Startup Weekend Winner: Plants Map

Plants Map, a startup where gardeners explore, organize and share plant collections was launched last week during Startup Weekend Fredericksburg. After a week of reflecting back on winning the 54 hour competition where people pitch ideas for a new business and then recruit a volunteer team to help launch a startup, I’m realizing that I learned a lot last weekend!

Excite The Crowd

The Friday night pitch needs to clearly state the idea and get to the point quickly. One minute passes quickly! In fact, it passes in about 60 seconds. That’s not a lot of time so having the idea in the form of an elevator pitch is hugely important. I ran out of time before I could state the type of help I thought I needed. (More about that in a minute). The pitch needs to be something that excites the group even if the idea is basic. You are trying to get people as excited about your startup idea and to want to participate on your team.

Find A Team That Can Find Customers

The most important goal of the weekend is to build a business that lands customers. It is called a business for a reason, otherwise everyone would call the idea a hobby. To attract those needed customers you need people on your team who know how to find them – and quickly! It is really helpful if your idea is something that will appeal to a large potential customer base.

Our idea to build Plants Map was born out of the need to scratch our own itch you might say. Tracy and I collect native plants, woody ornamentals, evergreens and conifers. Keeping our list of plants organized – when did we buy it? Where did we get it? Where did we plant this one? And, occasionally making records of when we killed it – was becoming a huge pain. We had been sharing an extremely unwieldy spreadsheet on Google Docs.

If we built a site that solved our problem, our premise was that there were other gardeners who would also love to use our solution. Since we had the idea to pitch at Startup Weekend only a week before the competition we hadn’t done a lot of research on how many customers might be out there who could potentially use our site.

It turns out that we learned the gardening market is HUGE! There were over 85 Million DIY gardeners in the US alone in 2012 and that is expected to rise to 93 million in 2014! Add in the professionals, master gardeners and all of the botanical gardens, public parks and arboretums and you are dealing with a target customer list that is enormous.

Pick A Product That Has A HUGE Potential Audience

To our team, picking a product that is targeted for a really large audience speaks for itself.

You Don’t Need A Bunch Of Developers

I mentioned that I ran out of time during the pitch to suggest the types of folks I thought we needed on our team. On Friday night I was looking for help with content development, a few people not afraid to talk to customers and most importantly I thought we needed several developers to build this site.

I didn’t get to ask for specific help. We ended up with one developer and even though he is a UI/UX wizard and can make Drupal literally sing, together we thought we still needed more help with programming.

For most of the day Saturday I was recruiting around the tables of other teams and also talking to coaches asking if they had seen any unhappy developers in other groups and I was not having any bites at all.

Saturday afternoon, it was time to pivot. Not so much pivot on the whole idea, but really scale back. We needed to pull in our project scope so we could deliver a well rounded product that was concise.

This decision really helped to focus the team. Now we knew exactly what our elevator pitch was and we could communicate what we were doing very quickly with a potential customer and they “got it.”

Had we pulled in multiple developers, we would be fighting what I call the “growing a third arm” syndrome. We would be thinking that we needed something extra for market fit instead of finding the market that fit what we were building. (Remember it was helpful to have chosen an extremely big market.)

Having only one very talented developer proved to be the right number. Not getting to the end of the pitch in the end actually helped.

Diversity Of Team Skills Is A Winner

When I came over to the table to meet the team that had gathered, I found people with experience in advertising, legal, marketing, business development, social media, writing, customer service, contracts and web development. Every single person was a really experienced in their field.

If I were starting a business, I couldn’t have hand-picked a more well-rounded and experienced team. We clicked from the first meeting. Friday night we each shared what we knew how to do and how each person viewed the solution to our product and on Saturday morning after many late night hours after we went home, everyone came in energetic and filled with ideas to get the day started. We divided duties and responsibilities and got to work.

There was not a lot of “telling them what to do” but more regular communication going around the table with each about the next small task they were tackling and keeping it on the end goal.

Aim for team with a really broad base of experience in all areas of running a business.

Plan Your Lifelines – Calling In Friends

You might notice that we didn’t have a finance or accounting representative on the team. That worked out too. We used a “lifeline” and called a friend who volunteered to come by on Saturday afternoon and help us with our finance model and pricing strategy.

Think about the type of people you’d like on a team and if you don’t get one, plan out who you might call to be able to lend a hand for a few hours during the event if needed.

Bring Some Cash

If we do this again or if you are going to pitch a business idea at Startup Weekend down the road, budget a couple of hundred dollars to spend during the weekend. We had trips to a local trophy shop, Home Depot & Lowe’s, Roxbury Farm Garden Center, we also bought our domain, paid for a logo to be designed at 99designs.com and set up web hosting on Amazon’s cloud. A few bucks in your pocket or a credit card to use for these things was a great help.

Sign Up For BaseCamp

A final suggestion for the team leader would be that after things end on Friday night, get a free account with 37signals and sign up for Basecamp.

Add and invite your whole team. Start adding to-do’s. We divided up our tasks in to-do lists called Systems, Spraypaint, Sidewalk, Success and Future.

We couldn’t come up with a word that stared with “s” for the future ideas.

  • Systems was everything related to getting the site up and running.
  • Spraypaint was marketing and filling up the site with content.
  • Success was our list of goals and things needed to get those accomplished and measure how we were doing. Think Google Analytics, how many Facebook likes, Tweets and Twitter followers, etc.
  • Sidewalk was a list of great ideas that if we could get to them, they would be nice to have by final pitch on Sunday night but not things that were necessarily required.
  • Future was a listing of all of the ideas that we liked but knew we couldn’t accomplish by the end of the weekend. Certainly everything we wanted to keep and work on after the Sidewalk was clear.
  • Stories was a running list we made of every question we were asked about our project throughout the weekend. Questions from our own team members, coaches, other teams, our Startup Weekend visiting angel investor network and contest facilitator John Sechrest and from people we met and talked to in public about Plants Map. Our idea is that we’ll use those questions down the road to write blog posts to help people teach themselves about what we do by reading the answers to the questions.

Almost In Conclusion…

Listen to your coaches during pitch practice on Sunday afternoon. I chose to go near the end of the session because I felt that they would have heard all of the pitches and zoned in on the weaknesses and would tell me quickly what the biggest problem was with my pitch because they had refined their advice by working with the other teams.

It turns out that I rebuilt most of my slides for the 5-minute evening pitch in the 90 minutes between the coaching session and standing in front of the judges.

Startup Weekend Was A Great Experience

We learned a lot and I think it was fun for the team.

The Fredericksburg, Virginia Startup Weekend event was organized and extremely well run by Christine Goodwin and her volunteer team from Germanna Community College and FredXchange.

Plants Map has had a lot of interest in the past week from extension agents across the country, plant societies, botanical gardens and interested people on Twitter and Facebook. We are opening the site tonight for browsing and giving out limited access invites to interested gardeners to help us work out any bugs in the tools we’ve built.

Keep checking back for new Plants Map developments and follow us on Twitter and use #plantsmap when you can.

Please share what we are doing with your friends who are into gardening! We’re building something special!