Things I wish I knew before Startup Weekend

April 25, 2020

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Victor Sapar

I pitched in the first Startup Weekend Davao in 2012. I was ecstatic as most participants, I think. Startup Weekend in Manila a year earlier was a big hit. And Zachary Cohn from Startup Weekend HQ was with us. As advocate of the use of ICTs to help address development challenges, my idea was about an agriculture value-added service I called “Farm2Market”. It seeks to leverage use of mobile (SMS included) and web technologies to eliminate (if not transform) the middleman in agricultural trading.

The idea isn’t new but potentially disruptive considering that agricultural trading is largely trust-based and long-term relationship. I was already looking into Esoko in 2011. It is among initiatives of this kind that has shown evidence of success. Their challenge then was ability to scale. I thought approaching it like a startup might make a difference.

The name “Farm2Market” is a play on farm-to-market road, which is an important infrastructure for rural economic growth. Farmers need roads to bring their produce to trading centers.

My idea was in top ten (among 25+ i think) voted by participants after first pitch. The last pitch (team effort) didn’t make the cut, but won “people’s choice” if I remember correctly.

I came prepared. It took a while before I decided to join Startup Weekend. When I did, I got familiar with Business Model Canvas through Steve Blank’s free online course at Udacity. I think I did two revisions of my BMC. Few days into the event , I had last-minute research on similar projects (which I think I’ve overdone). I wish I knew a few things earlier on, prepared differently and approached the weekend to get the most of the experience.

Zero in on value propositions

It’s easy to get carried away with producing a product over the weekend. That usually means start coding at the very first hour the team gets organized. Do you want to build something that no one will use? Defining a value proposition seems daunting. It can be approached by asking these questions: What are the pain points or problems to solve? What are the needs to satisfy? A famous analogy to startup value propositions is about building a “vitamin” or a “pain killer”. The tech may be the easy part unless it’s really that complex.

Sample size for qualitative user research can be 12 or 5

Ideation requires some form of validation through whatever possible means given circumstances. Steve Blank tells us to “get out of the building” to try measure customer or user interest. Just how many should you talk to in order to get qualitative insights? Qualitative research methods suggest twelve or five. During the 56-hour Startup Weekend, talking to 5 prospective users or customers should be manageable.

Three questions to ask

Learning from target customers or users is not an easy task. There are several ways to go about validating problem-solution and product-market fit. It basically boils down to whether the customers resonate with the problems and needs identified; agree to the proposed solution; and are willing to pay for it. The last question is crucial as there’s no business if no one even thinks your product is worth paying for.

Kano model analysis is not as complex as it sounds

While thinking about what goes into your product, you’ll be overwhelmed with a lot of features. How do you determine? Features prioritization is a common practice in product development. Among popular strategies is the Kano Model analysis that categorizes features as Basics, Satisfiers and Delighters. A simple analogy is a hotel room that provides hot/cold shower and clean linens (Basics); HD TV and broadband connection (Satisfiers); and complimentary food and other perks (Delighters). Linking these to your value propositions, the Basics or absolute minimum should already enable users to accomplish the core tasks to solve their problems or satisfy their needs.

Not a new idea? Focus on Jobs-to-be-done

Startup ideas are not always original. Others focus on creating more values to the user in simpler or easier ways. “Jobs-to-be-done” is a mental model that, among others, looks into how current solutions are done to identify the pain points. These help define the product’s or service’s value propositions. Most importantly, its differentiators. Websites such as GetApp or G2Crowd provide validated user reviews that allow you to do guerilla research on users’ pain points.

It’s okay not having tech ninjas in your team. It’s not a hackathon

A Startup Weekend draws a mix of people. I registered as “non-tech” in the first Startup Weekend Davao among a majority of coders and designers. I struggled to convince tech people to join my team as most already have their own ideas and teams. We strived to present an app before the weekend is over as expected. We failed. We could have made the most of our efforts by validating the value propositions and visualizing the jobs-to-be-done either through diagrams, low-fidelity mockups or wireframes.

I still hope to continue pursuing Farm2Market. I have pitched to several potential partners and validated a few hypotheses since after the Startup Weekend.

Have you been to a Startup Weekend or similar event? What were your takeaways?

(Photo by Marvin Meyer on Unsplash.)

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