For three days in February I attended Startup Weekend here in Calgary. According to the official website:
“Startup Weekends are 54-hour events where developers, designers, marketers, product managers and startup enthusiasts come together to share ideas, form teams, build products, and launch startups.”
It was a time of learning, making, and eating (mostly pizza and Subway).
On opening night we checked in and ate some dinner before sharing ideas and forming teams. If you have an idea you can take one minute to explain it and rally support from the group. Everyone votes for their favourite idea and the long list becomes a short list. From there you can join one of these super ideas. I was particularly attracted to this “performance management made simple” idea and the team I joined spent the rest of Friday night meeting each other and sketching out a plan for the weekend. That night we left at 10:30pm.
The next day started at 9:00am with a mostly sugary breakfast. Our team opted out and group leader Anette went out to pick up some nice breakfast sandwiches with feta and spinach in them. They were pretty great. Our team-imposed goal was to have an email sign-up and splash page live by noon but we just missed that deadline with the release happening at 1:00pm instead. We took a short break for lunch and then got back to work.
Our idea started to take shape as group leader Anette explained to us that the current performance management market was full of expensive or complicated tools and that we were going to build the perfect software for small businesses that are about 10–100 employees large. We called it Parley.
For the rest of the day my buddy Steven and I worked on the interface for the web application. We had this side-by-side back-and-forth workflow where I could make a quick module in Photoshop and he could have it coded in a few minutes and vice-versa. After the weekend was over I realized just how great this setup was. Meanwhile, the developers were setting up the back-end and our two business people were coming up with the business model. Dinner arrived which meant a short break before settling in to our workstations for the evening. Every once in a while some coaches would drop in and we would explain our idea to them. They provided feedback and helped us stay on the right track. Having to explain your idea repeatedly and concisely really highlighted all the areas that needed our consideration. That night we left at 10:00pm.
An equally sugary breakfast was served Sunday morning but I managed to find some cheese croissants tucked away in a forgotten corner. Thankfully, they were not stale. We finished the rest of the interface work for the screenshots and demo before mid-morning break. In total, we built an email sign-up and three pages that showed off the core features of our product. Steven and I used this service called PowToon to make a quick video demonstration of the application before lunch and then the team as a whole spent the afternoon making our presentation for Sunday night’s judging round look great.
Presentations were limited to four minutes with an extra two minutes allocated for questions from the judges. Teams presented the ideas after dinner and it was great to see where they started at the beginning of the weekend and where they ended up.
Our team was feeling confident. We had located a significant market opportunity, validated the need for better performance management software and our demo looked good and worked well. Regardless of confidence It still came as a surprise when they announced we were taking home first place. A healthy amount of photos and handshakes followed and the team had a little huddle before we went our separate ways. I was exhausted by the end of the weekend so I drove home shortly after the winners were announced.
I went into the weekend with simple expectations, namely, hoping to learn something. To put it simply: goal exceeded. Every person I met at the Startup Weekend had their own specialties and something unique to teach me. Some of the biggest educational takeaways were Twitter Bootstrap, the pitch deck that AirBnB (then called AirBedandBreakfast) used to sell their business and 12 questions to answer in a startup pitch. However, much of what I learned over the weekend isn't as tangible as those couple things I listed above, not to mention the experience I gained by working as fast as I could. I went into it a little scared and a little nervous but came out with a great experience.
And I was very fortunate to work with some very talented team members.