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How I became a Startup Weekend mentor

That tech startup failure festival Startup Weekend is coming to Khartoum for the very first time (Nov 14-16) and I’ve been asked to mentor. How am I even qualified for such an esteemed job?

For the uninitiated, Startup Weekend (SW) is where a bunch of wannapreneurs pitch a tech startup idea on a Thursday evening. They’re hoping to inspire a cohort of developers, designers and hustlers to champion their glorious idea into a working prototype by Saturday night. They’ll then demo that prototype to a panel of experts, who are judging – looking for the next big thing in tech  – providing feedback, and declaring winners for the weekend of the best startup idea. This is where dreams come true. But only for the brave…

SW is now a global phenomenon and has spread to over 400 cities. Now it’s Khartoum’s turn –  . What winning ideas are going to come out of Sudan? Is there even much tech talent here in Sudan anyway? The event is usually limited to 100 participants plus a cohort of judges, mentors and visitors. I will be a mentor. Giggity – #lifecomplete. Like moths to a light those 100 hungry participants will be attracted to an idea and/or founder they can work with over the weekend. They’ll work hard to co-develop that idea into a minimal viable product (MVP) by Saturday. May the best team win…

There is no I in team but there’s ‘me’

8 -12 teams typically form on that Thursday evening and over the course of a weekend (54 hours in total) they’ll have all put together some kind of MVP based around that initial glorious idea. Or not. Pivots are common in SW. Ideas change. Group dynamics can be a betrayal, so can assumptions. Anything is possible, startup glory the ultimate prize. To be voted best by a panel of judges, teams will have to test assumptions, validate their idea, go find actual customers, pivot, ‘flearn’ and hustle until they have an MVP that rocks and (hopefully) generate some revenue by Saturday. Failure is not uncommon in SW. It is expected. Fail fast and fail forward, is my best mentor advice.

StartUp Weekend = Failure Fest

I’m calling out SW as a festival of failure because essentially – it is… The stats don’t lie. According to the StartUp Weekend about page only 36% of Startup Weekend startups are still going strong after 3 months. After 12 months there will be maybe 1 SW startup, at best, that’s still operating in Khartoum. I’ve been told that for the inaugural SW Khartoum there were over 400 applicants. That’s been narrowed down to 100 – a 75% failure rate right there. Out of the 100 participants, less than half will have the courage to pitch their idea – 60% fail. Maybe two thirds of the ideas pitched will be ignored – 66% fail. Only 1 team will win SW Khartoum out 8-12 teams ~ 90% fail. Can you even deal with all that fail?

Fail + Learn = ‘FLEARN’

Failure is fine as long as you learn something from it – “FLEARN‘. At SW Khartoum you will learn many many things. You will learn about some of the cool new startup ideas your peers in Sudan are pitching. You will learn some new language – maybe some programming language – C++, Python or Ruby or maybe you will learn some new tech startup jargon like MVP, flearn, lean canvas, pivot, friendDA, freemium, gamify, growth hacking, VCs, scalability, full stack or Wizard of Ozing. You will learn the idiosyncrasies of group dynamics. You will learn to test your assumptions. You will learn about your own capabilities, skill and talent. You will learn anything is possible. You will about your network and how integral a network is to success. You will learn to have fun. You will learn to create. You will learn to lean in. You will learn to ask questions.

So you think you can mentor?

I was going to just be a visitor to SW Khartoum but now I’ve been asked to mentor. Lucky me! What even qualifies me to be a mentor? See, I’ve failed many many times and I’ve learned many, many times from that failure. Seriously, have a look at my LinkedIn profile. Connect with me there if you want to. I’ve been involved with many startup projects the last few years. Most of them have been complete failures and I know exactly why – SALES. You need to get cash in your hand, money in the bank. SALES are fundamental to startup success. SALES is the number 1 thing you should be focusing on. Your startup idea is only as good as its ability to generate SALES. Cash. Money. Dosh. Coin. If you want to win SW, get your MVP to generate revenue by Sunday. It can be done. I believe in you. I can help you. Don’t be shy to ask for help.

How can I help you win SW Khartoum?

It’s all about the pitch. You don’t have much time. You need to get your idea across unambiguously. You need your idea to be validated. You need to make sure that your assumptions have been tested and are proven. You need to get outside and go hustle. Get on the phone. Go talk to people on the street. Get feedback. Survey your market. Tighten your niche. Get your first three customers. Get cash in the bank. But most importantly, listen to – and – respond to the feedback that the mentors and experts are giving you. If you impress the judges, you will WIN. Simple?

And my final advice?

START NOW!

 

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