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Hong Kong — Startup Weekend #9 Part 1

5th Dec 2015

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Flashing back to Nov 20th. Friday — 7pm. It’s already the end of the week, an exhausting week. But I was relieved to have successfully completed a project that I had been working on in the office and was excited to finally participate in the hallowed Startup Weekend.

I committed to attending because I believe in the concept: a shared experience for willing participants to form teams and see what they can create — together. It’s not for individuals. It’s most certainly for teams.

Before heading over to MakerBay, my colleague, Maxime, decided at the last minute that he would join me. We packed up our bags, locked the office door and set out on an adventure across the harbor to Yau Tong.

Just after leaving our office in Wan Chai I sent over a quick WeChat message to another friend, Martin, who also agreed to join in on the fun. We met just outside the gates of the Yau Tong MTR station.

This was my first time visiting this particular part of Hong Kong and I must admit, it’s way cooler than I thought it would be. The MTR station has floor to ceiling windows that reveal a gorgeous view of Victoria Harbor.

We made our way out of the station and sauntered through the heavily worn industrial buildings adorned with air conditioning units from the 80s and shirtless pot-bellied mechanics fixing propped-up work vans with their companions: the sleeping factory dogs. We we essentially wandering aimlessly toward the approximate location of the venue when we bumped into Matthieu Bodin who kindly pointed us in the right direction.

The entrance to MakerBay is tucked away just behind one of these massive industrial warehouses. As you approach the entrance, there are two palettes on the ground that fit snugly against the curb so as not to make you step over any puddles collected from the slight drizzle. The space is on the first floor and is easily accessible. (I was excited that the space is on the first floor because not having to use an elevator is fantastic. First world problems, I know.) We were met with a bright-red wrought iron handrail accompanying the handful of concrete steps leading up to the front door.

As soon as we stepped inside the excitement was palpable. It was finally happening! People in yellow T-Shirts were buzzing around everywhere like fireflies. Martin, Maxime and I quickly gathered our name tags and signed in with the help of Cynthia.

We were ushered over to the queue for food where we picked up our paper plates, scanned the horizon for the rows upon rows of tasty dishes and lined up to fill our bellies with a smorgasbord of delicacies. (I want to point out that it’s really great to have so many volunteers putting in their time to prepare all of the food. Thanks, everyone!)

After mealtime, we gathered around a giant screen and listened to Matthieu Bodin, from W Hub explain the schedule forStartup Weekend, the partners making it possible and how to participate.

I have to admit that by this time (around 8pm) I was completely devoid of energy. Anything I had left up to that point had been spent choreographing my rendezvous and arriving at the right venue. Fortunately the pace of the evening moved steadily forward and we jumped right into the festivities.

The first mixer required us to break into randomly assigned teams. Once into groups we were asked to shout out arbitrary words that would be written on large scraps of white paper. MAGIC! CAT! PINEAPPLE! TOE! PHOTO!

Our newly elected leader was given two pieces of paper. One said CAT, the other said PHOTO. What kind of startup could be comprised of these two ideas? Perhaps an Instagram styled network of Cat Photos? A medical app for keeping track of your “Cat Scans”? Or how about organizing your photos by CAT-egory. We very quickly came up with: “um, how about swipe right for cats?” We’ll call it “Photo Cat”

Meow!

This was a really great exercise to get people loosened up and ready to pitch an actual idea in front of this lively group of starter uppers. Maxime, pictured below, had one of the more memorable fake product pitches. His group came up with “Magic Toe,” pairing people by toe size. Yes, that makes no sense, but let’s move on, shall we?

After the first exercise we shifted gears and gave those who wanted to pitch a chance to stand in front of the audience and briefly explain their idea for a startup. I took the opportunity to do so, but had lackluster results. I called my idea Zzzapp, a way to organize your most important documents in a standardized format for getting jobs, applying for travel visas and making life a little bit more seamless.

After the pitches ended it was time for the members to choose a group. Those who pitched had a chance to quickly recruit their team by gathering green stickers. As you can see from the photo below, some ideas got a lot of support, and others…cough cough…like mine, didn’t get much at all.

Forming teams

By 9pm I was so tired that I nearly fell asleep on a chair. I sidled up next to one of the tables watching people elatedly waving their paper signs yelling for developers or designers. “DEVELOPER!? DESIGNER?! DEVELOPER?! Join us. Join us.”

It was fun to watch. It was exciting and the room was full of energy.

While seated against the table, I was approached by Mike who had just pitched his idea for an app to help you find something to do when your plans fall through. He called it “Hobby Buddy”. Mike had successfully recruited Joelle and Sean to the team and soon set his sights on Martin and me. He was persistent. He won us over. We reluctantly agreed to join, but I have to admit it was a lot of fun.

There’s something about having to work on an idea that’s not your own that makes participation particularly challenging. You have to push yourself to solve problems based on someone else’s vision. Perhaps Mike envisioned something that I couldn’t quite see, but I was willing to put in time and effort into figuring out. Something I learned from this experience is that knowing what products exist in the market is very important to validating an idea, but I’ll get to that part later. :-)

Originally published on Medium.