Calgary Startup Weekend: Collaborating through Chaos

By Lloyed Lobo, Partner, Boast Capital

Having recently moved to Calgary from Philadelphia, where the startup scene is booming, I was on the look out for some exciting stuff to do on the weekend. After searching on Twitter, I came across Cybera's contest for a free ticket to the Calgary Startup Weekend. I had attended Startup Weekends before and found them super exciting to watch.

At first I was just going to check it out for a few hours; however, after answering some "twestions" from Cybera, I was informed that I had won a ticket to participate. So I dragged my partner at Boast Capital, Alex Popa, and we stopped by Accelerator YYC to immerse ourselves in Calgary's startup scene.

Needless to say, the next 54 hours were full of insanity, intensity and excitement…

Day 1:  Share. Validate.
We got there around 6pm and met over 45 budding entrepreneurs —€” developers, designers, marketers, product managers, business strategists and finance professionals —€” all gearing to share their best ideas.

Around 40 ideas were pitched, ranging anywhere from logical to whimsical to downright nonsensical, all in good in fun though. Once all the pitches were done, everyone had three votes to pick their top ideas.

Finally, we were left with five great ideas that just needed teams to make them happen. After a bout of chaos, where all the participants were trying to get to know each other and recruit members with complimentary skills, Friday ended with five solid teams. I joined StartUpGauge, while Alex partnered with EveryLittleDetail.

Day 2: Collaborate
StartUpGauge struck gold with an engineer, developer, designer, marketer, sales guy and business strategist — the perfect combination!

We arrived early on Saturday with plenty of coffee in our systems. The first couple of hours were spent trying to bond with the team and get a better sense of each other's skills, so we could break the huge task ahead of us into individual pieces.

By lunch we had our first and only pivot. For those unfamiliar with startup terminology, a "pivot" is basically a change in direction based on user feedback and research. Our initial idea was to create a platform that enables startups to beta-test their ideas and get valuable user feedback; however, it became apparent that this would be too difficult a task to accomplish in just under two days. After some serious discussion with team members and mentors, and polling friends on Facebook and Twitter, we decided to go with a much more simplistic version — Hot or Not for Startups, or, in this case, Cash or Crash.

By the end of Saturday we had our logo and web design ready, the developer was knee-deep in code, we had social media accounts set with already over 100 followers on Facebook and Twitter, and we had received positive feedback from hundreds of entrepreneurs and innovators around the world wanting to pitch their ideas on StartUpGauge!

Day 3: Launch
StartUpGaugePresentations were set to start at 5pm, so we started Sunday by working hard on our business plan, financial model and pitch… again we wanted to keep it simple and fun — 10 slides, sized 30+ font, and the demo.

There was a lot of chaos in the building. People were constantly stopping by our table to learn more about what we were working on, and our developer was still submerged in code, which made for an extremely nerve-racking experience. We knew none of the other teams would have a working demo; however, if we could have one, it would trump all business plans and financials models.

Good news came around 3pm —€” our site was finally up and running (see image)! We went around the room recording 60-second pitches from participants whose ideas weren't selected€ and voila! Within minutes people were voting "Cash or Crash" on StartUpGauge!

Within the next hour our Twitter account grew to around 200 followers and people were inquiring about pitching their ideas. In all the excitement we forgot to practice our final pitch. Finally, at around 4:15pm, we huddled in a quiet room and went at it for about half an hour.

Each team was given five minutes to present, with another five minutes of Q&A from the judges. Here is a summary of the other team presentations:

Pitch 1. is a platform that helps car owners find the best deals for repair work by matching them to mechanics via a bidding system. They had a great presentation with good branding and a really nice explainer video; however, it seemed like it would be difficult to get buy-in from car owners, since mechanics have the reputation for exceeding their price quotes.

Pitch 2. SoCopon
SoCopon is a platform that enables social sharing of coupons to encourage group decision-making. The team started with a lot of energy, but they used three presenters and the energy level changed with each one. They also went into a lot of detail on the financials, which may have overwhelmed the judges.

Pitch 3. EveryLittleDetail
EveryLittleDetail is a platform that helps brides plan their dream weddings at the best value by matching them with quality vendors based on their budget. Given that their team leader is a veteran in the event space, they were able to easily convey the problems they were solving and how they'd be able to quickly monetize the idea.

Pitch 4. Kawk Fighter
Kawk Fighter is an online and mobile fighting game —€” think Street Fighter, but involving only one body part. They did a fantastic job developing the characters and moves, showed how they could quickly monetize, and had a catchy video. Above all, their presentation was replete with innuendos that got the crowd roaring with raucous laughter.

Pitch 5. StartUpGauge
Finally, it was our turn. We began our presentation with the question: how many times have you felt you had an idea for the next Google that you decided not to pursue, only to find out a few years later that someone else had launched a similar idea and made millions?

We promoted StartUpGauge as a platform for empowering entrepreneurship and idea exchange. The concept is for users to post a 60-second video that viewers can vote to Cash or Crash. The user can then choose to collaborate with interested voters to take the idea to the next level.  

Our presentation went very well, particularly our demo, which had real pitches from participants in the room — kudos to our designer, developer and everyone else who pulled this together! Click here to check out our website.

And the Winner is…
KAWK FIGHTER!  Well, we were told that it was a close tie between Kawk Fighter and StartUpGauge… a tad disappointing since we were the only team with a working demo; however, all in all, we were really happy for them (and hopefully you will see a Kawk Fighter pitch on StartUpGauge soon).

Lessons learned
It was one of the best experiences I've ever had and I'd do it again next weekend if I could. We're even thinking of hosting a Boast Capital StartUpWeekend to encourage ideas within our team. I would encourage anyone with an idea to participate in a Startup Weekend —€” the experience you'll gain with teamwork, working under tight deadlines, marketing, sales, strategy, business planning is second to none.

That said, here are a few tips for aspiring Startup Weekenders:

  • Keep it simple. Think of an idea that is fun and easy to validate and implement in just under two days. If you have a larger than life idea, focus on just one component that you can implement. Ultimately, this isn't supposed to be a business plan contest.
  • Find good developers and designers. These are the most important players you need to have in your team, so start building relationships with them, even before people start pitching ideas.
  • Relax and have fun. We all know this is a contest, but if you appear stressed out, it will affect the team's energy. Remember: sometimes the experience is more valuable than the outcome.
  • 10, 30, Demo. 10 slides, 30+ font, and a demo. 'nuff said!
  • Invoke emotion. Be sure to incorporate tons of humor or other form of emotion in your presentation —€” that's what sticks with the crowd.

All the best!

Lloyed Lobo is a partner at Boast Capital, a firm that helps tech companies access the Canadian government's annual $7 billion funding pool to advance innovation under programs such as Scientific Research and Experimental Development (SR&ED).