Excerpts from a weekend of madness: SWAKL straight from the horses’ mouths

The latest Startup Weekend Auckland was held a couple weekends ago, and featured participants from all walks of life. Here are two of the event’s attendees on their own experiences, filled with ups and downs like nothing they’ve ever had before.


via Facebook

Katherine Yang
Being a high school student, Katherine signed up thinking she would merely be designing a few logos or UX interfaces. That was certainly not the case.

These are all things I didn't think I'd do but ended up doing in 54 hectic hours:

  • Pitch an idea to a room of imposing professionals.
  • Deliver impassioned speeches about frustrating a singular bee.
  • Force the concepts of Nicki Minaj and Twerking onto others.
  • Not get booed off stage for making physics jokes.
  • Consume such a volume of coffee in so short a time.
  • Drive my vision and lead a startup.
  • Carry on despite initially being the only one in my team to show up on pitch morning.
  • Utterly lose my shit. 
  • Pull it off anyway.

The above list sure as hell isn’t meant to be a step-by-step guide to startup success, either. Even the most renowned ‘syllabus’ for startup success acknowledges that there is no formula for startup success.

The only certain methodology is dependent on a single process: learning.

It is, after all, the thing you embarrassingly admit to your boss after having failed.

As a full time learner, I may have been slightly put off by this concept. Generally, being a student means consistent learning and limited doing, and Startup Weekend was meant to be a chance to get off of my haunches to actually do something.

But this ‘validated learning’ is an integral strain particular to startups – which really are just methodical bouts of testing assumptions, failing, flailing and learning.

Eric Ries, pioneer/god of the lean startup movement said: “we must learn what customers really want, not what they say they want or what we think they should want.”

That distinction pointed out by Ries is probably the most valuable thing I’ve learnt.

Heck, that’s all I know, having signed up with utterly no entrepreneurial basis.

With ‘Customer Validation’ as one of the key tenets of the judging criteria, and as the thing that each of the twelve start-ups scrambled to gather in the 54 hour stretch, my naïve mode of thinking shifted away from an ‘end goal’-centric strategy to one based on creating what people want to buy.

It sounds elementary. But visionary stubbornness, whether it be based on age or supposed experience, turned out to be a huge detriment to many startups.

Time and time again, glimpses of fraught groups and emotion would escape from the one-minute update pitches and neighbouring tables from conflicting interests.

All from that simple dichotomy – ‘what you think the customers want’ versus ‘what the customers really want’.

If the loftiness of the central idea is crumbling under the weight of undesirability, the only way to stay alive is to pivot.

There are three stages to the ‘pivot’:

  • The reallocation of resources – every one of us started up with nothing so this should be fairly easy.
  • The reorientation of the startup’s ethos – now, that’s a bit harder.
  • The admittance that you’re wrong – good luck surviving Startup Weekend if you can’t bear to do that.

And if you pivot fast enough, you may be able to gather angular momentum.

Thanks Auckland Startup Weekend crew, my awesome team and mentors of all shapes, ages, and professional backgrounds. You’ve all let me be weird. You've all changed my life.

I’ve learnt a lot.

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via LinkedIn

Anita Hayhoe
As the business development executive of Sidekick Chartered Accountants, Hayhoe considered herself a pretty experienced marketing strategist. With the pipe dream of making millions, she jumped into SWAKL, despite juggling moving out of her flat at the same time.

Start-up weekend is a global phenomenon that takes everyday people’s business ideas and turns them into reality. The catch is that you go from 0 to 100 in 54 hours, hopefully having a functioning, and even profit-making, product by the end of it.

The event this month had 93 people attend. There was a myriad of developers, designers and marketers with dreams in their pockets that shuffled down to the Grid AKL at 5.30pm on a Friday. All for similar reasons; to test their own business ideas, to meet potential business partners, and to push themselves. What better way to meet future collaborators?

Initial pitches included apps that track your gaming skill vs liquor consumption, to car baby monitors, and peer-to-peer boat rental. The idea I pitched was called News Avalanche. Think Facebook meets Tinder for gripping news, facts and history with a Candy-crush revenue model.

I landed in a team of 8, with 6 of us being leftover pitchers. We had a great balance of marketers, developers and designers. Our team, Meet a Local, was solving the problem of connecting foreigners in a new country safely with locals who contain the insider knowledge, that unforgettable and meaningful interaction you often don’t get on a Contiki tour.

The hardest thing for our team was actually defining the real problem we were solving. Once we got that down, everything flowed from there.

The mentoring process was one of the most valuable aspects to SWAKL. Starting with the Lean canvas method, all teams defined their audience, marketing channels, and how to actually make money. There were fantastic mentors and investors present for team disposal throughout the weekend. Connor Archibald from Lightning Lab, Sue De Bivre from Beany Biz accountants, Tim Dove from Cluster Creative to name a few, have been through this process as both attendees and coaches.

Notably, all teams were trending through the same motivation and despair throughout the weekend. From being generally pumped on the Friday night, to having all of our hopes and dreams destroyed on the Saturday, and rising from the ashes amidst panic for Sunday’s polished pitches. For Meet a Local, our moment of despair was realising we didn’t cover competitor research properly with a big market player having a similar offering. We then lost touch with what we were trying to achieve. The mentors pulled us aside and got us to redefine our problem then we all clicked back on track.

Finally, on Sunday night, pitches arrived! It was a moment of triumph. Despite having rug doctored my flat until 3.30am the night before, my energy for the team sprung from apprehension, pride, and Ganbatte (the Japanese phrase of ‘try your best’ that resonated through the weekend). Meet a Local was a live, functioning website. The Judging panel consisted of Rick Shera (Lowndes Jordan), Rod Snodgrass (Spark Ventures), and Lillian Grace (Wiki NZ), and they did their best to find holes in our 54-hour project.

Overall our pitch received positive feedback from Rod, saying that a need was present and partnering with a Telco would be a great marketing strategy (though of course you would say that Rod). The peer-to-peer model such as Uber, AirBNB and Tinder had a heavy influence on many of the business ideas this 2015.

One lesson for me was to not underestimate anyone. The two ideas I had initially shrugged off, came first, and second place. The winner was ArtFe’ a beautifully executed idea of using empty café walls to sell low-cost prints for artists. Two clear problems were solved, cafés short of cash, and artists short of cash.

After it was all over, I talked later that week to Ken Brickley, the CEO of BuddyBid, who was on the panel of the latest #SMCAKL event, coincidentally also winning at the last Start-up Weekend. He used the weekend to test his idea of a Facebook API, which he has now used to grow his current business successfully on a global scale.

Though News Avalanche wasn’t addictive, Start-up weekend is. It shows you how much can be achieved in a short amount of time, and above that, changes your mindset on committing to an idea and taking action. No matter your age. The next one is in November, come along, push yourself to the limits and Ganbatte!