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The 72-Hour Startup

Last weekend in Boulder, Colo., home of InformationWeek's Rocky Mountain Bureau, a group of about 70 or so entrepeneurs, investors, software developers, Web designers and marketing geniuses, plus at least one massage therapist, got together with an audacious goal: create and launch a new online business in 72 hours. Conceived by 23-year-old graphic designer Andrew Hyde,
July 11, 2007
Last weekend in Boulder, Colo., home of InformationWeek's Rocky Mountain Bureau, a group of about 70 or so entrepeneurs, investors, software developers, Web designers and marketing geniuses, plus at least one massage therapist, got together with an audacious goal: create and launch a new online business in 72 hours. Conceived by 23-year-old graphic designer Andrew Hyde, Startup Weekend was an experiment in company creation and an attempt to set the land-speed record for entrepreneurialism.In marathon small-group sessions punctuated by hourly meetings (and 90-second yoga breaks), the flash entrepeneurs winnowed a group of 10 business ideas down to the three and then chose one: VoSnap, an online voting tool that "facilitates group decision making quickly and easily" by allowing boards of directors, business colleagues, knitting clubs to cast votes and share opinions immediately using a laptop computer, a mobile phone, or any other connected device.

Exhausting just to read, the Startup Weekend minute-by-minute blog is a look inside the sausage factory, from the early consensus on the initial group of business ideas, to "Legal has incorporated the company-it's real now" at 1:50 a.m. on Sunday, to boos and applause from the punch-drunk crowd, to business-building decisions made in minutes instead of weeks. The launch of VoSnap.com was supposed to happen by midnight Sunday evening; unfortunately at 3 a.m. on Monday, the small core of developers still at their screens "were ready to launch *something*" reports David Cohen, one of the instigators of the weekend, "but were crippled by the timing and the disbanding of the group. Nobody had the right passwords to the production servers, or whatever. It didn't get done."

Oh well, every fledgling business has glitches - even one conceived and (nearly) launched in two-and-a-half days. Cohen has some very candid thoughts on what went wrong ("development is hard") and the many things that went right, including the following lessons for next time: make the goals clear both inside and outside the room; choose the "most experienced and respected folks," not just the Big Dog personalities, as team leaders; don't be laid back about milestone decisions; and make the Sunday midnight deadline completely firm. "Launch something at that time, no matter what."

Sounds like good advice for any startup, not just a weekend job. Cohen says 5 other cities have already contacted the Startup Weekend principals to ask about setting up their own versions.