Becoming a Stranger’s Biggest Fan: Advice for Startup Weekend Newbies!

11/20/2013 | By laurensauser

This post originally appeared on

This post was written by Gabrielle Mehlman. She is a first-year master’s student in Human Centered Design & Engineering at the University of Washington, focusing on UX research. She’s also the lead singer in a fresh-off-the-bat, yet to-be-named alt. rock band in Seattle, so follow her on Twitter to see when and where they’ll be playing! 

I walked in a bit nervous. I had heard people would be “intimidating” and would have “done a million of these so I’d be totally blown out of the water”. I am certainly no expert, and just began in the field of user experience/research... I couldn’t even figure out which simple category (Designer, Maker, Hustler) I fit into. Turns out plenty of people can’t figure out where they fit either, so first piece of advice, don’t worry about that.

There was a bit of mingling, a few announcements including a great, short talk on the Secrets to Startup Weekend by Greg Gottesman of Madrona Venture Group and then the pitching began. It was great to hear everyone’s ideas, and see how supportive they were of each other. At the very end, I decided to pitch a half baked idea just to get up there and try it – and I was happy I did! There were a ton of great ideas, so deciding on one was not easy. In the end, I chose Boomerang: Turning your old stuff into cash.

Global Startup Battle, Startup Weekend

Boomerang resonated with me because I recently left Providence, RI to come to Seattle. Along with it, I left a trail of “stuff” behind: at the curb, my friends’ houses, the Goodwill, my old apartment, and my dad’s already-too-full house (sorry Dad!). And a lot of it was valuable! But when you can only take whatever you can fit in your car, your idea of “valuable” changes a bit. (i.e. “Is it replaceable or non-essential?Yes? Dump it!”)

So my main goal of the weekend, aside from getting to know and working with inspiring, awesome people, was to gain some user research experience. This included creating an online survey and several personas, performing interviews and cutting these into a (very) short clip – of course, with the help of the team.

My favorite part of the weekend was going out and talking to people on the streets about their experiences with "getting rid of old stuff". I wasn’t sure how talking to complete strangers would go (visions of heinous rejections ran through my head), but I was pleasantly surprised by how friendly and helpful people were… admittedly once I assured them that I was not, in fact, asking for money.

I video-recorded these interactions, and then watched them over and over again to create the short video for the pitch. Little do these people know that they now have a “biggest fan”! Each time I watched them, these people became more and more real to me… they were my friends, my family, my next-door neighbor. I felt as though I had found an amazing, tiny window into these complete strangers' lives, something so rare in this fast-paced, digital world.

Needless to say, we tied for third with RackFin, a social network for hunters and fishers, and felt great about our accomplishments! No doubt I’ll be going to another Startup Weekend soon.

And now for some advice for SUW newbies:

1. Don’t necessarily believe what people “say” about Startup Weekend. It isn’t scary! People are super friendly and supportive, so no need to be an expert.

2. Be clear on what you want out of the weekend. You’re going to have to make decisions fast, so the more you know what you want, the more likely you will be to get it!

3. Once you know what you want, be sure to go out and get it. Time is short, so you need to be assertive and make time for the things you want to do! If networking or making new friends is important to you, make sure you take time to talk and connect with people. If there are certain skills you want to gain, seek those out and tell your team, who will more likely than not want to help you get them!

4. Some things you and everyone else will be looking for (so don’t be ashamed!)

• Networking

• Skill-building

• Fun!

To anyone doing Startup Weekend Seattle EDU, good luck and have fun!

What's your first-time Startup Weekend advice?

There is still one weekend left for Global Startup Battle. Attend an event in your area! 

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