I had the pleasure of attending the presentations at last year’s Vancouver Startup Weekend. The gist of the weekend is this: people spend 54 hours pitching tech business ideas, then the best ideas get selected, teams are then formed around those ideas and by the end of the weekend teams pitch their ideas and products to a panel of judges who are local tech business leaders or VC investors.
It was my first time, and in my personal opinion it was probably the best $100 I’ve spent in the last five years of my life. I learned more about the realities of running a business than I did anywhere else. It gave me a lot to reflect about on how to improve my business, and I wanted to share some of the lessons that will not only apply to tech startups but to any small businesses that are hoping to launch. Here are 5 lessons I learned from Startup Weekend.
1) Good Ideas Mean S**t
There were 63 business pitches made. Many of them were great, and others just didn’t resonate with people. I pitched the idea of creating a crowdfunding platform, known as Women Funding Women. Basically it would be a site like Kickstarter or Indiegogo but focus on female led or female oriented projects. I was delighted to find out that my idea made it to the top 17.
People came up to me and asked questions, and were very excited about the idea. But as much encouragement as I received, when it came time to see who wanted to be on my team, only one person came by and joined. Unfortunately we were both business development people and we needed programmers and developers to help us build the site. The idea folded for the weekend. Good ideas don’t mean anything if they aren’t executed and without good people bringing the project to life.
(P.S. If you like the idea and have some feedback about it, I would love to chat with you, feel free to contact me at vince (at) MCNGMarketing.com.)
2)There’s Always Someone That Will Come Up with A Better Idea
Matt Mickiewicz, the founder of 99 Designs, came up with the idea of 99 designs as a way to disrupt the graphics design industry. It pissed off a lot of people who were in the industry, including one of my professors at BCIT.
No matter who he pissed off, the lesson I’ve learned from Matt is that if you don’t find a way to keep coming up with good business ideas that address a customer’s pain point, or if you’re not finding ways to change businesses upside down and inside out, someone else will do it for you, and you’ll be left in the dust complaining about it. It’s always important to take a step back and spend days that are just thinking about innovation and creation.
3) Research The Pain Clients or Customers are Having and Validate the Pain
This is often such a crucial part of running a business. A good idea does nobody any good. Some good ideas have actually come too early, and not too late. This is why it’s important to be able to go and do your research and find out if what you’re proposing is solving a pain problem for your client or customers.
One of the teams at Startup Vancouver wanted to do language translation services in a micro format (taking on Google Translate) but they soon realized based on research that it wasn’t really a pain point for people. They ended up switching the business model.
This is why even if you are solving what you potentially believe is a customer or client’s pain point you need to go out there and test your hypothesis. What information do you have that validates what you are proposing is really a pain point? Did you send out surveys to a few dozen people? Did you go and talk to the people you potentially want to target to see if it is an issue that they are willing to pay for?
4) Create a MVP (Minimum Viable Product)
When research has been done and you can validate that it’s a serious pain point for your customers or clients, the next thing you can do is create a minimum viable product. People think that you have to create something that’s absolutely perfect during its launch when in reality it’s not the case. Sometimes you just need to launch the most basic framework of your product or service.
This can be a website with the most basic functions that are needed most, or releasing an app in beta to test among a few friends. Or if it’s non startup, Bonnie Foley Wong from Pique Ventures has some great approaches to creating MVP’s for non tech startups.
If you have a concept for food that might be different and out there, then rent out a kitchen and test out the food with strangers. Friends and family care too much about you. Strangers will give more honest feedback on anonymous sheets. This is a good way to start a MVP. This way you can also gauge how much people are willing to pay for dishes and how they relate to the financial food costs.
5) A Good Team Outweighs All Individual Talent
I was very blessed to be working with a talented team to build Codefolio. Nobody had any particular dominating talent. We didn’t have one graphic designer that was amazing, nor one programmer, or one business development person. It was the fact that we all had specialties of our own and we combined our strengths to make something even stronger. I even had someone from My Best Helper, last year’s winners of Vancouver Startup Weekend asked me who did the graphics for us. Truthfully 3 people contributed, but no one person was the single talent.
A Good team makes things so much more easier, and saves so much headache and time for a business.
If you want to grab a different perspective from one of my awesome team mates from Codefolio, Hilary Kilgour wrote also wrote about her great experience with Startup Weekend in this post.
Also a big thanks goes to Kira Newman from Tech Cocktail for interviewing me about my experience with Startup Weekend and about my team at Codefolio. You can read about it here.