Startup Weekend: The 54-hour whirlwind of blood, sweat and tears…in good company

Facebook, Twitter, Snapchat, Google, Uber, Airbnb, Spotify, Fitbit, Netflix, Apple. If one or some of these are involved in your everyday life, then you’ve been exposed to a startup. What’s a startup you ask? And how is it different from a business? Well, in Dan Norris‘ words from his book ‘The 7 Day Startup‘, ‘A business is anything that derives a wage for its founder. By that definition, buying a lawn mowing franchise or opening a corner store is a business. But neither is a startup. A startup is a bit more exciting. It has:1) High impact potential; 2) High levels of innovation; and 3) High levels of uncertainty‘ With these traits, a startup has the ability to change the world!

Recently, QUT Creative Enterprise Australia (QUT CEA) hosted its second Australia’s only Startup Weekend for Creative Tech during the 10th – 12th of March. As a rookie attendee of this insanely supercharged 54-hour event, I am pleased to share with you the roller coaster ride of highs, lows, fun and pressure I got to be in. All of which are ingredients of life at a startup.

First of all, can I just say that if you’re a QUT Business student and haven’t been checking your emails from the QUT Business School  (email: bus.students@qut.edu.au) or even checking out the faculty website from time to time, I suggest you do so because they do an excellent job in updating us of “What’s on” every week of the semester and even the chance to score free tickets to huge events like the Startup Weekend Brisbane and Myriad Festival.

Day 1  Introduction, team building, late night hustling

A few hours prior to the opening night, my mate and I were working on our pitch for a startup idea in the games room at QUT’s Kelvin Grove Library (there were lots of comfy bean bags by the way). When we arrived at the venue, I met people from various backgrounds. Hustlers, hackers and hipsters ranging from young entrepreneurs to seasoned industry veterans and even a participant that flew all the way from Melbourne were all present. Combined with the outdoor breeze and tacos, the atmosphere seemed right for this group of individuals.

When we all settled inside for the official kick-off, we were welcomed by Anna Rooke, QUT CEA CEO and  Aaron Birkby, CEO of Startup Catalyst and our facilitator for the weekend; who started it off by making all the attendees play an ice-breaker where everyone was grouped into teams and had to come up with a startup idea based on two random words written on a whiteboard. With words such as piano, cushion and pig, you could imagine there were some quirky ideas. One of them was ‘Buzz News’, where the mainstream news was relayed by bees buzzing around the world. Afterward, there was a short speaker talk on practical topics such as Pitching Best Practices and Lean Startup Methodology. Then came ‘Pitch-fire’: where everyone willing to pitch their idea had 60 seconds to pitch without any props or presentations. Since there were a few people wanting to go first (me among them), Aaron decided by having a dance off. Then hilarity ensued.

The Robot Hedgehog dance. Who did it best?

After a couple of pitches… it was my turn. Presenting to a crowd full of talented and amazing people seemed like a hurdle to overcome, but once I started, it felt like having a conversation with good and supportive friends. Over 60 pitches were held that night.

Nerves can be used to your own advantage. Choose fight over flight.

Then, all attendees voted on their favourites and teams formed around these top ideas. My team mate and I ended up having two interested people and were happy to have them on board. Even though the venue closed at 10pm, the work has just begun; with most teams simply relocating to benches at QUT Kelvin Grove campus and even at the nearby Macca’s. We didn’t get home until 1am.

Day 2  Validate, validate, validate

A work station full of hard-working people

Given the long day ahead, the complimentary coffee and healthy breakfast was a requirement. To start the day off, Aaron made everyone use the collaboration tool Slack as a means of communication and for resource sharing. He also ran a Masterclass that covered essential marketing fundamentals, finance lingo and validation tools for teams to use for their ideas over the weekend. He also made very clear to get validation done right and effectively as this determines if there is a market for the idea or even a pain point that customers are aware of that bothers them – a problem that is waiting for a solution.

To get started, my team used Survey Hero to make our survey and then shared it to every social media we’re part of, made a Facebook page, played around with Squarespace to establish a landing page and took advantage of the Kelvin Grove weekend markets for face-to-face customer validation. After all this, I felt that we were thrown in at the deep end, with pressure kicking me in the shin. After returning from the markets and having lunch, we had one-on-one sessions with mentors Darren TonkinStoryboard Social Founder and Jeremy Jones – Directory of Business Advice Services at Pitcher Partners. I chose Darren for his experience in the mobile app space and Jeremy for helping us with how to monetize our startup. They shared with us their backgrounds, stories about their journey and gave advice in refining our thinking to turn the broad problem we’re solving into a specific one. Before pizza for dinner, everyone gathered around outside and two of the attendees started teaching salsa; which we all enjoyed taking part in (another reason to make you want to go to a Startup Weekend).  The night was met with the team check-ins to see everyone’s progress and by then, we’ve received lots of tangible feedback from potential customers, peers and mentors. Hustle mode paid off.

Day 3  Prototyping, Pitching, Winning

The day started off with Aaron presenting a Pitch and Prototyping Masterclass whilst I was feeding on banana and soy chai latte. He gave us tips such as researching the judges, explaining data collected effectively and even how to hold a microphone 101. We were also referred useful prototyping tools such as Photoshop, InVision and POP. After that, it was hustle as usual for all the teams and I put on my earphones playing classical music on Spotify because it helps my focus.

Before I knew it, we were chatting with our first mentor Philippe Ceulen – Co-Founder of The 1961 , a  co-working and art space in Cambodia – who gave us advice on how we could expand into the global market. Then, we met Xavier Keary – Lawyer at McCullough Robertson Lawyers – who gave us legal advice and he definitely opened our eyes, eventually making the team decision to pivot (i.e. to change direction or switch to Plan B). The reason for this was because the problem we were tackling for our startup – minimising grocery shopping costs – was flawed for two reasons: 1) Because the price disparity between leading supermarkets was negligible and 2) Data acquisition through web scraping is insufficient as we would need customer behaviour data from leading supermarkets such as Woolworths and Coles in order to considerably minimise grocery shopping costs. Simply put, the problem we were solving was more of a vitamin pill rather than a headache tablet; a problem not painful enough for customers to go out of their way to seek solutions. Subsequently, this last minute pivot eventually made us pull out our pitch deck for presenting. I was disheartened and even shed a tear. However, there is good news to this as it made us realise that it saved us time and money as opposed to launching in the market after the event and finding out that there are no customers willing to pay for our service. Since then, we have pivoted to a different idea that we’re working on even after the event finished.

When it came to dinner, Paco’s Paella was so delicious, I had two full plates and it rid me of my melancholy. With great food and great people networking, I was ecstatic to see the pitch decks afterwards.

ArtLife -the winning team for being most innovative- along with esteemed judges

There were 11 brilliant creative tech startup ideas pitched and all teams were commended for their efforts. ArtLife – ‘ an app that will organise all of your photos by life event and stop you from ever losing your favourite snap’ – was the winning team for being the most innovative. Teams from ADVO, Sound Scout and Flow Zone also received awards.

To finish off, the roller coaster ride was definitely an experience that has better equipped me in my future endeavours in the startup space and would gladly ride on it again by attending more Startup events like this one!

Here are my top reasons to attend a Startup Event:

  1. You can turn your innovative idea into reality
  2. Expand your social and professional network with like-minded people and industry veterans
  3. A great challenge that pushes you out of your comfort zone and tests your limits
  4. More successful startups = job creation = you’re doing the country a huge favour
  5. Delicious food + a cool shirt!

Say ‘Entrepreneurship’

Find more info on the Startup Weekend hosted by QUT CEA from the10th – 12th of March here: http://www.up.co/communities/australia/brisbane/startup-weekend/10345

Find info on upcoming Startup Weekend events near Brisbane here: https://startupweekend.org/events

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