What did you do this past weekend? Did you build a business from scratch? Me neither, but I CAN say I helped 10 teams of people do just that.
From 6pm on Friday until 8.30pm Sunday evening, I was a mentor at the inaugral Christchurch Startup Weekend, which was held at the Westpac Business and Community Hub in Addington.
Startup Weekend is an intense 54 hour event which focuses on building a web or mobile application which could form the basis of a credible business over the course of a weekend. It’s open to anyone, but primarily attracts software developers, designers, marketers, product managers, business strategists, students and startup enthusiasts. More than anything else, Startup Weekends are all about education. The idea is that teams learn through the act of creating, building a strategy and testing it as they go.
Part of the global Startup Weekend phenomenon, the Christchurch event (hashtag #chcsw) was more popular than similar events held in Auckland and Wellington, attracting over 100 participants and 31 separate business pitches, much to the delight of organizers.
The weekend kicked off at 6pm Friday night, with registration and a casual networking dinner, enabling attendees and mentors to mix and get to know each other prior to the pitch frenzy. There were plenty of beards and geek tees on display, a few larger than life personalities and even a team of nerdy hopefuls that had driven a campervan down from Wellington and set up camp in the stadium carpark. What intrigued me the most was a gaggle of young male high school students, who I (wrongly) assumed were attending in support of their older siblings.
After dinner, Christchurch Mayor Bob Parker officially opened the event, reminding everyone that entrepreneurship such as that being incubated this weekend, was crucial to the post-quake rebuild efforts of our city.
Following the welcoming address, whoever wanted to pitch a business idea had 60 seconds on stage to impress the room and attract others to form a team around their idea. Halfway through the pitches, two of the 14 year old high school students got up with a pitch of their own – knocking the socks off the audience and reminding me not to ASSume anything!
With 31 ideas pitched, each pitcher was given a sign and each attendee given stickers with their name on to place on the sign of their choice. The more stickers on your sign, the more likely your idea would make it to the team formation stage. Only 10 ideas could survive the cull and it was no surprise that the most confident and amusing pitches attracted the most votes. The surviving teams emerged as:
- Deal-Freak– a web site and mobile app that allows business owners in the hospitality trade to list food and beverage specials and allows consumers to find these specials in their local area using geo-location tools.
- GetItFixed (team campervan) – an online booking service to enable tenants and property managers to more efficiently schedule trades-people to perform property maintenance.
- Tsk – This team of 6 developers and 2 marketing/business minds had quite a journey, starting out as My Wish List which then became I Want It, which finally became Tsk. It began as a social media app to enable buyers to find sellers using product-based hash tags, but ended up as a task fulfillment application for local communities, driven by Twitter and Facebook. The idea is that people post jobs they need done using the hashtag #tsknz e.g. “I need someone to drive me to the airport tomorrow #tsknz” and then registered users respond based on either a fixed price or via off site negotiation with the poster.
- Anticounter – a cloud based anti-counterfeiting/copy-detection service suitable for packaged goods. Relying on QR codes on authentic goods, manufacturers are notified as soon as copies are detected, enabling them to pro-actively warn consumers in the target market to beware of fake products circulating in their market.
- IQnGo – initially known as My Bank Boss, IQnGo morphed into a prepaid beverage token system using QR codes, which allows vendors to serve more customers faster, stadiums to decrease congestion and patrons to have shorter wait queues at sports events, trade shows and festivals.
- InstaBeer – probably the most straight forward of all business models, Instabeer is a smart phone application that allows you to buy your mates a beer / beverage anywhere, anytime. Using your credit card, you can buy a beverage for anyone with a cell phone number and they redeem it by having their code swiped at participating bars.
- Media Mansion (the 14 year olds) – a download hosting site that distributes local indie music, merchandise, event promotion and tickets to consumers. Locally based, and 100% free for users and artists, the site requires significant buy in from local artists and music lovers, but would, to some extent, resolve music piracy issues in NZ.
- LoVo / LocalVoice – a smart phone / ipod application that uses data mining to provide real-time, tour guide style information about New Zealand cities in an audio format.
- BuyNow – a self-checkout mobile application that reduces queue time for shoppers, while providing real time customer feedback to vendors.
- Keeping Tabs – originally called CheckIn, Keeping Tabs developed into a sophisticated security monitoring smart phone application to enable parents to keep tabs on their children’s location and safety in a non-intrusive way via mobile phone. The application has different levels of risk-monitoring, allowing parents to taking their child’s social context into account before raising the alarm.
More than half the teams changed business models and/or product names over the course of the weekend, most forced to do so after performing market research and customer validation. Along the way, they were observed by 20 mentors who watched closely how they responded under pressure, how they negotiated egos and meshed with other team members in a common cause to build a viable business in 54 hours.
Whenever the pressure got too much, teams would break out the V energy drinks and hold Nerf gun wars in the corridors.
Part of the challenge of being a mentor is to hold back from becoming too involved in team strategy. The role is actually similar to that of a counselor – the best way to help is to stand back, observe the team dynamic, ask questions that get them to look at things from a different angle and know when to step in and steer them back on course. I often joined fellow mentor Wendy from Hot Pyjama Productions to observe and guide a team in a joint effort rather than provide them with a single perspective.
A couple of times over the weekend, I found myself getting caught up in the excitement of features, benefits and long term product potential. It’s tempting to inject your own ideas into a team’s business model, but as Lead Organizer Alan Froggatt consistently reminded us, the personal journey of team members is what Startup Weekend is all about, not the product they end up with. At the close of the event, it doesn’t really matter who wins, because every team member has learned something about themselves and their abilities that is much more valuable than the $2,500 prize package.
So who won the prizes and what did they get?
1st Place: Tsk – who receive:
- $1000 worth of MYOB solutions, and profiled on a regular basis in MYOB client communications.
- powerHouse 1 hour mentoring per month for 4 months.
- Two, one hour, 1-on-1 planning workshops (via Skype) with Derek Handley.
- HyperStart/Webfund an initial $1,000 to the company’s bank account once they have registered with the Companies Office.
2nd Place: Keeping Tabs – who receive from Accelerate Business:
- 2 hour business plan workshop to define essential input information.
- 1 hour follow up meeting to review written business plan.
- Arrange introduction meetings with 5 relevant potential Customers.
- 1 hour Pitching Presentation and Practice Session.
- Arrange introduction meetings with 3 relevant investors.
3rd Place: The Media Mansion – who receive:
- No prize, but the kudos of having been recognised as standing out above seven other teams.
There was also a vote by all team members on their favorite pitch, a People’s Choice award if you like. It was a lovely testament to the event that Team Media Mansion won that as well. We were all incredibly impressed by the maturity and business savvy demonstrated by the youngest team to ever participate in a Startup Weekend.
All in all, a fascinating 54 hours and extremely worthwhile for all involved. My biggest takeaway is that the participants taught me much more than I could have instilled in them – education in the true sense of the word.