The Winning Startup Weekend Presentation

Do you want to win Startup Weekend? The secret to a winning presentation is not what you may think.

winning trophyYou may be in a strong active startup community, like we have in Santa Barbara, where over two dozen “been there done that” mentors are guiding 20+ teams through market validation, customer acquisition, design, and product development. If you are one of the 75+ pitches that the crowd selected to become a team, then you are likely to excel out of the gate in one or more of these areas. So, you have strong competition and the judges will have their work cut out for them deciding who should win the top prizes.

First, make sure you cover all the basics:


  • You need a strong and diverse team that knows design, product development, and marketing.
  • Actively build your team during the networking phase before the pitches start. Come in knowing what skills you need and start recruiting early.


  • You need to do solid market validation. 54 hours is plenty of time for a pivot or two if the market is not what you thought. Pivot early if it looks like the market isn’t what you expected.


  • You need to show you can make money.
  • It is great if you have initial customer names and emails who are signed up for your product or service. It is better if you’ve actually taken pre-payment for delivery or have a signed contract. Yes, teams actually do manage to do these things in 54 hours during the weekend.


  • You need solid design, but only on what you are presenting. This is key. If you are going to present a web site or app, that needs to look good. If you are going to present physical product or a prototype visual, those need to look good. If you are not going to be presenting it, don’t waste time designing it. Instead put your design energies into designing your presentation.


  • No, you do not need a working product. This is not a hack-a-thon. This is startup weekend.
  • If you have development-only team members and building a working product won’t take away from other things, then great, build something that works. You’ll get extra credit for that.
  • Otherwise, build only enough to do a demo. Yes, PowerPoint is fine. Yes, a “product” with “imagined or fake” functionality is fine. Don’t pretend that you built more than you did, but show what the user experience will be. People are awarding the vision, not how much code you can hack in 54 hours.
Once you have the basics covered, even if they are covered well, that won’t necessarily take you to the win. Remember what you are being judged on? It is your final five-minute presentation to the judges.

The Presentation

Start thinking about your presentation Saturday and take your first hack at what it will look like. Plan on redoing your presentation at least five times before Sunday evening. When we won startup weekend two years ago, we had gone through almost a dozen revisions of our presentation before we had our final pitch ready.

Practice, practice, practice. You have mentors. Use them. Run through your presentation to the mentors. Listen for their feedback and revise, revise, revise.

Five-minutes is a lot of time if you use it wisely. It is very short if you waste it. What can you do to maximize your use of the time? Especially if you want to demo a product, you don’t want to waste time clicking around and typing things in during your precious time. Consider pre-recording a video of your demo. This gets you the best possible demo using the shortest possible amount of your five minutes. It also gives you flexibility on how you show users interacting with your product.

But the key thing that will drive you up to the top slot … Connect with your audience and judges on a deep, emotional level. The judges should feel like this is a product that is meaningful to them or is something they personally want to use or see developed. Show the impact of your product on people and how it solves their needs. Give testimonials of future clients who really want to have your product.

Below is the final presentation of the Santa Barbara Startup Weekend first place team. See how this impacts you personally on an emotional level:

On the flip side, should winning Startup Weekend be your goal of joining Startup Weekend. I argue in a different post that there are things more important than winning.

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