First: Our team killed it. We made an app, put up www.breakevenapp.com, realised it on Google Play, and made sales in the weekend. Big thanks to all the guys (in no particular order) @Rivaajj, @Brock , @Jon, @Rob, @Tim, and @Sam.
So why Breakeven App?
Aside from my own experience as an entrepreneur, one thing I see a lot is people who have an idea for a business, do a ton of work on it, but it’s just not possible for it to ever make a real profit (after you factor in the time spent to make it), or it will forever have cash-flow problems that will stunt the potential. These are often technically smart guys who kind of know they should monazite their ideas but haven’t really grasped the big picture of just how expensive it is to run a business – especially when you start paying yourself a decent salary. Having run two “profitable” startups that were cash-flow negative for a while this is a point of personal passion and a lesson I really learned the hard way.
Startup Weekend Lessons
The big challenge of Startup Weekend is always getting the team with the skills to implement and idea and for this event we really had the right team. Everyone brought something to the table and so I am deeply grateful for the team we had. I found myself saying time and again to mentors and others that if we didn’t reach our goals that it was my fault because the rest of the team was flawless.
In my prior Startup Weekends I’ve found that the teams either don’t continue or they leave themselves with an insurmountably large amount of work. For a team of 6 working 30 hours over a Startup Weekend that’s the equivalent of one guy working in his free time for 3 months. That’s why for this weekend I set the goal of having something complete and on the market by Sunday in case the team didn’t continue.
Things that worked well:
– Having a $100 budget. We used it to buy competing products, domain names, and a website template. If we had a marketing person it also would have let us drive a bit of traffic to see if we could make good use of marketing dollars at our given price – not being able to do that is a bit of a regret for the weekend. If we could have learned if we can pay $2 per marginal sale on a $4.99 app then we’d be laughing (and more profitable).
– Having a technically proficient person doing some project management. That was really important in terms of staying on top of what needed to be done next, and with my limited knowledge of programming web apps I really couldn’t do it. Staying on top of what’s both important and urgent is key in Startup Weekend.
– Putting together the pitch bit by bit over the weekend. I kept Keynote (Apple PowerPoint equivalent) open and added notes and slides so by the time Sunday afternoon rolled around the talk was mostly written and most of what was left to do was adding visual aids and working on the order. One of the secrets of good presenting is to just use the slides to remind you what to talk about next. As a general rule, my slides have little or no text – people can either read or they can listen, not both.
– Getting lots of practice of the pitch. I was really grateful for Larry Lopez, Charlie Gunningham, and others who listened as I worked through what needed to be said. 5 minutes is a short pitch but to cut it down to 3.5 minutes of talking and 1.5 minutes of live demo requires carefully chosen language. Special thanks to Tim who drove the iPad for both the presentation and the live demo. This part worked really well. Many people have complimented the pitch, but if I’m honest it was a 3/5 in my books. I feel like we could have won with a better pitch, and that’s my responsibility.
– Delegating the things that I could do myself – I’m used to delegating programming because I can’t do it, but this weekend it was really great to have our accountant Rob onboard to write the glossary of accounting terms. This was something I was expecting to have to do, but he took it on and did a better job than I could have done and left me free to do other things.
Lessons for me:
– I’ve decided to learn more about programming so that I know what can realistically be built in a web app during the weekend, especially how to split tasks between developers so things can be built in parallel. When it comes to software development I’m not really sure who can do what and which skills are needed for a given feature. Since the last time I programmed it was in BASIC I’ve started to learn Ruby as it seems to be the best way to get things done on a rapid prototyping basis.
– Make sure a shared vision of the end product is reached before we start coding. We went a little bit off track because I hadn’t properly communicated the vision, and probably didn’t have it worked out enough in my head before starting. In this case they were minor items (disappearing vs. permanent sidebar, for example) and the changes to the code were minor, but they easily could have scuttled the whole project. This was my big fear all weekend and we ended up having to tweak quite a bit on Saturday evening because I hadn’t communicated well enough on Friday night.
– Architecture matters. With my previous Startup Weekend project www.mantasticshopping.com what seemed like a very simple challenge turned out to be very complex behind the scenes and so was never solved to my satisfaction. With Breakeven App the program was flexible and so we were able to quickly tweak and tune it to get where we needed to go. Next Startup Weekend I’m going to aim a bit higher and probably spend some time with the team on the Friday really working out how we can segment the development to makes sure it’s flexible if we go off track and that work can be done in parallel so we can tackle a bigger project quickly.
The future for Breakeven App
It’s official: Breakeven App will continue in development. We have a list of features, bugs, and a bit of a system about how to resolve them so we’re going to be plugging away. First to add some features to the $4.99 Breakeven App, and then to simplify the app for a free Startup Weekend special edition that will just do break-evens for tech companies. If that goes well we will look into a $20-50 Breakeven Pro app with features like more graphic styles, customisable fields, multiple templates, and output to Excel. If you buy it now you will continue to get updates.
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For next startup weekend I’ve already started to put together some ideas for pitches…