How to Win A Startup Weekend

This post originally appeared on thebobbery and on the Pollenizer blog.

I recently had the privilege of judging at Startup Weekend Manila. The experience got me thinking about what makes a great Startup Weekend pitch. Here’s a list of eight suggestions that might help you for your next Startup Weekend, Hackathon or other quick hitting startup event.

1. Explain why your solution makes sense – Your startup solves a problem. Great! But how much better is your approach than what people have access to today? And why hasn’t anyone else tried the solution you’re proposing? Or if others have tried it, why haven’t they succeeded? Answering theses deeper questions makes your story more convincing and reassures the judges that you aren’t oversimplifying.

2. Don’t ignore user acquisition – Most startup weekend pitches focus on product and business model, while relegating user acquisition to generalizations about viral marketing or social media. Set your pitch apart by identifying specific strategies for acquiring early adopters and tangible ideas for building user acquisition into the DNA of your product.

3. Go beyond surveys – Surveys are a good starting point for customer validation. But the cost for someone to affirm your idea via a survey is low. One way to go deeper is through intensive customer interviews with potential power users. Even better is to validate customer interest through an exchange of value, e.g. collecting email sign ups for a beta launch. For super extra credit, see if you can sell your product or service to a customer before the weekend ends.

4. Do your market sizing – Back of the envelope calculations to estimate your market size are easy to do and can be built on top of publicly available information. Take the time to estimate how many users you could realistically attain. A quick exercise in market sizing will also help you hone on a precise definition of your target user.

5. Make sure you have a one-liner – Your one-liner is your home page text, your cocktail party explanation, your elevator pitch in a 3-story building. After 48 hours, you should know it cold. If your pitch is a sandwich, think of your one-liner as the bread. Make sure it’s there at the beginning and the end or all the goodness in the middle can get a bit messy.

6. Use the crowd wisely – On Friday night you are pitching to the crowd, trying to stand out in order to get the best team members. In this setting, jokes, stunts and general craziness can be big assets. On Sunday you are pitching to the judges. They may like your jokes, but it’s unlikely they’ll give you credit for them unless there is a solid business idea behind them. So camp it up on Friday, but bring your game face for Sunday afternoon.

7. Beware of ad-based business models – Advertising works well for the Yahoos and Facebooks of the world thanks to their massive scale. It doesn’t work as well for startups, who have trouble aggregating large audiences. Advertising is even more challenging in the developing world, where digital budgets are still small. This doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t talk about advertising, but it does mean that you need to explain why it will work for you.

8. Don’t slag your competition – First of all, they have a product and customers and you do not. Second of all, the law of averages says that they are not complete idiots. Your competition may well be ripe for disruption, so by all means go for the jugular, but don’t minimize their advantages or the difficulty of unseating them. As for teams that think they don’t have competitors, remember that someone does not need to have the same product or business model as you to compete for your users.