Startup Dunedin- Sarah’s perspective
If building a business is on your bucket list, Startup Weekend, the 54 hour event that starts on Friday, March 27th is for you. And if you've built a business before, your experience will be a welcome addition to the group.
It is impossible to describe what a Startup Weekend is like without having been immersed into it headfirst. The commotion, the camaraderie, the endless flow of coffee - it's like the Friday afternoon work rush before the weekend, except multiplied 10 fold and spread out over 3 days.
Sarah Ley-Hamilton, a seasoned veteran of several Startup Weekends, can corroborate that statement. She's also the first to admit that it's not all bad. In fact, it was at one of Dunedin's previous Weekends that Sarah first fell in love with the startup scene.
It wasn't long after that Sarah joined Timely, a local Dunedin startup, as part of the customer support team. She sees it as her job to empower Timely users with the support they need to get the most out of their day.
"We like to think of ourselves as super sleuths, finding solutions, curating helpful content, and looking for ways to make what we offer even more awesome," Sarah says about the support team.
Evidently, they're good at her jobs. Timely is one of the fastest growing startups in New Zealand, and it's being built right out of the homes of Dunedin residents like Sarah. The startup culture is strong at Timely, and although people may not see each other as often as they do in an office, the team is still tightly knit.
When it comes to startups, it's really about the team you pick, which is why Startup Weekends are important events. A mediocre idea and a great team will be successful more often than not, whereas the same can not be said about a mediocre team and a great idea. Startup Weekend gives you the chance to learn the dynamics of teamwork while building a business.
"Finding a team can be hard, not to mention a little nerve-wracking," Sarah says, "especially when you’re focused on a specific idea or not a natural networker."
"At the last weekend, we chatted about what skills we had to offer and made some jokes. It was comfortable and my team felt like a good fit."
Lunch Drop, the team Sarah joined, was built on a simple idea that solved a problem and had potential to scale.
Many employees who work in the inner city are limited when it comes to gourmet lunch options. While their favourite cafes might be just 15 minutes out of town, the half hour of driving time required to go there and back is simply not worth it for most busy working professionals. Lunch Drop created and organised a service that solved this culinary dilemma.
"Lunch Drop would co-ordinate delicious meals from local cafes and restaurants that were outside of the normal CBD radius and deliver it to inner city workers," Sarah explained. "This would mean that they wouldn’t have to make the trek out to their favourite restaurants in their lunch breaks."
It was a harrowing 54 hours taking the business from idea to product, and in the end Lunch Drop didn't take home the top spot. But they did leave the Weekend with a wealth of knowledge and the coveted "Best Team Culture" award.
That's what really makes Startup Weekends unique. There's a friendly element to it, where you're given the opportunity to grow your networks by working alongside other capable people. But at the same time, it can also be very competitive and nerve-wracking. Building a business is a challenge on its own, and the pressure of squeezing that experience down to 54 hours can cause unexpected cracks to show.
"There are definitely challenges," Sarah explains, "and you’ll find that you reach some mental and emotional boundaries during those 48 hours, but you’ll always come out on top.
"I’ve learned some things about myself and built a lot of confidence from pushing some of those boundaries and questioning my own beliefs about what I can and can’t do.
Sarah says that she's never had a bad experience at a Startup Weekend, even though they challenge you to exceed your limits. On the contrary, she has walked out of each event with a unique insight into startup life, and these Weekends have changed the way she thinks about business and entrepreneurship.
"Going into it, I thought I wouldn’t have anything to offer or that everyone else who was attending would be awesome superstar entrepreneurs," she added. "The people that attend these weekends are awesome and achieve great things, but I learnt that we all have things to offer and nobody’s contribution is more valuable than an other’s."
"I also thought that you had to have a valid idea to make the most out of a weekend, you really don’t - it’s all about the process and the people you meet!"
Perhaps the biggest thing you'll take away from the event is a sense of opportunity in all of the problems you see. Instead of being obstacles, problems become ways to find solutions, which you can then build a business out of. When you've been involved with doing that in just 54 hours, it'll completely change your mindset.
"Startup Weekend gives you a great taste of the creativity and energy of “startup” life," Sarah concluded, "and it awakened a drive in me to really chase my dreams and get things done."
A few months after the last Startup Weekend, Sarah is a part of one of the fastest growing startups in New Zealand and is living the startup life every day. It has changed her outlook on the world and it has helped shape her career path.
If you too would like to be involved in this year's Startup Weekend, buy a ticket, come down and meet Sarah, find a team that you can resonate with, and challenge her for the top spot.
When: Friday, March 27, 2015 at 6:00 PM - Sunday, March 29, 2015 at 9:00 PM
Where: Otago Polytechnic