Startup Weekend is a fantastic initiative and a platform that has been the launching pad for thousands of startup ideas around the world. It brings together talented entrepreneurs, often those who are new or inexperienced, and helps them to pitch and execute their ideas. Startup Weekend is helping to shape startup culture and build startup communities globally.
I started Party with a Local at Startup Weekend Amsterdam and it was the thing that really kicked me in to gear, the catalyst that got me to finally do something with my ideas. Without it I think Party with a Local probably would have just remained an idea in my head. So I’m very thankful to have attended and enthusiastic about Startup Weekend and the global movement it has started.
There are, however, some big differences between pitching and building something at a Startup Weekend compared with starting and launching an actual startup. In this post I aim to sum up some of those differences, especially in terms of the 3 T’s: Team, Time & Traction.
The main differences between Startup Weekend and starting and launching a Startup:
Team – Teams form extremely quickly and easily at a Startup weekend. They have to. After the Friday pitches, finalists scramble to snap up the talent on offer and convince them to join their teams. At SW Amsterdam, within 10mins I had formed a team of 9 (!) very talented web and mobile developers, designers and business guys. We ended up working really well together, had a lot fun, drank a lot of beer and got a lot done.
I was lucky enough to maintain a good working relationship with a number of my team after Startup Weekend. A few continued to work on PwaL part-time and we’ve since collaborated on other projects (and we still meet semi-regularly for more beer and startup talk).
However, the reality is that most people are not in a position to drop everything after Startup Weekend, to focus on something they spent one weekend working on. With a few exceptions, most team members go back to their real lives, day jobs or studies the next day.
The forming of a real and committed startup team takes a lot longer. For me it took about 7 months after Startup Weekend before I finalised (and formalised) a team. It takes a lot of time to find the right people – people that understand and share your vision and passion for the idea and that you can work well with on an ongoing basis. For best results, this can’t be forced or rushed.
This has lead me to conclude:
A Startup Weekend team is like a one night stand – you’re together for a short time, it’s intense, rushed, at times clumsy, it’s usually alcohol-fueled, you don’t get much sleep and you may or may not ever see them again.
A real startup team is more like a marriage – you meet (often introduced by a friend), you date for a while, see how you click and work together, if it starts to go well and things are getting serious, then it’s time to formalise the relationship.
Time – it is amazing how much can get done and built in 54 hours at a Startup Weekend. At SW Amsterdam we had a live and working Party with a Local website that allowed people to sign-up using Facebook, create a profile, search other users and send messages. We also had a first working prototype of an iPhone app (linked to the same database of users as the website), a marketing plan and go to market strategy and by day two, a growing number of sign-ups.
The reality of launching a startup is that everything takes longer. A lot longer. Market research, finding a team, advisors, office-space, getting feedback, testing, designing, coding and building something that people actually want (for the right platform and audience), building things that can scale, getting returning users, sorting your legals, financials etc… you may be able to hack together something that looks and sounds pretty good on the surface at SW, but these things take time to do properly – weeks, months, years.
Traction – In the bubble that is Startup Weekend you can be fooled to thinking you’ve got the next big idea, that you’re immediately going to go global and viral (and/or get a massive investment after your final pitch).
At SW Amsterdam I got the most votes for Party with a Local when I pitched on Friday night, and by Sunday we already had hundreds of sign-ups. In our pitch to the judges we bragged that we had lots of users signing up every minute. This was true at one point (inflated growth via friends and family of our mammoth team of 9). We also got written up in a large Dutch newspaper the following day. All signs pointed to Party with a Local being an instant hit and it rolling on after the weekend.
However, after Startup Weekend, user growth quickly dropped to zero, the media attention disappeared and I realised there was a lot of work to even get to what Party with a Local should be as a product.
The reality is that real traction – consistent and increasing user growth, returning users, referring users, revenue (and other pirate metrics that help tell you are are reaching product-market fit) takes much longer. Traction also takes a hell of a lot more testing, trying, hustling and grinding than can be done in one weekend.
In conclusion: Startup Weekend – a great initiative, the perfect place to pitch a startup idea and get it out in the world, and an experience that I urge every budding entrepreneur to try at least once.
A Startup – something that is incredibly difficult to get right, something that takes a lot of time and work, something that’s more like a marathon than the sprint of Startup Weekend. I don’t pretend that I’m even close to ‘making it’ with Party with a Local yet, but trying to start and launch a startup is another thing I definitely recommend every budding entrepreneur should try at least once!