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POV: Startup Weekend Skopje

·6 mins

Startup - in my opinion it’s the most ear-catching word nowadays. It represents growth, energy and, of course, billions of dollars. But yeah, a billion of dollars over a weekend is next to impossible. So, why would you attend a startup weekend? What’s the benefit? Or, if you know the answers to these questions, you probably would like to know how to win? Yeah, everybody would like that…

This year, it was my first time to attend a startup weekend and it happened in the city where I live - Skopje, Macedonia. The venue was the Telekom Innovation Center in Skopje - man, working for three days in that place made us feel like rockstars. The interior is awesome. Also, the people were great! The local organizers and volunteers are amazing people. So much energy and love for the community, I just hope they don’t get tired one day and stop doing all this. It would be a big loss for our micro startup community and a very very sad day.

Pitching an idea #

When you arrive on Friday, you’ll have the opportunity to pitch an idea. You’ll have only 60 seconds to do that and believe me if you miss the opportunity, on Sunday evening you WILL BE SORRY you didn’t pitch on Friday! So, get out there and pitch. Relax as much as you can and keep in mind that +85% of the people there are as skilled speakers as you are. There’s nothing to be afraid of! When I got out to pitch my idea last Friday, my legs were shaking, my heart was pounding and my hands were sweaty. After those “terrible” 60 seconds, I felt really good. I got a huge round of applause and went back to my seat. 30 minutes later, I got about 20 votes for my idea which was enough to get it into the next stage.

Finding a team/team members #

Having a good team is crucial. I guess it’s worth mentioning that more than 65% of the startups fail because of team issues. I was lucky I had my friend Angel, who’s a designer, on my team. We found another guy there, Antonio, who helped us with the questionnaires. If you are the founder of the team, at this point you need to step up your game. You need to listen very carefully to your teammates but if there’s no teamwork, or someone is sabotaging the team you have to remove him. You don’t have the luxury for giving someone a second chance. Also, when you are on a team, if someone’s being a dick - you expel him or you switch teams. Although you might consider this as a sign of bad luck or whatever, it actually happened to me, I didn’t eliminate the problem quickly and we kind-of lost a whole day arguing with the wrong people instead of doing meaningful work. So, pick your team/teammates wisely and move quick.

Idea validation #

This is hard. And it’s meant to be. In this phase you will see if your idea, which although got the votes from the voters, is a viable idea that can be turned into a business. Protip: when the coaching sessions start, make sure you have 20 minutes available after two or three coaching sessions, so you can reflect on the feedback you got from the coaches and adapt. But, before the coaching sessions start, make sure your elevator pitch is top-notch. You need to explain the problem and the solution in literally a minute. What’s very important is although the mentors/coaches are very experienced, it doesn’t mean their opinion is right and that you should take it for granted. That’s why it is an opinion. None of them will give you the solution of the problems that your business has. They are there for guidance. Remember that. Ask for (and expect) guidance and make sure you know what’s their expertise so you can ask the right questions. Another key point is that you don’t have to accept the mentor’s suggestions. Or, at least, be selective about it. But make sure you understand their reasoning and why they are saying what they are saying. For example, we were a bit stubborn. We rejected around 80% of the suggestions that we got. It wasn’t that they weren’t good, it was because the picture Angel and I had for the product was definitive and we held to our guts.

Get out there #

Yes, get out there! Make couple of surveys and leave the building. Go talk to people on the street, to nearby businesses or find the people that you need to speak with, regardless of where they are. That’s how you will get the best feedback - the one from your potential users/customers. Also, this will tell a lot about your team. If you took the “risk” to leave the building and expose yourselves to people on the street, it means that you have the guts to do business.

Business and growth #

Peeps, if there’s no business you are unattractive to investors. Actually, if there’s no cash coming from the product, it’s not a business, but a hobby. And that’s it. But, if you figured out the business part, then you need to stick to the plan and move fast. Also, after you figured out where your business is, you need to figure out how you will expand. Every business is meant to take over the world, the limits exist only in your mind.

The Final Pitch #

Oh boy, you are in for a treat! Being anxious, scared or somewhere in between is just fine. No one was born as a fluent public speaker. And like everything else, speaking in front of hundred(s) of people takes practice. But, when you are preparing your pitch you need to make sure it’s very concise. You’ll have exactly four minutes to present the problem, the solution, the business, growth, marketing and whatnot. So you make sure you don’t throw words around. Be very concise. Also, if you are feeling nervous, thinking that everybody in the room is naked wont help. Nope, I tried and it didn’t work. Just think that you have nothing to lose, think that even the best public speakers had their first public pitch once and they sucked at it. Also, know that almost everyone there is as good speaker as you.

After your pitch, the judges will ask you questions for three minutes. A key thing that you need to remember - you do not bend. You will not show any type of weakness. Be confident in yourself and in your answers. You should protect your business as it’s your own child. They will throw questions at you and you will know the answer, because you worked hard over the weekend and you know every aspect of your business. Also, keep in mind that the time is very short, so again - be very concise.

You win, anyway #

At the end, regardless if you win or you don’t, it will be a great experience. I promise you! When you exit the venue on Sunday night you will feel that you learnt a lot and you will want to come back next time. So believe me, you are a winner anyway. When we walked in on Friday night, Angel and I just wanted to meet people, have fun and learn how to start a business. We did have fun, we did meet a lot of people and we definitely learned a lot. But there’s one cooler thing we did… we won!