A few of us recently opted into quite the adventure. We dove headlong into Startup Weekend Women, most of us for the first time. What is Startup Weekend, you ask? A marathon of dreaming, proving, and building a living, breathing startup — initial pitch to final presentation — all in 54 hours. Women of all backgrounds and skill sets congregated at AlphaLab Gear in the East End to participate, and hopefully, make dreams come true.
Because of the nature of the work we do at Truefit, we're no strangers to the challenges many startups face as they begin their entrepreneurial journey. What we found interesting as participants of #swpghwomen was that all of these obstacles were ever-present, even in this concentrated experiment. When the team reconvened Monday, and set aside our friendly competition, we found there were five important learnings aspiring entrepreneurs should implement.
Pick The Right Team
Since you'll be volunteering large sums of time to this endeavor, you'll want to be sure you have good chemistry with your co-founders, that they have similar expectations of hard work and that they share a passion for your mission. Not to mention, Angel investors base roughly 30% of their decision on the team - many would rather bet on a great team with an average idea, than the reverse. That being said, some attributes can be compromised on, but the following are not some of them. Be sure to have balanced and differing skill-sets, that way, everyone has a clear set of responsibilities and no toes will be stepped on in pursuit of them. Make sure everyone agrees that open communication is the only way, even in the face of difficult conversations. Lastly, make sure each teammate not only dislikes, but practically repels, drama.
Channel Your Passion
Thankfully, passion can be a generous force for entrepreneurs in the face of constant obstacles. It's important to convey this to investors, they need to feel you're the person for the job, but they also need to know you can make tough decisions for the betterment of the company — and their investment. Your passion has the power to make a difference in the world, but it shouldn't blind you to constructive feedback. Being receptive to other's ideas or differing opinions can save your company from stalling, or worse, failing. Let your passion drive you forward, not into the ground.
Have A Clear User
What problem will your product be solving and for whom? Do you have a clear definition for both? Fantastic! Now, how many people in your target market have validated the idea? None? You know what they say about assumptions! It is imperative that you are gathering feedback from your users and taking that into account at every step of the process. This user-centered thinking isn't just a luxury, it's a necessity to survival in today's saturated market. "There's an app for that," remember? You want to be in a position to say to potential partners and investors, "In the last 6 months, we've tested with X users, half of which have signed up for the demo, and we've learned A, B, and C." It's essential to understand the market opportunity and demonstrate traction.
Don't Fear The Pivot
That being said, you may be 6 months into the project and realize user feedback is less than stellar. Maybe it's a financial obstacle: your users are college students and they love the idea, but aren't able to pay for a subscription. Or maybe it's a matter of perception: your users are small business owners and they see your product adding more work than it eliminates. We understand it's difficult to change course when you've committed piles of time and money to a particular direction. The best solution to this is to have avoided it altogether by prototyping early, but okay, you're down the rabbit hole and you need a solution that works now. Your team may be stressed, the negative user feedback has people divided, now what? Make through conflict: put together two alternatives to the original plan and test them again. Get feedback. Then change accordingly. As a first time entrepreneur, there's a learning curve. You'll make mistakes and likely often. What makes a great leader is the ability to identify an upcoming issue and implement a speedy solution. Master the art of getting unstuck.
An idea without money, is just that, an idea. An idea that makes money? Now that's a business. You'll need to be able to defend and prove your business model. Is your app free to users and include a premium subscription option, i.e. "freemium" Is it a one-time download fee? Donations only? Determine how will you be monetizing your company. There are several routes to take, some of which have yet to be explored. But I can assure you, you need a plan. One that can withstand hard-hitting questions from your banks and venture capitalists. Better yet, it's probably best to have several streams of revenue built into your plan. The judges noted this year's first and second place winners, Go Jane Go and WiStem respectively, took the top slots because of the "depth of their market research" and their "very clear monetization strategy".
Even with the definite challenges, startup life is exhilarating and yours to be had. Don't let fear stop you, abide by these 5 key rules, submit to the inevitable learning and work relentlessly toward your dream. We're thankful to Startup Weekend Women for giving us a taste of that life. Despite the demands of the weekend, the overall atmosphere was calm, focused and supportive — a testament to the superb planning of the organizing team, Brittany Martin, Jackie Vesci, Cat Tsavalas and Anne Bemis! Thank you ladies, for your contribution to getting more women involved in the startup community in Pittsburgh.
Did you kick off an idea at Startup Weekend? Already knee deep in your endeavor? Don't hesitate to reach out, via our form, with any technology questions you may have!