This past weekend I was lucky enough to be a last minute addition to the coaching team for the Startup Weekend event hosted at Propeller. The weekend was very well run (this was only the 2nd one in New Orleans) and a huge hat tip to the organizers, judges, sponsors and all involved. Too many to name but all can be found here. Having done a number of these weekend type events I thought I would share a few observations.
- Pitch Dat – We all have ideas and whether or not we think it will be the next Facebook shouldn’t stop us from sharing them. The process of pitching is something that everyone needs to have. I don’t care if you are a techie talking about a new feature to a product manager, or a business developer talking to potential customers. We all pitch and the more practice we can get the more likely we will be successful in communicating our idea. We have all seen good ideas ignored because we didn’t understand them only to sort it out later. Avoid the, “So that’s what you were talking about? Why didn’t you say so?” problem by getting good at pitching. Also even if your idea isn’t one selected you may find some kindred spirits that validate your idea or even help you later.
- Work The Room – You spend 48 hours with the other participants and coaches. Make sure you get all you can from it. That room may contain a future co-founder, investor, mentor, or referral. While I recognize there is a lot to do ensure you take some time to meet the other teams and talk to as many mentors and judges as you can. This is what Paul Graham calls a “high leverage” moment. Never again will this collection of talent, experience and experience be in the same room again. Add to this that everyone there is to help at it can be a highly valuable couple of days.
- Don’t Single Thread – There is a tremendous amount of work to be done and while everyone can often do everything the teams that make the most progress spend some time dividing up the work. Project planning is a critical skill for startups. The scarcest resource for all treps is time. Take the time on the first night to put together a plan and make some assignments. In addition to doing the “braindump” suggested by the program do a talent dump as well. See what skills you have. Identify strengths and divide the work accordingly. Identify gaps and see who in the room can help you Finally, he idea owner does not have to be the project manager. Look for the team member who took notes from the kickoff or has the notebook with post-it flags hanging out of it and chances are you have your PM 🙂
- Practice Your Pitch – 5 minutes feels like a lifetime when you are up there but goes by in a heartbeat. So often I see teams who after working all weekend have built a densely packed 15 slide deck. Then, while they are still on slide 4, the clapping starts and their 5 minutes are up. While not everyone can be Jason Baptiste, teams should be able to be clear, compelling and concise. Jason’s TechStars demo day pitch from 2011 remains a great example of how to capture an audience, describe a problem and a solution. You can see his pitch here
I talked with another coach this past weekend about how much we love the culture of New Orleans and he described it as “participatory”. Either you wear a red dress or you don’t go. Either you do “call and response” at Kermit’s show at Vaughn’s or you don’t go. In New Orleans you are always either “all in” or you are out. The city rewards you for this commitment with great experiences, new friends and memories that you will share with anyone that will listen. The startup community is the same. To all the treps that shared their weekend, their passion, their willingness to learn, and their hard work with me I thank you.
I am all in. Stay calm and trep on.