Startup Diary: 'Startup Weekends can be just the break your firm needs'

I was very privileged to participate as a mentor in the Startup Weekend event that took place in Waterford this weekend past (Google will find the details for you easily enough). I was pretty jealous of the participants, I can tell you.


Richard Rodger Voxgig

When I started my first online business in 2003 there wasn't half as much support as there is now, and certainly very little in the way of a startup community to help you overcome self-doubt and rookie mistakes.

If you read this startup diary and are thinking about starting your own company, then participating in these kinds of events can be very helpful for getting your thoughts in order, and living the startup experience, if only for a weekend.

The way it works is as follows. You have Friday evening and one weekend to create an idea, form a team, build a prototype, develop a business model, and then do an 'investor' pitch at the end of it all. They do feed you, in case you're wondering. The Startup Weekend in Waterford was supported by Techstars - one of those global startup incubators.

These very early stage investors run events like this to give themselves something known in the trade as 'deal flow'. Finding good startups is something of a black art, and this is one of the ways it is done. That means that if you do decide to participate, you should be prepared to take it seriously - your team-mates certainly will.

The main space for the event was provided by Bank of Ireland, which has kitted out its branches more like co-working spaces these days. Again, it couldn't be more different to the perception of startups even 10 years ago.

The thing that makes Silicon Valley work is the ecosystem - everybody buys into the value of creating new, large-scale, businesses.  You never dismiss anyone, even if, or perhaps especially if, they are wearing a ragged old hoodie. You could be speaking to the next Mark Zuckerberg.  Although these days, startup chic has been very much gentrified, and 'startup hoodies' can set you back hundreds of dollars.  There's even been a startup that tried to launch a range of such designer hoodies - now sadly (or perhaps thankfully), deceased. Entrepreneurhoodie.com is once again free if you want to try your hand.

At the Waterford event there were five teams in total, of about five people each. I got to meet three teams. My session was on the Sunday morning of the final day, so I got to hear and see the nearly complete concepts.

To say that they were streets ahead of my thinking when I had put money down to start an actual business in 2003 would be an understatement.  It would not be fair to say that I had no guidance (I went through an earlier incarnation of the New Frontiers Programme), but a Startup Weekend exercise would have been so useful. You really don't know what you don't know.

There is no formula to building a successful business, and especially not a tech startup. But there are many mistakes that are easy to avoid - and these are often what kill you.  The benefit of the startup weekend exercise could clearly be seen in the great teams that I was able to work with.

By Sunday morning they already had pretty solid pitches, and had moved beyond many common misconceptions.  I was still a little mean to them (the real world is much nastier, and in any case, there's was no time to waste on the stuff they got right).  After each pitch I went straight to my favourite startup question: but how do actually make money?  It can be surprisingly difficult to articulate why people will give you money.

Read the full article from Richard Rodger in the Indo Business (the founder of Voxgig. He is a former co-founder of Nearform, a technology consultancy firm based in Waterford)

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