Where can you spend 54 hours with hundreds of aspiring entrepreneurs, business coaches, and venture capitalists?
Welcome to Buffalo Startup Weekend, an event designed to provide superior experiential education for entrepreneurs. Beginning with Friday night pitches and continuing through brainstorming, business plan development, and basic prototype creation, participants create working startups during the event and are able to collaborate with like-minded individuals outside of their daily networks. All teams hear talks by industry leaders and receive valuable feedback from local entrepreneurs. The weekend is centered on action, innovation, and education.
Here are five lessons I learned during the event:
Lesson 1: People are your greatest resource, but communication is key.
I'm a student and practitioner of behavioral psychology, so this event was like a social experiment for me. The audience was primarily millennials and multicultural, a diverse group of marketers, engineers, developers, coders, and software engineers. They represented the four distinct personality types, each with their own strengths, weaknesses, and motivations. Some are self-starters who take initiative and execute. Others are task-oriented and prefer a list to work from. Some follow up, others need to be managed. Some are focused, others easily distracted. When you have a team that comprises the full spectrum of these personality types, working together for the first time, communication can be a challenge, because they won’t tell you how they prefer to work. But this diversity can be a benefit, if you have collaboration, communication, organization, delegation, project management, people management, time optimization, emotional intelligence, and leadership skills.
Lesson 2: When planning, research is your friend.
Use market data to prove you know your industry inside out, including key competitors and market opportunity, and reference social proof and market intelligence from people in the field.
You can use analytics tools to extract your competitors’ marketing tactics, tools, costs, and traffic trends in a matter of moments. Tools are your friends, and analytics are awesome, if you know how to search, sort, and filter the results.
Lesson 3: Presentation matters.
Use the 10/20/30 Rule of PowerPoint. It’s quite simple: a pitch should have 10 slides, last no more than 20 minutes, and contain no font smaller than 30 points. Other keys to a powerful presentation:
Use a clever intro that speaks to the problem in the form of a question and uses the customers’ language.
Keep it simple. Use high-quality graphics and appropriate charts that show trends and peak emotion.
Know your audience and engage them from the opening slide.
Have a sequential and strategic flow. Explain the customer journey in the form of a story where you answer the most common objections.
Use customer voice (testimonials, survey results) to prove market demand and perceived value.
Practice your pitch so you have a comfortable pace and smooth delivery.
Lesson 4: Be a student.
The best students are the best teachers. If you document your process and ask for feedback early and often, your growth during the startup process should be rapid, if you are willing to learn and keep an open mind. Be agile, nimble, and ready to pivot. It's important that you have a strong belief and integrity at your core. There will be countless ideas, opinions, and suggestions coming your way, and you’ll need to know which best align with your vision.
Lesson 5: Community and connections can make all the difference.
The startup and entrepreneurial scene is a small circle. I tell college students to go out and show people how they work, instead of telling them. This same advice goes for entrepreneurs.
Through experiential learning and networking, you meet people you would otherwise never meet. You showcase your vocational and social skills. You become member of a community that may cause you to collide with a future co-founder, employee, contractor, customer, or friend.
During Startup Weekend, business coaches, successful entrepreneurs, and venture capitalist are waiting for you to ask questions, so be sure that the questions you ask are open-ended and probing. Actively listen to the answers you receive, take notes, and reflect on what you hear. Engage these experts’ minds, challenge their thoughts, and pull knowledge out of them.
Remember, it's easy to start a business. It's much harder to offer a product/service that people will pay for. Learning from lessons like these can help you develop a minimum viable product/service that you can bring to market, acquire customers, and build a team and culture that supports your business goals. Then, you can ride off into the sunset of profitability and prosperity.