Startup Weekend

Organizing Startup Weekend, the Freshworks way!

Written by on May 14, 2018

On the 14th of April, it all came down to one thing.

Making sure that the 54-hour event we were organising went off as smoothly as possible.

Startup Weekend was an event that I had the opportunity to organize. It was being held over the weekend at the Freshworks office, where aspiring entrepreneurs had to turn their ideas into prototypes with the limited resources available to them. Part of my job as an organiser was to ensure that the required resources were provided and that the participants possess diverse skill-sets. This is to ensure that they can form their best team for building their prototype.

Organizing the Startup Weekend

This sounds like an easy task but believe me, if a 3 to 4 hour meeting can have numerous things going wrong, imagine how a 3 day event just multiplies those challenges.

The team and I met a plethora of challenges which would nearly jeopardise the event itself. This is an attempt to catalogue these things so you don’t have to go make these mistakes yourself.

Throughout the event, there were 3 herculean challenges that I had encountered.

Challenge 1 – Surviving the odds

One of the primary objectives for the event was to have the right mix of designers, developers and sales individuals so that the teams formed could be self sufficient. However, trying to achieve this using just my connections proved to be a tall order.

While there were good communicators who could pitch the idea, trying to find people who can actually build a prototype was harder than expected. Around 65 registrants were needed to break-even with our expenses, but we had just 20 registrants by the final week before the event. To compound that, about 90% of our registrants at the time were from sales, which completely defied the balance that we were looking for.

In attempt to tackle this, I had approached Nivas from the Freshsales marketing team and Senthil, product head of Freshteam. With their prior experience of handling such events, they had suggested certain active startup communities on social media that I could target. They had also provided me with tips on experimenting with our pricing, so that it appeals to different communities.

Though we weren’t able to get immediate results, we were able to see these efforts paying off towards the end. A shoot up of enquiries from different channels helped us get registrants with diverse skill-sets from 20 to just over 65 in the final 7 days. Having come a long way from the brink of cancelling the event, it was now time to redirect our efforts towards ensuring a smooth experience for our participants.

Challenge 2 – Overcoming uncertainty

The day of the event had finally arrived.

Somewhere amidst the excitement and nervousness of hosting the event, I found myself in a precarious position.

Since the venue accommodated both small and large organisations, security had always been a primary concern for the authorities.

Prior to hosting an event which predominantly had participants from outside, certain security measures were expected to be put in place.

To prevent this from becoming a problem, I’d sought help from Vignesh Vijayakumar, who was a part of the corporate marketing team at the time. I knew he would be the right person for me to approach since he had already organized multiple larger events at this venue. Not only was I able to seek out permission from the right people, (which believe me is tougher than it sounds when you’re new to the organisation) but I also had a fair idea on what sort of issues I could expect.

For instance, though the space where the event was being conducted had power outlets, it wasn’t enough for all the participants. With the event format resembling a hackathon, this was very important for the participants to work on their ideas using their devices. Extra junction boxes were made available to accommodate this need, even before the problem occurred.

There were many such potential issues that were solved which helped us stay more organized and prepared.

Challenge 3 – Presenting opportunities

Most events like this are expected to have a return on investment.

When you have participants who are investing their time and money to attend an event you are organizing, there must be some value from it for them.

There were 3 ways in which this was ensured to happen:

  • Event partners who can provide the right opportunities outside the event.
  • Experienced mentors and judges to guide them.
  • Adequate resources for them to push through till the final day.

We recognized startup incubators to be a great way for aspiring entrepreneurs to get the required exposure to work on their ideas. With this in mind, we were keen on getting some of the most recognised incubators onboard like TiE Chennai, IIT-M and Paypal. The participants had the opportunity to get selected for incubation programs to continue working on their ideas post the 3 day event.

The next area of focus was creating a productive environment for learning, and bringing in the right judges and mentors to ensure this happened. I turned to the expertise of Senthil and Tarkeshwar (Freshworks’ VP of Engineering) who had backgrounds of being founders of startups Frilp and Chatimity respectively, which were both acquired by Freshworks.

Startup Weekend - The audience

The event was planned in such a way that each team had the opportunity to have a one-on-one session with the mentors. I had taken the liberty of asking the participants for their feedback on the event. One such feedback was this –

These sessions helped us not only evaluate our ideas, but also to look past the surface and analyse the downfall areas that need to be addressed by integrating go-to-market strategies, user on-boarding experience etc.

This was, in retrospect, one of the biggest value adds for participants from the event.

Lastly, we managed to make sure all the required resources were provided. Ranging from stocking up on nourishments to providing a fully equipped stage for the final presentation, everything was there. The facility manager of Freshworks, Srinivas, was instrumental in ensuring that everything was in place in the venue including last minute changes. I’ve always heard that sponsors can be very difficult to work with but the sponsors present at the event (Nestle, Redbull, Reynolds – to name a few) were very accommodative and flexible in ensuring all the participants were equipped to burn the midnight oil and work.

Out of the 14 teams that stood locked in their positions to present their ideas to the panel, 3 best teams were selected. The winning teams had a membership opportunity with TiE Chennai and many other incubation opportunities at stake. One of the 3 teams, being a food venture, even had their first set of customers at the venue.

Startup Weekend - Glad to have been part of it

The whole thing left me feeling euphoric.

Despite not being directly involved in the event, Freshworks folks still stepped in and came to my aid on more than one occasion. As I watched the hard-work from my participants and the organisers pay off and result in a successful event, I realized a large part of it was possible only thanks to the teamwork involved.

Startup Weekend - The whole gang

It is to this teamwork that I credit the event’s success.

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