Lessons Learned from Lehigh Valley Startup Weekend! It May Have Changed the Direction of My Life

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NJTechWeekly.com presents this opinion post from Colleen LaRose, a Holland Township, N.J.- based would-be startup entrepreneur with experience in workforce development. LaRose, who started the North East Regional Employment and Training Association group on LinkedIn, decided to try a Startup Weekend. She wasn’t sure what to expect. What she received was a valuable experience and perhaps the key to start a new business.

Earlier this month, I participated in the Lehigh Valley Startup Weekend. I had heard about Startup Weekends but didn’t have a real idea of what to expect. This is what I knew: you go in and pitch an idea on Friday night. Ideas are voted on. Those ideas that rise to the top form teams for the weekend to create a minimal viable product or service together and then present to judges on Sunday night, with prizes going to the top three picks.

I was very honored that my idea was one of the ones chosen to be worked on by the attendees on Friday night.

The idea, which became known as “Tempfolio Skill Directory” came to me because of my background in workforce development.  Temporary employment is a growing trend and the need for real time data for both job and worker availability is lacking in the marketplace.  So, Tempfolio was envisioned as a platform to empower local temporary workers and local employers to find each other quickly and efficiently.

More specifically, people looking for temp/contract work in their region post their profiles on the Tempfolio website and provide weekly updates on their availability for work.  Their profiles offer potential employers the opportunity to see examples of their work and the number of years of experience they have in each skill. 

The website also offers references, ratings, and the fee requests for each skill offered by the person seeking temp work. This makes finding the right temp worker(s) easy for employers.  Employers can search for temp workers using keywords and can also be alerted to new temp workers posting profiles on the Tempfolio website who have the skills the employer is seeking.  Temp workers also help themselves be found by employers by promoting their Tempfolio profile through their social media channels.

And, to also keep the website fresh, jobs posted by employers have a shelf life of only one week, so that both employers and jobseekers have information about one another that is never more than one week old.  This is a link to my presentation.

So what did I learn?

1.      It’s best to come into a Startup Weekend with a really clear idea. The first place winner had amazing clarity about her product when we started on Friday night.  She knew exactly the problem that they were solving for, she had a clear product in mind for solving the problem, she knew exactly who the customers would be for that product and how to make it into a profitable business. Because she came in with so much clarity, her team was able to spend the weekend in development and developed a prototype of the actual product during the weekend!

2.      You must go into the start of the weekend with the idea that you are creating a business, not a just product or service.  The people who are judging are looking for a complete business idea: how you’ll get to the customers, what your costs are going to be, your forecast for revenue, etc. A lot of attendees got so caught up in creating the product they were making that they forgot that it was a business they were trying to create. You cannot forget that you are creating a business…and that means it’s got to make money.

3.      Don’t assume that your team will stick with you through the weekend. If developers, designers, researchers don’t think you have a viable business plan, they’ll drift off to another team that they think does.  It is up to you as the team leader to inspire your team and help them see the vision of the business.  The more clarity you can provide on what you are trying to produce, the more they can (and want to) help. They need to see that they may be part of something that could actually make it in the business marketplace…and that they could potentially be a part of something that could make them money.

4.      You need a balanced and diversified team. You need researchers, designers, web developers, and people who know about finance. Again, you have to think about creating a whole business…not just a product or service.

5.      Business coaches are key. The business coaches who were going around to help the teams were really helpful because most were serial entrepreneurs themselves and could quickly look at the business idea and see the critical elements – what you had and what you needed.

6.      You have to keep your energy up for the whole weekend. Most of the people there were half my age, and after an exhausting day of working and developing their projects, they would still go out to socialize their teammates. This helped them to create a cohesive and dedicated team, but that takes amazing stamina!  It’s a very intense experience and is really quite impressive to see how invested the teams were and how much they were capable of getting done in just one weekend.  Older people like to talk about how lazy the next generation is…but I have got to tell you, I did not see lazy at all.  I saw engaged, enthused, focused and determined young people.  I think it is pretty clear that our educational system may just be too boring for them…but given the right environment for engagement, young people are extremely creative and productive!

7.      Even if you are not one of the winners on Sunday, don’t lose heart…your idea may have merit.  I had a number of people come up to me after the judging to suggest that I continue to work on my idea.  And, in fact, it appears that there may be some commercial interest in the idea…so who knows!

I did not go into the Startup Weekend with any expectations but to learn what the experience of the weekend was all about…but it may have changed the whole direction of my life!  I highly recommend the experience to all!

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