When I first heard about Startup Weekend Nashville...
I should go! No, I probably don't have an applicable skill set. Ah, just go, it'll be fun. Nahh.... I could use a weekend off...
And then a 70% off coupon code came along, and I had no excuses.
Well, I couldn't be happier that I participated. (Well, it would have been nice to win a membership to the EC, but let's not split happiness hairs.)
WHAT IS STARTUP WEEKEND?
The idea is simple. Entrepreneurs, designers, programmers, creatives, and business people gather together on a Friday night. After a quick icebreaker, the pitchers get up in front of the group and try to sell their idea in 60 seconds. We heard about 26 pitches this weekend.
Once the ideas are out, each SW participant gets three sticky notes to tag the idea(s) he or she likes most. We walk around the room, asking questions and feeling out concepts. My personal favorites included an AirBnB model for self-storage and a real-time/location-based professional networking app.
After ideas are voted on, the most popular ones (this weekend, about 9 out of 26 ) go to the front. Presenters give a final 60 second pitch, and then participants choose which projects they'd like to work on.
I signed onto the networking app along with eight others. A team was born!
SATURDAY: THE IDEA
The next morning, our team gathered again in the Google room to put our heads together. What exactly is this app we all found ourselves attracted to?
Ideation Round One : Percolator (–I pitched a lot of Latinate product names–) is an app that connects professionals in the same location in real-time. To give a scenario:
I work at Portland Brew East once or twice a week during winter. With Percolator, I could see the titles (but not the names or faces) of other users also in Portland Brew at the same time. Let's say I'm looking for a Ruby on Rails developer for a project that I've been pulled in on by one of my clients. I don't personally know any Ruby on Rails developers. And I don't want to start the process of cold-messaging people on LinkedIn. Percolator tells me that there happens to be a Ruby on Rails developer in the same coffee shop as me. So, I send that person a "shake" to see if they'd like to say hello.
The other user receives the notification and accepts, at which point we can see one another's full name and profile picture. I go find the developer in the coffee shop, introduce myself, and from that point, we determine how our relationship proceeds - if at all.
To boil it down: Percolator allows you to meet the professionals who interest you as you're already going about your daily life. It's networking that's natural, seamless, and fun.
But... Is That What Users Want?
After daydreaming about what we'd like in the app, SW organizer Daniel Johnsen forced us to get down to brass tacks.
"You are not your customer," said Daniel's shirt... and Daniel.. in about 15 different ways, as he valiantly and patiently attempted to crack through to us.
What are the problems? What do people want? What's the pain point in the product you're offering? Who will use it?
Drew (the pitchman), Abdul, and myself hit the streets.
It didn't go well.
Turns out, the NRA Convention, which swamped downtown Nashville, isn't the best place to meet young professionals. After talking to a few folks and losing an hour, we walked back to the EC.
Testing a Minimum Viable Product
Next stop: Starbucks on West End.
We had been encouraged to test the minimum viable product. What does our app do in its most simple and cheap form? Well, it essentially does this. This product's MVP completes a significant segment of our goals: let people know what you do and that you are open to meeting.
We tried to replicate this in Starbucks by hanging huge 20x23" sticky notes on the walls above our café tables. Obviously, this was not well-received. We hadn't even picked up all our drinks before we were more or less asked to leave.
Maybe a non-corporate route would work?
We survived longer at Frothy Monkey, but still no takers.
We almost threw in the towel and went for another product entirely. But we all loved the thing too much to give it up. (That's not a business recommendation, by the way.) We knew everyone at Startup Weekend (and beyond!) would use our app, so we forged ahead.
People would love it.
The Idea (Round 2): Venn
We named the second version of our app Venn.
Spirits were so-so. We got grittier with our marketing/launch approach, our growth-scale strategy, and our monetization models. We were tired. We were giddy. We went to bed.
Sunday morning I built a quick – and, no, not the most thorough – survey. We had to get some kind of market validation... even if it's just a survey with preset answers (which, yeah, is pretty much the worst kind of market validation there is – we know).
We wanted to catch users' attention as the anti-LinkedIn. LinkedIn is boring and sterile. Venn is real-life, real-time. Venn is about forming relationships and meeting actual people - not just adding numbers to your user profile.
Our talented designer, Jonelly (check out her portfolio), put together some mockups of the app based on the team's UX design and a few example use cases:
It wasn't long after putting together this brilliant concept that we discovered we weren't as original as we thought. At first, that was discouraging. But then we decided to take it as market validation.
Before Venn left the Entrepreneur Center, we discovered the following apps:
- oh, and get this... Venn ("Venn makes meeting business professionals around you easy and fun!" // "Networking Where You Are")
I kid you not.
Apparently real-time, proximity-based networking isn't a new concept.
And apparently someone else had already thought to name such a concept "Venn."
At this point, we're pitching regardless. As we've all seen before... it's not who builds it first (much less who thinks of it first), but who gets to the top first.
My sticky note usage these last few days was greater than my cumulative 21st century sticky note usage up to this weekend:
More sticky notes. Time to pitch.
Drew and Jonelly stood up before Mark Montgomery, David Furse, and Chris Taylor. The reception wasn't exactly what most people would call warm. But that's okay. We learned, and they did a great job!
Startup weekend Takeaways
- You are not your customer. (Tweet This)
- Break down your product to an MVP (minimal viable product) before sinking more time (and... were it not Startup Weekend...) money into it. (Tweet This)
- Be able to explain your product in five-seconds or less. Thirty seconds for the in-depth explanation! (Tweet This)
- It's not the idea or the build that matters. It's getting there first. (Tweet This)
Would I do Startup Weekend again?
In a heartbeat! Startup Weekend Nashville was an incredibly valuable learning experience. I got to work with a terrific group of people I never would have met otherwise. I received the expert advice of numerous venture capitalists, angel investors, entrepreneurs, and industry experts. It served as my first introduction to the Entrepreneur Center, where I now plan to purchase a membership. It opened up my personal and professional scope of what I thought possible.
If Startup Weekend is happening near you, do it! If it's not, then go to the closest city to participate! Looking forward to the next Startup Weekend Nashville! See you there.