Startup Weekend - A Professional's View

Wade Pearson

As a commercial lawyer, I often work with the founders of startups and small businesses. Many of these founders got their taste for entrepreneurship at a local Startup Weekend – some were even launched following a successful Startup Weekend. But what if you’re not planning on starting your own business, and you plan to stick with your day job – is Startup Weekend still worth it?

I went to Startup Weekend Dunedin in April 2018, and found that yes – Startup Weekend is hugely valuable, and not just for budding entrepreneurs. If you’re working in a job you enjoy, but are wondering whether it’s worth participating in a Startup Weekend, read on for the benefits you can get.

If you don’t know what a Startup Weekend is, here’s a good summary provided by our friends at Startup Dunedin:

At Startup Weekend you take an idea, form a team, validate your concept, build your prototype and present your work to a panel of esteemed judges in just 54 hours! The weekend is full of fun, good food, great company and a valuable learning experience that can be applied anywhere.

From my experience, there are 3 main benefits you can get from attending a Startup Weekend (especially if you’re a professional or just already have a job you enjoy):

 

You learn heaps

Startup Weekend effectively crams in a large amount of learning into a short space of time. And this is practical, trial-and-error based learning, so it really sticks with you. I won’t go into detail, but there were a huge array of facts and theories that you can absorb over the weekend – how to start or run a business and how to validate your idea/market/customers. Even if you don’t end up using the tools and ideas you learn, you’ll probably be able to help someone you know by passing on some tips.

Aside from the obvious learning, I also learned a bit about myself. Going in, I’d done a little research, and got the feeling that technologically-minded developers, and artistically-inclined designers would be in high demand at a Startup Weekend. They were. But there was also a lot of value added by people who didn’t fall into one of those camps. Our team had developers and a designer, and they were great. But we also had a distiller/hospitality expert, a logistics guru and a lawyer. I’d like to think all 3 of us still had a lot to contribute, often in surprising or unexpected ways. It’s a great confidence boost to know that you have something to offer (even if you’re not yet sure what that is).

You also learn about others. I had always appreciated the value of a good eye for design, but Startup Weekend really drove it home. Our designer/marketer took us through a brand/identity creation workshop which really opened our eyes. He then turned our bumbling presentation into something really special (and I can’t stress enough just how vital this was).

Something I always focus on is empathy – the ability to understand others (in a business sense in this case). Startup Weekend is great for building empathy, as you work with people from a relatively wide range of occupations and backgrounds. There were a number of times when someone really surprised me with an insightful comment or fresh opinion.

 

You push yourself

I’ll admit – I was a little nervous about attending Startup Weekend. I almost didn’t go, and to be perfectly honest I was starting to regret my decision about an hour in. But then we got into teams, and starting working on a business, and it all just melted away.

One of the themes of the weekend was about getting out of your comfort zone, as “that’s where the magic happens”. It might sound a bit clichéd, but it was definitely true. I did not want to get on stage and present our group’s pitch, and I kicked myself for volunteering – but I’m so glad I did. I learnt more and developed more simply through giving it a go and doing something I normally wouldn’t.

Likewise, I saw other people who, over the course of a weekend, developed their skills and changed their way of looking at the world. I don’t think I found a single person who hadn’t grown or changed in some way from the experience.

Another key point that I hadn’t appreciated was that you don’t necessarily have to finish the weekend and go off to start your business. The presenters made it clear early on that it’s still a win if you walk away thinking “nope, this is not for me”. Part of the goal is to give you a taste of running a business – so that if it’s not for you, you don’t waste your time, effort and money on something that wouldn’t actually be worth it.

 

You have fun

I’ve made the case above that you learn a lot, and you push yourself. But you also have a surprising amount of fun. It’s easy to get a bit caught up in the magic of it, and forget where you are. Yes, it’s a whole weekend (excluding nights), but it can be genuinely enjoyable, and definitely an experience you won’t forget.

If you’re on the fence and wondering whether to go (or had never considered it), then I can wholeheartedly recommend Startup Weekend (especially the Dunedin one!).

You don’t need to be an enthusiastic entrepreneur, or have an idea for the next Xero/TradeMe.  You can simply go along and work with some talented and passionate people – you’ll even learn a few things that may help you in your day job (or just your life generally).