My Experience at Detroit Startup Weekend 2014

A few weeks ago, Kaitlin Davis and I had the opportunity to participate at this year’s Detroit Startup Weekend. It was an amazing experience all around, and I wanted to share how the weekend went and what I learned in the process.

Katie and I went for the all-in experience at Startup Weekend: we came up with our own idea to pitch, recruited a team around that, and spent the weekend developing it. Along the way, I learned a lot about Startup Weekend.

Katie and I at startup weekend


For Katie and I, the weekend started actually started in the middle of the week. We had done enough research on how startup weekend worked to know that we wanted to pitch our own idea in order to get the most out of the weekend. Katie came up with a few great ideas, and we decided to run with a board gaming social network app.

We spent the next couple of days prior to the weekend doing some upfront work like competitive analysis, technical validation, and general brainstorming. And of course we also developed and practiced our initial 60-second pitch for the idea!

Some early whiteboard concepts

Friday Night

When we arrived after work on Friday evening, there were already a few dozen people there. The first couple hours or so was just networking time, so we had a chance to meet some great people and feel out some of the other ideas in the room, as well as potential teammates. One important thing that did happen during this time was signing up to pitch ideas. As soon as that was open, we got in line to sign up and ended up getting the third spot.

Between the networking time and the actual pitches starting, the event organizers set up a cool ice breaker activity to get people in the mindset of pitching ideas. The basic idea was breaking off into large teams and figuring out a viable pitch for a startup company composed of randomly selected words. My team got “Stiletto Plumber”, and that’s all I’ll say about it.

Pitches and team building

Now it was time for the weekend to really get started. Before you can have a startup weekend, you have to have ideas for startups, which is where the initial round of pitches come in. Anyone attending the weekend can take 60 seconds to pitch an idea to the rest of the attendees. Katie and I decided that we would put all of our energy into one good idea, and that I would pitch it.

I was the third person up to pitch, and my rehearsed spiel went off pretty smoothly. I got to sit back down and see about thirty others pitch their ideas as well. Once everyone was done pitching, each idea got a poster board, and each participant got 3 sticky notes to vote for the idea they wanted. After that, it was mass chaos for an hour as teams wheeled and dealed to try and get others to help them with their idea. At the end of it all, there were 14 teams left standing including ours. We had also recruited two business people, two designers, and another developer.

Making ourselves a space & hitting the bar

Since our host space closed at 11pm, we were almost out of time by this point in the night. We did have time to grab some tables and chairs and carve ourselves out a team space in one corner of the room, though.

Once 11PM hit, we had to leave Grand Circus, but we decided to relocate to the Detroit Beer Company and get to know each other and keep working. We spent most of the rest of the night just getting familiar, and brainstorming name ideas. By the end of the night we had gone through a few dozen, and landed more or less on “Game Compass.”

Me getting excited about the name we would change later that day


Saturday started bright and early, Grand Circus opened at 9AM, and a crowd of us were waiting outside the doors by that time.

Speaking with mentors; concept development

We started out the morning by defining our MVP and determining how much work was needed to execute on that. We sketched out some wireframes and defined what kind of app workflow we wanted to include in our technical demo. During this time, we also got to meet many of the great coaches helping out with startup weekend. I think I ended up doing mini version of our pitch about 10 times that morning, which garnered a lot of useful feedback. We also came up with a new name, GameGeek, and one of our designers made a logo to go with it.

The GameGeek logo

Next it was time to go heads down and get building. We spent the rest of the morning and afternoon writing code to try and fulfill our ambitious ideas. We first hit signs of trouble later in the afternoon. The code was progressing slower than expected, and we realized after talking to some of the coaches that our business crew needed to do a lot more work.

We looked over the judging criteria again and made the difficult decision to table our code and technical demo for the time being, focusing instead on the design and business aspects of our team. This means that the rest of Saturday was spent of things like business validation and marketing—trying to prove that our idea had a viable market we could sell to before Sunday rolled around.

Saturday was a long night, with a group of us from the team staying up and working till 4AM. When 11PM rolled around and we had to leave Grand Circus, we relocated to the Atomic Object Detroit office a few blocks away.

Working late at the Atomic Object office


Sunday was the last day of the event, and the goal was to have our final pitch ready by the end of the day.

Creating deliverables

One main objective for Sunday was to categorize and create all of the deliverables we needed to show to the judges, including designs, code, and business/marketing/sales plans we had developed. The majority of Sunday morning was spent creating or refining these deliverables.

By midday Sunday, we really needed to hunker down and prepare our final pitch, a 5-minute presentation to sell our idea to the judges. We were a little intimidated with how to present our material. Fortunately one of our teammates, Charlie, had a ton of experience presenting and really pulled through to show us what we needed. The rest of the afternoon was a blur of preparing slide deck materials and practicing the pitch, which Katie and Charlie were going to deliver.

Show time!

Practicing took us literally right up until the time of our pitch (we were rehearsing the slide deck in a stairwell until just a few minutes beforehand). We were the 4th of the dozen or so groups presenting. When it came down to the wire, Katie and Charlie pulled through and did an awesome job selling our team to the judges!

Finally time to relax

Once the pitch was done, we were finally able to relax for the first time in days. We got to sit back and watch other teams do their final pitches, and then just mingle and socialize while we waited for the judges to make a decision. When it was all said and done, our team didn’t win, but we still had an amazing experience, and I would be happy to do it again!