Startup Weekend Judging Criteria

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startup weekend pitchI attended the Bay Area Startup Weekend at the AOL offices in Palo Alto.  If you’re thinking of attending such an event and want to know what judges will be on the lookout for, read on.

I overheard these as the judging criterion.  Of course, criterion might vary depending on location. Also, check out the awesome Rob Z’s take on what it takes to rock the Sunday pitches.

Customer validation

You should demonstrate a market need for your product or service.  Talk to consumers and find out if your idea solves this problem. What do consumers currently use to solve this problem?  And what benefits differentiate your product?


Your product demonstration should work.  Or at the least, you should have an MVP.

Team dynamics

Did your team collaborate effectively and execute a great business plan and pitch?

Other things you should consider:


Did you consider the different ways your customers can be segmented?  For example, if your idea is to make an app that teaches cooking, you might think to segment your consumers based on skill level.  But you can also segment based on demographic data: gender, age, or a combination of various factors (men aged 24-30 who are busy professionals and live in an urban area).  Think about what might make sense to get most effective targeting for your product.

Go to market strategy

When you go after your target consumers (see “Segmentation” above), make sure you have some detail on how you will acquire your first consumers.  Do you have a network of contacts who would be the first triers?  Will you target college kids in your town?  How will you actually go about getting in front of these consumers?

Protect your product against fraud

Some products lend themselves to fraud.  For example, if you have a question-and-answer service where people can answer questions for money, those folks might have an incentive to answer as many questions as possible, without necessarily worrying about the quality of their answers.  If your product is vulnerable to fraud, think about how you will guard against it.

Pick a vertical; don’t be horizontal (alternatively, the “riches are in the niches”)

This advice is so commonplace that it might be considered cliche. When you start out, don’t go for mass appeal. You probably won’t get the critical mass necessary to be a big hit. Pick a niche where you can dominate (see “Consumer Validation” and “Segmentation” above) and go after it.  After that, you can expand. The classic example is Facebook starting out with university students (in fact, Facebook got even nichier: it started with Harvard, then expanded to more campuses).

If you’re developing software or an app, don’t try to target its application to every conceivable use. Start with a specific use, then expand from there. Don’t be all things to all people.

Competitive Advantage

If you have a patent issued or pending, that is great.  If you have something that could be patentable, that is good.  But if you don’t have rights to use technology that can be legally protected, is there anything else that will be your competitive advantage?  Do you have any processes that will make you quicker or more cost-effective than competitors?  Do you have a great brand?

Exit Potential

IPO, acquisition, or something else.  You need to think about this for your investors’ sake.




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{ 2 comments… read them below or add one }


The two most important things in my opinion at least the startup weekend orange county was #1 Customer validation – judges really, really, really, wanted to see this and almost no one had enough (which could have been acheived with more effort). #2 Team Dynamics – If the judges think that the team wouldn’t go far they don’t want them to win… You can demonstrate you’re a solid team going in it for the long-hall by talking to them before they judge you and show them your team, how you work together and that you’re going to continue even if you don’t win.



 It’s true. I think people forget that SW is about building a foundation for a successful business. To do that, you really need to have proof of concept (ie. that you have customers) AND that you can work together as a team to execute on that concept (after all, ideas are plenty).


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