This past Saturday evening marked the end of an intense 54-hour run of entrepreneurial ambition. Startup Weekend Amman, the first event in Jordan of its kind, aimed to bring developers, designers, marketers and startup enthusiasts together, to form teams, build products and ultimately pitch to a panel of judges. Lead organizer Ata Alqadi began planning the event as early as September 2011, and sought sponsorship namely from Aramex and N2V.
Even though it was a 54-hour event, many of the lessons that are learnt in the early stages at an incubated start up or one that has been seed funded, were also applicable to these teams (the mentioned teams only represent a sample of the teams that had participated in the event).
A lean approach of startups would initially involve validating one’s idea with customers before allocating an abundance of resources to development. Unfortunately customers weren’t part of Startup Weekend Amman. Despite the lack of market simulation, a pool of 80 participants and two dozen mentors certainly provided surefire resource for validating those ideas. Waselny, a car-pooling service, strategically took the time to test the waters by distributing surveys amongst participants; where a substantial number of participants said they would be willing to car-pool.
Yet many of the teams seemed to be emotionally attached to their ideas and didn’t consider pivoting. The result was often a subpar product which didn’t deliver value. This by no means implies that pivoting delivers value. However, a product without validation is only as good as a brilliant idea on pen and paper. The importance of validation cannot be underestimated and will surely act as a good proxy to the adoption rate of the product.
It was no surprise that the teams that completed ahead of the rest were those that had a functional demo and delivered a good pitch, which seemed to be a criterion with a lot of weight when judging the ideas.
NewsMapia, which ranked second, is a mobile based news aggregator that pinpoints news based on a users defined geographical location. Its team delivered a spot-on presentation and demo. One obstacle that could arise with their product is having too many pins on a specific location, but for forming minimum viable product, it worked; surely the team would be able to overcome this issue the future.
The team behind 7aregha (Jordanian slang for “burn it”) a mobile application also had a well thought-out demo. The application adopts a social approach to calorie-counting, initially calculating the calories you have consumed (including local Arabic meals) and allows your Facebook friends to keep track of your commitment to burn those calories. Once again, a well executed product and a functional demo has its rewards. 7regha finished in third place.
It was clear when looking at the winners that a direct, sound pitch that captivates that attention of judges and potential investors is just as important as the validation of the idea and well executed product that delivers value.
Another startup, Codely intends on revolutionizing the way ICT is taught in schools. Think CodeAcademy (www.codeacademy.com) taken one step further. Codely allows teachers to identify areas of weakness that students are having, and then give a tailored exam to individual students based on those weaknesses. Unfortunately, during the event, a projector malfunction sent their pitch spiraling downwards. However a one-one demo after the presentations proved it to be a product that could be launched within months.
Dalalat are determined to develop software that performs trend analysis on Arabic content, which is a relatively untapped market in the region. Initially the plan is to outsource the work to “Dalalat-workers,” Mechanical Turk-style. Further down the line, they would rely on an algorithm to do the work.
Such an idea could be a possible lucrative opportunity for angel investors. Their pitch however fell short of a demo and was only based around a presentation due to the 54-hour time constraint. It would thus require a leap of faith from investors.
Akin to the success factors of an ordinary startup, success at a Startup Weekend boils down to validation, execution, and a solid pitch. Simplicity and ease of use are also definitely winning points, both to potential users and as well as investors.
All in all it was a great initiative thanks to the energy of the organizers, the participants the judges and mentors. As it was a great learning experience for everyone, it would be nice to see more frequent Startup Weekends in Amman.