Learnings from Startup Weekend EDU NYC 2015


I had the great honor and pleasure of being a Product/UX mentor/coach for Startup Weekend’s 2015 EdTech competition. I actually participated in 2013 where my team narrowly missed out from winning the top prize!

Here are some of the lessons + insights that I got from this year’s competition that I hope will help future teams:

Problem is Key

Although you are there to create a startup that weekend and pitch it, the success of your weekend is based on one thing: the problem. Don’t focus on the nifty solution you can build, but instead focus and understand the problem you want to attack and who it affects.

Aim to work on a high-impact problem: a problem that irritates a bunch of people. It doesn’t matter how big or small the potential market is since you are not targeting global domination (yet). Once you understand why it is a problem for a small number of people, you’ll be able to build a better solution.

Don’t be scared of (lack of) technology

It’s a Startup Weekend. The judges don’t expect you have a working product to demo. They are looking for the problem and potential of your startup. You might not have access to developers, or the developers you need for specific tasks, but don’t let that affect you. Go for it!

Don’t be like one of the teams that had a great idea, huge impact and potential revenue, yet chickened out because it was hard and pivoted to something that made no sense at all. WHO CARES IF IT’S HARD?! Just do it!

Ideas repeat themselves

I’ve always believed no idea is unique. If you have an idea, thousands of others have had that idea.

Out of luck, I actually was coaching a team who was going after the same problem my old team went after two years ago! Thankfully, their solution evolved into more of a mentoring approach than ours (they differentiated themselves!). Perhaps this is validation for my team’s idea?

Don’t be afraid another team has the same or a similar idea. Focus on the problem and execute like your life (or weekend) depended on it and you will end up being the better team.

Start crafting your presentation from Day 0

When I was doing my rounds on Saturday, the day before the presentations, I was stunned by the quality of ideas and the effort being placed into the solutions. Some teams were building products you could go online and use right away! How cool is that?

But when it came to the presentations, I was very, very disappointed. They presentations were either in disarray or presented poorly. All my optimism and excitement from the previous day evaporated.

Teams should be working on their presentation just like how they are working on their solution, start right away and keep iterating on it. It doesn’t have to be complete on the Saturday, but you should have various “MVPs” of it throughout the weekend. You should be practicing every couple of hours and making edits as your problem, solution and startup evolve.

More developers are showing up!

The amount of developers I saw this year was amazing! Each team had at least two! Some were even creating games! Two years ago, developers were a prized asset, but this year, teams were more or less on an equal footing.


For the organizers, you did a great job, but there is room for improvement. From my perspective as a coach, here’s what I think can be improved:

  1. Give teams more detail – Teams were asking me all sort of details that they should have known. They had no idea what they were expected to do and present, which was odd. Some of the questions I heard were if the startup had to be tech focused, and what is a technical demo and how technical does the demo have to be.
  2. Give teams more coaching times – From what I heard from teams, they wish they had access to coaches earlier, especially since some of our feedback caused the startups to pivot! I would try setting up Coaching Corners so that teams can proactively reach out when they need to.
  3. Give Coaches an orientation session – I came in knowing no specific details of the competition other than what I knew from two years ago. I would not have known if this year the rules had changed or the teams were advised to follow a certain process, which could have led me to provide incorrect feedback and resulting me in inadvertently sabotaging a team’s presentation! Have a mini orientation session on the Friday or early Saturday so coaches know the basics so they can help on things they know best.

I’m definitely excited to participate again in next year’s competition as a coach (or maybe as a participant), and looking forward to helping unearth the next, great EdTech startup!

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