It was 1am on November 5th and I was stuck on some code. I decided to take a break and check off something else on my to do list: look at the upcoming startup events for startup week. The kickoff to startup week was Startup Weekend Vancouver (hereby known as SWV). It’s an event that brings developers, designers and business people together to pitch, form teams and build the beginnings of a startup all within 56 hours.
The thought of it was fairly intimidating. As a newer developer, I still lacked confidence in my abilities. In a high energy team environment like SWV, I didn’t want to let my team down. After reading over all the events during the week, I decided to take the plunge. Afterall, wasn’t I all about taking chances and learning? Learn, explore, create right? I also saw it as an opportunity to other startup enthusiasts and who knows, maybe even find my elusive co-founder.
Fast forward to startup weekend. I was excited and anxious to join a team, learn and contribute. I had signed up for startup weekend, but what I was about to experience was far more than startup.
The room was packed with over 150 participants and you could feel the excitement in the room. Over 50 ideas were pitched that night. After voting and a rapid team assembly, I joined a team called weshare.ca, a sharing platform for neighbours to share under-utilized household items. While other ideas intrigued me, I felt I could contribute more to this idea. Amusingly enough, the three other teams I expressed interest in, all placed in the top 3 of the competition.
Our team of 5 (2 devs, 2 business and 1 designer) gathered Saturday at 8am ready to start planning the idea. Of course, it didn’t work out that way. For the next 12 hours, our idea was torn down and so was our team. We pivoted again, and again and again. Mentors tried to provide direction and assistance but we struggled to find any traction. As we moved away from our original idea, we failed to agree on any new ideas. We were too fixated on coming up with feasible ideas, which was not the point of SWV. Our group was getting frustrated. Every minute that passed was draining everyone in the room. By 8pm Saturday night, we had no energy, no morale and no idea.
One of our members came back from a walk where she talked to some other groups, and suggested what surely had gone through all our minds: to disband our group and join another one. Was this really going to happen? Were we going to quit on each other?
And that was it. We were just random strangers that came together on Friday night to work on a project. We were not heavily invested in the idea, nor each other. Earlier that day, the original member who pitched the idea made everyone share what they wanted from the weekend. All of us had slightly different goals but I knew that if nothing else, we had a common goal of wanting to get something out of the weekend.
I tried telling the group that we should explore the other groups and see if we could find a fit somewhere else. If we had options, we should consider it. I believed the weekend was about learning and having a fun experience and I wanted to make sure we salvaged that experience for everyone. If we couldn’t do it together, perhaps we could do it separately.
They seemed unconvinced but two of us left and started talking to other people. It wasn’t long before another group said they were looking for another developer. So I went back and checked in on the group.
Everyone seemed indecisive. They did not know whether they wanted to find another group, to continue or give up. I told them that another group was looking for a developer, but I would stay with them if the group was not dissolving. Even though we had no energy, I was too stubborn to give up on the group. One member was ready to go home. I remember saying, “You would have to shoot me, in order for me to not show up tomorrow.” That was typical me. I said I was in, so I was in to the very end.
After wandering away again, I found my group standing in the hallway. They seemed ready to disband, but others were encouraging us not to break up. And this was one of the biggest lessons that someone can get out of startup weekend. Nobody can make you want to be there and I certainly didn’t believe in convincing others they needed to stay. Despite everything, your why will be your compass.
It was 9pm and what happened over the next hour was something special. Nobody left. Somehow, we found ourselves back in the room that we spent 12 hours disagreeing. We had no idea, no traction but we were a team again. We started over once more. We came up with eight new ideas and voted on our favourites. It was 11pm when we agreed on the final idea.
In the morning, our team received another blow as we only had three members present. Regardless, the next 8 hours were hectic as we put together some resemblance of a business and a pitch. Our idea played matchmaker between companies looking to target inkind product donations to local events. We pitched under the new name “Inkind”.
The pitches were a lot of fun to watch. Everyone put together a great effort and showed a lot of enthusiasm. I know our team would have loved to have placed in the top 3 but I knew I was proud of what we had accomplished. We dug deep and pulled together when it mattered. Dozens of people left between Friday and Sunday morning. Everyone that hung in till the end should be proud of what they accomplished that weekend.
So in the end, what was startup weekend really about? Was it about finding an idea and building a startup?
Startup weekend wasn’t about building a great idea.
It wasn’t about winning a competition.
It wasn’t even about learning how to build a startup.
Startup weekend was about people and coming together because we all care. Whether it’s our curiosity of startup, our passion for technology or our desire to learn, the weekend brings people together even when we didn’t think we could.
We may all care about different things but in the end, if we care enough, we find our own reasons to be there.
As a final thought, I want to thank my team and everyone that helped make the event possible (organizers, volunteers, mentors, judges and sponsors).
Till the next startup weekend.
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