My Thoughts on Startup Weekend Redmond

So, Startup Weekend Redmond happened last weekend. It was hosted by BizSpark on Microsoft’s campus, and heavily branded that way. 14 out of the 15 startups were built using Microsoft technologies [edit] likely because of the $5,000 prize from BizSpark[/edit]. Guess who won the popular vote! The only team that DIDN’T build using Microsoft. They built an iPhone app, a Palm Pre app, and I believe a web app using something other than ASP or Azure. (correct me if I’m wrong) Apparently that team was disqualified not eligible for the prize money from BizSpark because of that and the prize was given instead to the #2 team. More info can be found on the TechFlash report about Startup Weekend Redmond.

Microsoft/BizSpark got a lot of bad press as a result. Clint Nelson, one of the guys behind of the national Startup Weekend organization posted a blog entry called Sticking Up for the Big Guy. You might want to read that since what follows is basically my response to that article.

Startup Weekend is a great concept. It’s a great community building event where people in the same city interested in the same thing (namely building a startup) get together for a weekend and work together. You get to meet new people, and get to know people better that you’ve already met. But, the fact of the matter is most teams formed at Startup Weekend don’t continue working together on the startup after the weekend is over. So, saying that “we launched 15 startups that otherwise would not exist” is kind of a misnomer. It’s not about the startups that are launched that weekend. It’s about the connections made between the people. Hopefully those people will continue the conversation and partner to form their own startups later.

It’s great that Microsoft wants to support the startup community via BizSpark, but I feel that Microsoft is being disingenuous by only giving an award to a startup that uses Microsoft’s technology at Startup Weekend.

If they want to have their own BizSpark Weekend or whatever, that’s fine. They can run it themselves. They have enough money, they have enough people, they have a big enough marketing budget. Microsoft doesn’t need Startup Weekend to run their own event that is similar that is restricted to building on the Microsoft stack.

“Bizspark is absolutely being crucified for giving us the community exactly what we asked for.” Really? You asked them to disqualify anyone not using Microsoft technology?

In the future, please keep prize money out of Startup Weekend. kthxbye

10 Responses to “My Thoughts on Startup Weekend Redmond”

  1. Dan Cyr Says:

    I’m surprised microsoft thought it necessary to reject the winner on those grounds. You think they’d just provide their brand name it for the press and not the actual results. What’s wrong with prize money?

  2. jeff Says:

    Well, they werent “disqualified”, they just chose to give prize money to whomever they thought was deserving. They could have given it to the team with the most people, the team with the neatest logo, or drawn at random. Since it was their money, and there were no formal contest-type rules to start, I think its entirely up to them.

  3. Julien Says:

    actually there were 3 prizes: MS, the one from the local angel association, and the audience vote.

    Search Kick, by coincidence, won the first two. (and left with 10K, which is amazing)

    Learn That Name, the iphone app, won the third one.

    Nobody was disqualified. we did not want to force people to use our tools, but it s also important for us to reward a project who has the potential to become a future partner for us. We seriously hope they will create a company.

  4. Zane Says:

    Also, one thing that hasn’t been said is that it was quite clear (and announced) from the start that to be eligible for the $5k BizSpark money teams would have to use MSFT technology. Why do you think 14/15 teams used the MS stack? Not a random coincidence. The iPhone team either didn’t fully understand this, or made a decision at some point to ignore it.

    It was definitely something that my team did talk about and we decided to stay in the running by using Azure instead of AWS.

  5. Kyle Mulka Says:

    I edited the post to take into account Jeff, Julien, and Zane’s info.

    Dan, in my opinion, Startup Weekend should not be a competition. If it turns into a competition, people will start to plan things in advance, gather a team in advance, pick a project in advance, etc. That’s not the point. The point is to meet new people, work with them, try to see if you can implement random ideas in a weekend. Or, at least that’s what I think it should be about.

  6. Roy Leban Says:

    Thanks for your thoughts, Kyle, but I respectfully disagree. Your goal may be to implement random ideas, but that’s your goal, not the point of Startup Weekend. People walk into Startup Weekends with many different agendas. My own goal is to learn something and accomplish something.

    As I’ve said elsewhere, the prize money didn’t factor into it for me. I decided to go with Azure Friday night because of the opportunity to have Azure experts around to ask questions of. I certainly didn’t feel any restrictions. I don’t think the competition aspect hurt this one. Overall, the event was way better than the last one. I didn’t meet a single person who brought an already-existing project that they were trying to find people to work on for the weekend. I didn’t see people trying to recruit people to join pre-existing companies. And there were fewer people who didn’t join a team and just wandered around for the weekend. I met a lot of new people and I had worked with six people who I had never worked with before.

    On the voting, I was surprised we voted at all — at the outset, I was expecting the BizSpark folks to pick a winner just like H-Farm did and I have no problem with them making whatever requirements they want. Undoubtedly H-Farm had their own set of requirements — they just didn’t publicize them. As it turns out, at SF Startup Weekend last weekend, there was a spontaneous investment from the audience during the demos. Pretty cool!

    The MSFT sponsorship was not perfect. The presentations on Friday night were a waste of time — I would have loved to see code which would have helped us on Saturday, but instead we got marketing talks. Kevin Leneway (a smart guy) showed us a video geared toward people who’d never heard of cloud computing when he could have walked us through building Hello World on Azure. And the demo of multi-touch was a complete non-sequitur. Cool, yes. Relevant, no. I, for one, would love to see pre-weekend code clinics from Microsoft, Google, Apple, etc. to help people who come with the same objective as me — to try new technologies and to learn.

  7. Garrett Says:

    Ok, aside from awards, the real winners from startup weekend are the groups that get funding and actually form into real companies. Prize money aside, the only company there that got landed a deal with venture capitalists (that I know of) was Search Kick. Is it a coincidence that they also won the prize money? I think not.

    A businesses’ success is not a popularity contest, which is the only thing that the iPhone app won.

  8. Kyle Mulka Says:

    I too wish to accomplish things at Startup Weekend(s). When I said random ideas, I don’t mean ideas that are pointless or ideas that aren’t deserving of being tried. I just mean new ideas that just might be crazy and simple enough to work. Ideas where you wouldn’t want to spend more than a weekend to see if they are going to work or not. If you did want to spend more than a weekend, there are plenty of other ways you could work on those ideas.

    I do like to learn new things, but I don’t think I’m the type of person who learns well by working with others. I feel I learn new things best on my own, working on my own projects, reading the documentation, and trying things as I go. I can totally understand people who’d like to use Startup Weekend as a chance to learn new things, I just don’t think I’m one of them.

    “I didn’t see people trying to recruit people to join pre-existing companies.”
    You must not have seen this or this?


    “groups that get funding and actually form into real companies” – That could be cool, but I think it is unlikely to happen with groups that have just met each other. In a startup, team chemistry is very important, and the likelihood of a team formed over a weekend having good chemistry isn’t very high.

  9. Roy Leban Says:

    @Kyle: We’re not that far off — but it’s more interesting to point out the differences. For me, I learn in a variety of different ways and I learned more at this weekend than the last one. I also had more fun and accomplished more. I think, overall, the teams accomplished more than last time. I don’t know that the competition helped, but it certainly didn’t hurt. And I know that for many teams there was a buzz in the room around the prize. I like you and respect you, but I have to say that I am a bit bothered that you weren’t there, but you’re indicting the event.

    I actually did see the poster, but I didn’t find them distracting and that wasn’t what I was referring to. At SSW2, there were multiple people whose sole purpose in being there was to recruit. They didn’t join a team. They just recruited. I got sucked into a recruiting pitch at one point because somebody asked if I might be help to help out. It turned out that “help out” didn’t mean that weekend, it meant help out the startup that already existed and needed additional people to work for free. No thanks. In contrast, Garrett was on the know n show team. If he did any recruiting beyond the poster and a few tweets, I didn’t see it.

  10. David hazel Says:

    Well, I pitched, Which lane and I had already built the prototype for using drupal, but nobody was interested(except for this one guy that changed his mind because he wanted to work on something that got more votes).

    Ended up working with some startup weekend veterans (and some n00bs) on BItter.

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