Lessons Learned From #TSW2012

by agilezen on April 16, 2012

We were happy to support Triangle Startup Weekend as sponsors, andI was fortunate enough to participate by pitching an idea, putting a team together, and launching an MVP. Below are five lessons I learned from the experience.

1) No talk, all action

This is the unofficial mantra of participants during Startup Weekend. It’s amazing what you can accomplish in 54 hours if you put your head down and work. As an example (and shameless plug) we built Unfundable, a crowdsourced funding platform, from zero to product over the weekend and were able to demo the full product during the final pitch on Sunday. Instead of spending time building a slide deck, spend time building a product. If you can’t build a product, see #2:

2) Get technical

On Thursday night I gave a talk at NYU Poly and in the Q&A a young man asked me for advice for “those who aren’t technical”. I said he should try to get technical. The next morning I met with a bunch of Sloan Business School students doing a trek through NYC. A young woman asked me the same question. I gave her the same answer.

– Fred Wilson, Principal, Union Square Ventures (via AVC.com)

Fred Wilson is 100% correct – and this is coming from a marketing guy. I devoted time during high school and college to learning basic web design principles along with HTML, CSS, and JavaScript. By the time I founded my first company at 21, I was able to get us up and running on the web with no outside assistance. By the time I was knee-deep in yet another startup in 2011, I realized I need to learn to code for real. So I learned. None of this is to diminish the expertise and value of people who have devoted their entire professional lives to being software programmers. I’m not even in the same solar system of programming skill as the dev team members here at AgileZen. But, it’s most important to be able to speak their language and build an MVP.

3) Pitch better

Your job when pitching your idea / startup / product is to get people to want to work with you. Very quickly. Regardless of whether you’re pitching for 60 seconds at Startup Weekend trying to put together a team or pitching to VCs looking for millions of investment dollars, convince people that YOU are the person to work with. Make them believe that you have it. Here are a few tangible pieces of advice:

  • Don’t ever say “I’m nervous” – if you’re nervous pitching your idea, how will you be selling your product?
  • State the problem and your solution within 30 seconds. If the audience doesn’t get it, you’re doing it wrong (unless they’re institutional investors – they never understand anything ;) ).
  • Don’t read from notes or a slide deck, it makes you sound impersonal and unprepared.

4) Identify your marketable skill(s)

If you’re trying to be a part of a Startup Weekend, attempting to launch a startup, or trying to get a job, you need to know what your marketable skills are. It’s perfectly fine (and normal) if you’re not very good at some things. In fact, you’re supposed to be terrible at some things because you’ve devoted your time getting good at other things. With this said, if you don’t have any marketable skills, you should get some. If you can’t explain what you’re marketable skills are and back them up, then you need to work harder at them. There is always the opportunity to improve or even learn something new.

5) Find a cat to herd them all

The most challenging part of Startup Weekend is managing the team. Everyone is passionate, opinionated, and ready to work – the trick is making sure everyone is moving in the correct, most productive direction (54 hours is not very much time). Because you’re working with a team of such intelligent and imaginative people, direction and focus are difficult to master. In this case, we are all cats – one needs to take charge of herding them all.

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