My experiences at Startup Weekend Dublin

My experiences at Startup Weekend Dublin
published: (updated: )
by Harshvardhan J. Pandit
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The primary reason I got so excited about Startup Weekend Dublin is that it was hosted at Google. It’s one of the dream places I ever wanted to be at. Perhaps, this is the only way I’ll ever be in. So I decided to sign up for it. Unfortunately, by the time I did go online, the developer tickets were sold out. I then decided to go as a designer. It was also cheaper, only 20€ to pay. And so that being done, I was ready for the weekend.

The startup weekend took place from 6th evening to 8th night. Breakfast, Lunch and Dinner included. That’s right, free food! So I booked a cheap, but clean hostel in Dublin called Four Courts and went there on 6th afternoon. After getting lost on the way, opening up Maps a dozen times, we (me and my friend Anbarasan) finally reached Barrow Street. That’s the address for Google’s offices in Dublin. We had a hour for us to kill, since it was 5:30pm and the doors wouldn’t be opening until 6:30pm. So we went to EuroSpar right next door to have some coffee (and free wi-fi). A constant barrage of people kept streaming in, and I couldn’t help but was wondering which of them might be Googlers.

Sitting inside, we had some coffee, and a custard cream. In the list of wifi networks found, one name stood out. It was GoogleGuest and it was a free, open access network. So I immediately joined it, and cherished the moment when I first used Google’s wifi. The custard cream was disappointing. At 6:30pm, we went to Gordon House get ourselves checked in. Unfortunately, our names were missing from the list they had. So a Googler came in and gave us Guest passes. And so we stepped into the magical world go Google.

Google Gordon House

My first impression was nothing special. It looked like a building, and it felt like any other building. But when I reached inside, I saw a fridge full of free beer, and all my skepticism ended right then and there. There were tons of people around, and I really liked the crowd. I want ahead and collected my free tshirt. It was blue, a little less bright than I had hoped for. The devs had it green, and the non-technical people had it red.

First activity - free pizza. So I grabbed in a few bites, and talked with people. Over there, just like that, I met a guy named Mikel and it turned out he was working right upstairs at Google. Moments later, another guy named Felix came by. His name reminded me of Felix Felices, the luck potion in Harry Potter. We were discussing Tinder and Snapchat and all sorts of things, when it was time to start the event. At first, it was the usual introduction, and then Anatoly Lebedev, the Partnership Development Manager for Google for Entrepreneurs came on stage. Another Googler experience.

After a short game, involving making up products based on two random words stringed together, we proceeded to go towards the pitches. Each person had 60 seconds to pitch the idea and would then go and write it on a chart paper. After the pitches, people would get three votes, in the form of sticky notes, which they could put on any idea they liked. The top ideas would get to form teams. There were around 130 people in the event that day. And we had 61 pitches. It was amazing listening to all those ideas just flying off everywhere. A few caught my fancy -

  • PhotoBrag – users upload photos on the network, and everyday receive 10 pictures they have to rate. The top rated pictures score points for their owners, and they move to the top of the leaderboard. A simple idea, with the potential of getting popular. The person who pitched it was 16 year old Daniel Kyne, a friend of mine from a previous Startup Weekend.
  • ToldYa – friends make anonymous predictions about anything, and it remains hidden until the date, when it is finally revealed to the friends so they can see if it came true. This has a great potential of getting viral as its something everyone can easily do.
  • LunchSwap : This was pitched by Mikkel, and its kind of like Tinder for lunches, where tech people can easily meet other tech people, and it would be easy to go and have interesting conversations with new people.
  • Gamification : This was pitched by Felix, and he wanted to overlay a virtual game over real life. I liked the idea because I have a similar thing going on with one of my experiments, where I try to adapt  a RPG to the real world.
  • SimpliFli : Creating a virtual shopping experience for in-flight customers, and transforming it to real world products when the users reach their destination. Rockstar pitch, but I did not want to work on this idea.
  • I voted for PhotoBrag, ToldYa and Gamification. I too pitched my idea, which was the Remind me when… from BrainBank. Quite a few people liked it, but I only had around 4 votes at the end. The top ideas were those who had 10 votes. When all the ideas that I liked ended up being up there to form teams, I was confused. In the end, I chose LunchSwap, since that seemed to have the greatest potential. I met up with Mikkeland he was happy to have me on the team. A while later, several others came in to join as well. In the end, it was a total of 8 people, with 3 designers, 2 devs, 2 business analytics and 1 marketing guy. We brainstormed at the event for a while. Till they kicked us out at 11pm. We then went to a nearby pub, where we continued, over a pint. I excused myself since I needed my braincells to work. I had Ginger Ale. We came up with several exciting ideas, and I wanted to work right then and there. But we decided to have some sleep and meet at 9 the next morning. And so we headed home.

Since we were new to Dublin, we didn’t know the way, and ended up walking quite a bit in the wrong direction. In the end, we just took a taxi back to the Hostel. On reaching there, we couldn’t sleep, we were too excited. So we sat in the common room, working on stuff, making notes. Finally at around 3am, we slept.

Although we had promised to get there by 9am, I barely woke up with half my sleep missing at 8am. We finally reached the venue at 10am. The other team members had already started working. We reached there, and brainstormed on ideas and executions and business strategies. It was really interesting to be in a barrage of ideas that just kept pouring in, and pouring out. There were mockups of what the design should be like, charts of what the monetizations should be, and a constant periodic clash between the two. It was super fun!

I missed the breakfast, but I could see bread loafs, and a bunch of other breakfast food items around. On the table were two drinks – orange water and apple green tea. Both were homemade, and sugar-free. After a while, there was candy and chips everywhere. We could just grab anything we wanted from the fridge. It was super awesome. The fridge was refilled with free beer again. Google is an awesome place to be.

Soon the team got bifurcated into two factions – the business guys, and the devs/designers. By lunch time, we had brainstormed quite a few ideas and were ready to put it into action. The mentors had arrived to guide us, and give us some tips about what we should be doing. They all liked our idea, and we got tons of input from them. We had to scrap our plans and brainstormed ideas to generate new ones. It kept getting better. For lunch, we had Indian rice, chicken, and papadum. It was really really yummy. I was really surprised that I was having indian food at Google.

Google Earth View

After lunch, we decided to go into Google’s offices to get some quite working place. So Mikkel and Felix took us to the other building Google Docks and we got our guest passes from them. The lifts were an amazing complexity puzzle where a seemingly random one would appear to fulfill our request. The speeds and operational quality of the lifts were amazing. We went off to the 7th Floor, where we occupied a Panda-style meeting room. The guys showed us around the offices, and various other floors. It was really really amazing. Every part of Google is like a different eco-system. They have a micro-kitchen at every other corner. And we could grab whatever free food or drink caught our fancy.

After a while, when we decided to scrap the complex backend, to focus on a simple feature product. Earlier on, we had decide to have users meet and search for others based on Company, Skills and Interests. But then we focused only on Companies. In hindsight, that was a bad mistake. But we marched on, had a bit of a slowdown when it came to deciding on the deployment. The domain we had wouldn’t take our website. So we decided to have a local demonstration.

We worked on till it was around 1 am, after which Felix took us to his office in Gordon House. Some of us kept our stuff there as opposed to lugging it around. Then we checked out the offices in that building. After that, we headed home. Another day had come to an end, and we still hadn’t gotten around to finish it yet. We decide to sleep better tomorrow and meet at 10am.

The next day, we came in at 10am, and had breakfast. They had muffins, and they were the most amazing muffins I’ve ever had. We grabbed tons of them on our plates and took them back to the table. Felix brought his monitor down for us to use, and that proved to be very helpful to design the presentation. We decided to do a minimal presentation, and to finish it up quick and fast. When we first started in Powerpoint, we kept playing around to get our final design idea. Afterwards, we just abandoned the slides, and started designing everything in-house. So there were instances of Photoshop, InDesign, Illustrator and tons of tabs in browsers open on all laptops. We designed a minimal theme based on the blue color from our logo, #1999CE. Our final logo was a fork and a spoon, held by a Tie.

The final submission time for the presentations was 4pm, which later got extended to 4:30pm. We barely made the deadline, after which Mikkel went to practice the pitch, and we cleaned up the mess on the table. The format of the final presentation was that the ordering was going to be random, and all presentations had to be pre-submitted. This was done to avoid teams working on their presentations during the final event. The presentations took place in the Auditorium, up on the first floor.

At the time of the presentations, we had a total of 21 teams pitching their ideas. It was divided into two groups of 10 and 11. Our team, now called LunchTime was at number 7 in group 1. So Mikkel and William, who were pitching were sitting on the first row, whereas the rest of us sat on the back seats. The presentations started, and we were excited to see how we would fare.

When our turn came, we all went down near the stage as we had to be there when the judges asked the questions. The format was four minutes of pitch time, and three minutes of questioning by the judges. Our pitch came, and it went really smoothly. When the demo was being shown, Mikkel put up a story of wanting to go to lunch with another Googler, and our demo showed him being matched with Paddy Flynn, a judge sitting there. The crowd loved it and cheered hard. During the questions, they asked business questions, and did not trouble us much. The only thing that went wrong there was that we couldn’t finish the presentation on time, but the end was good.

Most presentations lacked a few critical points we had made sure to include in our pitch. However, some others stood out really well. Like ToldYa, Twainers, Simplifi and many more. At the end, they announced four prizes. Best pitch – which went to Insurify. The girl who gave the pitch, Tracy, received a HP Chromebook. The third place went to Twainers, and they received a 250$ Amazon web services credit. The second place went to ToldYa, and they got 500$ worth of Amazon web services credit. The first place went to Simplifi, who had put up an amazing pitch. It wasn’t surprising to anyone that they won. They received 10,000$ worth of credit for Google Cloud Services.

When we got out, I wanted to get a souvenir from the Google Store, but it was closed. Felix, who was going to his office upstairs, got me his tshirt. It was A Google Adsense 10 year tshirt. Although still silly, I had an authentic Google tshirt that I could always cherish. He also said that I could drop by the next day or any other time, to get to the Google Store. Cool, awesome guy! I really like him!

After that, we went to the nearby pub, where we celebrated over a few drinks. They were showing our pictures over on the big screen, and every time the team’s picture appeared, they cheered. We had a lot of conversations, some silly, some really good. But it was an interesting time. One by one, everyone left, and the pub closed at midnight as well. Anbu and me got some Fish and Chips from across the bar and headed to our Hostel. There, we couldn’t sleep at all, and played pool in the common room. Finally, I got sleepy and left to sleep.

And that was the end of my weekend, where although I did not win anything, I got to see Google, inside out. I could talk to actual Googlers, get a tour around their offices, had tons of amazing free foods and drinks, and got a silly Google tshirt as well. But more importantly, I learned what it takes to get out there and start a startup. How a perfect pitch is delivered. What is needed to keep the team together. Why its important to manage everyone. What do the designers do, why they are important. The same for business and Finance people.

But most of all, I had an immense fun and the satisfaction of actually being a part of a team, and working to create something.

My Team :

  • Mikel
  • Felix
  • Craig
  • William
  • Luca
  • Anbarasan
  • Fabian
  • Harshvardhan (me)