Three lessons I learned from Startup Weekend (Kuwait)

Last week, the third version of Startup Weekend Kuwait took place at The VIVA Coded Academy. The whole weekend was exhilarating and intense! Over 120 people participated, forming 21 full teams that built MVP’s, put together business cases, and presented in front of the judges and audience after 54 hours of non-stop work. The turnout, energy, and resounding success of the event showed how far the startup scene had come in Kuwait over the past 18 months!

It’s always amazing to see how real life situations and decision making play out in teams over the course of the Weekend. Mobile or Web? Focus on marketing or building the product? Subscription Vs Freemium? Designs Vs Functionality? I saw every team dealing and struggling with these decisions, as would a real startup in “the real world”.

Along the same lines, as an organizer and observer during Startup Weekend, I learned a thing or two (or three) about what it ultimately takes to be build a successful startup:

Lesson one: It’s (mostly) about the team, not the idea

One of the participants, called Mohammad, was looking for a team to join late in the first day. Most teams had already formed, but I knew Mohammad personally, and knew that his marketing and event management background made him him a valuable member to any team. As I was walking around with him trying to find a team, I was surprised that several teams declined his offer to join them. Eventually, we found a team that had only two members who I knew to be talented and driven, just like Mohammad. He like their idea and they recognized the value they brought to them (both of them were coders/ designers). They formed a small but strong and balanced team of three.

Their initial idea was ambitious, but they pivoted to something entirely and extremely different. It wasn’t as ambitious, and I personally thought there were at least 4 or 5 more exciting ideas in the competition. I didn’t like their chances. But, lo and behold, Mohammad’s team won first place. Their idea, Mukancom, is a platform to find co-working space in Kuwait. Arwa and Shahd, Mohammad’s team mates, did a stellar job building an MVP. But, going by the judges score cards, what really set them apart was Mohammad’s final presentation. There might have been better ideas out there, but Mukancom’s overall execution and presentation was superb, and their team was strong on all fronts, and that made all the difference. (There’s another lesson here about pivoting too).

 

Lesson two: It’s not about the money, money, money

One of the things that caught my attention was the participant’s seemingly lack of interest in the cash prize. Over 210 people had signed up as participants before we had event announced the money reward. I made the announcement on stage during the event, and I distinctly remember listing the non-cash prizes first (free co-working space at Sirdab Lab, free UX consultation from Catalyst) and leaving the cash prize at the end, anticipating it would get the biggest cheer. That wasn’t the case. The non-cash prizes got a lot more noise and excitement than the cash prize announcement.

In fact, not once during the Weekend did I hear people talking about the cash prize. I got asked a few times about the non-cash prizes. It seemed that no one really cared about the money at the end of it all. And yet here there were, 21 teams working 54 hours straight without much regard for the possibility of monetary reward.

You often hear successful people say something like “Don’t start a business for the money” or “At the end of the day, it’s not about the money” but those sayings often get dismissed as idealistic mantras reserved for the already rich and successful. But the lesson I learned here is that passion, competition, and the desire to build something worthwhile are far bigger motivators than money. (I’m happy to report that the top 5 teams have all continued working on their startups after the event!)

 

Lesson three: The true value of having a co-founder

In Startup Weekend, most dropouts occur late in the second day. It’s around that time when participants start feeling exhausted, and the finish line is oh-so-far without any guarantee of success. Our lead organizer tells me the following story: two participants from the same approached him around midnight on the second day. One of them, the “CEO” of the team (she came up with the startup idea), told him she wanted to quit. She was mentally drained and didn’t think her team had a chance of winning, so she wanted to pack up and go home.  But her teammate (the co-founder) insisted she stays. She was asking the organizer to convince the CEO not to give up. She was begging her friend to see it through until the final presentations, for the sake of the team, because she knew that if the CEO quit, the rest of the team would too. The CEO, quite literally with tears in her eyes, decided to soldier on.

That team ended up winning second place, and were in close contention for first place.

It goes to show that, above all else, the greatest benefit of having a co-founder is having someone to lean on when you’re ready to give up. In the emotional roller coaster that is a startup, co-founders must take it in turns to support each other through the tough times.

 

I can’t wait for next year’s Startup Weekend, where I’m sure the ideas will be even bigger and better!

 

 

 

 

 

Announcing this week’s Coffee Meetup + Lessons From Silicon Valley Talk

Everyone,

This week’s Coffee Meetup will once again take place at The VIVA Coded Academy on Wednesday evening (7.15pm). If you haven’t been to our Coffee Meetups before, they’re a casual get-together for local entrepreneurs and tech enthusiasts to meet, network, share ideas and collaborate over some good coffee.

As with previous weeks, there’ll be a talk following the meetup directly. This week’s talk is by Ahmed Aljbreen, General Manager of Saudi based digital and social marketing company, Smaat. Recently, Ahmed was in Silicon Valley for an extended period of time working on some partnerships for Smaat. During his time there, he also had the chance to visit and assess some of the world’s tech giants, such as Google, Facebook, Instagram, and more.

In this talk, Ahmed will talk about his experience working with Silicon Valley based companies, and the most important startup lessons he learned during his time there. The talk will be a great chance for startup founders to discuss with Ahmed some of the challenges they face here in the gulf, Silicon Valley culture, and whether the idea of moving to Silicon Valley is actually feasible or necessary for success. Pass by if you’re interested in knowing what it’s like to spend time working in Silicon Valley!

Details-

When: Wednesday, September 16th

Schedule:

7.15 pm- Startupq8 Coffee Meetup
8.00 pm- Ahmed Aljbreen
9.00 pm- Networking & Pizza

As always, this is an open invitation, and everyone is welcome!

Where: The VIVA Coded Academy at Al-Tijaria Tower- 35th Foor

Note: talk will be in Arabic

Announcing this week’s Coffee Meetup + Raspberry Pi Talk

Hi all,

For the third week running, we’re having our weekly Coffee Meetup at The VIVA Coded Academy. What happens at the weekly Coffee Meetup, you ask? It’s a casual get-together for local entrepreneurs and tech enthusiasts to meet, network, share ideas and collaborate over some good coffee.

As with previous weeks, there’ll be a talk following the meetup directly. This week’s talk is part of the Google Developers Group weekly talks. The subject this week is Raspberry Pi! (Yes, we used an exclamation mark because we’re excited!)

If you aren’t familiar with it, Raspberry Pi is a small sized computer that plugs into a monitor and enables people to explore computing and hardware programming. It’s a great tool for beginners as well!

If you’re interested in building hardware and want to learn how to program your creations, this talk is for you! Come learn the incredible things you can do with Raspberry Pi!

The talk will be given my Abdulrahman Alotaibi, who holds a degree in Computer and Electrical Engineering (with a minor in Computer Science), and has placed fourth in International Aerial Robotics Competition 2012.

Abdulrahman also spoke at DjangoCon Europe 2015 in Cardiff (UK), and is one of Google Developers Group Kuwait organizers.

Here are all the details:

When: Wednesday, Sept 2.

Schedule:

7.15 pm- Coffee Meetup

7.45 pm- Raspberry Pi Talk

9.00 pm- Discussion, Network, and Pizza!

Where: The VIVA Coded Academy at Al-Tijaria Tower- 35th Foor

 

As always, this is an open invitation and everyone is welcome to join!

 

Announcing this week’s Coffee Meetup + Scrum Talk

Everyone,

Just like last week, this week’s Coffee Meetup will be held at the VIVA Coded Academy. For you who aren’t familiar with our Coffee Meetups, they are a casual get-together for local entrepreneurs and tech enthusiasts to meet, network, share ideas and collaborate over some good coffee.

This week, there’ll be a talk on Scrum Methodology following the meetup immediately (at the same place). The talk is part of the Google Developers Group weekly meetup.

We think this talk is a MUST for anyone who wants to start a tech startup or is currently involved in one! One of the biggest challenges startup founders face is how to best manage a software project. Often, founders make fatal management mistakes that kill their startups early.

Whether you’re a technical or non-technical founder, this talk will help you understand the principles of running a tech project, and avoid very critical mistakes.

The talk will cover “Scrum” management methodology. “Scrum” is an agile software development approach that greatly minimizes the risk of failure. It is a great framework for building and managing a startup team.

The talk will be presented by Hamad Mufleh, founder and CEO of YallaWain. He is a product designer and developer who’s been on all sides of software projects; as a client, manager, developer and ui/ux designer.

Details:

When: Wednesday, August 26.

Schedule:

7.15 pm- Coffee Meetup

7.45 pm- Scrum Talk

9.00 pm- Discussion, Network, and Pizza!

 

This is an open invitation. See you all there!

RECAP: StartupQ8 Monthly Event (August ’15)

Every month, StartupQ8 hosts two speakers from the startup world to talk to the Kuwaiti startup community about some of the lessons and experiences they’ve went through, and talk about the startup they’re currently working on. Last night, the event took place at The VIVA Coded Academy. The two speakers were Ali Abulhasan, co-founder of goTap, a new payment ecosystem for Kuwait, and Saleh Almusallam, co-founder of Prodesign IT, the makers of FanScan (Instagram based app that has over 3 million downloads).

The two topics of discussion were mirrored around how a technical founder deals with the business side of a startup (Saleh’s part), and how a business founder manages a technical project and a development team (Ali’s part).

Both speakers offered valuable insights on their respective approach. For Ali, he admitted having initial trouble bridging the gap between himself and his technical team. One of the ways he mitigated that was by educating himself on some of the fundamentals of software as related to his field (payments) in which he already had previous experience. The other way was for him to board on developers who had the right mindset for a Tap’s philosophy of focusing on user experience. Ali admits that he would love to have more developers on his team, but that a lack of coding talent has restricted him greatly in that sense (we hope our Coded students can solve that problem!). To combat that issue, he tries to work with freelancers who might have the potential and intention to become full-timers at Tap.

As for Saleh, he faced a different dilemma. Saleh is a technical founder, and has had experience launching a few applications and websites. In his talk, he discussed the importance of learning on how to stay “lean”. He warned that the biggest pitfall for a technical founder was not in disregarding the business side, but rather the need to perfect a product before launching. Saleh advised the audience that “done is better than perfect”, alluding to the importance of launching a product early to gain feedback and data on usability. As for dealing with the business side, Saleh is a believer in first making something people love, than backing that up with venture financing and a strong business model that comes naturally with the product. He did, however, warn against sticking to a single revenue stream or remaining inflexible when it comes to changing the business model.

 

Stay tuned for more of our monthly events to hear more from startup founders and entrepreneurs! Don’t forget to follow us on Twitter and Instagram @startupq8

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