Startup Weekend: Learn To Unlearn

If you follow me on Twitter then you must be knowing that I attended ‘Startup Weekend‘ powered by ‘Google for Entrepreneurs‘ recently. It was organized at ISB Hyderabad. If you missed the stills through my tweets, no problem. Catch the action in motion in this show-reel I made –

ISB (Indian School of Business) is one of the premier B-Schools in India and that was pretty much apparent from the facilities we got there. The campus was huge & green, throwing away a lovely scenic beauty. The inside infrastructure was none less than a 5-star hotel. We took our chances to roam around the campus whenever we got time out of our brainstorming sessions.

Startup Weekend‘ was much more than just an entrepreneurial event. It was a huge learning experience for me in terms of problem identification, devising solutions, team dynamics, market research, presentation, networking and it all happened in just 3 days.

Format – How it happens?

The format of the event was pretty much like hackathons where you go at the venue, come up with problem statement (either pre-defined or decided on spot), form team, devise solutions and present your prototype in the end. But it goes one step further in terms that not only you have to think from the tech perspective but rather you’ve to discuss about the market feasibility of your product as well. In short, you’ve your startup at the end of the weekend.

Now here’s the problem for engineers. Being a hard-core techie, we always tend to think from the solution perspective. Integrate a bunch of sensors, build an app to aggregate data, perform analytics and that’s it. That’s where it taught us a hard but well-learnt entrepreneurial lesson.

Look at the judging criteria and it would give you a fair idea on what all aspects to incorporate in the multi-dimensional discussions –


The judging panel consisted of some eminent names from the startup ecosystem and they looked thoroughly into the whole idea. They exactly know what it needs for a product to reach the target audience successfully.

I went there with my CHE co-fellows and we had some idea about what we were going build. Few days back we were given a capstone project from our ‘Center for Healthcare Entrepreneurship‘ to build a digital stethoscope and integrate it with ECG. Now here was the catch. Though we knew what we have to build, we were totally clueless about why exactly are we building this. Who are our target customers? How do we wish to enter the market? What’s our unique selling proposition (USP) as compared to the other competitors?

Featured in The IndianTalks – seriously, what am I thinking?

Furthermore we had to pitch our idea on the first day in order to get selected. Only then we could’ve gone ahead and build our prototype. Many ideas were plainly scraped during the initial voting phase. What and whomever remained teamed up and there the hackathon began.

Somehow we had two more teammates on board after the pitch. Let’s talk about them later and how it affected our entire plan.

One wonderful thing about our team was its diversity. We had people from all three categories – Hacker, Designer & the Hustler. So building the solution was not at all the problem for us. We were able to build our entire prototype within 2-3 hours on the last day. But what happened on the first 2 days was the absolute nightmare and probably the biggest learning I got about the startups.

The biggest challenge for us was to clearly define the problem statement.

If you can’t describe why you’re building whatever you’re building then you’re in deep trouble. Any good engineer can make a fascinating technical stuff  but then almost none of the projects we build in college go to the product phase. So where’s the difference? What lies in between that is so largely unknown?

Read this wonderful Yourstory article on what you shouldn’t just rush for it.

There’s a gigantic ocean between a crude prototype and a finished product.

Confused and annoyed, we kept on brainstorming to clearly understand the need. Multiple phone calls, field trips, Internet searches, market research, product validation – we did it all. And this was the result of all our efforts –


Finally we sat silently, discussed and made this at 1 o’clock in night.

We discussed on each and every point of the judging criteria, refined our solutions, gave freedom to everyone in the team to think and give their inputs. Also we were provided with few mentoring sessions from the management side itself and that cleared a lot of our doubts.


It’s good to get the feedback from the domain experts

But beware! Sometimes mentoring sessions could be confusing as well. Not everyone could clarify your doubts if you’re not able to convey it properly. Also mentors might try to impose their own though process which could further complicate things.

Team Dynamics

This is probably the most crucial things I learnt. First of all, it is very important to maintain your calmness throughout the event. If you or any of your teammate is unstable, you would keep on jumping on multiple boats and never land on a single island. It would hamper the entire team and consolidating the idea would be much more difficult.

Our main intention behind going for the event was to understand our own CHE team. We were just acquaintances to each other so far. Having 2 extra on-spot teammates was something that made us question our decision.

Not only having a big team was a hindrance in effective communication but it was equally difficult to get everyone on the same page.

You never know a person completely until you’ve worked seriously with him/her.



Speaker sessions & Informals

The event wasn’t all about ourselves. We had fun informal sessions to break the ice. Its great to meet new people and work with them instantly. This is something I’ve found in almost all such events I’ve been to. These minuscule events are great accelerators to set the things in motion. The real fun is it all happens within minutes.

Also we had some big shots to share their life long experiences and motivate the participants. You can’t hide your excitement much longer when you see people, whom you regard as inspirations, speaking in front of you.



Padma Shri Arunachalam Muruganantham – one among 100 most influential people in the world by TIME in 2014

What we built? – The final touchdown.

We ultimately narrowed down our effort to develop a recommendation based personalized healthcare system to monitor elderly population. I won’t go much into the technical detail here but we built a hardware aggregator than collects various health-related data from the patient, send it to an app for visualization and the doctor for recommendation. Also in case of emergency, it triggers a call to the concerned person.

The final prototype looked like this –


Lots of wires! And mind you that electrode isn’t easy to peel off 😛

That is me wearing that wacky thing. The final form factor we suggested looks something like this –

It’s in the form of a watch without the strip. Here’s a sketch I made to understand the morphology & the presentation that followed –


The Aftermath Analysis –

4 hours!

Yeah that’s the duration for which we discussed our whole performance post event. Each of us learnt something valuable that would help us further. It was rather important to analyze so as not to repeat our mistakes further.

There would be many more events like this in future but what remains constant is the team. Our bonding is essential for smooth working and that I think is our biggest takeaway form the event.

The conclusion is simple and now it sits in front of my working desk –


For your product to be successful, it should satisfy these 3 criteria. Don’t directly go for the solution, think clearly about the problem first. Then only you can devise something useful. This is ‘design innovation thinking‘.

So if you’re thinking your idea sitting in some cubicle or college dorm, stop for a moment and question to yourself – why before jumping to what.

After all the serious talks, we did joked around for another hour about what else we did during the event (it’s understood, after all we are humans :P).

Wrap Up – 

The food was quite good during the event. Though I don’t have any photo to show. And of-course t-shirt can’t be forgotten 🙂


There’s a whole another story that went in parallel and my next blog post would be on that. Here is a photo prompt to fuel your anticipation –

Image result for friends fun

Till then sit back, relax and enjoy! Hope you had an interesting read 🙂

9 thoughts on “Startup Weekend: Learn To Unlearn

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