Anna Guenther: The power of a weekend

In our day to day work, we often think in terms of years, 90 day plans, months, fortnightly sprints, and sometimes weeks. But I find it’s rare to think about achieving anything big in timelines shorter than that. 

Enter: Start Up Weekend.

I often joke that Start Up Weekend is harder than a start up. You have all the highs, the lows, and squiggly line of forming and launching a company – all in 54 hours. You sleep little, drink lots of coffee, and have to make something concrete in a span of time that would not normally be associated with any concrete deliverables.

And, to make it harder, you can’t do it on your own. The rules of the weekend force you to collaborate with at least two other people. So you can’t just set a path yourself and be completely introspective. You have to lead, to follow, and build something together. Herding humans is hard.



How does it actually work?

Everyone arrives fresh faced on the Friday night, a bit confused about what is to follow (who reads emails these days anyways). On arrival the crew of volunteers hand out lanyards, you’re either a business person, a tech person, or a design person. Some special folk are also given coach lanyards, basically meaning we need to ask a lot of questions, push you on your business model, and provide you with our (poor pestered) networks over the weekend for validation.

Once the group is labelled and lanyarded, networking begins. Like all start up events, pizza is eaten, names are exchanged, and introductions made. Once everyone has arrived and eaten, the organiser brings the group back together for a formal presentation and pitch time. All of the attendees are invited to pitch an idea for a start up, though it has to be something new (don’t bring an NDA and months of research to the table!). At the most recent event in Dunedin, we heard everything from a block chain start up to a mining system for LinkedIn to build the ultimate start up teams.

Then, everyone that has pitched creates a poster for their idea and everyone is given voting stickers. The next hour is spent breaking up into teams around ideas that the attendees want to work on, and Lean Canvas templates are distributed for problem identification and MVP building.

What happens next?

Magic. Seriously. Over the weekend these teams go out and test their thinking, build solutions, and actually create businesses. We’ve seen everything from a card games motivating kids (and possibly flatmates) to do their chores through to cheese delivery services through to fully working apps for ordering coffee.

Over the weekend the teams validate, pivot (and sometimes, fully reset) and everyone has something to pitch by Sunday night. At this point everyone is tired bordering on crazy. But they still need to try and wow the judges with what they’ve built, how they’ve validated, and what the opportunity is. There can be only one winner, but the learnings from the weekend are taken away by everyone - from the teams to the mentors. You learn about working in teams, about business, and most importantly - about yourself.

Keen to get involved? The next startup weekends are in Auckland on 13 May and Wellington on 27 May.

A final thought

If a bunch of unrelated people can create a whole business in a weekend, what can the rest of us in pre-existing teams do? I can’t wait to test that thought with my awesome crew.

Anna Guenther is co-founder of PledgeMe (aka Chief Bubble Blower). Loves how crowdfunding can change the world, and thinks that creative projects will make us all better people :) right? Lives in Wellington, drinks too much coffee, and wrote a masters thesis on crowdfunding.