Startup Weekend London: “It’s the team, stupid”
It didn’t take me long to go back to the newly opened Google Campus in Shoreditch. 3 days after launching, it was already hosting its first event - its big conference/event space looking more and more likely to become a focal hub for the tech community in East London.
Startup Weekend had the privilege to inaugurate the space, and did so in its typical grand manner - with over 150 wannabe entrepreneurs attending. With 250 local chapters, this organisation has become a proper institution, another evidence of how mainstream entrepreneurship has become.
Build something that people want. Fast.
The idea is simple: you have 48 hours to put together a team and build the prototype of a product. Web, mobile, or other. The team that has done the most to prove the validity of its concept wins (I heard the word “customer validation” a lot - obsession which in some cases produced results of dubious value - for example when a team claimed that out of the 20 people they questioned in the street, 75% said “they would probably download the app” - what did they expect people to tell them? to fuck off with their silly idea??).
Joke aside, this is a very healthy obsession that a lot of wannabe entrepreneurs should have too. Even if nothing can validate a concept better than actual downloads or purchases - giving a few thoughts to real customers before having a final working product can’t hurt. Yes, the Startup Weekend people have definitely read Eric Ries’ Lean Startup book from cover to cover, and they reward teams who can get things done and prove that someone will want to use them.
Pitch and sell
Based on learnings from 100s of past events, the format is now very clearly defined and the agenda doesn’t leave room to improvisation. The fun starts at 7pm with some ice-breaking games: you are put in a group of random people, have to pick two words (“sex” and “panda” in my case - as reported here) and imagine a business plan around them that you then present to the rest of the audience. It’s good fun and puts you in the right mindset to then go pitch your idea to the 150 or so attendees.
Along with 50 other hopefuls, I then went on to pitch the idea I just had while traveling in Berlin earlier in the day. A lot of people were clearly in the same situation, coming up with half-baked thoughts on a variety of topics, while a few others had clearly done their homework, some even showing up with a core team, a well-defined idea and clear plan of action. Guess who won at the end.
The 50 ideas got brought down to 20 by the audience (after half an hour of chaos - very akin to the Great Bazar of Istanbul - where sellers of ideas bargained for votes with innocent voters). The rationale behind that messy affair was probably to provide a first form of customer validation and it turned out to be working surprisingly well. As is to be expected in that kind of situation, loud populists tried to steal the show, but overall, the final selection seemed to make sense. Mind you, I would certainly have said the exact opposite, were my idea not to make the cut.
Our team was great to have fun, less so to produce anything
Unfortunately, what proved to be an efficient selection process, turned out to be a poor way to put the right team members together. It’s surprising the Startup Weekend staff haven’t realised yet that selling your idea to someone is very different to wanting him/her to join your team, or needing him/her for your project. As a result, I ended up working with 3 back-end web developers and 3 business people to realise an idea that required designers and mobile app developers…. This was a fantastic team to have a lot of fun putting silly-looking mockups together but a terrible one to build anything of value. I was very happy with it at the end as I didn’t intend to compete but I suspect some people who took it more seriously would have been disappointed.
I don’t know what the best team-building process would be but it would need to sort 2 things out:
- bring the right talents in (in this week-end’s case, there was a clear shortage of designers and mobile developers)
- make it easy to match them with the right team (I’m sure some team would have made a much better use of our 3 web developers)
This is the essential part in building a successful startup so you can leave it to randomness and have to allocate a lot of time to it (maybe before the event too).
Meet the people who get things done
Anyway, the rest of the week-end went as expected with 2 days of hard work trying to validate the market, build a product and put together a pitch-deck (we only did the latter and didn’t work very hard - but others seemed to do). At the end, I was impressed by both the overall quality (close to the average Seedcamp application) and by how much the finalists had managed to get done. Web and mobile versions, Twilio integration, live products,… it’s simply incredible how much a good team can get done in 48 hours these days. I would be curious to see what happens to them in the next few months.
So all in all, a very good event, run as a perfectly-oiled machine in a great venue. One I would attend again if I were to find the occasion.
As for the idea we worked on? I’ll probably say more about it in a later post but you can see a teaser here: http://goo.gl/DLSUj…