Lessons On How To Build A Startup From CodeSprint


Organized by the IEEE Branch of IIT partnering with Dialog Ideamart, CodeSprint is an inter-university Hackathon that revolves around technological innovations that are presented by undergraduate and post-graduate students.

What was once a hackathon has now evolved into a full-on incubator and startup battle. It is now more or less a platform for ideation where the goal would be to take participants from ideation to actually pushing out an MVP or minimum viable product. This would be done via a number of workshops and mentorship programs.

CodeSprint Startup
Image Credits: Raneesh Gomez

One such program took place on the 25th of February 2018 at the new IIT building located on Galle Road in Wellawatta. The workshop comprised of a number of speeches by speakers who shared their expert knowledge on the startup industry of Sri Lanka and how to successfully set up and launch a product in the Sri Lankan market.

We gained Inspiration about Angel Investments

Carried out by Jamie Emmanuel of the Lankan Angel Network, this was an all-rounder session of sorts where participants learned the key factors of entrepreneurship. For example, the first step in your entrepreneurial journey would be to identify a problem in society. It doesn’t have to be a large scale one. Rather it can even be as small as finding a repairman to fix your electrical appliances.

Identifying a solution to a problem

Once you have identified a problem, you would obviously then look for a solution for it. Once you have identified a problem and a suitable solution, you’re ready to begin working on a business model. This would be how you plan to generate revenue from your proposed solution. But that’s not all. While developing your product, it’s also important to see if anyone else is doing the exact same thing.

Codesprint Startup
Jaime Emmanuel talking about the basics of Entrepreneurship Image Credits: Thivagar Mahendran

Knowing the competition

These competitors are who you have to look out for. So how would you stay ahead of the competition? Well, you have to make sure that your product has something that sets it apart from the rest. This is called a USP or Unique Selling Point.

Building your fan base

Once you have identified a USP, it’s time to share those points with other people. This is where Customer acquisition plays a key part. It deals with how startups acquire customers.

Codesprint startup
(Image Credits: Thivagar Mahendran)

There’s no “I” in “Team

While acquiring customers, it’s also equally important to have a team you can rely on. Forming a team that works well together is vital to the wellbeing of your company. If your teammates and you do not get along, your business can suffer a lot. Team and group dynamics will play a key part. You need to have a team that is willing to put aside their ego and embraces change in order to experiment and tries out new avenues of possibilities. A team that constantly bickers or has disagreements about almost anything will lead to nothing productive.

It’s also important to keep up a good flow

Even if you have the greatest team in the world, that will not do you any good if you lack the financial resources required. These resources are a vital component to push your idea from a pen and paper to an actual functional tangible product.  This is where you need investment. The investment you receive would be able to fund your research and development process and also many other areas of your business as well. This is not a magical process though. It will work as long as you provide your investors with positive results. Remember, they’re only going to give you money if it’s worthwhile for them.

CodeSprint Startup
Image Credits: Mars Catalysts

You will also need to set milestones to track the progress of your startup and the products you are working on. these are known as key performance indicators or KPIs. It is important that you stick to your KPIs to as rigidly as possible as they will provide a real-time look at how your company is performing and if they are achieving the targets that have been set for them.

What is the Business Model Canvas?

Launching a startup is by no means an easy process. There has to be a method to the madness. This is where the Startup Canvas comes into play.

CodeSprint Startup
Balathasan Sayanthan talking about the Business Model Canvas at CodeSprint (Image Credits: Thivagar Mahendran)

So what exactly is a Startup Canvas? Well, for starters, its actually called a Business Model Canvas. We learned more about it when Balathasan Sayanthan, a founding member of Yarl IT Hub was up on stage to talk about it.  In case you’re still lost on what a Startup Canvas or Business Model Canvas is, here’s a small video that shows its exact functionalities and capabilities.

As you can see, the business model of an organization can be broken down into 9 categories or building blocks. Each block is connected to its predecessor and successor. Filling in each block will help you plan out exactly how your startup pans out and how to successfully launch your product and/or service to the market. We’ve actually spoken about this on several occasions, the most recent being at Startup Weekend Kandy.

Spend time on the design of your product

Once you have figured out the building blocks to your business, you would then spend time designing your product. This is another crucial phase of the lifecycle of your startup. Design thinking begins with people. In order to have a successful design, you should place human needs at the center. It’s about simple mindset shifts and new ways of looking at problems.

CodeSprint Startup
Yasith Abeynayaka explaining design thinking to the teams at CodeSprint

For an idea to be successful and meaningful, it should strike a balance between 3 criteria: Feasibility, Desirability, and Viability. If you’re working on a product, you should ensure that your product is desirable to your target audience, that it is a viable solution and that it is feasible to develop, market and produce.

Despite all this, you might be tempted to rush your development in order to penetrate the market as quickly as you can to stay ahead of your competition. Yasith shared that speed matters when prototyping. So it’s also important to take into account that you shouldn’t get too focused on the quality aspect of your product, like building the perfect UI. The learning from the prototype helps you ensure a quality product that people want.

You should also have the ability to tell a great story. What makes your product stand out from the rest is the story you weave to pitch it to your audience. A well thought out story can have all the difference in the world. That’s precisely what advertising agencies are doing.

Meet the other Canvas in the room

Similar to the Business Model Canvas, the Value Proposition Canvas deals with how you create a value proposition for customers. Successfully pulling this off would mean that you show your customers why your product has great value for money. It can also be used to show investors why they should invest in your startup.

Codesprint Startup
Aloka Gunasekara talking about the Value Proposition Canvas (Image Credits: Thivagar Mahendran)

This was explained in detail by Aloka Gunasekara of Startup X Foundry by means of the video shown below.

It’s about building a good brand image

Have you heard of an Elevator Pitch? The concept of an Elevator pitch is that you should finish your pitch by the time your investor reaches his/her floor. A key point when making your pitch is to sell yourself and your product. Kalakavi Ragu had some interesting points regarding this at the CodeSprint workshop.

For starters, you should know your target market. Once you have identified the market, it’s time to pull out all the stops and sell the story of your idea to customers and investors. It’s important to keep the story short and sweet. You should also be consistent and tell a story that is memorable.

CodeSprint Startup
Image Credits: Tumblr

First Impressions matter, a lot

The first 7 seconds of you meeting someone is the time needed to create the first impression to both parties. Make sure you make that 7 seconds count in your favor. Kalakavi spoke about simple measures you can take to improve your personal branding. These include steps such as starting your own blog, dressing in a unique and memorable fashion and also to become more outgoing.

When selling your idea to a customer or an Investor, it’s important to have a well thought out sales pitch. For example, you should start off by introducing your team and the product. You should also be specific so people get an idea about your product as soon as possible. Emphasize the problem identified and the solution that you have developed.

CodeSprint Startup
Making your Sales Pitch correctly is important (Image Credits: YouTube)

If you’re pitching to an investor, state in one or two sentences why you and your team are the best at what you do and why people should invest in you. You should also have a specific call to action. In case you didn’t know, a call to action or CTA is a term used in marketing to define a device or process that is designed to prompt an immediate response from someone.

When making your sales pitch, it’s important to maintain eye contact with your audience. If you’re passionate about your product, then you should let that passion show in your pitch as well. It’s also important to work on your facial expressions. If you have defined a CTA as explained above, then its also important that you do it in a proper manner that encourages people to answer the said call.

From Prototype to Production

When developing your product, keep the UI or User Interface as a Powerpoint slide. That way you have an idea of what the flow of design needs to be. You can even use free tools to create a mockup of your product’s interface to aid you through the prototype phase. If you end up making a change to your design, it’s important to reflect that change in the mockup as well so that you can keep track of it and add it to your prototype.

CodeSprint Startup
From Prototype to Production (Image Credits: Zurb)

To stay or not to stay? That is indeed the question

At the end of the day, you can either choose between staying in the market and seeing your product grow, or you can choose to exit the market by selling the product to a larger company. This gives you a blank slate so that you can work on a different idea if you have one. Whichever decision you take, it is up to you do what you feel is best. If you find yourself with a number of ideas that you wish to work on, you can go ahead and exit the market with each idea, using the profit you gain from each sold startup to fund your next one.

That brought an end to the workshop for CodeSprint. If you would like to know more about CodeSprint, you can check out their Facebook page. The next round of CodeSprint will be on the 11th of March 2018. Here, teams will make their pitches to a panel of judges in the hopes of carrying through to the final round which will take place on the 18th of March 2018.


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