This weekend, I built a new company with people I didn’t know.
It’s all part of the amazing event that is Startup Weekend. This happens in cities around the world every weekend.
This is my third time participating in a Startup Weekend, and my team won first place!
If you’ve never been to a Startup weekend, I recommend it.
A hundred or so people get together and pitch ideas to each other on Friday night, then we gather around the ones we like the best. We spend Saturday researching, building, and talking to potential customers to see if the idea is one that people want. Then we spend Sunday polishing it up to we can present our final 5-minute pitches to a panel of judges, who make their decision based on factors such as team-to-customer interviews, a working prototype, ongoing viability, and potential market size.
It’s sort of a cross between MacGyver and Shark Tank.
We all start with nothing but ideas, and after 54 hours of feverish activity, one team walks away on top.
I love doing it because it’s a great way to meet to people, hear new ideas, work on a short-term project that excites you, learn a new methodology or industry or technology, and have a final product of some sort to show when you’re done.
Our team initially started off with a sad story that we didn’t want to see repeated.
Kartik Kamat told us that his retired friend and mentor had passed away, but that he didn’t hear about it until well after. Kartik’s pitch was that we’d build a tool to notify us as soon as there’s an obituary for our friends and loved ones that we don’t have daily contact with.
Many of us had similar experiences, and we formed a team to help.
Here’s a video that our teammate Aaron recorded, to explain his own experience, to help us get the concept across to our potential customers and to garner their feedback.
We found that the idea resonated with a lot of people, and although we originally envisioned our target customer as HR departments that would want to keep track of former employees (after all, if someone has been there a long time and made a lot of friends, they probably want to hear about it after the employee had retired). But we found out that HR tended to care more about current employees than former ones, and suggested that sales teams would be more interested.
That was our lightbulb moment. Imagine being a salesperson with a list of a few hundred clients and a few thousand prospects. If one of them passes away, you’d at least like the option to send a card or flowers. Providing personal service like that, when it’s most needed, can cement a lifelong customer relationship.
We pivoted our efforts, and found that we can purchase obituary information for the entire country, and integrate it with professional sales tools like Salesforce, Microsoft Dynamics, Goldmine, and others.
We built a personal-use web version (that you can try here), to make sure we had a functional process, but we expected that the real money would come in from professionals whose careers are built upon relationships with very large numbers of people.
Eleven Startups Enter… One Startup Leaves!
You can watch every pitch here (we all had five minutes to speak, and three minutes to answer questions from the judges).
Or you can skip to just our winning pitch here.
One of the prizes was automatic entry into a much bigger contest, so we’re gearing up for that.
While we do, we’re juggling dozens of other tasks to which I won’t get into just now, but I’m sure I’ll cover later.