Greg Gottesman pitches Shubz.TV at Seattle Startup Weekend (Annie Laurie Malarkey photo)

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,, 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.

Members of Shubz.TV, David Aronchick, Scott Porad and Ludo Antonov

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’s new headquarters from June 10-12.

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  • Guest

    Congratulations to Startup Weekend for showing the power of code in uniting men of all shapes, sizes, colours, religious affiliations, and even genders!

  • Damian

    Start up weekend I believe was started by Andrew Hyde from boulder colorado, but regardless they are a ton of fun

    • Roy Leban

      Andrew Hyde did start Startup Weekend. He turned it over to Marc Nager and Clint Nelson a few years ago and they made it a non-profit and took it up a few levels. In startup phrasing, Marc and Clint have knocked it out of the park on execution.

  • Scott Windsor

    I agree with all of these. Even though Joseph is a Biz Dev Ninja by day, he was actually the one who built’s homepage! Also, Matt and Harold were building spreadsheets of crowdsorts with html from around the web while Evan and I were coding away. These are some of a few things that helped us parallelize our work and get stuff done faster. Given only 54 hours (which after sleeping and eating really drops the amount of time), every hour counts.

    I was also really impressed by what everyone was able to build in a weekend. I hope the Seattle nay-sayers see we are not just lattes and mountain biking. :)

    • daveschappell

      I can attest that you’ll never see @swindsor drinking a latte :-). Go team !

      • Scott Windsor

        Maybe once every five years. About as often as I ride my mountain bike. I’m a drip/americano dude all the way.

    • joesunga

      Haha, my minimal coding skills definitely came in handy. :)

      I agree, I was also impressed w/ what everyone built. I do wish I walked around more during the event to see what everyone was doing. Although, the presentations at the end made it all wonderful surprises.

  • John Wedgwood

    I wasn’t able to attend, but followed startup weekend on Twitter. It was really impressive.

    It is great to see Madrona sponsoring this event. If you haven’t heard it enough already – thank you for doing it, and Greg – I think your participation made it even better. I love the idea that this event pulled together teams from a mix of developers, business folks, CTOs, CEOs and Venture Partners. Very cool. Do any of your partners want to come out with you next time?

    • daveschappell

      I’m pretty sure Paul Goodrich was there too, rocking the house.

      • joesunga

        Yes, @PaulGoodrich was definitely there “rocking the house”. He popped into our room several times giving us feedback and suggestions. Good stuff. :)

    • joesunga

      Are you going to the next startup weekend in June?

      • John Wedgwood

        I can’t (not for lack of desire). I’m hoping for one sometime during the Summer. The teams and the ideas from this one were really inspiring.

  • Anonymous

    Congrats, Greg, for getting your startup fix, and for playing Scottie Pippen to the Michael Jordan devs on your team! Full disclosure, as a community adviser to SW, I’m a bit of a junkie myself– these weekends are amazing, but as I think @MarcNager would agree, it’s what happens Monday morning that blows your mind. Killer companies have started here, but it’s every bit as much about kicking wantrapreneurs out of the nest and into full-blown entrepreneurs. Go @StartupWeekend team!

  • Roy Leban

    This Startup Weekend was number four for me, plus I’ve mentored at two others (I’m also an advisor). I’ve learned things at every one while having a great, though exhausting, time.

    There are tons of additional lessons we could all add to Greg’s list, but I’d like to add one which has been a hot topic on GeekWire recently.

    Ideas are easy, it’s execution that matters. Ideas are cheap on Friday night. On Sunday, the question is: who excecuted? While execution can take many forms, if all you have on Sunday is a more fleshed-out idea, you didn’t make good use of the weekend.

    At Startup Weekend, like any startup, you want people on your team that just make things happen. Greg talks a lot about what everyone else did, but he made a great slide deck, complete with concrete thoughts about market and revenue, just appear while the rest of us didn’t even have to think about it.

  • Planet Surguch

    I am glad that everyone enjoyed this weekend. Personally, I was appalled when I learned that this is an “exclusive” event, invitation-only. This, in my mind, goes against the very idea of startup weekend.

    • Roy Leban

      Startup Weekend is not normally invitation-only. I think this was the first, necessitated by a rather small hard limit on the number of attendees (because of the space). The fact that you had to get an invitation or get forwarded an invitation meant that there were more repeat attendees and more people who were committed to being there the whole weekend. And invitations did get forwarded — they just didn’t get posted publicly. It is usually the case that some people sign up just to check it out and then don’t end up participating. At this weekend, attrition was pretty close to zero, and that definitely helped it be a successful event.

      One other difference is that there were no talks, no mentors, nobody wandering around trying to help teams — just teams working, and the next “normal” Seattle Startup Weekend is only a month away.

      • Planet Surguch

        Yes, Roy, thank you – you repeated what was described on the sign up page. Exclusive event, Madrona offices, only veterans, word-of-mouth only, don’t bother to apply of you are not important enough for us to have contacted you. What’s next? Only potential investors? Only those who had two-three successful startups and millions to invest? In other words, it is no longer the egalitarian, try-and-see-what-happens, fun event it used to be. With this in mind, I am not sure if I shall be interested in upcoming Startup Weekend events. Fortunately for me, there is plenty of free and fun hackathons around Northwest which still have the spirit …

        • Roy Leban

          Actually, it ended up being a pretty diverse group, not exclusively composed of veterans of either Startup Weekend or previous startups, not even close. I think the fact that there was very little attrition was a really good side effect.

          I don’t think you can generalize from one event that Startup Weekend has changed radically. The Cairo event had more social (as in politically benevolent) groups than usual and more social (as in social purchasing) groups than usual (see here: and I don’t think you can draw anything from that either.

          Do you really want them not to experiment and try things and only do things one way? That would be antithetical to the whole idea behind Startup Weekend.

          To the extent there are other fun hackathons, I encourage you to go for it. And maybe do Startup Weekend too — the events are not mutually exclusive.

          • Planet Surguch

            I am saying that I do not like the direction SW is taking, not that it changed radically. I’ve been to past SWs, but of course not all of them. I am concerned about the loss of spirit and it becoming more corporate.

            Also – thank for your encouragement. I am a free man and attend events which I consider fun and entertaining to me. That’s the only encouragement I need, really.

          • Roy Leban

            And I’m saying one event is not a direction. As Franck says, this event was an experiment. I don’t see the organization as a whole or the events becoming “corporate”.

            On your second comment, it sounds like you felt insulted by what I wrote. I certainly didn’t intend that! My apologies. I was just saying SW is one of many events and it’s not trying to displace others. And no event is for everyone.

          • Planet Surguch

            Apology accepted.

            To your other comment: they did an experiment. I read nothing but rave reviews – from participants. Those, who, like me, chose not to come because they did not like the message of the ‘experiment’, are silent. Except for me. This is my motivation for writing here (I usually don’t): to let the organizers know what I think. Of course this is not just my sentiment.

            Finally, even though I know the upcoming event in June is a “normal” SW, I am not sure now. I do not like the distinction between “exclusive” and “normal” in startup world.

          • Franck

            Thx dude, we got the message, still hope to see you at the next one,lesson learned, I guess we need to find another way to do experiments, without making it exclusive (exclusive here just meant we pinged our local community) the issue with testing new stuff is that

            1. We don’t want people to think we are changing anything (the hell we love our communiy)

            2. We don’t want our community thinking we are treating “exclusive” people better than others …

            Good feedback though, thx.


    • Franck

      You are right, we did an experiment there …We test our models, don’t worry, we’re not changing the spirit!

  • Jonathan Sposato

    greg thanks for this awesome ‘in the trenches’ look at startup weekend. and i don’t think we’re being biased when we say that the startup talent in seattle is as good as it gets in every aspect. we can absolutely go toe-to-toe (and have) with bay area companies NO QUESTION. and lastly, i couldn’t agree more that even business-types can benefit from some engineering experience. let me know if you want to take some java script classes together : )

  • Franck

    Thx Greg, this is just the most amazing post I’ve ever seen about startup weekend! Rock on to Madrona for having us! f.

  • Anonymous

    May I suggest Greg be the lead person for Seattle…per Mark Suster’s suggestion? He clearly has what it takes!

  • hoWIWeb

    I totally
    agree with the statement “learn to code.” I think too many good ideas never see
    the light of day because the originator doesn’t have the contacts or resources
    to get good developers. Question for the group: What language should someone
    learn if they are a beginning coder and more importantly can the language used
    to build your site/app hurt or help your chances of funding later on? Will
    investors shy away if they learn your site/app is built using “X” versus “Y”? –

    • Scott Windsor

      From a coder’s perspective, I’d say first learn web basics – HTML, maybe some CSS & Javascript. Most likely these days, you’ll be working with creating websites. If you have this baseline, then you can jump into web frameworks or languages like Rails or Django or PHP or .Net… For that decision, I’d say more find the developers that you want, or find a developer that doesn’t mind helping you learn, and pick one. It doesn’t really matter in the long run, since things are always changing and the framework or language you jump into now may not be what you always use.

    • Alex

      I love and recommend C# with MVC2. Java is quite similar to C# so you can broaden your horizon with Android if you want to.

  • Lewis Lin

    I attended the final presentations, and I was impressed by the execution, energy, and innovation. I look forward to the next Startup Weekend!

  • Lewis Lin

    I attended the final presentations, and I was impressed by the execution, energy, and innovation. I look forward to the next Startup Weekend!

  • Franck

    By the way about learning to code, i m gonna launch a beta event (it’s going to be free as it’s a test) we will do it in the Startup Weekend Dojo (@TS) around June/July. I need developpers to be mentors and people willing to learn more about Progrmming. My goal is not to teach programming (I did that a long time ago in C..) but to teach the passion of programming and to teach how to Hack / Learn by Yourself. I’ll focus on HTML / CSS and Javascript, so anyone with a webbrowser will be able to test stuff, I might also include github… I m working on the curriculum if any good dev want to help contact me -> @peignoir:twitter f.

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