From November 16–18, I joined Boulder’s annual startup weekend, organized by Techstars. Eight+ startup teams competed against each other to build business models and pitch ideas.
The general weekend format breaks down like this:
- Form teams
- Work on your idea
- Pitch it to a panel of judges
Startup weekend is meant to emulate the startup process in as short of a timeframe as possible. Practical steps are prioritized over an endless debate about making the “perfect” product. “Done is better than perfect” is gospel this weekend, because you literally do not have the time to make anything perfect.
As Reid Hoffman (founder of LinkedIn) said, “If you’re not embarrassed by the first version of your product, you’ve launched too late.”
This weekend is a giant exercise for the imperfectionist muscle.
The weekend breakdown
1. Form Teams
Before teams are created, everyone gets the chance to pitch one — and only one — idea. Of the 50 or so attendees, probably half of them pitched.
I didn’t plan on pitching any ideas. Then, one attendee I knew at the event had two ideas he wanted to pitch, but since the rules say you can only pitch one idea per person, I told him I’d pitch his other idea for him.
Luckily enough, my pitch got enough support that we ended up forming a team.
2. Work on your idea
So what was our idea?
In a nutshell: Facebook and Google are already tracking your data and selling it for you (except you receive no direct benefit from it). We came up with a way for users to capture and sell their own data to companies. This way, the actual user could see some of the cash that—right now—is only going into the hands of a few.
In our research, we found out about a guy who did this on Kickstarter in 2013. He sold just one month’s worth of his data for over $2,700. Instead of one tech-savvy guy doing a kickstarter, what if everyone had the ability to capture and market their data?
You’re already leaking data to these companies. Might as well make some money off of it.
Anyway, the actual process of working on the idea had three parts.
- Validate the market (do people want what you’re selling)
- Build a business model (how do you actually make money from it)
- Show a demo of what you’re building (or even better, a working MVP)
To validate the market, we made surveys and sent them out to individuals and business owners (both to see if they would use that kind of product, and also if the businesses would be interested in that kind of data).
3. Pitch it to a panel of judges
Finally, we pulled all of our research together, organized it into a cohesive presentation, and practiced it a few dozen times on Sunday morning. The idea’s original creator pitched with our support, and we pulled together a very solid presentation.
To be honest, I didn’t have any expectations for us to take any of the winning places (1st, 2nd, or 3rd) but I’m very proud of the team and the work we did. And luckily enough, 2nd place came with complementary consulting hours from a lawyer and tax accountant, who we can consult about potentially taking our business forward.
I am 100% confident that someone will take the idea we created and make it a real business. It’s just a matter of time (and a matter of who has the boldness to challenge the big-tech data giants).
If you get the opportunity to participate in a startup weekend, I cannot recommend it enough. This was my second experience with startup weekend but it definitely won’t be my last.