Lessons Learned from Startup Weekend Las Vegas

Las Vegas Startup Weekend was this past weekend with a star-studded panel of judges, including Kevin Rose (tea enthusiast and Packer fan), Tom Anderson (everybody’s MySpace friend), Tony Hsieh (deliverer of happiness), Ryan Carson (ThinkVitamin founder), and Josh Reich (banking disrupter).

I’ve been to a lot of Startup Weekends. In terms of energy, team productivity, and tangible outcomes, the first Las Vegas Startup Weekend was the best one I have ever attended.

Here are some lessons I learned from some of the amazing Vegas teams:

Business people should be researching (a la Pop A Song@popasong)

Startup Weekends are mainly about building, thus, if you’re not a technical person it is sometimes unclear how you can contribute. Some biz people spend the weekend creating Launchrock, Twitter, and Facebook pages — which is okay, but ultimately meaningless if your product sucks.

Instead, the biz guys from Pop A Song spent their weekend researching customer segments to validate their idea and gather feedback in designing their product. Pop A Song makes it simple to queue songs at karaoke bars using a mobile web app.  The Pop A Song guys surveyed karaoke goers and DJs to see

  • What % of karaoke goers are smartphone users (i.e. could they use the app)?
  • Would karaoke goers find the app useful?
  • What % of the people that would use it pay for it?
  • How much would they pay?
  • Would DJs use it if it was free?
  • If DJs could accept tips through the app, what % of the revenue would be acceptable to take?

All of this data was really useful for designing, pitching, and validating their product.

Tell a story through questions and answers (a la rumgr – @rumgr)

By telling a story through questions and answers, Dylan Bathurst‘s pitch for rumgr turned me from a skeptic to a believer.

Rumgr is a stupid simple mobile app for selling used items.  It was described as if “garage sales and the internet had a baby”.

My first thoughts on rumgr were great, do we really need another Craigslist variant?  By the end however, I was sold.  In Dylan’s pitch, he did an oustanding job of identifying the questions skeptics may have, and then squashing them with well thought out answers to illustrate the features and intention of the product.  Here’s how it went down (between Dylan and my internal dialogue):

  • Dylan: “Selling things online is painful and time-consuming.”
  • I’m thinking: “Hmm.. I don’t know craigslist is pretty easy??”
  • Dylan: “Rumgr is super simple.  No prices, tags, titles, descriptions.  Just one click.  Take a picture and its online.” (shows the demo)
  • I’m thinking: “Okay, yes this looks easier, but it’s only a picture — how does this help me sell?”
  • Dylan: “Details get added through social interaction — bidding and bartering done by users.”
  • I’m thinking: “I see… so it’s more of an organic approach to selling.  Kind of neat.  But… ummm?”
  • Dylan: “If no tags, how will users find stuff?”
  • I’m thinking: “Ah, yes.  That was my next question.”
  • Dylan: “Items up for sale are browsed by how close they are to you.” (Shows demo of a beautiful photo grid of items being sold)
  • I’m thinking: “Okay, that’s dope.”

Dylan went on to illustrate the validity and usefulness of the app by continuing his Q&A format. A great way to handle tough questions is to prepare and tackle them head on.

Start selling, NOW (a la ClippPR@clippPR)

The best way to validate your product is to have people lined up to buy it.  Do what clipppr did — don’t wait until your app is finished to get it out there, start selling it now (oh yeah, they happened to win the event).

Forget complicated business models (a la Pictavote@pictavote)

A trap that too many Startup Weekend teams fall in to is trying to conceive elaborate business models without validating that anybody would even use their product first.

Pictavote is an app where people upload a photo, ask a question, and then vote on it in real-time. It’s a quick and fun little app with some viral potential.

After demoing their app, the pictavote crew transitioned to a slide titled Business Model, in which they were presumably going to cover their plans to monetize.  Instead, they hit next and the slide went up in flames after which they declared:

“We hate complicated business models.”

… and the audience cheered.

Your business plan will not survive past first contact with customers.

–Steve Blank

A common thread of feedback from the judges went along the lines of this: focus on building an awesome product that people use; if it makes sense to make money off it now, do it, otherwise figure it out later.

Be awesome (a la Autoplay@autoplayapp)

Hard to pick just one lesson learned from the guys who made Autoplay. Watch their pitch here for How to Make a Slide Deck 101.

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