What I Learned as a First-Timer at Startup Weekend

When I heard about Startup Weekend, I decided to go.

The weekend started last Friday night around 6 p.m. Since the Startup Week venue was Rev1 and I work here, I was one of the first people to arrive. And on Sunday night, since it was such a good experience, I was one of the last to leave.

Here’s what I learned in 2 days, 6 hours, and 21 minutes.

  • Startup Weekend is organized. The format works.

From the icebreaker of epic rock, paper, scissors, which got everyone moving around, and talking until there was one ultimate winner (paper covered rock), to the final presentations, this event moves along as advertised.

After the icebreaker, anyone and everyone had the opportunity to take 60 seconds to pitch an idea. There were about 70 of those. Then we got three sticky notes per person to vote for the idea(s) we liked best.

The originators of the top 15 ideas had 30 seconds to pitch their problem, solution, and the kind of people they needed—developers, designers, and business hustlers. Then the rest of us self-sorted into those 15 teams.

  • It’s amazing how quickly people who don’t know each other or anything about each other morphed into teams.

The people you team with on college projects are your classmates. You at least know them a little. In that atmosphere, it’s kind of natural for teams to form.

At Startup Weekend, everyone is pretty much strangers. It was a little chaotic. Some people joined a team because they believed in the idea. Other people shopped around to find where they could do the best work.

Most people didn’t know what people did for a living; we had no idea what other people could contribute. People knew I was a designer, but they had never seen my portfolio. They were surprised when they saw our web site design. They didn’t know how much I could do—and I didn’t know that about them either.

  • We really did learn a lot about starting a company.

I thought that maybe in two days, there would be some ideas, and maybe a couple of activities and we’d be done. Instead, these 15 teams developed business models, marketing strategies, and the specs for prototypes and minimally viable products (MVP).

We had only 54 hours; within that people were able to do animated videos and deep product branding. Others developed applets. It’s amazing to see what people accomplished when they focused on a project, despite having a time constraint. There was some really nice work. Some of the developers actually built a clickable prototype.

I joined a team that had an idea for teaching kids how to use 3D modeling software. It’s complex to understand and learn, but 3D printing is the wave of the future.

While we all believed in the idea, we had a lot of ups and downs during the entire weekend experience of creating our startup.

We white-boarded our solution, but when three people on our team did field research talking to parents at COSI, Columbus’ Center for Science and Industry, none of the surveyed parents liked our idea. After three or four pivots, we finally decided to target our solution towards young adults with an interest in 3D modeling to teach them what was possible. It took us until Sunday morning to figure all this out.

  • My comfort zone is a lot bigger than I thought it was.

I knew that Startup Weekend happens often and in lots of places, but I never saw myself as one to go.

SW Map

Then I started working at Rev1. I wanted to know how these entrepreneurs come up with their ideas. How do people actually put a business plan together? And how the heck do they do this on a weekend?

Going into it, I didn’t have high expectations for myself and my team. I just wanted to have an overall well-rounded experience and get an idea of how people actually approach entrepreneurship. It’s a world that was new to me.

Even though our team didn’t win the contest, one of the mentors and speakers, Dan Rockwell, program manager of the Software Prototyping Center at Ohio State, thought our idea was good enough that we should at least see where we could take it. We’re going to meet with him to see what we can do to move forward.

Now I’m definitely hooked. I kind of want to see where we can take this.

  • Anyone who has any idea or feels even a tiny twinge of curiosity about entrepreneurship should come to the next Startup Weekend.

Startup weekend is good exercise for anyone to jump in and see what the heck is possible.

I was nervous. I’m not an entrepreneur; that word doesn’t describe me at all. I’m a designer. After my experience, I think that everyone should do Startup Weekend, just to see what is possible.

You come together as team. Everyone brings strengths to the table. Like in the real world of entrepreneurship, you aren’t in it by yourself. There’s a force behind you. You have your mentors. You have your team. You have your own creativity.

So now, when people ask me about Startup Weekend, here’s what I’m going to say.

  • Sign up. It doesn’t matter if you know you want to be an entrepreneur, or if you just want to see what all the buzz is about.

Then mentors are great. There’s remarkable creativity energy here in Central Ohio. Every idea at Startup Weekend doesn’t get acted upon. But every idea creator and builder gets respect.

  • Participate. I’m going again, and when I do, I’ll be ready to pitch one of my own ideas. It’s a totally open-minded audience. No one is there to make fun of you or belittle your idea.
  • Startup Weekend is an inclusive community event. It’s open to all of Columbus, not just the techies. You don’t have to be an engineer or C++ programmer to join in; I’m a graphic designer after all.