How We Built A Team, Flipped A Coin, And Won Startup Weekend Munich
Startup Weekend Munich 2015 organized by The Entrepreneurial Group (TEG) (www.teg-ev.de) was an unforgettable experience for Munich Startup scene. 80 participants, 40 pitches, 13 teams and only 52 hours to develop a solid business idea to win the hearts and mind of jury. Startup Weekend Munich inspired, motivated and pushed all participants towards their limits. SCE as a TEG partner in organizing Startup Weekend Munich is happy to present a passage full of emotions and thoughts written by the winner team member, Carmen.
StartUp Weekend is not really a competition. It's a human experience on learning how to make collective creativity work (and make some cool friends along the way). The less you think about winning or losing and more about learning, the more rewarding it will be. At least that was the story of how Find The Bear (overall winner of Startup Weekend Munich 2015) was born. It was a messy, yet absolutely immersive and joyful labor.
A 54-hour roller coaster ride
It began on a Friday evening. You came to the opening session of SUWM. There were at least 100 strangers around you inside the hall, mostly young students and professionals, looking engaged but also vaguely confused. How exactly could we build a startup in one weekend? You had no idea. Plus, you knew no one around you either.
Fast forward to Sunday night. You and your teammates were screaming at the top of your lungs, jumping and hugging each other like overexcited teenagers when your team (Find The Bear!) won the top prize. That evening (with some drinking and dancing included), you walked away from the hall with not only a business prototype and a team you now believe in, but also invaluable learnings about entrepreneurship, teamwork, and creativity. How did all that happen?
Everything starts from zero, and the people
Startup Weekend is first and foremost about the people you meet, because it's the people that will define the collective work you build together. When we first formed our team around the project idea Shaggy Universe (we'll come back to this later), one thing immediately stood out during our introduction rounds:
Almost all of us are foreigners living an expatriate life in Germany — students, engineers, ex-journalist, programmers, and business professional from Canada, Catalonia, Germany, Italy, Hong Kong, Romania (Transylvania) and Turkey!
With a team as multicultural as ours, not only that our ways of approaching ideas were so rich in perspectives, in a way, the absence of an overarching majority (both culture and knowledge-wise) also helped us see one key thing about team communication: when everyone has something unique to contribute, making sure everyone's idea is heard and collectively considered is as crucial as proactively bringing your best input to the table. A comfortable and fun atmosphere — where everyone speaks as well as listens — really helps draw in the best possible pool of knowledge and ideas in a short amount of time.
When hitting a block, have the faith to start all over again
So, our team was formed on Friday night and we immediately started working on the business model and out-in-the-field research on Saturday morning. The project, Shaggy Universe, was planned to be a one-stop online marketplace for pet products. We spent Saturday morning doing market research and interviewing dog owners in the city. It was a startup idea we all liked very much, but we struggled to figure out a solution we could confidently bring to the market. By Saturday afternoon, our discussions had been running in circles for hours. It was 20 hours or so into the Startup Weekend, we realised we were stuck. Then here came the most radical idea of all — should we give up? We love pets and Shaggy, but if the idea wasn't progressing as quickly as time required, should we drop it and choose a new one? The clock was ticking, but somehow we maintained an air of light-hearted easiness. We didn't panic or argue. One by one, we listened again to the alternative pitches among the team and voted. But wait! There were two awesome ideas we would equally like to go for. Couldn't decide? Let's just flip a coin! So, someone took out a 50 cent coin, flipped it in the air, and in one second, we re-setted our path. And that was how we jumped from Shaggy Universe to Find The Bear, halfway into Startup Weekend.
The project that is personal
Find The Bear is about connecting expats with local professionals who can speak the same languages. Once we had set our direction for the remaining 30-something hours, it was extremely easy for the team to dive right in.
Remember the mantra 'know your customers'? Just a re-cap: we are a team of eight, speaking roughly 10 to 12 languages in total, but most of us don’t speak German. What does it mean? It means nearly all of us experience on a daily basis the challenge of language barriers in a foreign land. In our case, Find The Bear would be a product we would love to use even as customers. Try to imagine how this mindset could shape the work spirit. When the problem your startup is trying to fix is essentially your problem, you would be really engaged to make it work.
To-the-point advice from experts, at the right time
That said, being driven is not enough. We are all beginners in figuring out how companies are actually built. From identifying our product value to outlining the business model, we could use a lot of help.
The Ernst & Young workshop offered at Startup Weekend came at the most helpful timing — shortly after we flipped the coin and built a rough framework of Find The Bear, we realised we needed experts' advice on structuring a solid business model — because no sustainable revenue means no startup. Thankfully, the consultants from EY offered very productive tips by laying out key questions that guided us to refine our idea. How should we build up touch points with customers? Which payment model would be most realistic? Talking to experts definitely helped us clear some potential blind spots and pushed us think harder about practicality.
Final pitch time!
Sunday night was final pitch presentation time for all teams. We decided that the best way to connect the audience with our product would be to start with something real — our true stories of running up against language barriers in Germany. From struggling to communicate with a doctor to misunderstanding how to apply for an official document, we wanted people to feel that we're personally connected to our startup, because we are.
Once we put forward our key message — why Find The Bear would have a real value for our target users — the rest was about walking people through the design of our app, the business model, and our understanding of the market as well as the competition landscape. After that, it'd be all in the hands of the judges. (It might have helped that we ended our pitch in our signature bear posture — Hey, Startup Weekend was also about having fun!)
And we won — and of course we were screaming our lungs out before pausing only for the selfie time.
Looking back, winning or losing wasn't the point. As said before, Startup Weekend is about learning how to make collective creativity work. It's about pushing the boundaries of your knowledge and ideas, building teams and working fast.
You may ask: where do you find so much energy for 54 hours? Well, you need to love the learning experience to be engaged. Perhaps that's why at the bottom of our website, there's a little line that says Find The Bear was 'made with love' at Startup Weekend Munich.
— Carmen @ Find The Bear
More Information: findthebear.com