Well, it has finally been a week after the Startup Weekend SEA EDU that I organized and I believe I am almost fully recovered (written after taking a 2.5 hr nap in the middle of the day). There were many things I took away from the weekend and one thing I wanted to write about were things I think every new Startup Weekend organizer should know before they plan their event. I have broken this down into 3 sections (before, during and after event).
Participate in a Startup Weekend before you plan one
The reason I say this is so you can really envision how every element of your event will be done. The Startup Weekend team is amazing, but note that they are also helping people with their events all around the world. I had the luxury of being able to walk over to their office and to set up coffee meetings with Startup Weekend team members so I could really get an idea of how things are done. I had not participated in one and it added a lot of additional stress on my shoulders because I couldn’t truly envision how things were going to work out. Now that I have fully been through one, I could have spent far less time trying to learn about what Startup Weekend actually was, and more on organizing an amazing event.
Realistically figure out how much time you can dedicate towards creating this event.
Planning Startup Weekend EDU almost turned into my full time job (on top of my actual full time job at TeachStreet). To make this event successful, it takes many more hours and resources than you expect. Figure out ahead of time if dedicating a solid 3 months time is in your/your companies best benefit.
Get a team (at least more than 3)
We planned this event with 3 people from TeachStreet. Dave, Joseph and I pulled it off but it’s definitely not ideal. There are so many elements to making your event successful (from managing budget, to marketing, to managing volunteers/mentors/speakers, etc.), and being able to delegate will definitely leave you to be sane after your event.
1. The Master Planning Guide and Wiki Startup Weekend provides is fairly detailed and can give you a good starting point.
– note some of the templates are out of date (i.e. budget template includes expenses like supplies which now Amazon actually provides for every Startup Weekend [markers, big note pads, sticky notes, etc.])
2. Securing a venue/date quickly crucial.
Things to ask venue:
– Do they have catering contracts?
Some venues have specific catering contracts where if any event is held in their space they have binding contracts that they have to use specific caterers. Make sure you are not locked into a venues caterer who may be far too expensive for your budget if this is the case.
– What is the parking situation for expected number of guests?
– What are the open hours? Is there extended hours?
We ran into a situation where the University of Washington’s Paccar Hall locked their doors to the public after 6pm and if their doors were open for longer than 60sec after 6pm the security alarm would go off. Find out if any weird things like this go on with your venue.
– If you do plan to serve alcohol, check to see if you need a banquet permit to serve alcohol in your venue. We had to apply through our venue (University of Washington) and purchase the permit at a liquor store for $10.
3. Out of all events, why will people come to mine?
The way TeachStreet approached this was a top down approach. First we wanted to lock in big name keynote speakers (Mitch Kapor, Vinod Khosla and Michael Arrington). From this we were able to pitch to mentors that we have these big names locked in and it would be great to add you to this amazing event (note that mentors are constantly asked to help out with events like this, being able to say a big name will be there is a lure to get them involved). From there once you have pooled big name keynotes and mentors, potential attendees will see the “Who’s-Who” and get excited want to be a part of it. At the same time, press and sponsors will jump on board very quickly to be apart of such a big event. This was just how we approached this question, but make sure you develop a strategic plan for maximizing attendance at your event.
*NOTE: We had 25 mentors which is a TON. If you want a big number of mentors to come out, make sure you have a good system to facilitate their involvement at the event. Teams do need a good amount of time to actually build and constantly being interrupted by mentors, though insightful, is very counterproductive. What we did was create a sign-in chart for when mentors would be arriving and have teams sign up for hour slots with mentors. Each mentor can then work with 3-4 teams, not necessarily all of them.(Note on the sign-up chart, do it on a computer. It’s surprising how bad people can write.) Also, have a back up plan in case mentors do not show up.
About the Startup Weekend Team
1. Startup Weekend doesn’t manage you, it’s fully driven by yourself
I thought Startup Weekend would have had more of a hand in actually prepping, planning and executing our event. The truth is, once they find an organizer it’s solely up to you. Startup Weekend provides a “Master Planning doc” that gives you templates for project management and a wiki to help give some guidance, but other than that, thats about it. I was in Hawaii the week of the Startup Weekend HNL event and the lead organizer had similar concerns about the lack of involvement Startup Weekend had in their event. She was looking for more ideas that would help make her event successful (i.e. successful promotional ideas done in the past, ways to bring more excitement during the weekend, etc.) and was unsure what the role of the “facilitator” was. Which leads to my next point…
2. Startup Weekend Facilitators role is mostly limited to just the weekend (I was very fortunate 😉 )
Going into the weekend I wasn’t quite clear what the “Facilitators” role was suppose to be for my event. Finally when I met with Adam (our rockstar facilitator and COO of Startup Weekend), he helped me realize that the facilitators role is exactly what it’s title is, just to “facilitate” the event, but usually nothing more. The facilitator will be the main point of reference and explain how the event will be run (between breaking down what the weekend entails to managing the pitching process). Limit your expectations of the “Facilitators” role to just speaking points Friday and Sunday evening, nothing more. You and your team run the show and call the shots.
Also, most facilitators are actually previous Startup Weekend organizers flown in from around the country. Once you organize an event, you are eligible to become a facilitator for other Startup Weekend events around the world. So note that facilitators are not necessary people who work for Startup Weekend full time.
3. Startup Weekend manages all your finances
This may be a little inconvenient at times if you are not wanting to front all costs for your event. You can work with Startup Weekend to have them cut checks to you but if this is the case you NEED to plan in advance. Ashley (financial manager at Startup Weekend) is an ABSOLUTE ROCKSTAR but take into consideration if you need checks cut to you by a specific time, you need to give her a quality amount of time in advance to be able to get the money to you, especially if you are out of the country. My advice, find people to front costs and have Startup Weekend reimburse you. Otherwise, work with your sponsors to see if they are willing to work directly with vendors for things like meal sponsorships,etc.
4. Startup Weekend worked a deal with AppSumo in the past and gave out a discount code to them that was given out to more people than expected. Because of this, you may see “complimentary” attendees register for your event. (This was something we didn’t know ahead of time)
5. Also, make sure to coordinate with the Startup Weekend team to see if they will be inviting guests to attend the event. There were a couple people they invited for free (besides the AppSumo guys) that we weren’t given a heads up on.
Part of the success of your event is driven off the quality of ideas that come out of it. One way we started to cultivate ideas was to create a UserVoice discussion board where the community could post their ideas/problems they saw in the education space and the community could write comments and upvote ideas they liked the most. This was a great way to engage the community and to start seeing what type of ideas could be built over the weekend.
From our UserVoice discussion board we had:
– 35 problems submitted
– 257 votes
– 50 comments
2. Pre-event parties
We hosted an event the Thursday night before the weekend to get the party started a little earlier. Attendees and mentors got together at Hops N Chops (local Seattle startup event) to start discussions, team formation, idea validation and just have fun (especially because we provided free drinks).
3. Promotional ideas
– “Twitter/Facebook share promo”: Like us on Facebook, follow us on twitter and tweet this bitly link (we used “I’m ready to dedicate a weekend to change the world @SWSEAEDU Come with me: 9/30-10/2 http://tch.st/rfw9ZF @Maveron @TeachStreet #edchat”). First 10 people to do so get’s $25 off.
– “Lead sponsor scholarship”: We decided we would create a sponsorship where 10 lucky people were given a free entrance provided by our lead sponsor if they participated in our viral contest (Check it out here). Create your own scholarship contest and your lead sponsor will love it because it’s an additional way to get their name out to the community in a positive way.
4. Blog at least a few times a week to engage with your community. Just from our blog posts we got over 400 tweets about our event (tweets driven solely from our blog). Check out all of our blog posts here: http://blog.teachstreet.com/swseaedu/
– Pictures of the venue
– Mentors attending
– Speakers attending
– Interviews with attendees on why they plan on coming to this event
– Interviews with other Startup Weekend organizers
– Word from sponsors
– API lists
5. Create a sense of urgency to attend the event
People will always wait until the last minute to purchase tickets to your event so if you can build in senses of urgency for people to purchase tickets as soon as possible, do it.
Things we did:
– Did promotions where ONLY the first 10 people who participated received free entrance to the event
– Showed/announced the limited seating available
If you’re an organizer, don’t plan to participate in the event.
I made the mistake of really wanting to participate in the event and organizing it at the same time. It’s time consuming enough just participating in the event, but there are too many tasks that need to be addressed and taken care of if you are the organizer. Luckily our facilitators Adam and Khalid were more than helpful in taking on more than the normal facilitator roles and letting me participate in the event. Don’t plan on that. If you are an organizer, your main responsibility is to attend to your duties and make sure the event goes through smoothly. I can’t thank Adam and Khalid for stepping up and helping!
If your event is in a public place, people will always try to crash the party.
The reason I have this as a concern is because you should be giving the value to paying attendees. It wouldn’t be fair for people to pay $99 to get into this event when someone can just crash last minute and receive all the same benefits (food, mentors, speakers,etc.). Create ways to visually see who’s an attendee and who isn’t. (We actually sectioned off our area and created name badges for all attendees and guests)
Volunteers are awesome!
There are many little things that make an event run smoothly and additional hands are always beneficial (taking out trash, checking teams in, coordinating mentors, food running, status reports on teams, clean up, etc.).The more the merrier, just make sure you are organized and have delegated tasks for each of them ahead of time.
Music helps hype up your event
Alcohol helps break the ice (…if it’s allowed. Kegs aren’t too fond in a university building)
Make sure to have photographers there for you
Cross your t’s and dot your i’s w/ all tech needs
1. Projector set up(if you need adaptors, etc.)
3. PA systems
4. Live Stream (if you are doing it)
5. Make sure to bring power strips & extension cords
6. *VERY IMPORTANT*: Check to make sure your venue can handle quality wifi internet access with mass amounts of people using the bandwidth at one time. Also check for ethernet capabilities and wifi login’s for all attendees.
Blog about everything that happened
1. How the event went
2. Results of the weekend
Thank every person involved (from Volunteers to sponsors to people you coordinated with on your venue).
Get reimbursed for all expenses
Do a follow up a month out to see the progress of teams
Above all, I think the most important thing that comes out of Startup Weekends is the feeling of camaraderie and brotherhood within the community. It’s weird when you spend almost the entire weekend with a group of people who all have the passion to achieve this crazy goal of launching a startup in 54 hours. You get to share this experience and develop a bond with them. Fostering that feeling in your community is probably the most beneficial thing you can do as an organizer. Plan a follow up event a month out and invite all attendees and mentors to get status updates on if teams have moved forward with their projects and keep that bond strong.
This post is solely from my experience as a Startup Weekend organizer and would love to continue to update this more and more to make a great resource for all new organizers. If you have any other things you think all new Startup Weekend organizers should know before planning their event, please comment and share your experiences.