Startup Weekend makes a pitstop in San Jose

What startup would you create in 54 hours if you were thrown into a room with a small group of people?  Last weekend in the heart of San Jose, over 100 people gathered at PayPal for Startup Weekend.  For $100 or less (discounts!), you get to be part of a community that has a common goal of working / creating a startup over a course of the weekend – Friday night, all day Saturday, then all day Sunday.  What more could you ask for?

Before the festivities officially began, Women 2.0 had a pre-Startup Weekend networking event outside.  You know you’re in California if you can hang outside Friday early evening with sun.  It’s funny how small the valley starts to get.  I ran into some women that I met 2-3 years ago at different events and another girl from an event 1.5 months ago.  The Korean Taco truck MoGo BBQ and TreatBot were on hand to sell their scrumptious goodies to attendees.

Now the official Startup Weekend.  Here’s how it usually works.  On Friday night, anyone attending can pitch a startup idea in 60 seconds.  Then you spend about 30 minutes to form groups.  On Saturday and Sunday, you work on your group’s idea and prepare for a demo / presentation.  On Sunday night, you demo and present your startup idea to the rest of the groups.  A winner is announced and they get some prizes.

So let me break down the general stats (give or take a few +/-) from this Startup Weekend – 100 attended, 50 pitched, and 25 ideas were worked on.  If you are one of the lucky 25, then you have convinced a tough crowd (aka hardcore techies and mix of business types) that your idea is promising.  The group sizes ranged from as little as 2 to as high as say 12.

On Sunday, all groups had 5 minutes to present their startup idea.  Most were interesting, some were not so much.  Off the top of my head here are the ideas that I remember (summarized in my own words): Foursquare for music listening, social networking at or before an event, delivery of pre-picked outfits for men, war game of Foursquare mayors, get a map of the parking rules on SF streets, finding the status of a person that you’re waiting for, privacy layer on top of twitter to exchange messages with non-followers, and product recommendation site.  At the end of it, the winner of the evening was EnglEasy, videogames to teach kids English.  The judging criteria consisted of 1) wow factor, 2) investment attractiveness, and 3) team spirit.

Tips to make the most of your Startup Weekend time:

  • pitch an idea
    • don’t be afraid to share your ideas because ideas are a dime a dozen, it’s the team and execution that makes an idea different
    • worse case you get feedback and get to work on someone else’s idea
    • don’t pitch an existing idea that is far along, less room for creativity
    • during group forming, sell your idea otherwise you won’t recruit anyone to work on your idea
  • make the goal to create a prototype by Sunday
    • people like to see things working, figure out what parts of your idea that you want to demo, for the rest, FAKE IT!
    • related, don’t spend too much time on “business-y” topics like market research, etc., it makes for a boring presentation (the math, 25 ideas x 5 mins = one long @ss time)
  • make decisions quickly
    • agree on what not to agree on, meaning there are some things that aren’t needed for Sunday’s presentation (aka outside the scope)
    • time is of the essence, pick a path and stick with it
  • identify collaboration and development tools ahead of time
    • save time with figuring out logistics, have a proposal of what tools to use
    • go further, get all of your accounts set up and tools ready to go before the weekend
  • network like crazy
    • it’s really hard to find like-minded people (e.g., who want to spend a whole weekend on a startup idea instead of relaxing and/or partying)
    • the people who attend are cool, they come from all disciplines…”with diversity brings innovation!”
    • bring plenty of business cards like it’s your birthday, if you don’t have any, use VistaPrint for cheap biz cards
    • tweet it up!  get a twitter account and tweet with the event hashtag, use twitter to find people or skills during the event
  • figure out how you can help a startup idea and sell yourself (during group forming time)
    • can you code? do market research? build the business model? create graphics?  figure it out before you get there, what’s your elevator pitch?
    • understand that a group needs all those skills, but probably more development and UI graphic skills

If you missed the event, go to the next one.  They happen every year in the bay area and sometimes twice a year.

[Update 5/21/2010] Here is a good post on Startup Weekend.  It has the complete list of pitches.

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