Introduction: How to Win a Startup Weekend: the Ultimate Guide

About: We are Zack Gow and Tony Bagdon. We are students in the Master's Degree of Technical Entrepreneurship program at Lehigh University. We are business owners, creators, and innovators. You can find us at www.zack…

This is the ultimate guide on how to kill it at Startup Weekend.

Step 1: The Preparation

BEFORE the weekend starts, follow these 3 tips:

• Make a contact list: of people you know you can reach out to for customer feedback (name, email, expertise). A Google spreadsheet works best here as you can easily share it with you teammates during the weekend.

• Organize your assets and tools: What skills do you bring to the table? What skills do you need on your team? Who in your existing network will be able to help you out? You wouldn’t scale Mt. Everest without supplies so why would you approach a Startup Weekend without any?

• Bring friends and contacts!: Startup Weekend is a very social event. You should expect to be with your team for 54+ hours over three days. If you’re already comfortable with the individuals who join your team, you can move faster. That being said, mix in some folks you just met to boost creative thinking.

Step 2: The Idea

Think of the idea you pitch as a starting point, not the end goal of the weekend. Don’t get married to it, it will evolve over the course of the 54 hours. Think Blue Ocean Strategy. Being open to new ideas from your team members will lead to a better end result. Even if their ideas diverge from your original plan, don’t shut anyone down. At the same time, be discerning. The mentors and your teammates can help, but remember that they come with their own biases and experiences. Be clear with everyone on the vision you have for your idea.

Note: Approximately 95% of all ideas at Startup Weekend are web or mobile focused. This is because it’s much quicker to get a tech related idea off the ground than a physical product in the short period of time you will have.

Step 3: The Team

Your Startup Weekend team is one of the key factors that will determine your success. The minute you arrive on Friday, turn your networking setting on. Work the room, but have meaningful conversations. Once established, your team should focus on the following areas:

Customer Validation and Development: Focus on talking to customers, receiving feedback, sending out surveys, and handling social media. THIS will set you apart from the rest.

  • Deliverable: Designate one team member as a point of contact for emails and phone calls. They are responsible for keeping track of feedback.

Business Model: Identify your business guru. Work on describing the rationale of how to create, deliver, and capture the value of the idea via the core aspects of a business. Include: purpose, target market, strategies, etc.

  • Deliverable: Make multiple versions of the business model canvas
  • Deliverable: Narrow in on your specific target market

Design / Branding: Have the design oriented people on your team work on logos, mockups, 3D models, website, and presentation theme. Having professional looking content off the bat can take your idea to the next level

  • Deliverable: Simple, but professional logo
  • Deliverable: Well designed landing page (Helpful tool:
  • Deliverable: Wordpress site with necessary plugins (Google Analytics - etc.)

Keep your designers focused and on track: communicate the values and the vision of the business so your designers don’t spend extra time on work that won’t be relevant

Engineering: Software developers, makers, prototyping. Your engineers will handle the physical details of the product or the software architecture

  • Deliverable: Focus on visuals and “looks like” prototypes rather than actual “works like”. Have a loose definition of how the product will function/ feasibility, but don’t get bogged down in the details

Keep your engineers focused and on track: It’s easy to “over-engineer” your prototype. It doesn’t need all the bells and whistles, but it does need to concretely communicate your idea

Project Management: This is you big picture thinker (the blue hat): integrates the various groups to ensure the project aligns with the values and vision of the business. PM is responsible for communication between groups and roles Make sure a regular scrum schedule is followed (Periods of work for 2-3 hours followed by review meetings to get the team on the same page) Listen to anyone and everyone’s input and integrate it into the project

Keep in mind that if you have a small team, some people will take on the work in more than one of these areas.

Step 4: The Schedule

Plan to work late on Friday at another location. The host location will most likely ask you to leave at a certain point. Have another meeting place prepared because this is the best time to work on your solution. The more time you put into the weekend, the more likely you are to do meaningful work and win! Make sure you gauge your team’s energy level and spend as much time working as you possibly can.

• Establish your general meeting procedures: We prefer to have frequent meetings (10-15 minutes in length), every 2 to 3 hours depending on the situation at hand. Here we discuss current progress, future direction, technical details, design, branding concepts, social media accounts, and website/landing page/mailing lists. Determine what can be eliminated or changed. Do not be afraid to pivot if you have reached a dead end. Allow everyone to add their input - going around in a circle might work earlier on, but when time is pressed, stay on track and focused.

  • Friday: Meet your fellow Startup Weekend attendees and choose a project you can really get behind. Work on identifying the problem that the idea is solving, devise a solution, determine team roles, setup the project’s timelines and goals.
  • Saturday: Work your ass off! Refer to Step 3 for the team focus areas that you should spend most of your time on. Stick to the schedule!
  • Sunday: Focus on the pitch. Practice the pitch. Pitch the pitch.

Step 5: The Organization

We’ve been in teams as large as 13 people at a Startup Weekend. Things can get messy if you don’t get everyone organized

Collect the names, emails and background info (design, business, project management, development, marketing, etc.) Add all of this to a share Google Drive folder. Google Drive if your best friend. Use it to communicate info and store relevant files.

• Key documents:

  • Presentation/Pitch Folder
    • File for the pitch (Google Docs presentation)
    • Script for the pitch (practice, practice, practice!)
  • Business Folder:
    • Business model canvas
    • Customer feedback document - include questions to ask potential customers and links to existing competition A customer feedback survey that can be shared (we recommend Google Forms over Survey Monkey for the ease of sharing)
    • Customer validation: define customer segment, your value proposition, and customer acquisition strategy Customer contact list document
  • Technical/ Prototyping Folder:
    • Technical Specifications
    • Bill of materials
    • Technical Architecture - use sketches and diagrams to explain your technology. It helps communicate what it is and how it works in a visual way
    • Results of research (on competing products, the state of the art, intellectual property) Do not forget to identify intellectual property early on to see if your idea can move forward.

Step 6: The Big Picture

The whole weekend comes down to one 5 minute pitch! Make this the focus.

• Get together a dynamic team from the outset. Look for people with different backgrounds

• Don’t be afraid to bring a new idea to the group. Even if it sounds silly, it can spur creativity.

• Keep the team motivated. Always be doing something. Always be moving forward.

• Startup Weekends are more about customer development and business model validation than demos and product prototypes

• “Looks like” > “Works like”

• Use social media. It’s the easiest way to reach lots of people for customer development and business model validation

Step 7: The Final Pitch

7. The Final Pitch: The key points you cannot miss in your final pitch should be:

• The value that the business provides

• The size of the problem you have identified

• The quality of your solution

• The team - backgrounds, capabilities, and experience

• Include a working demo / “looks like” or “works like” prototype

• Tell the story of how and why your product or service evolved

Step 8: The Win!