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I had to write this post because I know how you can feel before attending your first startup competition. I (partially) failed my first competition despite all the TEDs, blogs and podcasts I listened to and read.
So as my team and I won the first prize today, I would like to tell you what I think made that experience a success.
But first, let’s put it all in context.
It’s been almost a year since I officially came across the Startup world. In the beginning, like all of us, I had an idea.
I talked about it with one of my friends, he was kind/crazy/smart (pick your word) enough to decide to work on it with me.
The problem was that we were two engineering students with no business skill and no experience at all.
But this did not stop us. We worked hard on it. When we heard about the HEC Startup weekend, it was our chance to validate our idea and recruit our potential future co-founder(s).
We were prepared to conquer them with our idea and not to mature it with them.
We did a market evaluation, a « business plan » (which was as good as our business skills). I was even rehearsing my elevator pitch whenever I was using my microwave. I felt ready.
I was not.
My idea did not even pass the first vote (when you participate in a start-up competition, the first night, everyone who got an idea has 1 min to pitch to the participants, then, people can vote for the idea they would like to work on ).
Did I fail because it was a bad idea? I really don’t think so. I personally blame my pitch, which was very unnatural and the stress.
But anyways, I joined another person’s team. He wanted to validate his idea, and already had a friend with whom he worked on it but who was not there that day.
Long story short, we won the third place.
We won even though no one in our 4 persons group, had any business, tech or marketing skills.
But after we received our prizes, we never contacted each other again. I don’t even know if the other 2 are still working on their idea.
Looking back at it, I realize that even though it did not turn out the way I wished it would, this startup weekend was an incredible experience for me.
I was surrounded by people crazy enough to think that they could make a change in the world, and I witnessed the beautiful process in which an idea becomes a reality in just 3 days.
Honestly, it was one of the most exciting weekends of my life.
One year later, I decided to attend again a startup weekend, but this time just for fun. I went by myself, with no preparation. I just wanted to feel this vibrant energy one more time.
Back in the same room at HEC, I hung around, comfortably waiting to join a team when the host did a speech to encourage more people to present their ideas.
I was there to have fun with no particular expectations, so I told myself « you have nothing to lose, just go and present one of the multiple ideas you have ».
My pitch was very simple. I said my name, the name of my school, I described the problem I had and said that it would be cool if this solution existed so it would never happen again.
My idea was selected.
Better, I even had 3 cool guys who wanted to join me and work on it.
This weekend was even better than the first one, probably because the idea was more personal to me, but I don’t think that it was the only reason.
On the first day, my partners and I talked about the reason(s) we participated in the competition and we decided to write very clearly what were our goals for this weekend.
These goals are, in my opinion, the Secret of our success.
First, we wanted to learn.
When you come to a startup weekend, you are probably a future entrepreneur and you are trying to learn more about this field.
The most important thing is to learn. Don’t get sidetracked by the prizes and the competition.
You are locked in a room for 3 long days with mentors and coaches who have years of experience and are literally eager to help you improve your skills. And they are doing it for free, how cool is that?
They are really awesome people and they are the real prizes. Trust me. Make the most of their presence and experience.
Secondly, we wanted to have fun.
Networking is an important aspect for entrepreneurs. So, when you are at this kind of event, be curious, don’t stay with the same group.
It can be lonely when you have a passion (or just an interest in something ) and no one to talk to about it. So when you find them, don’t be shy.
During lunch, go talk to the others participants, ask them about their projects, show your interest, give and ask for feedback.
For our project, it stimulated us and allowed us to have a better understanding of our persona.
And finally… why not win.
Yes, after everything I just said, I am now telling you that winning was one of our goals. But what is winning after all?
We loved what we were doing and we were learning a lot from all the feedback we had from the mentors.
We listened to them and corrected our work according to what they told us. We worked seriously on it because we wanted to make sure that we really understood everything.
We were networking with everyone, having fun going back and forth between our peers.
It was so nice, that we were working 14 hours a day, sleeping less than 5 hours at night and we did not feel exhausted at all. Because it was fun.
The night before the last day, we felt like we had already won.
Having the first prize from the jury was the icing on the cake, “la cerise sur le gâteau”.
We’re all on this journey together. So when you go to an event like this, don’t forget to relax and enjoy the moment. You will always feel like the winner if you do so.