Three valuable things I should have known, but took Startup Weekend to teach me

Kyla MacDonald, Startup Weekend Auckland participant
Three valuable things I should have known, but took Startup Weekend to teach me

Startup Weekends are weekend-long, hands-on experiences where developers, designers, marketers, product managers and startup enthusiasts can find out if startup ideas are viable.

When my mate Andy asked if I would be interested in participating in Start Up Weekend Auckland, I thought, aw yeah, that sounds like fun.

But I was apprehensive. I didn’t really know what to expect, I’m not particularly creative and presenting in front of crowds scares me. Plus work has been really demanding & I need my sleep, so did I really want to commit to this intense weekend, 54 hours of non-stop action?

Lucky for me, FOMO is stronger than fear. I learned so much at Startup Weekend – stuff that might seem obvious, but sometimes it takes seeing it in a different context for the lightbulb to switch on.

Here are 3 things I took away from the weekend, and how they apply to real life.


1. Just DO IT, dammit

Try it. Say it. Ask it. Do it. What’s the worst that can happen?

All the participants were widely encouraged to try new things, speak up, experiment and do things we wouldn’t normally do. Worst case is that you’d learn something.

Actually, no, worst case is that you’d look like a fool. But really, so what?

So we got up on the podium, and pitched our ideas and gave our updates and asked for help. We reached out to strangers, and built the app, and wrote the script & presented the idea.

Nobody pointed & laughed at us, and nobody got hurt. In fact, what we found is that we were surrounded by people offering support & help, who were willing to answer questions and provide useful feedback and guidance. Even the strangers!

OK, the event is designed to be a safe, supportive environment, but the point is that when you step out of your comfort zone, lean in to your fears, you might find you not only learn something, you have a little fun too.

Startup winners

The two winning teams at Startup Weekend Auckland, SquawkSqaud (left), and Kyla's team Skill Up (right)

2. Hold an idea lightly

I borrow the phrase from one of the mentors, Colart, because it really resonates with me. I really saw the benefit of being adaptable to change – you have an idea, but let it morph as you learn.

With all the customer validation we did at Startup Weekend, the need to reframe our ideas quickly became clear. Some of our initial assumptions were off base, and we learned things that meant a change of direction. Working under such tight timeframes (a weekend to start a business?) it was quickly apparent to us that we needed to adapt our ideas and our thinking about the business focus, and do it ASAP.

No idea or initiative is ever perfect or 100% at the start. We always need to modify our plans, either because we change, the market changes, or maybe we have some mistaken assumptions. EXPECT change. Embrace it.

As a side note - it was also interesting to note that people who spoke to customers were more adaptable to change and likely to let an idea pivot where it needed to go. That was a big lesson in the importance of being close to the customer to understand what their problems are. Which leads to my next point.


3. Keep going back to the problem & the impact you want to make

I know, we’ve all heard this so many times before. I guess it was the condensed timeframe that made it so obvious – you really need to ask yourself, and keep asking, ‘What is the problem I’m trying to solve? Is it truly a problem? Is it really THE problem, or a symptom of it? WHY are we doing this?’

Sometimes we are so set on a solution, we desperately search for a problem to suit it.

Working in technology, I see this a lot. There are lots of shiny new tools we can use, but we don’t always ask the right questions. Do we really need it? How is it going to solve the problem we have? What IS the problem we have?

When you keep asking questions and validating the answers every step of the way, you’re far more likely to achieve the impact you want.

Colart put me on to a quote from the Chinese philosopher, Lao Tzu, that I think is quite relevant:

“If you do not change direction, you may end up where you are heading”

Don’t wait too long before double-checking where you are heading. And what you expect to find when you get there.

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