BootUP! – 10 Lessons Learned from HK's First Startup Weekend Incubator

This last weekend (Nov 19-21) was the first startup weekend incubation event in Hong Kong ever, and things went really, really well. The event was a bit of an ongoing learning experiment and test of the new BootHK facilities, being the first major event we’ve hosted here in the month of operation.
We had a total of 19 participants building startups over the weekend, along with many great local entrepreneurs who dropped by to help mentor and give feedback over the 48 hours (well, 50 hours, to be exact).
We started off with a dive into group idea brainstorming, led by Casey Lau. This resulted in around 30-40 concepts that were then individually voted on by each participant selecting their top 3. For the ones that got at least 3 votes, we took those people that voted on them and put them on a weekend startup. This ended up with three groups of three and 2 groups of four.
After forming the teams, we asked them to put together a name for their project, a tagline explanation, and to commit to what they plan to accomplish during the weekend. After this, we basically set them loose and had them start planning out what they are going to do and get started.
Lesson 1:Next time, have a hand full of mentors available that can meet with each startup as a team and have a more in-depth discussion at the point that they have some initial plan to help them sort out what the next steps should be over the next day. Each team will have a different level of expertise, and having some guidance on how to utilize that the most effectively will help everyone have better results.

Day 2: Saturday

We had Kenneth Kwok from Hong Kong Web Analytics come and give a quick discussion on web analytics for those teams that were interested (or around) on Saturday at noon. We had initially planned to have a few other topics of discussion, but these got pushed off to let the teams focus on building.

Lesson 2: Plan on a startup lifecycle 101 discussion on Saturday first thing or Friday evening, perhaps even before the ideation, to help shape the work that the teams will be doing the rest of the weekend.

At this point the teams were just cruising along in their own ways, to one extent or another. One team (Diksee) shacked up in a nearby coffee house for the day and really just cranked out their concept. Another team was here and was doing the same. Three of the teams spent a lot of time discussing what they were doing in one form or another, but not necessarily in the most productive way.

 

The first of these teams were working on something that was targeted towards teens and young adults. When talking with them about their idea, they had this long list of features, but it just wasn’t sounding like they had a real connection with their customer. I recommended that they get out of the building and do Customer Development, when they finally did get out and talk to customers at the end of the day, it had a huge impact on their project.

Lesson 3: Hong Kong is a very compact place. If you are doing anything that relates to someone that is here, take advantage of getting out of the building and having a quick discussion with them.

The second of these teams was doing something related to buying and selling wholesale products. They spent the better part of Saturday going back and forth trying to nail down the approach to the problem and how to prove that it was viable, however, none of the team really had much in-depth experience within that area.

Lesson 4: For concepts that relate to areas that would require specific domain knowledge which none of the team members have, it is probably best to not pursue it for an event like this.

The last team was very gung ho on Friday night, and even one of the members ended up working on prototyping their concept overnight. When they came in on Saturday morning, three of the four members ended up doing more research into competitive products, and decided that the market was too crowded, so they should change to another concept. The guy that stayed up all night working on the prototype wasn’t one of them. Later that afternoon, after diving deep into the new concept and working on it for a few hours, they started showing the results and found out that they were all working on slightly different things.

Lesson 5: Make sure each team has a clear understanding and common vision they are working on.

The last two teams, each had four members, and they both had the hardest time defining what they were going to work on. It seems like the larger the group, the more important it is to have a strong leader with a vision to drive them.

Lesson 6: When we run this again, we will put a limit on the startup teams of 2-3 people. The groups of four had a hard time finding consensus where the groups of three were able to zip along.

Day 3: Sunday

The last day started with people filtering in over a few hours. A few showed up before 10, but most drifted in after that. There was a wide range of the amount of focus each team had. One team, the one from the day before doing the wholesale buying and selling, still had not nailed down their exact direction.

Lesson 7: Plan out short meetings with startup mentors for each team every 4-6 hours or so. Catch problems earlier to help make sure each team stays very focused throughout the weekend.

Lesson 8: Do have more structure to the times that people are expected to be on site and have that mapped out ahead of time. Pre-plan any presentation discussions and have the time for each nailed down so that if people are interested, they can plan around that.

Presentations and Demos

Here are pictures from all the presentations. The content and approach for each one varied pretty widely. The one team of four that had problems switching concepts ended up working on individual projects for the rest of the time, so ended up presenting three separate presentations.

Lesson 9: Be more clear up front about what the presentation time allowed and help to focus the presentations more. Enforce a time limit to keep things moving along and also to make sure that what is presented is focused and clear.

 

So, the first BootUP! was a success. Everyone that participated learned a lot, and most of the people will be continuing to work on their startups.

Lesson 10: Top three comments of what participants learned:

  1. You really don’t need to be secretive with your idea, it really is all about execution. You learn a lot more by sharing your idea and getting feedback from other people with different perspectives.
  2. Getting out of the building and talking to the customer works. The original idea ended up not being something the customer would want, but the customers had clear ideas of what needs they have.
  3. Delay No More – You can’t wait for the right time, there is never a right time. Especially for those people in nice comfy jobs, you just have to take the leap and do it.

Many thanks to the StartupsHK crew, especially Casey Lau for being the MC that I can never be.

Also many thanks to the local entrepreneurs that stopped by during the weekend and for the final demos, I think this shows how strong of a community we already have here, and that there is a lot of potential for growing that.

Other write-ups of this event:

Casey Lau – StartupsHK: BootUp: The first Hong Kong Startup Weekend, a Round-up and photos

3 comments

  1. Woow didn’t know there are such events in HK. I am an entrepreneur and i am conducting a project based on geolocalisation. I am also part of an incubator. If anyone wanna network, that would be great ! I should go back to HK, lived there 5 years aiya !

  2. in Paris, was in HK last month. I added ur linked in, let’s go on per email
    cheers

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