Friday, September 17, 2010

Taking the plunge into Austin Startup Weekend

The concept of Startup Weekend is simple.  Participants pay money to be put in a big room tasked to build out a company and working prototype in 54 hours with a team of strangers over the course of a weekend.  Sound awesome?

It did to me and for around 50 other people.  In fact on Sept 10-12, 2010, Austin Startup Weekend saw participants fly in from Boston, drive from Dallas and even cross country boarders from Mexico.  

Friday "Pitch Night AKA Controlled Chaos": I arrived rather early (a rarity if you know my style) and watched @cospace fill up with a very eclectic group of individuals.  I met entrepreneurs, marketers, MBAs & students, developers, and designers. Startup Weekend kicked off with a presentation from Ryan, a startup lawyer and then we went straight into pitches. A Pitch is a 60-90 second explanation of your business idea, the problem that you are solving, and what type of skills/resources you need.  After about 30 pitches, everyone starts to informally gather in groups and ask more questions to the team leaders. Personally, I wanted to join 50% of the pitches made.  Maybe I'm just one of those people at the ice-cream store that wants all flavors, but there were so many interesting ideas.  I ended up joining a team that at the time was WTF ATX which we later re-branded to Instavents.

Our team consisted of 4 people: Chris (student), Lisa (team leader), Alvin (developer) and myself (social media/mktg).  It was a simple concept to create a new way to discover local events and we spent the rest of the evening laying out the site design and how we would create the site.

Saturday "Work Day AKA Just do it": Groups continued to work on their businesses while sipping coffee and chowing down on pizza/bagels/never ending food table.  We talked a lot about how people would use the site, did a bit of market research, had logos created by my friend Aaron, set up social media presence, sifted through potential ideas and Alvin hammered away on our prototype.  We also enjoyed an early even speech from Gary Hoovers (yeah - you may have heard of one of his first startups) which was not only entertaining but very educational.

Sunday: "Investor Presentations AKA Oh Shit..we aren't done": Teams had until 5pm to have their final presentations completed as well as any demo prototype/design.  Our team worked down to the last wire - literally seconds before our presentation.  We has a brilliant design come in 2 hours before time was called from Sebastian, a hour before realized we didn't add a slide about how the site would make money, 6 hours before decided to lose WTF ATX all together and just go with Instavents, and the code was generating a PHP error seconds before our turn.  It was nail biting, blurry and awesome all at the same time.

So then you pitch to a handful of entrepreneurs, startup incubators, and angels. I tweeted through the night although looking back lack of sleep + rapid tweeting do not go hand in hand.  Regardless, at the end of the night not only did we make top 3, but we actually went on to win.

I came home exhausted but renewed at the same time.

My pocket was packed with business cards of people I'd actually like to keep in touch with.

My mind was full of new ways to look at my startup and I was already buzzing about getting Instavents mainstream.

My twitter account (basically the heartbeat for a SM person) is now following some of Austin's rock stars.

And I really felt for the first time some entrepreneurial soul. People who are truly interested in using the collective of their skills set to create new innovative products.

So in closing...thanks to all the sponsors such as @cospace@infochimps@capitalfactory@ideafoundry@conjunctured@ghgroup@texasventures, and @piry.

If you are considering going to a startup weekend - do it, and to the people who I met over the weekend - see you next year!