I knew it was my lucky day when at 11:58 AM I happened to log on to Twitter and catch a tweet from @coloft notifying the twitterverse that Startup Weekend tickets were going on sale in 2 minutes. By the time I had forked over my $100 (which was a steal considering the experience I had), the entire event had sold out…in what I eventually found out was a total of 10 minutes. That was back in January and I just wrapped up my first Startup Weekend experience. I intend to be a repeat offender. My suggestion to those interested in attending is to find out immediately when the next Startup Weekend is happening near you.
Startup Weekend, for those not in the know, is an experience where the mission is to bring together designers, developers and non-tech entrepreneurs for one weekend in various cities around the world. The goal is to build a prototype for an internet startup, mobile app or advance the progress of an early stage startup. Those lucky enough to get a ticket (at least in LA) form teams with complete strangers and get down to business. The teams work throughout the weekend and pitch the final product to the entire group including local entrepreneurs and investors. A panel of 4 judges (entrepreneurs & investors) decide who wins the competition. Above all, the experience, new connections and exposure is what most will take away from the weekend.
The weekend kicked off on Friday evening with an ice cold keg of Yuengling and pizza from Abbot’s Pizza Co. on AK. It was impossible to meet everyone within the short meet and greet hour, but it was obvious we were all excited to hear all the business ideas and how the weekend would turn out. I was very pleased to see a wide variety of people from different backgrounds and cultures in attendance. I immediately met two entrepreneurs from Mexico who had traveled to LA just for the event. This was also their 4th Startup Weekend. After 3 or 4 slices of pizza (I think 4), a few ice cold brewskies and multiple quick pitches about my background and current projects, I was ready to hear about the schedule for the weekend.
Avesta & Cameron Rasouli, the owners of Coloft, spoke about the sponsors and the schedule for the weekend. I can’t say enough about the time and effort Avesta, Cameron and the rest of the Coloft team put into making sure everyone had what they needed the entire weekend. Catered breakfast, lunch and dinner every day allowed us to continue working without interruptions.
There were about 30 pitches which was soon narrowed down to 7 ideas based on a group vote. Everyone then had to join a team. I chose to join the team captained by my new friend Matt Hwang. It’s not too hard to be convinced to join a business called AfterParty.
The rest of our team included Chaz & Jose de Mexico, Kyle M., and PA Lava. A wide variety of people with lots of brain power. AfterParty’s mission was to create a mobile app that allows users to attend/host afterparties or events in their city using location based technology.
Our first AM team meeting over bagels and coffee (which is strictly reserved for closers):
Late Saturday night the owners of Coloft felt we needed a little boost, so everyone had to stop work and watch one of the best sales pep talks known to man. If you haven’t seen it, watch this scene every day before you go to work, work out, a sales meeting, a board meeting or any sort of competitive event where nothing but your best effort will suffice.
Notice the bag of chocolate on the table. I proceeded to eat half that bag soon after this picture was taken.
As we rolled into Sunday running on fumes, there was a mad scramble by all the teams to wrap up their projects by 5 PM and prepare for the final pitches. Our customer validation was received well at local bars so all we had to do was deliver the final presentation and convince the judges that AfterParty was the real deal. I recognized some of the judges as being big players in the local tech scene, notably Paige Craig of BetterWorks and Howard Marks of StartEngine. The room began to fill up and it was close to game time. Dinner was catered by Buca di Beppo and although I was starving, nerves had completely wiped out my appetite.
The room filling up with eager entrepreneurs, investors and friends for the final pitches:
We were set to go 5th and by the time it was our turn, I knew we had to deliver as all the previous pitches were solid. It’s funny when you are in that moment of having everyone’s attention in addition to a livestream audience. I have this reoccurring feeling during big speeches of time standing still. I also hate the sound of my voice over a microphone. I think it is because you are not used to hearing your voice magnified, similar to hearing a recording of your voice. I try to read the crowd’s body language to see if I am making any sense. The problem is that you have no idea what they are thinking and for all you know the audience is staring at a big zit on your forehead. The reality is that the audience really does not want you to screw up because it will make them very uncomfortable as well. So, basically, you can’t fuck up. Matt went before me and did a great job. He wrapped up with the now infamous comment, “beer is for closers too,” which made everyone fall out of their seats. As for me, I forgot all my lines, asked for a do-over and then proceeded to cry, trip over the judges table and run out of the room in shame. No, not really.
While we delivered a great product in 54 hours, Team AfterParty didn’t win. Congrats to team Snazzy Room for 1st prize and an awesome product. However, they aren’t nearly as good looking as these gents:
Apparently when I first started grade school, I was very shy. My teachers would tell my mother that I would keep to myself and not socialize with my other classmates. I was so shy, in fact, that my mother would cry for fear that later in life I would never make friends, be subject to constant ridicule, never have a girlfriend (ergo never get laid) and eventually end up building pipe bombs in my specially designed meth lab. I remember when my grandmother actually told me how worried my mother was and me thinking that it was ridiculous. I now understand my mother’s concern because if it were not for 3 periods in my life I may actually be building pipe bombs somewhere and crossing names off a list.
The three periods that forced me out of my shell were a large high school, an enormous college and my first sales job. All three had one thing in common: I was thrown into the fire and had to find a way out alive. It has only recently dawned on me how critical these periods were to growth and life experience.
I can recall a chapter of Malcolm Gladwell’s book Outliers where he wrote about a mother teaching her young son to be assertive and ask questions. It reminded me of a time when my mother made me call my math tutor (yeah I had some dumb phases) and apologize for canceling the session. I must have been about 8 or 9, but I was terrified of having to make that call. Nevertheless, I was forced to and it was an important lesson in taking responsibility for your actions. I am grateful for this type of upbringing and it is sad to see many people my age who lack morals, direction, ambition or responsibility because in many cases it is a direct reflection of the way they were raised.
So, I will keep one of my first posts short and sweet since there is actually a point to all this.
I am officially embarking on another very important phase in my life and entering entrepreneur-ville. This blog was started to document and detail the weeks, months and years to come.
To quote my favorite crooked stock broker, Bud Fox, “Life all comes down to a few moments. This is one of them.”