heavy visuals to help distribute the information. Our deck (attached at the end of this article) was concise and to the point, articulating the message we wanted to get across. We also built physical prototypes of our product and handed them out to the judges during the pitch to play around with. This definitely helped the audience quickly comprehend our idea since they had an actual tangible object to interact with.
3. Sometimes it’s the simple things
Out of the 10 teams that presented, our team was the only one who didn’t pitch a tech-related idea. Our product consisted of simple hand-sewn garments that were purchased from K-Mart and other used pieces of clothing found in our closet. Despite the simple nature of our products, we had achieved product/market fit. Many new startups get lost in the latest gadgets and gizmos, piggybacking off trending companies and using fancy buzzwords to amp up how “cutting-edge” they appear to others. Keep in mind that in the end, what matters is the value you’re providing to customers and jumping on the latest tech bandwagon isn’t always the best way to do that.
For anyone interested in attending a Startup Weekend:
I highly recommend anyone who’s even the slightest bit interested in entrepreneurship to go to a Startup Weekend. You’ll learn how to quickly iterate on ideas and build an MVP within a limited time frame. The event is also a great networking opportunity since you’ll be surrounded by like-minded individuals, founders, investors and other influential people in addition to gaining exposure to your local startup scene. You can find more information on the various Startup Weekends taking place around the globe and find one closest to you here!