54 Hours at a Google Sponsored Startup Weekend

Have you ever pitched your startup idea at a Silicon Valley inspired workshop? I attended TechStars Startup Weekend Boulder to find out what it’s like. Black Lab Sports hosted the event at their agency from August 10-12. 

Fail Forward and Sideways
My first lesson in the startup world was that failure can give back in rewarding and unexpected ways. I played a fun game called Half Baked that taught me the art of pitching startup ideas. Master of ceremonies Tyrone Howard, referred to as “T,” asked participants to shout out random words, which moderators wrote down on butcher paper. Leaders of small teams had 20 seconds to choose two words from the list that would name a company. Then each group brainstormed a make-believe pitch we had to deliver based on the company name. As you can imagine, “Dracula Ducati” became a motorcycle fueled by human blood and “Absolute Waddle” became an adventure travel company.

Then I lined up with 37 people to pitch my idea. A crowd of 87 participants voted on the 11 best startups. I had previously filed a provisional patent for my idea, which is a nametag that folds into a 3D shape that can be used by a sponsor to sell affiliated services. The crowd didn’t choose my idea, so I joined a team about bicycle safety. Later I would learn that everyone on my team had experienced a bicycle crash that resulted in serious injury.

Discuss the Business Model with Experts
When we started gathering information about Safe Tripz , we went straight to the experts--potential customers. We conducted surveys at local bicycle stores and nearby coffee shops on Pearl Street. Additionally, we posted the surveys on our social media channels. Over the course of a week, we’ve collected 245 responses from people concerned about unreported bicycle and pedestrian incidents in their communities.

Our team had a good startup idea, but we struggled to make it into a viable business plan in two pressure-cooked days. That’s where the mentors came in, to help us think it through. We spoke with Casey Jenks, who is the CEO of Fitbit, and Sales Executive Rich Piech. One mentor told us to go home if we thought only generating 15 million per year would win any venture capital. With over 20 mentors to choose from, they really helped us with practical advice based on their entrepreneurial experience. We finished creating our PowerPoint, which included a viable business model, just before the team leaders started pitching their final presentations. My team didn’t quite feel ready, but we’d put in 12-hour days to get there.

Get Free Food Truck Meals and Talk to People
The best thing about the weekend was learning new technology and skills from others. The event attracted 80 people from a variety of professional backgrounds. The common denominator seemed to be people who wanted to push the boundaries of the status quo and create something real. My team included Product Development Manager Jeff Wicks, CPA and Financial Consultant Tommy Ziolkowski, Consulting Information Architect Brian Haan, Financial Consultant Ben Perdue, Patent Lawyer Jean Macheledt, and my marketing experience. 

I enjoyed working with my team to adapt and refine the business model for the startup. Picking up new tricks of the trade and updating my tech skillset was great as well. The CPA suggested that we use an app called InVision for the mockups of our bicycle mobility app for the presentation, which proved invaluable. 

The second best thing was seven free meals including barbecue, gourmet sandwiches, Tibetan food truck meals and Mexican cuisine. Google even threw in Otter Pops and carbonated water to boot.

Make a Presentation That Sells
Our team leader of Safe Tripz, Jeff Wicks, practiced his four-minute pitch before going on stage. His app will provide bicyclists and pedestrians the ability to record crashes, near misses and road hazards on a map from their phones. Our idea was to provide this service for local municipalities and regional government to make the infrastructure safer. Before we knew it, the presentations concluded, and the judges left the room to deliberate. The participants voted our team among the top four. The other popular ideas included an app to help parents teach middle school kids about sex, an app that provided instruction about organic farming, and an app that gave deals from local retailers.

Vote on the Winners
At the end of 54 hours of hard work, we all wanted to win. However, the panel of five judges chose one team for that honor—an online book called Flick composed of text messages and animations for young adults. The judges didn’t choose Safe Tripz because they thought selling the app to a local municipality would be difficult. Stay tuned for the next blog post about how we’ll pitch the app to a group of mobility experts at Vision Zero in Boulder next week. Anyway, the winning team, Flick, got $3,000 in credits to use Google Cloud Platform. The rest of us got to go home and sleep.