It’s a chance to Learn, Network and Startup your idea

Friday night transformed the York Butter Factory into its hackathon vibe as a stream of young, budding entrepreneurs entered the building to pitch their ideas, network with others or simply see what a hackathon is all about. It’s the Startup Weekend Melbourne 2015!!!

Aaron Birkby from River City Labs opened the event with a great motivational talk. He spoke about the importance of “experience based learning” and how many of these weekends are pathways into your own startup but also various incubators and accelerators. Aaron highlighted the importance of technology and developers, stating that apart from developers and doctors, many other jobs are “under threat of automation over the next two decades”. We are already seeing this happening with chatbots and self-serve checkouts. I personally don’t like these I prefer to talk to someone real, and when you’ve been to Woolworths enough times you can recite the whole monologue from “please scan or look-up item” to “thank you for shopping with the fresh food people”. Someone needs to make these not so boring and generic (maybe a pool of different responses to chose from?), hey Black, let’s make this!!!

Back to the Startup Weekend though. Everyone always talks about the importance of a good team and Startup Weekend is no exception. If you have an awesome team you can do anything. The “dream team” usually consists of a hacker, hipster and hustler with at least one of these being an expert in (remember back to my 101 hackathon blog on this???). If you build this type of team, you can do anything, go anywhere and achieve anything.

Before I go on, I will say – I actually participated in this Startup Weekend!!! Mentoring, organising, MCing, running and judging at a number of hackathons is fantastic experience but I really wanted to enter in one myself. It was different and exciting being on the other side of the fence, and I wasn’t alone. Frenchie, a long time friend of mine and an awesome dev also participated in his first ever hackathon. We’ve both been running these things for years and wanted to finally have a crack and see what we could do. We had separate teams to make the competition more interesting. Whilst I came with a team and no idea, Frenchie came with an idea and no team. Black (remember us from my last blog post with Ani?) entered this weekend with the view of progressing Ani further… we found out we had far too much code to be eligible for the weekend, so we decided to run with a new idea and a new product (more about this later).

Anyway, back to Aaron. After his inspiring words and a show of hands of virgin and veteran hackers, we split into groups by skill set and were given two random words to pitch an idea around those words. This was a great way to get people networking, collaborating and give participants a chance to get in front of everyone and break some ice. We then got a few minutes to regroup and talk before moving into pitches, forming teams and getting stuck into hacking.

Saturday morning included a workshop on the Business Model Canvas. Chris Romano spoke on the importance of designing AND testing your business. It’s not just about making something great that you think is awesome. You need to make sure you create something that your target audience wants. This means getting out of whatever building you are hacking from and sourcing some real product validation. You can’t create or sell an idea until you’ve worked out your market, customers and what they want. Chris stressed how brand and marketing is crucial in any startup, using Nespresso as a case study on building brand. It was fantastic to see so many teams take on this approach and almost everyone tried to validate their product in some way shape or form.

Enough about that and more about my experiences as a first time hacker (well first time participating at any rate). As I mentioned above, it’s difference being on the flipside. I absolutely loved it though. When I’m mentoring I usually stay up all night regardless, so it wasn’t much of a problem for me to pull a few all nighters in a row. I’ve often been up late finishing group assessments so this was a similar experience. I thrived in the pressure and had a blast.

I also love that our team is really coherent. We work exceptionally well together and trust each other. This allows us to individually work on our separate projects and regroup when necessary. We were able to pull all the crucial things together and we have a diverse range of skill sets which is a massive help. There were only the three of us in the team, Keaton (RMIT), Karthik (UniMelb) and myself (UniMelb) (yes – a hackers, hipster and hustler!). I was able to focus on was the business, revenue model, market validation and research which was a key criteria in the judging this year. Keaton is our amazing front end dev and built the whole website in a matter of hours and Karthik is a gun back end, making the motion sensors work and building in the music. Some of our skills cross over which is handy when needing to double check certain things. Lots of entrepreneurs and mentors talk about the importance of a really good team and I experienced this first hand over the weekend.

The last thing I will say on my team before I get into the ideas from the Startup, was I am always amazed at what can be achieved in one weekend. As a mentor, judge and organiser I usually see what happens, what is built and what comes out of a hackathon, but it gave a different perspective while I was IN it.

Lastly, the ideas… there were tonnes of them; from funding developers, to grading websites, games, connecting people with projects, virtual wardrobes and sharing stuff. Black created Sh*t Happens, an out of the box smart speaker system designed to combat bathroom anxiety. It’s a system that uses motion detectors and plays music when someone comes into the toilets. People loved our quirky idea that sells for a mere $200 and the judges loved it even more, landing us first place in the Startup Weekend Melbourne!!! We came up with this on the Friday night from an idea Keaton had a while ago.

I was stoked… my first participatory hackathon and we won! I couldn’t believe it, I was on Cloud9 all night. I’ve definitely caught the hackathon bug for participating and now want to be in more of them. Don’t worry I’ll still be running, organising, MCing, mentoring and judging at various hackathons but you might see me on the other side from time to time.

So Black won, we are using this to help our main product, Ani along and, since we were eligible, we also entered into the Global Startup Battle. It’s all happening at once. If you are around tonight at the NewsCorp CodeFest, you’ll see team Black participating (yes I’m in this one too) so give us a shout out.

Thanks for reading and if you want to see our video for Global Startup Battle, check it out here:

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