This weekend I participated in Startup Weekend St. Louis. I went with an idea and ended with a team and a third place win. Our winning entry was Wanders - a solution that combines planning, navigation and community into one application that addresses the unique needs of the RV traveler. Sounds great right? It is but it definitely didn’t start out that way.
Here’s how it started. Matt Homann, original pitch man for Invisible Industries (a former winner of Startup Weekend) mentioned Startup Weekend to me when we were discussing the stress of sitting through the ups and downs of the business cycle. He suggested working on fun things, things that expand and grow my business during the down times - I mentioned to him I had an idea percolating and he encouraged me to take it to startup weekend - two weeks later I did.
Attending startup weekend and pitching was a big step for me as I tend to have plenty of ideas but they often lay dormant because I haven’t found the courage, time or resources to take action on them. Giving ideas life is what startup weekend is all about. In fact - startup weekend is really cocreation in action. When we cocreate we don’t know where we’ll end up so its scary. For example I tend to be afraid of pitching my ideas in groups - for successful CoCreation I have to be aware of what gets in my way - the following thoughts are often a problem:
- I don’t know exactly what to do — and that is bad;
- I need to be in control of what is happening, and I am not — and that is bad;
- I’d better just play it safe, to make sure things don’t turn on me;
- This is not working. I’m switching off.
The Startup Weekend container gives you the support you need - each step of the way you are given support, guidance and encouragement to fight your thinking habits and bring your ideas to life.
Pre-weekend communications helped me prepare to pitch and during the weekend co-creation through forming a team and taking advantage of mentors helped shape and evolve the idea to the winning pitch. The Wanders team (Dennis Chandler, Dave Blankenship and John Boiser) and the coaches helped guide and shape our product pitch to get it to a place where it made business sense and could be communicated easily.
Before I attended Startup weekend I wrote up a little pitch about the idea - its fun to rewatch it now and realize how it changed. Mostly it changed through the UX process. By interviewing and surveying other RVers and workshopping what we learned with non-RVers we were able to make the Wanders story relatable to both audiences. In my first pitch prior to co-creation it was all about the benefits to the RV person - but in the end it was a story everyone in the audience could understand.
Each of the top three teams had a UX member on it, two had veterans of the St. Louis UX community - Martha Valenta was on the winning team for Dinner Kits and I was on Wanders. I think this says a lot for the connection between understanding users and creating a startup pitch that resonates.
As a big fan of tools that work I want to share some that worked for our team for Startup Weekend. Some of the things that helped our team included YouTube, Pearltrees, Slack, Facebook and Google slides. First there was YouTube - which allowed me to practice pre-pitch and share it with CoCreators like Jim, Melissa, Becca and Nathan (thanks guys!). Then Pearltrees an online “place for your interests” - that the team used to curate links and content on the RV market. Slack was used to facilitate group and team communication throughout the weekend - its easy to setup and easy to roll out - we created our own team channel to help coordinate our efforts - I’m becoming a big fan of this tool for event-based collaboration. Facebook came through by offering their “Ask Question” feature. We used this to poll existing RV communities I was a member of and finally Google Slides helped us collaboratively edit the pitch deck in real time making us nimble and allowing for multiple iterations.
All in all it was a great experience and at the end of it there were 8 great ideas not just three. Some of my favorites included a product called “I was there” that supports saving event details - think ticket stubs but with all the extra data around it to connect people and memories into an online community that promotes sharing and destination unknown - a travel app that knows you well enough to make trip recommendations for you. If you have an idea that needs to be brought to life try Co-creating - it will get you through the scary parts of the process and on to the rewards of getting your idea into the world.