Last week I was involved with Corner Brook’s first Startup Weekend (April 1-3, 2016). I’ve previously experienced how such an event can be beneficial for participants and the local business community; I had the opportunity to travel to St. John’s for a Startup Weekend that they hosted in June 2015. I had such a good time that I had to do my part to bring it to other people in Newfoundland.
First, some context: Startup Weekend is an entrepreneurial event where participants show up on a Friday evening and pitch potential business ideas. Those ideas are voted on, teams are formed, then those ideas are worked on until Sunday evening when they are pitched again to a panel of judges. During that time teams flesh out the idea, plan for profitability, conduct research, and try to make the best they can with the limited resources they have, especially time.
Here’s what you get when you participate in a Startup Weekend:
Personal & Business Connections
Both personal and business relationships are established at an event like this that can’t be replicated under any other circumstances. The life of an entrepreneur can be lonely sometimes, but never at Startup Weekend. When I was grouped with people to work on a project (that I honestly didn’t fully believe in at the beginning) we weren’t just a group of people, we were a team working toward a common goal. Not just to win the competition, but to do the best job we could to make our startup a reality. I still have a close connection with my teammates, and even as recently as February 2016 made the 7-hour drive to attend a launch party for the product that we worked on in June 2015.
In addition to those personal relationships, we also make a lot of business connections. You meet a lot of dedicated, passionate, and talented individuals who are (potential) entrepreneurs. Not just the organizers, mentors, sponsors, or judges, but also your future cofounder or life-saving problem solver could be one of your fellow participants. I’m still in contact with some of those people, still consult with the project that I worked on, and have also sought insight and advice from them a lot since my time at Startup Weekend.
Confidence & Pride
Anyone who already has a business knows that there is a sense of pride when you hand over your business card to someone and get to say “I do this.” If you don’t own a business, that’s okay because you can start to get that feeling as you begin to find your legs in the business world. There is no better way to do that than going through a 54-hour business “boot camp.” You not only get better at the talents you have, but you develop and/or learn about skills you never knew you had.
Why? Because you have to. If your team only has five or six people, you each have a specialty, but you each also need to dabble in other areas in order to get all of your work done.
The sense of pride comes out of this thing that you’ve created with your teammates. Whether you’re pitching an idea or working on someone else’s, you have an enormous amount of pride in the final product. If you are working on someone else’s idea, you will never love it as much as they do, but like me and my team, you will still swell with pride whenever it becomes something more than an idea and makes its way out into the world.
Knowledge & Experience
Learn from the mistakes of others. You can never live long enough to make them all yourself.
There is truly no better way to describe the wealth of knowledge and experience that you will gain not only from the work that you do during Startup Weekend, but also from the insight given to you by the organizers, mentors, sponsors, and judges. They’re involved because they’ve been through the wringer before, and know what they’re talking about. They advise participants based on their own experiences in the business world to help make the best possible projects come out of the event.
Don’t forget that anything and everything you learn can help you make your own better business decisions in the future. Oh, and don’t forget that you will have these people as connections to learn more from them later as well!
I don’t know about you, but I question my own business chops sometimes… Can I make the right decisions? Do I know what I’m doing? Am I actually as good marketer as I claim to be? I think we all ask ourselves similar questions.
Startup Weekend is a great place to test all of these questions and more, then come out the other side knowing a lot more about yourself than you did before. From my own experience, I now know that I can make good decisions under pressure, I have a better idea of my area 0f expertise, and I am a good marketer. Your skills and assumptions can be put to the test during an event like this, and you should embrace it and learn from it.
The other validation is about your idea. If you pitch a business idea, you can get an incredible amount of information that can help you make better decisions… How enthusiastic did people seem about it? How many votes did your idea get? How many participants signed up for your team? During your pitch what kind of questions did people ask?
All of this is data that you can use to either pursue your idea further after Startup Weekend, or (sometimes) put it to rest.
People will forget what you said. People will forget what you did. But people will never forget how you made them feel.
This one may not appear on all the brochures, but to me it’s the most important. Would I be involved with Startup Weekend again if I didn’t enjoy myself the first time? The reason is largely because of the good people involved and that we were all working toward a common goal, but it’s also because I loved the work that we were doing. All of the aforementioned qualities culminated and caused me to have a great time that was worth the two 7-hour drives and sleeping on a couch for a week to attend SWSJ, or the countless hours, phone calls, emails, and airport runs that went into organizing SWCB.
If nothing else, at least the experience has given me a good story to tell.
I strongly encourage anyone to attend a Startup Weekend or similar event. Whether you’re a purebred entrepreneur or you just have an idea for the next best app, you should try it out, or help someone else try theirs. Either way you’ll have your own story to tell afterward 🙂