My Startup Weekend Experience

This past weekend I participated in Startup Weekend Lexington. It was an amazing experience, where I walked away with a new understanding of myself as ever aspiring entrepreneur. Now that I have been able to catch up on sleep, here are my key take-a-ways:

Lesson One: 

A lot can be accomplished in three days.  I have had business ideas in the past, along with the many ideas that I had to expand business when Endurance Base Camp was my full time focus. The issue with those ideas was that I rarely committed to an idea, in a way that allowed me to understand if it was valid. I would try to work on it in the spare moments, which meant starting and restarting on a project. What I learned this weekend was that you can validate an idea in a short amount of time. It is better to commit to the idea and validate the concept, then letting it linger, distract and compete with other business ideas and actions. It may take more time than three days, but it should not take months to determine if the idea is worth pursuing.

I initially wasn’t going to pitch an idea on Friday night, but I got caught up in the moment. In the end, I am glad that I did. It allowed me to put the idea that has been hanging around in my head, out into the world. I am honored that out of all the ideas pitched, it was one of ten that made it to a final pitch. I am honored that Rick, Sarah, Demeisha and Rockwell decided to take the journey with me. I also can let the idea go dormant for now.

Lesson Two: 

Ideas are easy, business models can be uncovered, but proving a business can acquire customers is tough.  It was a lot of fun to debate features, customer motivation, benefits of the product, but the largest question we didn’t answer was if we would be able to acquire paying customers. This can be challenging to do over three days, but it can be done. The Wyhoo guys (an on-demand oil change service) had revenue within 24 hours. While we had a strategy on how we would acquire customers, we didn’t have any actual traction to show.

I love this lesson because it helps me further understand that having a great idea is never enough. Unless you have people paying you money, it is not a business. I would also make the argument that unless you have a clear path to profitability, it is not a business.

Lesson Three:

Criticism can be the most valuable input you receive from someone else about your idea.  It hurts to hear someone tell you all the reasons why your idea is not very good and why it will not work. It feels much better when they say they love the idea. But it is the criticism that allows your idea to become a product or business.

Our team spent all of Friday night and Saturday morning working with an idea that we thought would be a great product. As we iterated on the idea, surveyed people to validate the concept, shared with other teams and worked with the mentors  on the business model, we got a decent amount of confusion and skepticism.  It got to the point where I was not sure what we were trying to create. We completely changed the business model at 3pm on Saturday, then made several small changes over the next 24 hours.  Each of those changes were positive. Every change was made because we were willing to hear the criticism, listening to the honest assessments with an open mind.

Final Thoughts: 

I am incredibly happy that I made the decision to participate in Startup Weekend Lexington. Having just finished the Web Development Bootcamp at Awesome Inc., I went into the weekend thinking I would join a team as a developer to promote my newly learned skills. In the end I walk away with many new lessons as an entrepreneur, leader and presenter / pitcher. Maybe the most important thing I take away from the weekend are all the connections I made with other people in our community that are interested in startups and technology.