Wow, what an experience! Trying to create a company or a product in just a weekend is really intense. Startup Weekend is a great way to meet fellow hackers, designers, and hustlers. It’s also a good reality check if you … Continue reading ]]>
Wow, what an experience! Trying to create a company or a product in just a weekend is really intense. Startup Weekend is a great way to meet fellow hackers, designers, and hustlers. It’s also a good reality check if you had any delusions that creating a startup is easy, never mind creating one in the compressed time frame of 54 hours.
tl;dr I focused on selling myself as cool guy to work with, to a tough distracted crowd, instead of telling the ideas’ story.
Signed in, filled out my name badge (apparently illegibly), sat down at a table. For some reason coming into this weekend I think i’m sort of a unique snowflake and there’s not a lot of techie-turned product people out there. I sit down next to, you guessed it, an ex-techie come product manager.
The organizers helped force the mingle factor by extolling everyone to get up and relocate to a new random table. They did this 3 more times. Smart move on their part to help break the ice and it definitely helped force the more shy participants to interact.
I shoveled down the provided grub, listened to the organizers explain the format and rules. Next up was the keynote speaker David Weekly from pbworks. I remember toying with PBWiki before setting up my own install of mediawiki on a server ages ago; small world. David gave a pep talk about the trials and near constant challenges of building a business. I don’t remember much of it as I kept wondering if this would be a good time to slip out and use the bathroom. Yep, turns out it was, because the line up for pitches followed the keynote.
The pitches were in a rapid fire format. 60 seconds to introduce yourself, describe your idea, tell what skills you’re looking for, and give the idea a name for the online voting board.
It was a little difficult to listen and pay attention while waiting in the pitch line (and waiting for a break in the action to go piss). I’m beginning to regret the 12oz of liquid courage I consumed. I’m standing in line, *trying* to listen intently… edit my pitch for time which I grew increasingly nervous about, and NOT think about my burgeoning bladder.
Here’s the text of what I was going to pitch.
Hi, my name is Erik Pettersen. I was an IT generalist before I joined the dark side and crossed over to product management.
For fun I like to install nested vmware instances to see if after 88 virtual machines I can go back in time.
It turns out you can, but only if the last guest host is os2/warp.
My pitch is simple: I want to make dropbox more social.
I want to search my collective friend’s files to see if they have rick astely mp3’s or videos of a certain *cough* candid nature… and copy it to my drop box, and versa vice – Unfortunately drop box’s API doesn’t seem to have “create a public link” or “create a shared folder” so we’ll need to be creative to make it work well.
I’m looking for a pilot, a martial arts expert, a proctologist, a funder, a hacker, and a designer.
You can find out more on DropRocks.com, thank you.
### ( abbreviated clip from my pitch below)
My hope was to connect with the devs in the audience. I wore my XKCD t-shirt ‘Maybe if this shirt is witty enough somebody will love me‘, in hopes of getting some geek cred, but oddly no one seemed to ‘get’ it- they just asked me what my illegible title on my name card was I wanted to position myself as a witty semi-technical guy with a neat idea that was implementable in a weekend.
My jokes went over super flat. I might have misjudged my audience. Maybe I talked too fast.
But we’re getting ahead of the story. After all the pitches were completed we logged onto a site to claim our pitches using our FB accounts. This made it a little easier to identify the person behind the pitch synopsis and refamiliarize ourselves with the ideas.
It was now time to mingle, seek out pitchmen (or pitchwomen) to learn more about their idea, wait for people to find you, or go out and recruit your team. I stood around for a bit to make myself available, then promptly bolted for the restroom.
I did have one person seek me out (thanks!) to discuss my idea, mostly because he thought my idea was vaguely similiar to his non-startup weekend mobile app startup project.
Whilst all this mingling/recruiting was going on… we were supposed to be voting on our favorite pitches. I could barely remember who pitched what. So I was spending some time on my laptop reviewing the other pitches to see if any caught my eye, then to vote. Someone wanted to use my laptop to see the list, and I let him, on the condition he listen to my pitch. He gave me his card: he manages an outsourcing team of devs in mexico.
I spent a little time talking with a really cool dev named Travis, but he had pitched his own fairly viable idea (a social heads up gui caller ID) and was really looking to court a designer, so I assumed he wouldn’t be interested in working on droprocks. It was cool to hear what he was working on outside of startup weekend and to talk shop a little bit.
After the votes were tallied, the top vote getters were highlighted so that if you were still looking for a team you could seek out more information about their project.
What happened next was almost like a junior high school dance. There was a few wall flowers left looking for devs, including me. Developers definitely should have felt like the belles of the ball…
Time was running out. I had no team. I talked to a few more folks unsuccesfully before trying to team up with the other jilted pitch people to see if we could at least recruit *one* developer between us. No such luck.
My ego was a little bruised – I knew the idea wasn’t a game changer or anything, but since I was pitching based on me being a cool duderz, and got zero interest, I was feeling a little outcast. After a little pep talk from one of the organizers (Thanks, Tristan!), I swallowed my pride and stopped focusing on poaching a developer for DropRocks and looked for a team to join.
I approached a small team and asked if they could use a sys admin/product/copy writer type person to round out their team. they were inexplicably uninterested. Shocked, I continued my search.
I ended up joining an awesome team, quite by accident. I thought they were going to make a HackerNews/Reddit for politics where you vote articles left, right, or neutral instead of up or down, but turns out they had a different idea all together (this is a good idea pitched as an example by Tristan, *someone* should build this!)
…ANYWAYS. I joined Jose’s team whose idea was to create a dashboard of media mentions and derive the sentiment/emotions behind those mentions for a given political candidate. Kinda of like compete.com meets exit polling – sort of.
Most of the team was comprised of people who came up from Mexico with the dramatically named “Build or Die” startup bootcamp /incubator-ish program. There was also a biz guy from paypal and Matt a coder from nVidia. I finally found my niche on this team as a bridge between the business folks and the tech folks.
Me Gusto My Team
Ironically, I found out later that Matt the dev *was* interested in seeking me out during the mingle time to discuss my idea, but couldn’t find me – damn bathroom break! Damn my teenage girls bladder!
If you’re still with me here’s what I think I learned at startup weekend about pitching, recruiting, and timing;
- Try not to be shy – people aren’t going to convince themselves your idea is cool enough to spend the whole weekend on
- ABP – Always Be Pitching: I hate swarmy sales people as much as the next guy, but this event is *supposed* to be about networking. For some reason when I met a dev at the event before the official pitches/mingle time, I was reluctant to push too hard to get them interested in my team. This is a mistake – there’s a fine line there though between engaging a person to find common interest and nagging the shit out of them… finding that balance is an exercise for the reader
- It definitely helps to come with friends or people you know: Nothing attracts a crowd like a crowd. It subconsciously validates your idea and your team’s viability to other people. (for better or worse, I think this phenomenon exists — just like it’s much easy to acquire funding after you don’t need it anymore)
- I tried so hard to sell myself, that I failed to tell the compelling story of the problem I was trying to solve.
- Short, direct, impactful sentences. To the point. Just like when telling a joke, too much setup distracts from the punchline and people’s attention. One of the better rated pitches was, “I want to make customer service surveys at restaurants suck less” and then described why. (although he didn’t get into how – but he *sold* the idea – unfortunately despite getting lots of votes he didn’t land a dev either – but preserveared regardless as a lone ranger single founder – check out issac’s blog post about his tips/experience)
A few links on pitching: 7 Sins of Pitching | principles of pitching | How to Pitch a VC
Stay tuned for part II with tips on team organization/dynamics, dealing with version control, and developer environments.
Side note: I’d *LOVE* to hear the thought process of different people’s decision making in choosing which teams to join or which ideas caught their interest.