It’s that time of year again. Time to get the startup juices flowing and participate in Startup Weekend Detroit! This is my fourth time attending, once as a participant, once as a mentor, and now my second time as a judge. Judging at this event is an honor and I always spend as much of the three day event observing and helping any way I can. The actual judging timeframe is pretty quick. Team pitches are short: 5 minutes for the pitch/demo and 5 minutes for Q&A. After all pitches are complete, the judges deliberate and select the top 3 teams from the weekend.
Some of the ‘official’ judging criteria are:
- Validation – Did the team get out and talk to customers? Are they actually solving a problem? Have they identified a specific target market?
- Product Execution & Design – Does the team have an minimum viable product or prototype? How functional is the technical demo? How easy to use is their product (design matters)?
- Business Model – What is their value proposition and how does it impact the problem they’re trying to solve? Is the idea unique? What is their revenue model and how do they plan on making the business successful?
In addition, some of my ‘unofficial’ judging criteria is based on the team and the individuals who make up the team:
- Is each individual “genuine”?
- Are they ‘authentic’ with their pitch?
- Are they in sync with each other?
- Do they like each other?
I am currently reading the excellent book ‘The Innovators: How a
Group of Hackers, Geniuses, and Geeks Created the Digital Revolution’ by Walter Isaacson. One thing that struck me was that the concept of the Silicon Valley startup happened in the 1950’s by a gentleman named Arthur Rock, who took the east-coast venture model (first named “adventure capital”) and funded a group of entrepreneurial engineers at Fairfield Camera.
As Walter Isaacson writes: “He had a background in business research, a love of technology, an intuitive feel for business leadership, and a lot of East Coast investors he had made happy. “The money was on the East Coast but the exciting companies were in California, so I decided to move west knowing that I could connect the two,” he said.
But Arthur’s true brilliance was in his evaluation (judging) of startup ventures.
Isaacson continues: “One of his key investment maxims was to bet primarily on the people rather than the idea. In addition to going over business plans, he conducted incisive personal interviews with those who sought funding. “I believe so strongly in people that I think talking to the individual is much more important than finding out too much about what they want to do,” he explained.”
I agree with this so very much. I have evaluated hundreds of companies and I sat through their pitches, the overwhelming criteria for considering an investment was the people involved. Ideas are wonderful but if they are not backed by people who are passionate and committed, the probability of success is extremely low.
So, to my friends participating in the fun, consider my perspective as you work with your colleagues this weekend. I’ll be watching, and judging (and helping).