How to Get the Most Out of Startup Weekend

by Khaled Sadek, February 22, 2012

How can you achieve the maximum benefit from Startup Weekend?

You can increase your chance of winning at Startup Weekend by 100%, by taking advantage of every moment at the event, which is rich with opportunities to set up new projects. Youth here are surrounded with a wonderful atmosphere that includes organizers and supporters, practical advice and enjoyable stress, and face to face meetings with successful entrepreneurs who offer the lessons of their experiences.

Unique opportunity

In my own experience at Startup Weekend in Cairo this past month, I admit that I could achieve only about half of the goals I set. Perhaps this was due to encoutering new challenges that surprised me, but I will try to discuss them here and find solutions so that others can be better prepared in the future and receive maximum benefit from the event.

Learn and unleash creativity and madness

Because Startup Weekend is only three days long, don’t try to exploit any minute for anything else, because you simply can’t. Finish all of your work and commitments, and consider Startup Weekend as a holiday and time to relax. And do not forget to use your creativity and madness, creating a startup company is like a game. There might not be conclusive results stemming from the ideas and madness, but regardless, you can build a professional team, learn from advisers, and enjoy. 

Start from the first second

The most important and the easiest target of the Startup Weekend is the formation of new relationships. Most participants share this goal of meeting potential co-workers, so take advantage of it and start quickly, because it will then be easier for you to enjoy and benefit from your time in the three days. Also the second and third days will be more monotonous, with more people focusing on their ideas, so it will be more difficult to start building relationships.

Of course, entrepreneurs and professionals will attend to support and provide advice to the participating teams, so do not miss the free opportunity to identify them. It is sufficient to know some information about their projects and their work and talk to them about it. You should sit near the front chairs, and offer assistance to everyone, even your competition.

Anas Emad, who participated in Startup Weekend twice before, points out that networking is not just about building a startup. "I noticed that some companies and entrepreneurs are looking for staff, so I would recommend building relations and exercising your marketing skills during the first three days in order to get job offers," he says.

The one-minute pitch

The first question you will be asked the moment you arrive and after the routine registration is “Are you going to pitch?”

Note: At Startup Weekend Cairo, most participants use a blend of English and Arabic. Verbs are usually kept in English like “pitch” or “plan” while maintaining the Arabic prefix to the verbs (ha-) that means “Will you”.

The moment you hear that question and utter the answer “yes,” your heart rate will elevate, even more so when you realize that the attendees are not less than 150 people. You will continue to get more and more nervous when you know that many of the people in the audience will not be pitching. Your heart rate may hit the roof when you realize that ideas are accepted based on your 60 second pitch, regardless of how good and innovative they are.

I can hear you now screaming, “Life is not fair!” but as we have assured you before, the main purpose of Startup Weekend is to learn through experience in the easiest, fastest and least expensive way possible, not necessarily through establishing independent companies. 

That’s why one minute is enough time for every participant to present their idea, which will surely not involve building a spaceship. Your idea should be fairly simple and easily comprehended, and perhaps also related to information technology (IT), such as a website or mobile phone application, because the majority of the Startup Weekend participants are professionals and students from the IT world, who will only be able to participate in the field they know and understand well. The idea should also be simple enough that 80% of can be executed within only 36 hours by a team of 4 to 5 individuals who aren't all experts.

5 Tips for Pitching

The pitch is one entire minute without using PowerPoint. Just a crazy idea, a microphone and speakers that broadcast what you’re saying live to 150 sets of eyes and ears. So, the solution is to trick the system! You can use the following ideas:

1. You can save over 30 seconds if you draw your idea on a big piece of paper and ask one of the participants to hold it as you pitch instead of using PowerPoint.

2. If you have no way to improvise your presentation, you can write it down and read it.

3. Say it loud and clear. Scream it if you want! This will boost your confidence (especially if the participant pitching before you was quiet) and it will excite the audience.

4. Run through a short dialogue with one of the listeners prior to your pitch. This strategy worked very well for the Wareiny team in the final pitch.

5. All the participants want to be the last to pitch. That could be good for some in order to learn from the mistakes of others; however, the long wait might make some people nervous. If you get nervous easily, it will be better for you to be one of the first teams to pitch.

It's a good idea to jump in. If you don’t have an idea and you don’t pitch, it will be such a loss for you, my friend, because you will be wasting a free opportunity to introduce yourself to participants and promote your ideas and skills to them. Come up with any idea or create a solution to any problem, even if you’re sure that you will not win any votes, just to put yourself out there. You can follow the ideas that were pitched during the previous Startup Weekend and notice that most of the ideas are simple; it doesn’t take a genius to come up with one.

The password is IT

Startup Weekend revolves mostly around the IT field and most of the participants are IT students and professionals, but that doesn’t mean there’s no place for ideas from other fields. There are many tasks that fully IT-foucsed teams might not accomplish well, like promotion, development and business analysis- these are opportunities.

The mentors are there to support non-IT ideas as well. Samuel Bishoy (a successful businessman with 30 years of experience in business management who worked as a consultant for the UAE government and participated in Startup Weekend Cairo) said, “I was amazed by the zealous and innovative environment but disappointed with the fact that the event focused solely on the IT field. Unfortunately, I will not be participating on the second and third days.”

Choosing a team

If you were successful and your idea was accepted, you will have a great opportunity to learn how to put together a suitable team quickly. If you become a team leader, it will be your responsibility to see your team to success. It’s important to understand that you only have 36 hours and you will not be able to change your team during that short time, so pick it carefully!

First, set your goal. You might prefer a team that gives you experience more than anything else, or a team with a brilliant idea that boosts its chances of success. The important thing is to seize your chance at Startup Weekend with a crazy, keen team. Another tip: it's better to avoid teams of employees and focus on teams of freelancers.

Only 22 hours

They say Startup Weekend is 54 hours, but the truth is, the team has only 22 hours. It’s important to prepare quickly and divide tasks according to these limited resources in the first day before heading home. The team should also sleep well after the first day to be able to keep working for 12 hours between the second and third day. Some previous participants of Startup Weekend have even worked through the night before the third day.

Mustafa Kamel, a member of the Shoghlana team that won third place at Startup Weekend Cairo, stated, “What we gained from working those few hours at Startup Weekend Cairo was similar to that at the 'Startup Camp' that I participated in, and it had lasted for three months.”

Take advantage of your authority

Google, Nokia, Microsoft, Nile University… these are all popular brands and sponsors of Startup Weekend Cairo, and they will always happily lend you a hand, so why not make them your first clients and partners?

Adding an Artistic Touch

Some beautiful touches won’t hurt. You can perform an artistic show like playing a musical instrument during lunch in afternoon on the second day or during the winding down period of that day. If you’re a talented artist, you could even do some caricature drawings of the attendees and put them up on the wall, to keep creativity flowing.

“During the morning on the second day, Mustafa Seraj, who came up with an idead for a Social News platform, motivated the participants with some light exercise.

But I didn’t get an invitation to Startup Weekend

If you did not receive an invitation, I will tell you the secret to getting in. Some people were able to attend as visitors in the audience, so that's one possibility- ask the organizers. You can also attend as an investor- putting in effort but not necessarily money- or a blogger. The important thing is to try and not give up for your chance to participate. 

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Khaled Sadek is the Financial Editor at Alam Al-Mal Newspaper in Egypt, and previously worked as a freelance Financial Writer and Editor at Amoaly.com, and has won awards for his performance as a stock trader on the Egyptian market. You can find him on Twitter at @khaled_sadek_a

 
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