Guest Commentary: Startup Weekend was the most exhilarating and exhausting 54 hours since the birth of my (and my wife’s) last child. You can think of it kind of like catnip for people who love the intensity and energy of startups at the earliest possible stage.
Some fun statistics from the coding marathon last weekend: 85 participants, 35 pitches, 13 companies formed, 72 Costco muffins, 20 pizzas, and 30 pots of coffee consumed. The best part of Startup Weekend is not what happens over the weekend, but what you take away from it. Here are five things I learned.
It’s amazing what you can build in a weekend
I couldn’t believe the quality of what a small group of dedicated, talented engineers and product people could build in a 54-hour sprint. One team, Mr. Hand, built a mechanical hand that can be controlled remotely from a browser. Another team, Tunefield, built a mobile app that enables individuals to broadcast music playlists in real time to their friends’ nearby mobile devices. Three companies built social games that would compare quite favorably with most of what you find on Facebook. The winner, Crowdsort.me, had its widget up and running by Saturday and already had thousands of user interactions by the time it pitched its product on Sunday. Amazing!
It’s all about the people, even on a weekend project
Startup Weekend is a great reminder that people are more important than ideas. Most of the final presentations looked nothing like the ideas that were originally pitched. The various teams morphed their ideas in real time, figuring out what they could build in a short amount of time and in several cases changing an idea to pursue a more interesting path.
Consider my team, Shubz.TV. I had a general idea that I wanted to build something around social video, but it was Scott Porad who refocused us around a YouTube video experience surrounded by live video chat. Scott, David Aronchick, Umesh Unnikrishnan, Ludo Antonov, Roy Leban and Thomas Yip then built a prototype in about 45 minutes to prove we actually could do it. Seeing that first prototype was the highlight of the weekend for our team.
I need to learn how to code:
To build a great technology product, you need great developers. In the context of Startup Weekend, the business folks add value in various ways, but the Michael Jordans are the engineers and designers who actually build stuff. Unfortunately, I can barely draw a stick figure, so the graphic artist thing is out. I am never going to be a star developer. That said, to make a serious contribution at future Startup Weekends, I should learn how to write a little code.
It takes time to look good
As I mentioned above, we had a pretty decent prototype running within an hour. It took the next day-and-half to spruce it up, add some basic features, and improve the UI. In the end, we still would have many months of work ahead to make the product truly ready for primetime. Most startups face the same challenge. Those last 20 yards are the hardest.
Seattle has incredible startup talent
No one who spent the weekend at Madrona, which hosted the event and co-sponsored it with Cooley Godward and Silicon Valley Bank, would question whether Seattle is one of the top cities in the world to build a startup. This one really isn’t a new learning, but a nice reminder. I will admit that I am totally biased when it comes to Seattle. But I would put the quality of the engineers and product folks that we had working this weekend and the passion they showed for building companies from scratch up against any similar gathering anywhere.
Speaking of startups, Startup Weekend itself is a local Seattle startup and a perfect example of what really great execution looks like.
While we were hosting Startup Weekend in Seattle, there was one being held in Cairo, Egypt at the same time. Recently, Startup Weekend, led by Marc Nager and team, held one in Israel in which Israelis and Palestinians worked side-by-side to build startups over a weekend.
If you have a weekend to spare and want a shot of entrepreneurial adrenalin, I can’t think of a better way to spend 54 hours.
Greg Gottesman is a partner at Madrona Venture Group in Seattle. Startup Weekend is a non-profit organization supported by The Kauffman Foundation. Its next event in Seattle will be held at Amazon.com’s new headquarters from June 10-12.