Angry Bird Pinata at Start-Up Weekend

How (not to) Build a Business in 54 Hours

Start-Up Weekend is an event that allows hard-working individuals crazy enough to try to launch a business idea with complete strangers in 54 hours to come together in one place.

A couple weekends ago, I, being one such crazy individual, attended Start-Up Weekend at the Citrix Online campus in Santa Barbara, California.

First of all, let me clarify the misconception that you have 54 hours to launch a business.

If you start counting from the time your idea gets picked to the time presentations start, you actually have about 44 hours. So it ends up being about 44 hours plus 4 hours of networking plus 4 hours of presenting, and the event ends at around 10 PM Sunday night, not midnight.

That said, if you are willing to put in the high energy and the risk of failing miserably, you can most likely find an event happening near the city you live in.

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We had awesome speakers who gave us a more realistic take on what it means to be an entrepreneur. All of them had negative experiences and kept working hard until they got things right.

Our coaches were also very useful when it came to prioritizing what we needed to take into account. A couple of them flew in from our of state just to offer their wisdom.

On Friday night, everyone gets 60 seconds to pitch a business idea. I had told myself I wouldn’t do this since I am a freelance photographer/designer and (outside of family) had never been part of a business team, much less led one.

But I got the idea during the week to make a site where people can tell you whether something looks good on you or not, so I pitched that idea and it received public support.

The business ideas presented Friday night were so great I almost regretted having to stick to my own.

On Saturday afternoon, we each interviewed people through email, Facebook and on the street to collect stats on who would use our product and then we refined it and made our business model more profitable.

On Sunday we learned about resilience and how important it is to keep a positive attitude to get further in life. For example, if we get a speeding ticket, we’re supposed to think, “Oh! This is a great opportunity to contribute my tax dollars to the city,” instead of being all upset about it. 

“Date Nite” was my favorite presentation and idea. It is a service for married couples to come up with better dates. What I liked about it is that it was a highly useful product, the business model was simple and efficient, and the presentation included a funny video commercial.

Our presentation could have been better, highlighting the need to always include a great public speaker on one’s team. In a real-life situation, I would either hire someone to sell my idea or train to become a better public-speaker myself. Also, although facts are important for strategy and to modify the product, in business you have to be able to sell. And selling seems to be about having the ability to make an empathetic connection with your audience and convincing them your product is a necessity.

I do not have a sales-personality. Having been touched by my team’s disposition even when working well past midnight, I felt they merited some sort of public recognition. So I was sad not to be able to bring our team to that point.

In retrospect, a few other practical business ideas did not receive the recognition I felt they deserved, like the massage bid one (which I could have really used after the event) or the one with the guitar tuning device. These ideas impressed me and it’d be great if their teams carried them forward.

I am not sure I will ever do this again but if I do this is what I would do differently:

-Google my teammate’s online profiles since night 1 so I can get a better understanding of who they are and their skill sets.

-Assign two people to dedicate the whole weekend to making a glitzy presentation.

-If someone starts second-guessing what I say, I would address the problem directly and privately instead of ignoring it and hoping it will go away.

This is what I wish had been different about the event:

-Alcohol consumption should start at a later hour, around 6 or 7 PM so people are not intoxicated while they work

-Include a prize for best design

-The coaches should be more coherent in their advice to the teams as far as what should be presented

I expected to meet diverse people but what happened is that I had fun meeting and working with amazing creative talented individuals that I might not have otherwise met in my life and this was well worth enduring the 54 hours. 🙂


4 thoughts on “How (not to) Build a Business in 54 Hours

  1. I don’t think I would adjust well to the idea of having to build a start-up business in such limited time. Anything worth doing is worth doing it right, so I would want to take as much time as it needed to get it right. But with that being said, I think the event would be good to get you out of your comfort zone and at least in the mindset that thinks can progress quickly. It’s a good jump start if you’ve been putting off taking the first step toward entrepreneurship.


    1. Thanks for commenting.
      I think more than building a business it was about networking and learning to work with new people fairly well under tight time constraints.
      But that is just what I got from it, someone else might have a different opinion.
      It is hard to launch a business and get it right the first time.
      I haven’t met one entrepreneur who would say this was his/her case.


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