How on earth do you start building a valid business over just one weekend? We had six different teams and six different approaches at Oxford Launch 2014.

Refining The Idea

Some ideas are naturally more complex than others, but all of the teams were given the same goal on Saturday morning: we had to be able to tweet the main benefits of their product by lunchtime. This meant all of the teams spent time on Saturday refining their value propositions and figuring out benefits – some of them even went further and by the end of the morning knew how they were going to pitch their idea on the Sunday.

There was one team in particular for whom refining their vision was very important and by midday on Saturday they had refined their concept down to a strapline.

Should We Start Building?

All the ideas chosen for building had a technology theme, with many being apps and websites. But how teams approached the weekend depended as much on who was in the team as the idea. Some teams were filled to the brim with developers who spent a whisky and Red Bull-powered night building the first screens of their apps, but other teams were made up of business people and creatives. Their approaches naturally had more of a business flavour, with a focus on branding and the business model.

This set the tone for the weekend, with a whole range of approaches leading up to varied pitches.

Refining Business Models

Something that was clear to all our teams was the importance of the business model. It made up half the judging criteria, so many of our teams got straight to work on building their business model. We even had a Business Model Canvas being put together at 9am on Saturday!

Thinking About Users

Interestingly, by Saturday afternoon only one team had started laying out their user journeys. This changed as the day moved on – a small team of two people co-opted a UX designer to get their rapid prototypes together – but many of the mentors were surprised at how late teams started thinking about the user journey.

Oxford Launch 2014's first user journey

Oxford Launch 2014’s first user journey

The Common Approach – Customer Validation

One thing all the teams decided early on was very important was customer validation. Some of them, like the team building an employment skills CV app, had both customers and businesses to quiz, while others had simpler, one-sided business models. Some people used social media, tapping into their Facebook friends and LinkedIn groups first thing on Saturday to get their questions out to the world. Others got straight into building surveys to print out and pound the streets with. The key questions all teams wanted answered was “does the vision work?”

Planning – The Surprising Missing Factor

The one surprising activity that was missing from many of the teams’ early activity was planning – many took an organic approach to the weekend, allowing their work to evolve over the weekend. This was despite the organisers’ advice that planning would be essential for bringing together a successful prototype for Sunday’s pitches.

My advice to anyone attending next year – pick a leader, make a plan, and know what your team will be doing!