David Tulig Software Engineer

3 Day Startup from a Mentor's Perspective

What is 3 day startup? From the 3DS website:

The idea of 3 Day Startup is simple: start tech companies over the course of three days. We rent work space for an entire weekend, recruit 40 student participants with a wide range of backgrounds, cater food and drinks, and bring in top-notch entrepreneurs and investors. The participants pick the best ideas for startups during the Friday brainstorming session and deliver prototypes and investor pitches on Sunday night.

I helped mentor the October 21-23, 2011 3 day startup in Austin and in addition to having a lot of fun myself, I came away with some insights of what made teams successful and ideas for what could have gone better.

The initial idea

The best initial pitches were those that had a small focus and scope. A great way to know if you have a clear idea is if you can explain it and have others understand it in a 10-20 second summary. In that summary you want to describe the problem, the solution, and how it will make money.

A small focus and scope does not end at the end of brainstorming. Even if your idea changes from what it was during the initial brainstorming, keeping the new scope small really helps ensure that you have enough time to do research and prepare answers to the common questions at the final pitch.

Learn the basics of software engineering

Before the event, have experience with a version control system like subversion or git. While dropbox is good for sharing files, you will find it is much easier to work on a team project with real version control. It also would not hurt to read up on best practices for web development and familiarize yourself with mobile application, web or native, development.

Build a project with Django or Ruby on Rails

While you will not be building the final production quality product in three days, having a functional prototype is an impressive addition to the final pitch and gives you the opportunity to test it out on real customers during the weekend. Why Django or Ruby on Rails? Both have plugins and publicly available applications that make it very easy to get the generic parts out of the way quickly such as user management, administration panels, and debugging tools. I also recommend learning how to deploy an application to a production environment, your own server or a service such as Heroku, EC2, or the Google App Engine.

If you already know another framework that you are comfortable with, go with it. Django and Ruby on Rails are merely suggestions if you are starting from scratch.

To be even more prepared, setup a subversion repository on your computer or a server you own and setup a bare bones project ahead of time. When you form your team, you can immediately start iterating on the product.

The final pitch

If using a technical demo, have a backup plan as part of your slides. If the tech demo fails, you can quickly fall back to a walk through.

You will want your pitch to answer these common questions:

  • What is the problem you are trying to solve?
  • What is it that your product provides that differentiates you from the competition.
  • How are you going to make money?
  • How are you going to acquire customers or users?

When responding to questions about your pitch, keep the answers short and on point, you don’t want to ramble. If you do not have an answer to a question, say so and take it as something you need to research. You only have three days, you cannot know everything about your product.


Most importantly, have fun and meet people! 3DS brings together 40+ people who enjoy building products. So much so that they have given up their weekend to do it, just like you have. Even if your product does not make it out of the weekend, you now have some friends you can call for any future endeavors.

To find out if there is a 3 day startup at your university or for more information about 3 day startup, visit the 3ds website.