Four weeks ago, I was working around the clock trying to get all the critical pieces together to launch my business Train Like A Mofo, a business that would bring independent personal trainers and clients together. I was spending early mornings trying to hack together my own unique Shopify store, while trying to get the legal T&C’s in place, contracts drawn up, all while reaching out meeting with personal trainers in Austin to get them to sign up. It was a lot of work, which I was ready for, but I quickly realized that it was a lot of work that I shouldn’t be handling alone.
I knew there was a huge entrepreneur community in Austin, and I was determined to figure out how to tap into it. I dedicated one whole day to researching what was out there, and one of the things I came across was something called Startup Weekend. Startup weekend is a competition in which 100 people break out into 8 or 9 teams and attempt to build a business (including proving out the business model and creating a prototype) in just 54 hours. A startup sprint, if you will. After reading the description, I immediately bought the $100 ticket to be a part of it. I was going to pitch Train Like A Mofo. The event promised to bring a mix of idea people, developers, and designers to together—and that’s exactly who I wanted to meet.
Well, this past Friday was the kickoff.
I practiced my 60 second pitch all week, even recording myself to catch nuanced mistakes, and walked into the room on Friday night full of nerves (and high hopes). The hosts, Kyle and Keith, both co-founders of HubAustin, and Joey, the Startup Weekend representative, gave everyone a warm welcome and prepared us for the two days that were ahead of us.
When it was time to pitch, 37 people raised their hands to participate. 37! “OMG,” I thought to myself, “I hope mine gets picked as one of the 8!” I stood up and found myself seventh in line. Six minutes later, I was up. The words flowed out of my mouth without a hitch except for one thing—the name of the business. I couldn’t bring myself to say “Train Like A Mofo” to a room of professionals! So I quickly changed it to “Train Up”. After all the pitches finished, there was a 20 minute voting period. When Joey stood up to call out the top ideas, he called Train Up first. WAHOO!! I jumped up to the front of the room with a huge smile on my face. “Okay, I got through step 1,” I thought. There was another 20 minute break in which people had to recruit the room to form their team, and then it was time to start building the business. I started out with a great team of two backend developers, Juny, and Chander, two designers, Matt (who was also a frontend developer) and Meredith, and one business development partner Armando.
We headed over to our workstation area and hit the ground running. “Okay, let’s start by identifying what the critical elements that we’re going to need for Sunday’s pitch are, and then divide and conquer,” I said. And the team jumped in on a brainstorm. With the help of all of their thinking, we came up with an action plan. For night one, the development team would start to build out the critical functionality of the site based on the business objectives we outlined, the design team would establish the brand’s look & feel, and Armando and I would begin to go through the Lean startup methodology to validate our customer market. We worked til 1am.
On Saturday, I showed up bright and early to find that two more people had decided to leave their teams and join mine—Vivek, another backend developer, and Nik, a software architect who specialized in mobile app development. SCORE! I shook their hands, and we talked about how they could add to the project. At the end of it all, I have to say, day two might be an example of one of the most efficient workdays ever. By 9am, I had the wireframes drawn up, and handed them to the designers to get started applying their look. While they started designing, the developers were able to also continue building out the backend to accomplish some of the functionality in the wireframes. Nik had a great idea for an app that would add value to the business—a client management tool for trainers—and he mapped out a flow and wireframes for himself as well. Along the way, we pivoted the business’ name to Trainer Link—the match.com for personal training.
Armando taught me how Lean startup theory works, and we got started interviewing trainers and customers to identify their biggest painpoints, and research if the total U.S. market was big enough to monetize the idea. How many personal trainers are there in America? And would they be interested? Would people actually come to the site to find a trainer? And how many people would we need to visit the site to make money? What price would people pay? So many questions, so little time!
At 3:30pm, I called a status meeting. We needed to assess our progress, and make a plan for what needed to be accomplished by the end of the night.
- At that point, it turned out the developers had made GREAT headway, and were ready to start receiving design pages to turn into HTML.
- We decided on three pages that were absolutely critical to the website demo that we wanted to show on Sunday: the homepage, the trainer directory page, and the trainer profile page, and the design team set out to complete them.
- Armando and I got a landing page up that announced to the world that we were starting this business, and they should sign up to stay in the know (part of customer validation), and needed to finish interviews with 5 trainers and 5 customers.
- Nik was well underway in the coding of the iOS app, and planned to have two screens completed for the presentation, as well as a working prototype.
Not only did everyone meet these goals—but they exceeded them. The team sat diligently around our workspace in front of their computers and focused like nothing I’ve ever seen before. Also, something fantastic happened that I didn’t expect—we got our first paying customer! While Armando and I were interviewing a person, asking them what they think about personal training, one guy said, “I’d absolutely do it.” …I looked at him, and then I looked at Armando… “Really?” I said. “Really.” He said. I confirmed, “Like, you would really buy a personal training session if you had this service.” “Yes,” he said. “Would you do it right now?” “I would,” he said. I ran and got my computer. He chose his trainer, made a purchase, and we jumped for joy! That was an opportunity I’m glad we recognized when it hit us in the face! I walked back to my team to find that the designers had finished every page, and the site was already partially working. By 12:30am, we were all sitting there with bloodshot eyes, but were getting very excited. Armando and I worked just a little longer to figure out the actual market numbers, and then headed home.
The final day on Sunday was all about getting ready for the pitch. Why was your idea a valid business model? What problem were you solving? How big was the market? How ready was the market to receive your solution? And how complete was your prototype? All things we needed to be sure we proved out.
I got started on creating our presentation first thing in the morning. Part of the challenge was to validate the business, but the other was to do it in only 5 minutes, while telling a really compelling story to the audience and panel of expert judges. While everyone on my team worked to polish and complete their parts—website, app, number validation—I sat on the floor in the hallway by myself practicing the presentation. I needed to have three or less main points on each slide, and they needed to be extremely clear and important. Five minutes is not a lot of time to make a business case AND demo a site AND demo an app. I do have to say, Startup Weekend was fantastic in providing us guidance, and we met with a pitch expert as well as a market validation expert to get some feedback and guidance. We used that help to put final touches on the presentation at 4:30. I walked around the parking lot going over the pitch in my head, while trying to quell the jitters that all the adrenaline was giving me. Every five minutes, I walked up to my team saying, ”Okay! I need your help!” and presented them with a possible question the judges might ask that I didn’t know how to answer, or a transition in the presentation I needed help with. I can’t tell you how valuable it is to work on a team rather than by yourself! It was getting close to go time, and we sat in a room chatting. We pumped it up by doing group push ups (hell yeah! did you expect anything else?) and then walked into the room as confidently as we could. We were fourth in line to pitch.
Before I knew it, I was standing in front of the room pitching our business. As I spoke, I watched the audience smile back at me, and I knew I was doing something right. I talked through the problem—”Jen wants to lose weight for her honeymoon (because those pictures will be on facebook! Ahh!) but she doesn’t know how!”–and went on to build the case for how helpful an interactive website that matched local independent personal trainers to people in need could be in extremely high demand for both parties. We had the numbers to back up the business, as well as a slide on competitive differentiation, and customer acquisition (we had two paying customers in less than 24 hours!). Before I knew it, a buzzer rang and my 5 minutes were up. I didn’t get to the last slide, but I don’t think it mattered. There were 3 minutes for Q&A with the judges, and then my team sat down. Phew!
We went to the back of the room and nervously tapped our feet through the rest of the presentations. Some of the other ideas included TrailerQ, which made movie trailers actionable, HostFamily.com, which matched people to host families in foreign countries, and many more fantastic businesses. After all the teams pitched, there was a twenty minute break while the judges deliberated.
When they walked back in, it was time to announce the winners:
Most creative: Talent Genuity, a business that leverged social networks to source talent for hiring businesses
Most tech complete: TrailerQ, for their app that could recognize what movie trailer you were watching and allow you to send yourself a reminder about it
3rd place: TrailerQ
2nd place: Host Family
1st place: TRAINER LINK
ATXSW Winner Reaction from Tech Hustlers on Vimeo.
WE DID IT!!! WE TOOK HOME FIRST PLACE AT AUSTIN STARTUP WEEKEND!! We jumped up and down cheering!! This was it!! This was amazing!! We all hugged and set a day to meetup next week to continue this action. Though we were amazingly tired from the weekend, we were also amazingly inspired, and the journey had just begun.
P.S. Check out trainerlinkup.com and sign up to find out when we launch, and get put on a list for a discounted first training session.