5 Lessons from My LA Startup Weekend Experience (Aug 2011)

Posted on Sep 15, 2011 | 0 comments

Los Angeles Startup Weekend - Do Epic Shit

The Countdown is ON!

It has all the makings of a great party… loud music, loud people, all the tech gear you can think of, food, beer, movies, more men than women (good for me!), frantic atmosphere, cameras, video recorders, and a whole lot of fun. But, instead of being a raging night, it was 2.5 days of everyone hustling to make the next great company.



Startup Weekend kicks off on Friday night with everyone pitching their ideas rapid-fire style. 60 seconds is all you have and yes, there is a timer ticking. 34 pitches later, it was time to vote. 12 (or was it 14?) ideas made the cut and teams began forming. Developers were in high demand, especially iOS devs and common web languages such as PHP. Designers that rock were in even higher demand.

Lesson #1: Start pitching and forming your team before the official pitches begin.  Get a designer and dev(s) on-board early.


I joined team Swaydar because I loved the idea and I love the team. We were pretty well balanced… Jon – the idea master, Keenahn – the ninja dev, Jay – the wise designer, Nick – the hustler, & Me – the marketer (yes, yes, I know I’m a techie but Keenahn & I code different languages so marketing was a better fit for the team).

Post-It Notes Fly

Post-It Notes Fly


We jumped right in to building Swaydar. The post-it notes were flying! We didn’t leave until we were kicked out and then we kept going on the street. Good for us, bad for the neighbors ‘cause I’m loud. I finally made it to bed around 3 am but of course my mind was all a flutter with excitement about Swaydar so sleep didn’t come easily.



What is Swaydar? Let me tell you. Actually, let me let our landing page tell you:

Swaydar Landing Page

Isn't it pretty?

Cool idea, right? Yeah, I think so too. Sign up if you want to learn more but for now, back to Startup Weekend.




Saturday morning I dragged myself out of bed at 7 am because my commute to the event is 40 minutes and they were opening the doors at 9.

Lesson #2: Come to Startup Weekend well rested and stay nearby because you aren’t getting much sleep.


Saturday was a blur of work.

Swaydar at Work - Startup Weekend LA Aug 2011

"Here's What I Think..."

Keenahn and Jay started creating a damn sexy product and got lots of help from Rahim, a Twilio expert.  The rest of us got to work on proving that there was a market. Brian, a jack-of-all-trades showed up at some point and joined the team.

After creating our unique selling proposition and marketing message, Jon and Nick pounded the pavement looking for any business owners they could talk to while Brian and I began the online blitz – video, survey, landing page, and Tweets!

Between the four of us, we validated the market – what kind of business they own, how they want to be contacted, and how much they’d pay.

We used that info and put our ask in gear and signed our first paying customer by the end of Saturday! That’s right, we were profitable within 24 hours. Coffee is for Closers people.

Lesson #3: Hustle pays.


Bleary-eyed and caffeine-fueled, we were kicked out again but our faithful street was still there. Bed time was around 3 am again… with the mind churning. It’s such a crazy environment during the day that it was impossible for my mind to stop.

You see, Startup Weekend is awesome but also very rowdy. It’s loud. Like, really loud. You’ll want your headache medicine of choice. There are cameras and people taking video at all times. That may not bother you but it added a thread of questions that constantly ran through my mind. Am I sitting up straight? Is my hair ok? Am I dropping too many f-bombs? You get the idea. Add that to the fact that you’re trying to win a competition and you can see how it’s hard to fall asleep.



The lack of sleep mixed with a non-stop brain action and the deadline made Sunday even more of a blur. The presentation was the focus of the day and it was a mad rush. What to put in it? What to leave out? So many questions. I won’t lie… it got intense. So intense that I ended up outside for some fresh air and a quiet place to cry (thank you to my friend that fielded the teary call).

The crying came to relieve the stress. And there was stress… the normal things happen in a startup still happen but much more quickly and with an immediate deadline looming.  Decisions must be made quickly. Personalities come into play and you don’t know these people well enough to work with their quirks in a productive way.  Some group decisions were hard for me to accept at the time, especially when I got outvoted.  There are so many questions and you don’t have the answers.

Thank God we had Jay there. He not only make our preso look ah-may-zing but he knew what to put in and keep out because he’d done Startup Weekend before. His wisdom was invaluable.

Lesson #4: Having a Startup Weekend alum on your team pays off.


With our deck ready, we found some quiet space at a diner and Jon practiced non-stop (about an hour) until it was time for all the presentations.



As I watched the presentations I was FLOORED at the amount of talent in the room. Just floored.

Healthy Surprise made over $500 that weekend. Drugkick really made life easier for people who wanted help.  Escrow Snap’s design was stunning.  I couldn’t believe the Look.io tech guys got so much done so quickly. I was signing up on Omaze and Skilloop as they spoke. Everyone was just really impressive.

We were up last. Jon killed it. Of course, so did several others so I had no idea if we would place. This competition was fiercer than Christian Siriano.

Check out all the presentations yourself on TechZulu.com (Swaydar is on video #2 & 3).


The Results

Swaydar Team - LA Startup Weekend Aug 2011

Swaydar Team

When the judges came back and announced us as 4th place honorable mention, with a “the judges wanted to make sure we got these guys up there”, we were super excited!!!

3rd place went to Omaze

2nd place to Skilloop

1st place to Look.io

After that, we all headed to the bar where I drank delicious lychee martinis and met so many more amazing people…


The People

The people rocked! Everyone is friendly and supporting. I felt so blessed to be around them. The quality and amount of help we received was incredible. Everyone gave insightful feedback – from the Coloft owners (the always incredible Cam & Avesta), to VCs, to successful entrepreneurs, to Startup Weekend Alums. The support and teamwork inspired us and made Swaydar better. I have no doubt that the people I met will solve the world’s problems.

Lesson #5: Talk to all the people in the room smarter than you. There are plenty.

Final Thoughts

Is Startup Weekend insane? Yes. Bottom line is you are in a competition and the stakes are high. Your idea and work is being broadcast to 50,000+ people. You want to impress. You want to win.

Is Startup Weekend worth the time, money & energy? YES!!!

If you’re reading this far that means you’re not a normal person… Normal people don’t spend their weekends trying to start a company. They go to the beach or watch movies. Not you. You make things happen. So do whatever it takes to get yourself to Startup Weekend. Even if you don’t move forward with your project, you will learn so much in one weekend your head will spin. And that’s always worth it!


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7 More Lessons from my Feb 2012 Startup Weekend

Turning 4 Pitch Tips into a Startup Weekend Winning Pitch

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