Many startups take months or even years to launch! Can it really be done in 54 hours?

Over the November 1-3 weekend, more than a hundred people gathered at Startup Weekend Milwaukee to give it shot!

Waiting until the product is "ready" is frequently a fatal mistake. You need to get in front of customers and start testing your assumptions as soon as possible! Otherwise you may never learn if anyone even wants your product until it's too late.

Being forced to work with such a tight deadline can help you evaluate what is truly necessary in your Minimal Viable Product (MVP) to test your idea.

I gathered a small group of Drupal users from Drupal414 to see if we could prove my assertion that Drupal is the ideal platform to build an MVP (Watch Drupal + Startups = AWESOME!, my full presentation about this).

How did it go? Did we succeed?

Read the rest of the article to find out!

What is Startup Weekend?

Startup Weekend is global event where business people, software developers and designers get together and attempt to launch a startup in 54 hours. Our local version (Startup Weekend Milwaukee) was organized for the second year in a row by the wonderful folks at Startup Milwaukee.

The event kicked off on Friday night with pitches from attendees who had startup ideas they wanted to build. All of the ideas had to be new - if you had done previous work on the idea, it wouldn't qualify for judging and prizes. Afterwards, we voted on the ideas and then formed teams around the top ones.

Things got started again bright and early on Saturday morning at 9am and we had until 4pm on Sunday to:

  • Gather evidence that this business could work (ie. customer interviews, market research, even real sales if possible)
  • Build an MVP which demonstrated the idea and that we had the technical ability to execute it
  • Prepare a final presentation to impress the judges (many of whom regularly invest in startups!)

Whew! It was a couple of long, hectic days. ;-)

What did we build?

Len, one of the members of Drupal414, pitched an idea that really resonated with me personally: Myzeum (or Myseum), a personal museum of antiques, collectibles and oral histories.

I'm really into family history and genealogy. I've paid hundreds of dollars to Ancestry.com and I've got some rather weird collections that I'm proud of - but rarely have a chance to show anyone. For example:

  • Books written in the 1950s and 60s from the Soviet Union,
  • Religious icons from several different religions (none of which I'm a believer), and
  • A nickle beer glass that JFK drank from ;-)

I was super excited about it!

The main question was: How could we make any money from this? Is there a real market? Or is it just me.

Here is Len's pitch from the event:

How did we do? Did Drupal help?

Well, we (understandably) spent most of the time working on the business model. I don't think we started even building the site until around 12pm on Saturday. Instead we were discussing the possibilities and even hit the street to talk to real potential customers.

We learned a lot! There was definitely a type of user who was really excited about the idea, and even willing to pay money for it. However, there wasn't enough to time to do enough customer interviews to really drill into the idea.

Since the judges also look at execution of the idea, at some point we had to just pick some assumptions and build to them.

And did Drupal live up the challenge? I think so. :-)

I built the functionality on top of the MVPCreator Drupal distribution and Lowell, one of the other Drupalists, worked simultaneously on a custom theme. Since we were constantly stopping to discuss the business model and help out with the presentation, I'd say that we probably put 8-10 solid hours into the website over the weekend.

In that time we were able to implement:

  • User registration and profiles
  • Creating exhibits with full media (photos, videos, audio, documents) and WYSIWYG support
  • Search
  • Front page and marketing materials
  • Custom theme with a unique look and feel

That's quite a lot given the small amount of time we put into it!

And believe me, executing on the website was the least hectic part of working on this project. We never felt rushed or like we needed more time... for the website. :-) It was a different story with the business model and final presentation.

Here's our final presentation (given by Len and Kurt):

Try the site online to see what we built!

Watch the winning presentations

Unfortunately, Myzeum.co didn't win. :-/ But the projects who did win, really deserved it!

The thing that set them apart, was that they either: (a) made hundreds of dollars in real sales over the weekend, (b) had a domain expert with real connections and experience in that market, or (c) both. :-)

3rd place

2nd place

1st place

Lots more videos!

You can find all the final presentation videos on the MVPCreator channel on YouTube, including the rules given beforehand and advice from the judges and announcing the winners at the end.

Go to Startup Weekend!

Overall, I'd recommend Startup Weekend. If you've never worked on a startup, it'll give you a taste of what it's like. It's also a great place to meet future collaborators and partners. I always say that it's impossible to know what it's like to work with someone without working with them. Startup Weekend will give you a trial by fire!

So, even if you don't win or your project doesn't carry on after the event - you'll get something out of it!

Have you ever been to Startup Weekend or similar "hackathon" type event? Share your experience in the comments below!