How to hack a startup hackathon: 54 shirts. 54 hours

Guest blogger @ideavist shares an intriguing idea for budding entrepreneurs participating in hackathons.

Test your startup concept in the wild with real sales. No net. No safety harness. No fancy code.

Robbie Jack invited me to participate in Startup Weekend Boulder 6. I decided to participate.

I spent the next couple of days trying to think of a way to win Startup Weekend Boulder. In other words, I wanted to hack a hackathon.

To have a chance of winning Startup Weekend Boulder, you need to create a business and make profitable sales in 54 hours. That’s when I came up with an elegant solution: make 54 sales in 54 hours.

That’s approximately one sale per hour, very reasonable metric to prove you have a reasonably viable business. If you can make $99 within those 54 hours, and you would make your entry fee back. This assumes you bootstrap and have no additional expenses. If you make a $1.84 sale every hour, you can break even.

It’s an ambitious goal, but that’s the point. It’s catchy and memorable. You’ll be known as the team that tried to sell make “54 sales in 54 hours.” I was excited about Startup Weekend Boulder.

Then tragedy struck: I hurt my back! I could barely walk. I could barely sit in front of a computer. I was in pain, and I was screwed. I needed to take care of myself, and ended up canceling my spot at Startup Weekend Boulder.

Then, a new hope. Serendipitously, while hanging around with Robbie, his friend James Lewis said, “Man, that Startup Weekend thing in Boulder your going to sounds awesome. I wish I could get into something like that.”

[pullquote align="right"]We are going to validate our business by selling 54 shirts that will only be available for sale for 54 hours, for profit. In other words, we created an instant premium shirt, the very thing that ColoRoyale will be selling.[/pullquote]

And that’s when I decided to donate my spot to James. Didn’t even blink an eye. I sent emails to the sponsors to make sure it was okay. We got clearance. James was in.

The three of us spent about an hour talking about what Startup Weekend Boulder is. James felt confident he could launch a concept called ColoRoyale over the weekend and sell premium Colorado shirts as an MVP. Perfect!

That’s when I told Robbie and James about my theory: “If you sell 54 shirts in 54 hours and you could win Startup Weekend Boulder. If we can sell 54 shirts in 54 hours at a profit, we’ve built a proven viable business that can exist even AFTER the weekend is over. How could that NOT win Startup Weekend Boulder?

They were sold on the idea.

This all happened on Friday afternoon, just a few hours before Startup Weekend Boulder was going to kick off. We all started prepping for Startup Weekend Boulder.

6pm, Friday, Boulder, TechStars

Startup Weekend Boulder had officially kicked off
Robbie and James were inside TechStars
I was at home treating my back injury.

Later on, I was updated about the awesome pitch James gave. He literally said, “We’re going to sell 54 shirts in 54 hours,” just as rehearsed.

Before the first night was over, we brought on Alex Napheys and Mikey Lockwitz onto the team. We all started hustling:

get shirt design chosen
put up landing page
pick a price point
rev up social media presence
bring in traffic

By 12pm the Saturday:

We ran 3 AB tests to vote on shirt design
Found a print vendor to print shirts for us by Sunday
Got massive following on Twitter overnight
Launched the official landing page with premium shirt

By 9pm Saturday:

We sold 9 shirts for $20 per shirt
We $180
That’s one sale per hour since launching the site
Even with my limited mobility, I was able to get 20 strangers on Pearl Street to pull out their mobile phones, have them type and search ColoRoyale.com on their mobile phones.

It’s 12pm Sunday:

We need to sell 45 more shirts
We would need make $783 to break even
team is scrambling to make sales and to finish the final pitch deck

With my limited mobility and zero access to TechStars, the biggest contribution I made to the team was “54 shirts 54 hours” concept as a way to win Startup Weekend Boulder. I helped out with copy, presentations, and just keeping everyone focused on one thing on thing only: 54 shirts 54 hours.

Sucked I couldn’t be there. Back still sore.

I know what I contributed, and the team really hustled.

I’m proud of what we have been able to accomplish in less than 54 hours.

Looking forward to final pitch presentation tonight.

Best donation I ever made.

#54shirts #54hours

[note color="#FFCC00"]Read more of Young’s insights on creativity, innovation, personal branding and entrepreneurship at The Ideavist. [/note]