A 300 km drive is in front of me and all I can think about is the pitch. I’ve never pitched live before, shit, I’ve never even been to a startup weekend before. I have no idea what I’m about to face but I’m excited for what the next three days have in store for me.
For 290 Kms I’m strategising my idea and how my pitch will sound. I’m super confident my idea is a killer and I’m going to crush this weekend and walk away with hordes of investors hunting me down.
Then suddenly, I’m 10 k’s away from Rocky and my brain flips on me.
I’m going to fail.
My idea is shit. I’m going to fall apart and won’t be able to get a word out when I pitch and I’ll be laughed out of town. What am I going to do now? I can’t turn around and go home?
“Ok, who wants to pitch first?”
I have a massive fear of public speaking but my mantra for the weekend was “Life begins at the end of your comfort zone”, so I decided to take the bull by the horns and go first. Sixty seconds is all the time you get to pitch your idea and try to inspire at least 2 other people to join your team. You must have at least three people to form a team or you have to join another. I blurted out a hastily and massively abbreviated pitch idea and ran away before I looked like I was standing there lost for words.
As I moved to the side to wait for people to approach and hopefully join my team, all I could think about was how terrible I must have sounded. How many other things I should have said and how obvious it would have seemed that I was overwhelmingly nervous.
Then suddenly, it was crunch time. Did enough people like my idea to join me and form a team or have I failed from the very start?
Within 5 minutes there were three people chatting to me about my idea and they were on board. One of them was the second person to pitch and he liked my idea better than his so he was first on board. Everyone else was still walking around trying to decide what they were going to do so I called it. We’ve got a team. Let’s get to work!
First to form a team. You’re gonna crush it!
That night and the next morning was a brainstorming session with my team and I discussing the endless possibilities of my idea until finally I decided that we needed to pick a minimum basic idea and focus on that or risk getting nowhere. With our idea honed we set out some clear roles for each member of the team and set to work on creating the business model.
After an information session with our facilitator for the weekend, Darren Morgan, we learned that early validation of an idea is crucial to the success of any startup. Online surveys, phone calls, talking to people in the streets and sitting down with your target market are all great ways to validate your idea and after lunch, my team and I hit the streets to see how our idea stacked up with the real world. We were pretty happy with the results from our validating in the streets and were feeling very confident about our progress. This was boosted by the fact that I had managed to have a phone conversation with the CEO of the biggest competition in the market for our idea.
You’re gonna crush it!
We returned to the venue for some mentoring sessions with the five mentors for the weekend. Going in I felt very confident that the mentors would see what we have done and heap praise upon us for our work and hail us as geniuses.
I couldn’t have been more wrong. It was brutal. The mentors for the weekend all have a lot of experience in business and each have their own unique skill sets that I was keen to learn from. Each one of them came in and tore our idea to pieces. It was relentless. They tore our idea back to the bones and picked apart all the weaknesses and left us feeling as though all our work was for nothing and we had no idea what we were doing.
I’m going to fail.
They call this mentor whiplash and we sure had a bad case of it. Instead of giving in and feeling like a failure, I was grateful that we had the opportunity to learn and have our idea picked apart and still have the time to fill in the holes and improve our business case. You don’t get opportunities like this in everyday life because most of the people you tell your business ideas to are friends and family that won’t necessarily tell you the truth. This might have made us feel lower than low, but I saw it as a blessing.
We dusted ourselves off and spent the rest of the night and the next morning validating our idea, refining our business model and preparing our pitch.
Mid-morning was time for a practice pitch and it was torn to pieces. We had to almost start again. With only five minutes being allocated to each pitch, it was difficult to get all the information in to our presentation. It was time to strip it back to the bare bones. We had decided that one of the other team members was going to deliver the pitch as I had wanted to make this more of a team effort and give someone else the opportunity to pitch instead of it being all about me.
Ok, the truth is, I was scared. I have a fear of public speaking and this was my excuse to avoid that. However, it became clear to the team that if we were to win this our pitch needed to be delivered with the same passion I had spoken with over the entire weekend. After all it was my idea and I was the most passionate about it. My team made an executive decision and I was thrust into the role. So, with only one hour to go until the final pitches, I was declared pitcher in chief and had to not only finalise the pitch, but practise delivering it too! With no time to spare we finished the pitch deck and were quietly confident about our chances.
You’re gonna crush it!
The final pitch session started by revealing the order of the pitches and the news couldn’t have been worse. We’re last. I’m going to have to sit through 5 other pitches until I have to face one of my biggest fears, public speaking. Life begins at the edge of your comfort zone though right?
Four of the six pitches have finished and while the fifth pitch is being delivered, I’m in another room pacing, power posing, checking my phone for an excuse to leave, anything to settle my nerves that are at an all-time high. Knees weak, arms are heavy, vomit on his sweater………… Not even joking, that was the song in my head. What is wrong with me?
I’m going to fail.
It’s time. I walk up to the mic, with stage lights on me and I’m being live streamed to facebook. I start to talk and I can feel my voice shaking as much as my hands. Get your shit together man before you completely lose it! I find a rhythm and the words seem to be stringing together ok. I stumble a couple of times but manage to continue through and finish the pitch with plenty of time to spare. I thought I did ok in the end but felt as though it would have been obvious to everyone that my nerves were overpowering me. A few quick questions from judges and then they were off to make their decision and crown the winners.
The judges returned to announce the winner and despite our best efforts we missed out. The winners did have a very solid business case and they had my vote in the crowd favourite award so I wasn’t disappointed at all. We ended up winning the crowd favourite award and in my acceptance speech I simply urged everyone to push themselves and reiterated my mantra for the weekend “Life begins at the edge of your comfort zone”.
My very first startup weekend is all said and done, so what do I take away from this experience?
A start-up weekend isn’t necessarily about business growth or business at all. Yes, you learn a lot of new things about business that you might not have known before hand and it is extremely helpful in that sense, but a start-up weekend is about so much more than that. If I was judging my participation in this start-up weekend solely on business skills, I did not succeed. I didn’t fail, but I didn’t crush it.
A start-up weekend at its core, is about personal growth. It is about pushing yourself beyond your comfort zone. It is about making new connections with people you thought you may never connect with. It is about normalising what is generally put on a pedestal and showing you that successful start-ups began with people just like you and me. Start-up weekends show you that before business growth can occur, personal growth must take place and if I judge my participation in this start-up weekend based on this, I crushed it!