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Team Prioritor, Gillian Livingston, centre, and her seven teammates, aimed to produce a productivity app to make time management fun at a Startup Weekend event in Kitchener, Ont. (Handout)
Team Prioritor, Gillian Livingston, centre, and her seven teammates, aimed to produce a productivity app to make time management fun at a Startup Weekend event in Kitchener, Ont. (Handout)

Small Business Briefing

How I launched a business in 54 hours Add to ...

We called it a night around 11:30 p.m., with plans to start bright and early at 8:30 a.m. the next day.

Validate, validate, validate

In the morning, mentors from Communitech wandered around the room, giving teams tips on their next steps, and in particular to help find ways to figure out whether their ideas interested anyone else in the world. And to test market assumptions.

We created an online survey and blasted it to all our social networks while the tech guys looked at ways to make our idea come to life on the computer. Meanwhile, Jack and Gerry looked at potential competitors to see how we could be different and better.

As the responses started rolling in – we got more than 500 people to take our survey in 24 hours – we started to apply what we learned to our idea and began to craft our business case, define our market, and crunch some numbers. Mentors dropped by throughout the day to poke holes in our plans and to steer us in the right direction. Others came by to give us tips on crafting our pitch, what points we had to address, and what criteria the judges would use.

At one point the table was covered in laptops, papers, pens, umpteen half-filled coffee cups, empty cans of Red Bull and plates of cookie crumbs. I brought in chocolates and jujubes to fuel our late-night session. Sleep deprived, we were running on caffeine and sugar.

We got a website up, posted a video and asked if people were interested in signing up to be part of a beta test of the app. By the end, more than 600 people did. It was a whirlwind of activity separated only by breaks for food. By 11:30 p.m., our brains were fried.

Crafting the pitch

Early the next morning, bleary eyed, we all trudged in for the final day. Ben and Louis showed us what they had come up with, and we began to craft the pitch we had to make after 5 p.m. We had to prove our idea and business case was the best.

Brenden and I began writing PowerPoint slides, as I pulled lines from my notepad from the previous days chats with the marketing whizzes.

You get five minutes to make your presentation and then the judges get three minutes to grill you. It was nerve-wracking to know that the information on the page was going to make or break our pitch.

Brenden, a gregarious guy in his cowboy hat, was chosen as our presenter and I helped go over the talk again and again. Several mentors listened to the preliminary version of the pitch and gave us suggestions. It was an ever-changing document until nearly the last moment.

Pitch time

In the end there were 12 pitches on ideas as varied as cloud gaming to geo tracking of to-do lists to crowd sourcing for financial data and a social media evaluation tool.

Brenden did a great job on our pitch, making the crowd laugh at all the right points. Alas, we didn’t win.

The winners were Homefed, a site where you could match up travellers with chefs willing to prepare an authentic home-cooked meal. Second place went to Fides, a tool to manage Twitter accounts to get more community engagement from each tweet. Third was Zero Wait Thirty, an app to help restaurants communicate with customers to reduce wait times and keep them from walking away.

Even though we didn’t take with first prize (or the new computers that went along with it) we all agreed we had a blast and that we would ponder whether our idea might be worth pursuing. Feedback from the judges said we didn’t differentiate ourselves enough from the competition in a very crowded market, and that we didn’t prove our business case well enough.

It was a fun and exhausting weekend. And I never thought I could hang out in a room full of tech and biz geeks and love it, but I did.

Gillian Livingston is the Careers editor at The Globe and Mail.

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