I arrived at the venue for the Sunshine Coast Startup Weekend, a 54 hour long event where teams of people, mostly strangers, create businesses over a course of a weekend Running on no sleep, less food and copious amounts of coffee.
I remember when I opened the door to the Innovation Centre, where the event was held, straight away I was thrown into the action, and it all happened very quickly.
My name was written on a sticker and placed on my shirt at some point, then a beer was thrust into my hand and consequently down my throat. I managed to grab a meal or two somewhere between and notice a few people I knew.
I found myself towards the end of the line of people pitching. I watched my friends and fellow students go before me. Some were nervous, others, naturally adept to public speaking.
I remember a surprised reaction from the crowd and a good, loud cheer – it felt amazing. It was over very quickly, but of course it was only the beginning.
After a period of time, an intricate voting system involving post-its occurred. Then the vote was tallied.
My idea, iForage, received 19 votes and had to re-pitch my idea, then I had to form my own team. Now the real business began.
We now how to recruit members for our teams. I stood to one side of the room and I remember two people coming straight for me. First was Emjay. As soon as I pitched, he told me he loved my idea and he wanted in. Another, Ben, had searched me out during voting and said he wanted a piece of it too. Then Rhea came on board, public relations and marketing savvy, she would form a cornerstone piece of the puzzle. Thomas and Helen rounded off the team with marketing, education and environmental engineering skills to name a few.
I was now the head of a team with a diverse range of skills and backgrounds. Three of which are older than me – half the team – two of them being lecturers at the university.
I gave the team an introduction to one-another and a run down on myself. I then opted to send them home early, straight to bed, as the next few days would be tough.
Just like that, in the space of a couple of hours, I had met strangers and put together the bones of a business, the team, the co-founders.
The next day was an early start – 7am. I found my team a table and settled in. Grabbing some free coffees we set to work.
The intricacies of what we worked on are lost but we started straight off the bat – with full energy and enthusiasm. It was hard to get my head around being the delegator of a team with such diverse skills. I reflect now and realise my inter-personal skills are what made our team function, as well as my ability to communicate effectively. At the time, I thought I should be doing more work, as I felt left out because I could not code or design, or understand financials. Now I realise I filled the role as delegator quite well, but I definitely think I could have project managed better – a team of six was tricky to keep on track.
Saturday rolled by and we found ourselves looking out the window to darkness. The night brought strange sleep creatures as we all felt drained. I told the team if anyone wanted to go home, they can do so at any time. A couple did while a few remained.
Throughout my life I have always said I would be the kind of boss I would want to work for – understanding and motivational, a lead from the front kind of person who communicates well and would not ask someone to do something they would not do themselves. I think I achieved that to a good degree but I want to do better.
Emjay, Ben and I worked right up until the building closed at 11pm. Towards the end, having worked hard all day without proper breaks or exercise, sleep monsters started to play tricks on us. Pictures of tea and coffee ensued. I stalked around the area like Gollum and stole coffee tickets from discarded bags the event organisers gave everyone. I do not apologise for that.
Sunday brought strange feelings – waking up and kind of freaking out was the first one – we had to pitch our business that afternoon and I could not nail down the checklist in my head.
By the time I felt I had a grip on things, we were ready to pitch to the judges and the crowd. This times I was nervous as I have ever been. I had not eaten well (ironic as I was pitching a food based business), and had terrible sleep all weekend.
Our pitch went well, with our prototype of the app being very impressive. The judges asked fairly basic questions and it looked promising. I even made a joke about wearing half a pair of pants.
Sadly we did not win, we did not even place. It was a big let down, especially after so many people had built us up. Some even going as far as calling us favourites.
In hindsight, I think we positioned ourselves wrong as a non-for-profit and did not have a strong enough presentation. We did not nail down those key indicators. Investors want to hear numbers and we did not do that enough.
I would have loved some feedback from the judges, coaches or mentors after the weekend. A big “what did we do wrong” is still trying to be answered. We, as a team, have got some answers but only through the grapevine and through a little digging.
At the end of the event, 44 people had pitched a business idea and a dozen new businesses had been born. The winner is irrelevant to me in the end. I drove to that weekend with nothing but drove away from it with a bunch of new friends as well a business in its infancy.
I didn’t end up pitching a business, I pitched iForage as an idea. I think that is stronger and more powerful than anything and I will be working on it for as long as I can.