3 lessons I learned building a startup in 54 hours
Startup Weekend takes place all over the world. It’s a 54-hour event where people interested in entrepreneurship have the opportunity to experience launching their own startup. This year, Timely came aboard to support Startup Weekend Dunedin.
We had several staff donate their entire weekend to help out as coaches, mentors and judges, and a couple of us were fortunate enough to get involved in the actual competition itself. I figured this would be an awesome opportunity to go along and learn more about the startup landscape. I joined the Timely family late last year, so it’s a scene that’s still relatively new to me!
To say SUW was all fun and games would be a lie. It involved a lot of hard work and tough decisions, and I’m still recovering from the lack of sleep. In saying that, Startup Weekend Dunedin provided me one of the most valuable learning experiences I’ve had to date. Here are a few lessons I learned from my experience.
1. If you can’t explain the problem you’re fixing in one sentence, you’re not solving anything
This was arguably the biggest lesson I took from SUW – if you’re spending a lot of time trying to justify to yourself why you’re doing something, it’s generally a good indication that you’re not wholeheartedly convinced yourself.
There’s also a big difference between solving a problem, and solving a painful problem.
It is possible to sell soda in the desert (nice to have), but it’s much easier to sell water – Sergio Schuler
If you ever forget what you’re mission is, stop. Go back. Remember the problem that inspired you in the first place. It will keep you focused and motivated.
2. It’s ever so easy to give up
When you spend a significant amount of time working on a project only to realize you’ll have to go back to the drawing board, giving up is an easy choice. There were several points during SUW where it would have been far easier to give up rather than carry on. Each time we changed our business concept it took us further away from our comfort zone, and the temptation to throw in the towel became stronger and stronger.
Thankfully I was working with a super supportive team who were all there for the same reasons I was – to learn.
There was also a fantastic group of coaches who were happy to offer their advice and encouraging words when we got stuck or a bit lost.
As a team we continuously reflected on what we had learned each time our business plan pivoted. Any time you feel like you aren’t getting anywhere, think back on how far you’ve really come and the lessons and skills you’ve picked up along the way. That growth will be more significant than you realize.
3. Team composition definitely matters
I learned a huge amount over just a weekend, mainly because I was working with a great team of people. Our primary motive for being there was to experience the struggles of forming a startup business, and to learn from each other as we tried to overcome them . There were no hard feelings when our plans changed and we pivoted again, because we were all still achieving what we’d set out to achieve for ourselves.
Our main downfall was that we didn’t have a huge range of business disciplines between us as a team.
We had a developer, but the rest of us all had similar professional backgrounds. As a result, our developer didn’t get much of a chance to sleep and the rest of the team sank a bunch of time into figuring out how to use various design applications and researching marketing concepts. Having a wider range of skills would have saved us a lot of time, headaches, and allowed each of us to contribute what we know best.
Would I recommend attending a Startup Weekend event? 100% unequivocally, yes.
It was the most hectic 54 hours of my life, hands down, but I’ve come out of it with a deeper appreciation for the challenges (and excitement!) anyone venturing into startup land will face. I’ll also be taking many of the lessons I learned back into my role at Timely, where I know they’ll help me understand things more from a company perspective.
Go give it a go, people – you’ll come out of it exhausted but with a bucket-load of new skills and, just maybe, a fledgling startup to sink your teeth into come Monday morning.