A story told by Zahid Mitha, EF Cohort 2012
Start-ups are tough. Things never go as planned. This mantra is repeated endlessly in the start-up community, but, until you experience the ups-and-downs first-hand you can't truly understand what it's like to deal with, and whether you can adapt.
Last week's Hackathon allowed me to see some of the challenges I'd have to overcome as a start-up founder, and provided a sample of what life will be like in just a few months for many of us in the EF cohort.
We were given just over 24 hours to build a business; the purpose of this task was to see whether we could put together something viable under pressure, assess what it would be like to work together as a team, and, most importantly of all, whether we could test our product in the marketplace with real customers, without whom a start-up doesn't really exist.
Within my team an idea quickly came about; we thought about how difficult it was to organise events and trips with friends, and how it sometimes results in one person shouldering a lot of financial risk (think about booking a holiday to Italy with five others; how frustrating is it to make sure everyone pays up on time, and agrees on prices, dates and details?).
Our solution was simple: build a site that collects money from friends and only buys tickets when everyone has paid up within an externally imposed time limit. No hassle, no stress, and no financial risk for anyone. We called it Wagwan, slang for "what's going on."
We thought about potential customers, the design of the site, revenue streams (ticketing affiliate programs, for example) and sketched out a plan for the next day. With our ideas for a product, design and leads ready, we were raring to go.
Then, things started to go wrong. I didn't realise how dependent I was on the internet until we couldn't connect to it; work literally came to a standstill. After two hours of negotiating on the phone with our provider, we decided to get out of the office and spent the next 24 hours working in four locations; a Starbucks, a Regus lounge, a hostel common room, and finally, the GoCardless offices.
The highlight of the event was definitely the hostel; working in the basement next to the bar on a Friday night with (very) drunk Australians asking when we were going to become millionaires is something I won't forget. It also helped us to bond as a team; you really don't get to know someone until you stay up working with them at two in the morning (things like David's addiction to edamame).
Despite the odd environment we found ourselves in, we worked through the night and built a basic product we felt proud of. Job done, right? Not quite. We still needed to see what people thought, and whether we solved a real problem. We set up feedback groups, called in favours and found out whether people really wanted what we were offering. With a mixture of positive feedback and caffeine fuelling our team, we put it all together; the product demo, design and business plan, delivering a pitch to the judges that we felt, technology hitches notwithstanding ("The tech will always fail during the demo"-Matt), showed off what we could do and how we'd solve a real consumer problem.
Overall, I learnt a huge amount about what I and others are capable of doing in just 24 hours, what it takes to validate an idea, and most of all, how to adapt when things don't quite go as planned. I can't wait to see where things go from here.