5 things I learned at Startup weekend Redmond

After running with our small startup Attassa for the last 3 years, going to events like Startup weekend is always a bit enlightening and refreshing.

I found this event particuarlily reaffirming to some beliefs I’ve had about startups.

Top 5 things I learned or had re-affirmed at Startup weekend in Seattle.

  1. The power of numbers: For me, working with other people is absolutely essential to productivity, getting things done, and feeling good about what I’m doing. Having someone to celebrate successes both big (winning the popular vote at the climax of the event) and small (getting pictures to download into your WebOS application) is invaluable and rewarding. It’s pretty simple, the more people you’re working with, the more successes you share, and the more people you have to celebrate with.
  2. The power of working together face to face in the same room: For somer reason, I feel more accountable when you work together in the same room. Maybe it’s just harder to let someone down when you have to look them in they eye, but when you work in such tight quarters I feel much more compelled to impress people and NOT let them down. It goes without saying that communications is much easier in these conditions as well. Impromptu product discussions were held quickly and efficiently in person instead of scheduling awkward skype sessions or long email threads.
  3. The power of competition: I’m incredibly motivated by competition. Competing against other teams seems like the obvious outlet for this, but given that our team was more than 3 people, I actually was able to have somewhat of a healthy competition amongst other team members.
  4. The power of a simple value proposition: Our value proposition was simple. “Help you remember the names of people you bump into at events” and our elevator pitch didn’t require an 80 story high rise to give. Having a clear compelling value proposition really dictates the technology and that’s the way it should be. It’s easy as a technologist to lead with the technology and allow everything to flow from that.
  5. I really suck at public speaking: Seriously … I’m terrible. I’ve always known that I have a Charlie Brown like mumbley voice, but watching the video of our demo is painful. I seriously need some lessons on presenting.

Our iPhone and Pre app wins top prize at Microsoft sponsored Event.

After a 54 hour coding marathon fueled mainly by pizza, caffeine, new friendships, and the enthusiasm of starting something new, our app Learn that Name won the top prize for the best app at Microsoft sponsored Startup Weekend in Redmond.

Of the many great memories from the event, the clear cut winner for me was the conclusion of the event – the presentation of the top prize. To the best of my memory the presentation went something along the lines of the following.

  • Clint Nelson (Organizer of startup weekend) – “Thanks to everyone … etc. etc.”
  • Clint -“14 of 15 teams used the Microsoft technology stack”
  • Clint –“Thanks to Microsoft, organizers, etc etc. ….”
  • General vibe in the room: YAY Microsoft!! yee of startup enablers! You rule!!!
  • Clint – “The winner of the Bizspark award given to the team winning most votes for best startup, and the one that used Microsoft platforms is …”
  • Clint – “Search Kick”
  • General vibe in room: YAY Search Kick!!! YAY Microsoft!!!!
  • Abhisheck Chitlangia (Learn that name team member) – “Wait a minute … But which team got most votes for best app?”
  • Clint – “ummm … Learn that name”
  • Me (giddy already about the impending irony) – “And which team was the one that DIDN’T use Microsoft?”
  • General feeling in room – “Huh? The team that won most votes didn’t get the award and the $5000?”
  • Clint (in a slight wisper) – “umm … Learn that name … awkward”
  • General feeling in room – Irony is setting in … the ONLY team that didn’t use the Microsoft platform was the one that won the best application … but they were essentially disqualified.
  • General feeling in room – More irony, etc etc, Learn that name team members now high fiving.


While the $5,000 of bizspark sponsorship would have been nice (if we’d used Microsoft technologies), the value in buzz generated from the irony as seen on techflash has already surpassed any $5,000 monetary value.

As a major footnote –
Microsoft, Bizspark, Clint, and all of the other organizers did an absolutely stellar job hosting the event. Huge props to them!! It was an amazing effort to aid the ENTIRE startup community not just those that used MS technology stack or not.
The $5000 was just the cherry on top of the overall support for startups that Microsoft provided. The award understandably could only be given to the team that used the Microsoft platform. Very smart way to drum up some interest especially in their new Azure platform.

Winners quit all the time

One of the most stupid words of wisdom that we so often try to rally behind is “winners never quit.” The fact of the matter is that winners quit all of the time … they just quit early and before they’ve wasted a bunch of time and energy down a dead end.

Now I’m all for rallying behind a cry for persistence. I learned very early in life and in my career that “when the going gets tough, the tough get going.” In any sort of athletic training I’ve done, it’s often the case that you’re only getting fitter and stronger when you push yourself when you don’t think you’ve got anything left to give. The first 8 leg squat repetitions don’t do that much for you, but the final 2 … when it really hurts and you want to quit … is where you make all your athletic gains. This is also the case in mental exercise. Plugging away isn’t making you any smarter, but pushing through a tough problem gives you the experience and mental gain. Seth Godin talks about this as pushing through “the dip.”

But there comes a time when pushing through this dip is useless. There’s nothing on the other side of the dip that you are trying to gain. You may as well have quit before you even entered the dip.

It seems counter intuitive, but it’s often TOUGH to quit. You often hear that quitting is easy. I think a lot of the time, it’s exactly opposite. Some of the toughest decisions I’ve made is to quit! Why is that? I think it’s a combination of 3 things:
– There’s always uncertainty. Maybe you shouldn’t be quitting. Maybe the other side of the dip is fruitful.
– I really don’t want to be known as a quitter.
– Quitting usually hurts someone else … and NOBODY likes to hurt anyone.

Winners are able to recognize these three things and quit before they start, or shortly after. It’s risky, it may hurt someone, and people may see you as a quitter … but you’ll have a lot more time and energy to spend on something actually worth while.