Sydney Startup Weekend: From the trenches

Sydney Startup Weekend 2012

The energy is palpable. 100+ sleep-deprived participants, with overworked laptops, have seriously raised the temperature in the new Fishburners events space. Extra fans were acquired. Lunch has been served, and pitching practice has begun.

Pitchfest at Sydney Startup Weekend

Sydney Startup Weekend kicked off last night, and we’re right in the thick of it. A dozen ideas are being fleshed out, validated and developed. The goal for Sunday night is a compelling pitch, ideally with a working prototype. Bonus points for paying customers.

This is my first Startup Weekend. I’m not directly participating, but involved as a panelist/mentor. A few early observations:

The marketplace for ideas is brutal.  Friday night saw 50 x 1 minute pitches. Less than 20 would survive. I loved some. Too many didn’t solve real problems. Comedy was a winner – anything to differentiate from the 49 others. 

Help me destroy business

There’s a severe drought of technical talent.  Almost every pitcher was looking for technical + design talent. As a non-coder, I can’t talk. But the mis-match was obvious. One of the top pitchers won an iPad. He immediately offered it to any technical lead in the room who’d sign up to work with him for the weekend.


A concept can develop with amazing speed.  Within 12 hours we saw landing pages, results from customer surveys, and in some cases even commitments from customers to sign up and purchase. It’s a fascinating microcosm of the lean startup process. And a real lesson into how quickly and cheaply many startup concepts can be validated and developed.

I can see huge value in how the event brings together like minded people for a period of intense networking and working. People are connecting, having fun, and pushing boundaries. I’ll be really intrigued to see if any of the teams and ideas last beyond Sunday night. 

There’s clearly a precedent: my friend Matt Ho won the first event in Melbourne last year, with Mandarin Madness. They’ve worked hard together since then, now they’ve had tens of thousands of downloads.

But the reality of starting a business is hard. Really, really hard.

It’s fantastic that the startup process is becoming more widespread, accessible and lower cost. That’s great for society as a whole, and the individuals who get involved. But it’s not glamorous, and rarely sexy. Instagram is a 0.0000001% event.

I’ll be doing my best to share both the excitement and reality of startup life over the weekend. 

How would you think about striking that balance?

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