What really happened at Startup weekend? Read on as Barry Newman-Sparks lets out a few secrets of the weekend as they unfolded…
Startup Weekend was finally here and the most widely anticipated event in the Perth calendar for our budding Entrepreneurs got under way at 6.30 on Friday. The Startup News team of Amanda Mackay and Barry Newman-Sparks were at the door to assist in the meet and greet process from 6pm. We got our priorities sorted out, were we allowed to drink beer in the arrival foyer? Answer in the affirmative. Please don’t think we were only looking after ourselves, we honestly believed this would give a far friendlier welcoming scene to the budding presenters who may be a little nervous. Then the noise started to build, laughter filled the air, nervous glances were exchanged, and that was just us!
There had been a steady stream of keen and hopeful people and by 6.30 we had almost 120 people in the main room at Spacecubed. The event was superbly organised from the start, there was plenty of seating and space, the kitchen had been set up with beer and wine provided as part of the event. There was a fantastic air of anticipation from the many potential participants as the event got under way. One of the main supporters of this event is the City of Perth and the Lord Mayor Lisa Scaffidi looking sensational I must say was on hand to kick the evening off. Once this was done we were all then given an overview of how the weekend would unfold, how the teams are chosen and the process to formulate a startup which would give a final presentation on Sunday night.
Friday night is all about putting teams together who over the following 48 hours would refine the chosen ideas and eventually after what was obviously going to be a long and stressful weekend, present to the judges on Friday night for the awards and prizes. More of just what these are later.
So what happens? The basic idea is to pitch an idea to the room. Now many are nervous about this so there is a great ice breaker just prior to the real pitches. Teams were formed by taking your Surname and building a group this way. We ended up with about 7 sub-groups by doing this. Each group was mentored by a seasoned Startup veteran. Each team had a plastic cup with 6 words in it. We (yes, I was by now carried away and in a team) were allowed 10 minutes and tasked with selecting just two of the words, build a pitch, select who would do the pitch and then go for it in the allowed 1 minute. Our team went for the words Wearable and Mining. I duly presented an outstanding pitch based on a Fluoro Jacket that gave you specific access to areas that you were allowed to go to, machines you were allowed to use, etc. You get the idea. My pitch was fantastic and to the loud applause from my relatives, friends and the backing track I had brought along confirmed its worth.
Well from here on in the pace is frenetic. Anyone who has paid their fee can do a one minute pitch presenting their idea to the rest of the room. At the completion of this phase the people who pitched write their idea up on butchers paper and blue tack it around the room. Everyone is issued with 5 stickers and these are then attached to the ideas you liked the best, you can put all of your stickers on one idea if you wish. This does not mean that the one with the most stickers will go on to form a team. If you have an idea but you think that someone else’s idea is better than yours you can take down your idea and offer to join another team.
Out of the assembled 120 smart budding entrepreneurs about 25 put their hands up to actually pitch, one of those hands was mine. More of that later.
So, just 1 minute to sell your story it’s a daunting task. In the front row there is a Startup mentor with a laptop facing you with a 1 minute countdown clock, also one behind you. When the 1 minute is up you are clapped of, there is no leeway, you have only one minute. Once again the organisation of the event was excellent. In the far room you were given your butchers paper, a whole range of coloured markers and some blue tack. Next step was to further outline your idea, draw visuals, add more detail and very importantly identify just what resources would assist you to bring the idea to life. If you need an applications developer, marketing guru or copy writer then put that on your pitch outline.
Next select somewhere in the room to display your idea. It became clear that the positioning of your idea could become integral to getting votes.
All the ideas are now up on the wall, the attendees then circle the room and attach their stickers to the ideas they like most. My idea (which is now commercial and in confidence due to vast profit possibilities) had some backers but not enough. I now went into entrepreneur mode. What did all the others in the room have in common? Eureka, they probably need funds, I launched into over drive offering other people 50 cents for each sticker they would hand over. I increased the wealth of others in the room by $1.50, but not enough to save my idea. Now the real worth of your idea comes into play, no matter how many stickers you have does not mean that people will join, some of the attendees put one sticker on 5 different ideas.
Attendees now gather around the ideas they would like to be a part of. By now a number of the people who pitched have taken their pitches down, they like other ideas better or there is no support. I will not go into which of these influenced me to take mine down. In the end there were 11 ideas with enough support to continue. Each team now sits together and takes the first steps toward building a business plan. Brainstorming is part of the process. Everyone on the team now has a part to play not just the ideas presenter.
The 11 winning pitches at this stage of the weekend were:
- Crowd Control
- Office Space
- The Acorns Project
- Table Space
- Broken Windows
- Sole Savers
- Park Busters
- Happy Marriages
- Urban Spoon 2
- What’s Cooking
This process would now move well in to the night. Tomorrow would see the teams out and about in Perth drumming up support for their idea, eliciting response from potential clients, refining the idea as information and feedback was received. This would then enable them to build another presentation for the Saturday session. More of that later.
For the Startup news team we were also in discovery mode, was there any beer left? Where was it and who the hell had taken the opener?
And the show continued……
Saturday morning and it’s back to the hothouse that is Startup Weekend for an update on the teams progress.
I arrive and I can see the remaining team members looking my way, I can see their minds working, “maybe that guy’s idea wasn’t so bad after all”. Outback fast food, “Porcupine on a Stick”. Ok I know there were a few failings in the original concept, however with a lateral thinking team I could have overcome them. Like the surviving teams, you need to bounce ideas off people. Last night I woke with a start, sat up in bed and had a sudden thought. It was the sudden realisation that one of the main problems with my concept was solvable. After cooking, as we remove the spines from the tasty treat we sell them to other diners as toothpicks. See, it’s not so difficult when you put your mind to a problem.
But I digress, the teams were back on Saturday morning to do another 1 minute pitch, and the difference that a team bouncing ideas off each other makes was evident. Now the pitch was clearer and easier to understand. Also by taking in the thoughts of each other the ideas were changing focus, bringing in new concepts and expanding the idea out into other areas. Issues and road blocks were being raised, part of the teams addressed these road blocks and how to overcome them while others continued building the product or service. In some cases the business concept had uncovered another avenue of market penetration or profit. All aspects now had to be covered. Yes you certainly do need a team.
The skills of the people involved on all of the projects was outstanding. Web sites being built while I watched, marketing material being formulated on the spot, financed organised and evaluated. Cash flow calculated, would they have to use an overdraft? Based on the rate of progress you had the feeling that any of these projects could open their doors on Monday and make a go of it.
Wow this was business building at the speed of light.
We are now at 5pm on the Saturday and the teams have been out and about, making phone calls and using social media to gauge response was some outstanding cases actually get customers for their end product. At 5 we have the teams giving another update. Mentors are now being used extensively to refine and maybe point out additional pitfalls to address.
The change in the teams from the start on Friday is obvious with a number of teams changing their names as they gather information from all sources available to them. Urban Spoon 2 was going to have trademark issues so they have renamed as “Goji Berry”. They are focusing on Healthy Foods so this super food fits the bill. Next we have “Broken Windows” whose response to the many calls they have made has led to rename their project as “Fix My Town”. Park Busters has become “Open Air Fitness”.
What can be achieved in just one day? Well “What’s Cooking” already has dinners scheduled for about 30 people across Perth!!
These amazing people will work into the night aiming for a top presentation on Sunday night. I can’t wait to see the final presentation.
Sunday – The Grand finale….. Drum roll please!!
It’s Sunday evening and the 11 teams are flat out finishing their presentations which are due to start at 5pm. They are all tired and emotional but excited from 48 hours of constant pressure. The Startup News team also arrive at 5 pm and are also tired and emotional from being at the pub since midday.
There is a fantastic buzz in the room as all teams understand just how hard this has been for all the competitors not just them. Judges are duly introduced and it’s now ShowTime.
Even at this late stage it’s possible to see the changes made since Saturday. Happy Weddings is now called “My Day Made”. The Acorn Project is now “Au Pair 4 Aged Care”.
Each of the 11 groups are given 5 minutes to present and then the Judges get 5 minutes to ask questions. The judges are not here to critique, at this point they are there to delve into the group’s ideas and elicit information so that they can form a decision to lead them to a winner.
Some of the questions are related to how they have arrived at a funding model, how have they researched the acceptance across the market place. What are the income/profit levels and how have they determined these. What sort of market both in Australia and overseas do they see for their product/service. The judges are hoping to see the effort and thought that has been put into their projects.
Seeing the presentations is mind blowing. What has been done is fantastic. Web Sites built, clients already signed up, surveys taken, money committed, the list goes on. All have obviously extensively practised their presentations because they all get their story out within the 5 minutes allowed.
There is a break at the half way mark for food and then it’s back to the fray.
During all of the presentations there is light hearted banter, combined with some hard questions to answer from the judges, this is not just a feel good exercise but a method of drilling down so that a qualified result is arrived at.
The final team has presented, it’s time for the judges to withdraw and come to a consensus regarding the teams final positions.
The Judges return from deliberations and prize presentations begin.
The first is a cash prize from PWC of $500 presented by PWC ‘s Justin Scanlon. This is a special merit award and goes to “Fix My Town”.
Then we have the runner up but in this case it’s a joint 2nd prize which goes to “Open Air Fitness” and “AU Pair 4 Aged Care”
And now the moment everyone has been waiting for, the winner of the Startup Weekend Perth 2014 First Prize….
The winner is “Crowd Control”!
It has to be said that all teams did a fantastic job and a great deal was learnt by all attendees not just the members of the teams. All had great support from the room.
An absolutely fantastic weekend and I’m sure that based on the interest from this weekend more will be scheduled.
We should also mention the great all round catering effort put in to keep all the participants going. Food was by Peta Hayward on the Friday evening and lunches. Peta doesn’t advertise or have a website but she should do based on the quality of the food.
Sunday evening was done by BaguetteMeNot (http://baguettemenot.com) also stunning quality food.
Drinks were donated by Ozapps.
Startup News is proud to have reported on this event. All of the winners will be interviewed individually over the coming weeks and their story of what motivated them to take their dream and pitch their ideas will be posted as we write them.
Until next time, from your intrepid Startup News Team.
Barry Newman-Sparks , Of whom Bill Gates once said “Who?”.