Fifty-four hours. ”No talk, all action.”
This is the motto behind Startup Weekend–a global series of events where business people, developers, and designers can come together and collaborate to see if they can create a startup in one short weekend.
However, there was plenty of talk as my team launched our idea into reality. Our team, Doughnation, not only placed first during Startup Weekend Bloomington, but we ended up with a model to feed the hungry in our communities while increasing profits for local restaurants and caterers.
— Bloomington Startup (@StartupBtown) November 9, 2015
I didn’t expect to develop such a killer business model nor win last weekend. Originally, I just wanted to participate in Startup Weekend to learn about the startup environment–I even pitched a different idea! However, when it came time to decide what team to work with last weekend, I knew I wanted to be with the guys who somehow hoped to make a viable business out of feeding the hungry.
So, I dropped my idea and joined a group of passionate, brilliant students. Fast forward to Sunday, I left knowing how to wire-frame an app, design a powerful brand, and form a lean business model. But besides these skills, I learned three invaluable lessons that I’ll carry into my future ventures.
1) Get off the computer when dealing with the big ideas.
Before this weekend, I was determined to “go digital” in all aspects of productivity. From taking class notes on my computer to working at Clex, I thought I could always maximize my efficiency by taking advantage of the cloud.
However, I learned that going digital has its limitations: you can’t fully visualize, feel, and collaborate on a project if you’re only engaged by a fifteen inch monitor. Thankfully, last weekend we were encouraged to use sticky notes of various sizes to outline our ideas, construct a lean business model, and map different decision processes. I quickly realized that the colorful walls of paper and whiteboards stereotypical of startup workspaces aren’t around just for their aesthetics. In fact, I learned it is considerably easier to collaborate when I can get out of my chair and physically interact with whatever processes and problems I’m dealing with.
So next time you’re in a group and stuck on a problem, try it! See how engaged, creative, and collaborative you can be by simply improving your blood flowing and bringing your ideas into another dimension.
2) Know that there are always people who want to help you.
I’ve never experienced so much professional help as last weekend. A part of Startup Weekend is having mentors and speakers from various industries inspire you, coach you through problems, offer advice, and put you in contact with other professionals who can further assist you during the hurdles of the weekend.
The first speaker, Jeff Wuslich, co-founder of Cardinal Spirits(a micro distillery which raised 850k through localstake), discussed the limits of having a finite amount of time while starting a business. He then pivoted to explain that people are always there to help you along the way, but you just have to give them a good reason. Help could be someone’s time, resources, connections, and even investment money. Jeff’s advice was invaluable, but three mentors helped our group even more:
- Chris Cockerham, a prominent figure in Bloomington real estate: Chris displayed his dedication to helping us by giving us his phone number, coming back the day after his shift, and contacting several of his personal connections in order to further help us. His generosity in pulling in his own connections was also fundamental in our success last weekend: his mother owns the largest catering business in Bloomington and provided us a crucial testimony supporting our platform. Thanks again Chris!
- Johnathan Marvel, a serial entrepreneur: This guy never stopped surprising me. Every time we would talk, he seemed to mention how he had experience in whatever industry I was talking about. From owning a tax firm to an app development company, Johnathon was eager to share his wide range of experience to help us. During startup weekend, he helped each team wire-frame their platforms and apps for free, which would normally be a $100/hour or more service from his firm. Oh, and he drove 2 hours each day to volunteer.
- Alex Estabrook, a concise, thought provoking designer: Alex is a student at Indiana University, but his knowledge of design and brand identity is much beyond any class. Alex essentially set up a design camp with books, papers, pencils, and a full toolkit to help each team brainstorm names, mission statements, and design logos. He did an amazing job for each team, but I’m especially grateful for his work with Doughnation. Check it out!
Moral of the story: ask for help and give a good reason. You’ll see that people are pretty awesome.
3) Your team’s skills and synergy are crucial.
There is a quote I can’t quite remember, but it’s something like “If you realize everyone in the room is smarter than you, you must be doing something right.”
Well, I must have been doing that something correctly because I was surrounded by bright, talented teammates all weekend. I cannot give everyone on my team enough credit: each person had their areas of expertise from financial analysis to interpersonal communication and was able to execute their tasks flawlessly. Going back to Jeff from Cardinal Spirits, the most valuable resource we had was time, so leveraging each of our skills was crucial to our team efficiency. My only wish was that I could have contributed more to my team because sometimes I felt like I was just trying to keep up!
I also don’t want to understate how crucial team synergy and communication is for efficiency. You want to divide up tasks and optimize your time, but that efficiency is negated if you are all heading in different directions. Be sure to communicate well within your team.
When final pitch night rolled around, I was a bit nervous. However, at the end of the night that nervousness turned to wonder and humility. Wonder that I was able to contribute to a team to present concisely on our powerful brand, innovative business model, and our future financial information. Humility from being surrounded by such intelligent and passionate individuals.
Startup Weekend was an amazing experience. I encourage any business person, designer, developer, or anyone to look into their local Startup Weekend and think about joining the community of smart, passionate people. See what you can learn and what skills you can develop to carry into the rest of your life, whether it be working at a startup or not.
Also please feel free to reach out to me if you have a startup you need help with or would just like to discuss. I’d love to hear about it.
If you are interested in viewing our team’s pitch in full, here is a link. We start to pitch a little bit after 2:33.