Buffalo’s First Startup Weekend (as Experienced by a Non-Technical Founder) by Elizabeth Weinberg

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In November 2012 I went to the first Startup Weekend in Buffalo.  I heard about it on Facebook after a friend posted that he’d be going.  After reading up about it and seeing what other cities had done at their Startup Weekends, I still hemmed and hawed for a while before deciding to go.  My main hesitation was that I am not a very technical person.  When I eventually signed up to go, I even had to check a box that declared I was “Non-Technical.”  Despite my non-technical status, I have been technology-adjacent for quite some time, and come up with ideas for businesses constantly- the kinds of ideas that can be pretty hard to get off the ground without either some technical know-how or a boat load of money.  If nothing else, I knew there would be food.

So when I got to Medaille College Friday evening, everyone was kind of milling about, and there were a lot of people there who seemed to already know each other.  I grabbed some pizza, said hi to the only person there I knew, and took a seat at a random table.  Andrew Mager from Spotify took a seat at my table, and eventually a couple others sat down as well.  Then the pitches started.  Everyone who had an idea for a game, or a website, or a tech solution lined up and had one minute to pitch what their idea was, who the product would be for, and what kinds of team members they needed.  I kinda-sorta had an idea, but I didn’t really feel like pitching, and I really liked some of the ideas I was hearing.  After getting some encouragement from one of the guys at my table, I did get up and pitch my idea.  After pitching, you write your idea on a giant post-it, hang it on the wall, and then everyone gets three little post-its with which to vote.  Like I said, I really liked some of the other ideas I heard, and didn’t think my idea would be picked.  I spent the voting time networking with some of the people I wanted to work with, and just talking to people.  The votes were tallied up, and it turned out that my idea was one of the 17 ideas that would be worked on!  I grabbed some teammates and we were off!  Besides myself, I had a designer, two programmers and another non-techie join my team.

For the rest of the evening we talked about what we’d need to create, who we could talk to for market research, and delegating tasks.  I was super excited when I got home that night, and woke up early the next morning to start organizing my thoughts and ideas.  I even spoke to someone I knew was an early riser for market research.  Saturday was a long day, but very productive, and we ended up having a product that was fairly usable by the time we left (mainly thanks to the programmers and designer).  There were mentors at the event that floated around and give the teams feedback, which was really useful for a lot of reasons.  As a non-technical founder, most of my time was spent on market research- speaking to potential users, looking up things like how many potential users are in the US, how much companies spend trying to solve the same problem we were working on, etc.

On Sunday we refined what we had, and worked on our presentation.  I would be giving the five-minute pitch for our team, in front of four judges and all of the other teams.  Our pitch ended up going… OK.  Not great.  Looking back, I would have spent more time demonstrating our MVP (minimum viable product), and explaining why the market is demanding a product like the one we built.  We didn’t place, but we still received really positive feedback, and a few team members decided to keep working on our company.

 

Elizabeth Weinberg