By Jenn Viane Riese (Founder, Modern Humanity) I’m no techie. I’m the Executive Director of a non-profit and I own a consulting company. I thought Ruby on Rails was a strip club. Admit it, it’s a great name for one. I didn’t think I had any right to attend Startup Weekend but I did have an idea, my passion project. Seeing it fail before even getting the chance to try -- that was scarier than trying to find common ground in a room full of engineers.
Still I felt I’d be an alien, a fish out of water, a dork trying to fit in. Would everyone think my pitch was lame? Yes, I was convinced. I’d have to go home on Friday night because no one would want to help build my team and no one would find me valuable to theirs.
I couldn’t have been more wrong.
Did I pitch my idea? Yes. Did it turn into one of the final companies? No. But I didn’t go home Friday night and the weekend was a success despite my idea not being chosen. Here’s a recap of Friday night pitch from a Startup Weekend Virgin and tips to conquer it so you can make the most of the event.
Startup Weekend Recap
I was a ball of nerves on Friday. On my drive to San Francisco from the South Bay, I rehearsed my pitch and practiced saying my name with different inflections and tones.
I arrived and texted my husband: I’m here. What do I do now?? "Talk to someone," He replied. So I did. And it was great. I discovered the crowd was composed of both technical and non-technical folks, people I had things in common with, creative women of all ages and backgrounds. Their excitement was contagious. Me and 65 other people lined up to pitch our ideas. I said my name using one of my least favorite practiced inflection and spoke a bit too fast. I was nervous about running out of time. But I pitched and I was proud of myself.
Once pitches were over, we had twenty minutes to "work the room," which means carrying the hope that someone will talk to you in one hand with the sign that has your company name, your hopes and dreams, in the other.
I was sad -- I was standing in a corner, holding my sign, not talking to anyone. Then -- someone came over. Then another person. I ventured to the other side of the room and more people stopped me. In the end, I had collected seven votes, which came in the form of sticky notes, including one of my own. If I don't believe in myself, no one else will. Okay! Six people and me thought my idea was cool!
My seven sticky notes were badges of validation, but weren’t enough to be one of the top ideas. In the process of collecting them, though, I met a group of seven others that, to my amazement, worked well together and created a cool mobile app called Stylematic.
Stylematic is the brainchild of eight fashion forward innovators from Women 2.0 Startup Weekend. It’s a mobile app that, with the scan of a barcode or snap of a photo, makes recommendations to help you find and coordinate fashion and style.
We didn’t win or place at Startup Weekend, but we all definitely benefited more than we expected.
Make Friday Night Work for You!
- Pitch an idea. Doesn’t matter if it’s been brewing in your head for minutes, months or years. Pitch something. It’s not only good experience but it’s a great way for others to get to know and remember you. You’ll become “the Elephant Lady” or “Tami from Miami” or “the chick who needs a reminder her that her mom is alive," as some of the pitchers did last weekend.
- Networking after the Friday night pitches is like speed dating. Tell people the problem you want to solve and have a good, succinct, one-liner using the “my idea is the [blank] for [blank]” formula. For example, "Just because you’re an engineer doesn’t mean you don’t want kinky love. Ruby Rides Rails is the Adult FriendFinder for Techies."
- Promote yourself, your experience and your greatest strengths. Smile! People want to work on an idea they think is cool and with a team they get along with. But keep it short and try to talk with as many people as you can.
- Keep a list of other pitch ideas that attract you and people you want to talk to. Touch base with them if you don’t find enough people to rally around your pitch; join their team or come together to form a new one.
I’m no longer a startup virgin and now I'm an addict. My team and I have already signed up for upcoming Women 2.0 networking events and as soon as the next Startup Weekend in the Bay Area is scheduled, count us in! Being a serial entrepreneur is a serious disorder and obsession that I don’t take lightly. I hope you get hooked, too.
Editor's note: Got a question for our guest blogger? Leave a message in the comments below. About the guest blogger: Jenn Viane Riese is the Founder of Modern Humanity, a social enterprise consulting firm with a vision to inspire altruistic lifestyles by creating social good and awareness. Her passion project is Modist Market, an online retailer for people and planet conscious designer fashion. Jenn graduated from Santa Clara University, is a proud member of the Rotary Club of San Jose and Executive Director of the FireSafe Council. Follow her startup on Twitter at @stylematic.