Phew, its already week nine of second trimester, and exams are definitely looming! The pace of life at Uni is reaching fever-pitch, though for some of us, maybe our major assessment tasks for the trimester have been submitted? It might be the eye of the storm for a little bit? Well, this weekend I was involved with the 3-Day Startup Workshop Weekend, and I really wanted to share a bit about it, and my experience of it.
It was definitely an experience that I highly recommend everyone take part in! There were certainly elements of it that were pretty grueling! But it was an amazing learning experience over all – and there’s free food and a great chance to network and make new friends!
3-Day Startup – A Bit of the Backstory
OK, so before I get into sharing with you my personal experience of the process, I thought it would be worth looking into a little of the back story in how this started. Essentially, it started out with some students in Austin, Texas, who saw a real lack in providing entrepreneurial education at University. And what better thing is there for launching an entrepreneurial venture than to identify a genuine problem or need, and to make an awesome value proposition that meets that need better than any of the currently available alternative solutions out there?
Also, one of the key concepts of the Weekend is the Lean Canvas, a model developed by Ash Maurya (author of “Running Lean,” a book that we receive an electronic copy of for free at the completion of the 3 days!), based upon previous research and development by Steve Blank (Customer Development), Eric Reis (Lean Startup), and Alex Ostenwalder (the Business Model Canvas). Essentially, it is a way to map out the guts of a new business idea on one sheet!
There is a section for the Problem, Target Customer, Solution, Value Proposition, etc. This provides the basic information required for pitching your business idea.
Friday Night – Brainstorming and Initial Pitches
So the 3-Day Startup workshop began Friday afternoon, as nearly 30 students from various disciplines ranging from business and commerce, to engineering, design, dentistry, gathered. We received a quick overview of the process and what to expect (and what not to expect!) before heading into ideation.
Breaking up into groups of about four, we had to brainstorm and come up with as many ideas as we could – no judgment, nothing too crazy, just to get the creative juices really flowing! From this pool of around 20 ideas, each of us had to choose one and every one of us was going to give an initial one-minute pitch of the problem, the solution, and of course how we were expecting to make money from it, before receiving feedback and questions.
Having heard everyone’s ideas, we conducted a blind vote to decide on the top five ideas – of which we were going to form up into teams around those ideas for the weekend. The five ideas chosen were:
- A VR Gaming Cafe (which was actually my idea!)
- A Platform where Make-up Artists and Clients Could Find Each Other (Think Airbnb for Makeup!) – We had two votes each, I voted for this one
- A Dentistry Instrument with an Integrated Light
- A Hospital Data Analytic Tool
- A Tourism Booth (similar to an Info Booth at Westfield)
As you can see, our ideas were pretty diverse! So then each of us who had pitched these top ideas stood in different corners in the room, and everyone else decided which idea they would get behind. So we formed teams of around 5-6 each. The last major task for the evening was to look over our Lean Canvas, and start to fill out a bit of a concept for who our target market would be, what problem they were experiencing and what value proposition we were offering to solve their problem.
Then it was time to get some sleep for a big weekend ahead!
Second Day – Customer Discovery, Mentors and Intermediate Pitch
So second day started with breakfast at 9am! Our big task this morning was going to be Customer Discovery! Now this is not what you would expect. It is totally about listening to our potential customers, and NOT about pitching our ideas at all! We wanted to get out there and get a sense of what people need, looking to see how interacting with our customers may shape our idea – even potentially transforming it into something completely different.
Our group hit Garden City (as did a few of the other groups), first to the Cinemas, then some game shops, then just more broadly people in general! We were looking to discover what people do for entertainment, how often they get to do that, how much they spend, what keeps them from getting out more – then a little about whether they were into Gaming, whether they had heard of VR gaming and had any experience with it.
It was interesting, seeing how most people we met, their major issue was money in terms of limiting their entertainment. Not many people had heard of VR gaming, but still they were interested at least in maybe one day trying it.
So with what we had gained, we headed back for the next stage – meeting up with several “mentors” to pitch our ideas to them, and get feedback on what they thought.
One concept that had been mentioned is “mentor whiplash,” the effect that we can experience when every single person giving feedback gives something completely different, maybe even tearing apart whatever our previous concept was from the last mentor. This was definitely our experience!
But I would say that our biggest issue was actually not yet having a clear and concise problem that we were addressing. We had a great “solution” we were excited to offer, but whose problem was it solving? We were looking at providing an awesome but affordable VR Gaming Experience, but who was that helping out? (I was half wondering if maybe the real problem wasn’t the public’s but rather the tech and gaming developers?)
So out of all of that, and much discombobulation, we finally arrived back at somewhat our initial idea, and we had a short time to prepare our first pitch as a group (3-5 minutes with 5 minutes of feedback). We were all needing to whip up a neat little slide deck and get up in front of the whole group, including the two guys hosting the event.
We did pretty good, but definitely our pitch had issues! Our problem was still very broad, our numerics for our market were pretty scattered and unrealistic! Knowing that the next day was going to culminate in a final pitch before a panel to judge our idea felt pretty daunting at that stage, and honestly, I could have thrown the towel in if it wasn’t that I didn’t want to let my team down, or waste the opportunity for learning and growth.
Final Day – Towards our Ultimate Pitch by the End of the Day
Well, final day we started with Breakfast at 9am again! Gladly, as I went around to other groups, we all seemed to be similarly challenged in terms of honing our pitch, and the feeling of how grueling the task felt was not an isolated feeling! Definitely, it felt pretty real.
We decided to target hardcore gamers with a high-quality experience of VR gaming. For our final pitch, we needed to make it flow better – not just providing information but telling a story, creating empathy with our customer, also clearly showing the connection between a real problem and a satisfying solution – and more so, that our solution was reaching a viable market, considering the initial outlay of lease, equipment, staffing, etc.
Well, we managed to bring together a final slide deck, and we managed to shape our presentation into a bit more of a narrative. And we managed to get a bit more realistic stats on our market, and a more clear idea of our budget in terms of setup. Overall, our final pitch went pretty good – and our panel wasn’t quite as like Shark Tank as we were expecting.
Definitely, everybody was pretty encouraged by the end of the experience! We definitely learned a lot, and there was potential too for going on from here – whether to connect later with our peers to develop our idea further, or to look at getting involved with the Lean Launchpad course over the summer.
Definitely High Recommendations on the 3-Day Startup Experience
Having been involved in this 3 day Startup Weekend Workshop, I highly recommend taking the opportunity if it is on offer. It was completely free, including free dinner on Friday night, and breakfast, lunch and dinner, on the other two days! It was also an awesome opportunity to work together with other students who are similarly motivated, and the potential for future collaboration is only limited by our desire for it. Anyone who is interested in entrepreneurial mindset and entrepreneurship, this event comes with high recommendations. I’ll keep my eye out for when the event is next being offered, and I’ll definitely give everyone a shout out!