Big things have small beginnings
By Alfred Lo
Startup Weekend Melbourne 2012 Part 1
Australia’s latest installment of Startup Weekend was just held over the weekend in Melbourne. Hosted at the York Butter Factory and locally sponsored by Optus, Flippa, Xero and Amazon, the Seed Team was out in full force as part-organiser, part-facilitator and part-gofer.
It had been just over 6 months since the last time it was held in Melbourne and boy, what a turn out! Tickets this time were capped at 100 participants and in typical startup style, the event was sold out in the last few hours before the Friday evening kick off.
For those that are unfamiliar with how Startup Weekends run, participants who have an idea to pitch are invited to put down their idea on a piece of butcher’s paper which answers 2 key questions: What’s the problem you’re solving? and What do you need?. It’s a rather colourful blend of one-page posters that are plastered all over the York Butter Factory’s (YBF) wall which result. I noticed that it was those with the most carefully selected and succinct words combined with an easily understandable diagram (and colour highlights for that “neon sign” eye-catching effect) which seemed to get the cut-through with the crowd.
But shiny posters won’t be enough to do the trick. For every poster, there needs to be an accompanying 60 second pitch. With some 47 pitches to hear, it was production line. A simple formula for the Friday night pitches was 5 to 10 seconds about yourself, 30-40 seconds about the problem and opportunity, and the final 10 seconds about the people and resources you need. No room to stumble. No room for 6 syllable plus words. It was make or break in 60 seconds.
Before we kicked off the pitches, the Startup Weekend guys had invited a panel of über startup and digital superheroes for a Q&A hosted by Stu Richardson from Adventure Capital. The panel included Ned Dwyer from Tweaky (formerly Themepivot and last year’s Startup Weekend Melbourne winner), Alan Downie from Bugherd, Nicola Gracie from FitIntegrate, Tom Howard from Adioso, Anthony Mittelmark from LinkMe and Shane Stevens from Twiitch. It was a valuable discussion and particularly insightful for those who were new to the startup scene and frameworks.
The same rules applied with the pitches. Careful selection of what information to communicate in the limited time served up with a good dose of confidence and kick of enthusiasm usually won the crowd – getting a laugh was definitely a bonus (here’s looking at you Charity is Sexy!). 47 pitches – wow, nearly 1 in 2 had an idea to pitch. It took a while but you know, it went quickly. Some really interesting and different ideas. Some brave. Some crazy.
With the pitches completed, it came to the weekend’rs to vote for the ideas which they thought stood out best (and to work on for the next 50 or so hours). Each were given three yellow Post-It notes to stick on the 1 pagers they liked best. In an instant, the floor resembled an open-air bazaar, but tech-style (textile?), with startup entrepreneurs standing by their posters and marketing, selling, influencing and convincing all combined into one – maybe hustling would be the best word to describe it. Fingers were being waved around like a wand from Hogwarts and posters slung on people as human sandwich boards in an effort to be Post-it’d. Amazing stuff.
From the intense heat of the Startup Weekend Melbourne crucible, 15 ideas did emerge. Most radical? Most inspiring? Most real? A combination for sure but there was something for everybody to build around over the next 54 hours.
What came next was what i call the “speed dating” component to Startup Weekends. With technical folk in blue t-shirts and non-tech in black Ts, Chaos Theory is put into play and everyone’s suddenly a free agent. No real time for “get-to-know-yous” or handshakes, deals were being made left right and centre at YBF. No standing still, it was a full recruitment drive, a free-for-all and there was no seek.com to help. It was old school – an awesome sight to see – kinda like an open outcry auction for talent. Totally organic and efficient with free market forces. Mobile devs and UI peeps were definitely popular.
When the dust had settled, and people had “formed” and gather to “storm“, it was still again at YBF. Not quite silent but a subtle hum filtered through the 2 floors. Teams of 1 stood proud amongst the super teams of 10. No team was alike in composition but what they all shared was the energy and drive to explore an opportunity to build something special and learn something new.
As David from Prometheus said “Big things have small beginnings“. (there, i did it, slipped in a quote from Prometheus!)
Stay tuned for Part 2 of our retrospective of Startup Weekend Melbourne 2012.