The beautiful un-sexiness of startups

Watch our latest film on Startup Weekend Tech for Good San Francisco, and learn about Mary's first Startup Weekend experience.

Our latest film: An inspiring documentary that tracks the start-to-finish milestones at a single Startup Weekend event: the third annual Tech for Good hackathon in San Francisco at Impact Hub. Find a Startup Weekend near you at

By Mary

Before my first Startup Weekend, I knew little about the startup world.

I thought it was a place of modern typefaces, brushed chrome, genius Steve Jobs types, and characters like Tom Haverford, the trend-obsessed serial entrepreneur played by Aziz Ansari on Parks and Rec.

 Tom Haverford: About as far as my understanding of startups used to go. [Source:  Pando .]

Tom Haverford: About as far as my understanding of startups used to go. [Source: Pando.]


Back then, the word “hackathon” was foreign to me (and sounded a little dangerous, to be honest). Even though I worked at a computer a lot as a filmmaker and designer, I didn’t have the latest smartphone, know how to code, or even get that excited in Best Buy. I assumed all this meant I wouldn’t be tech-savvy enough to fit in at a Startup Weekend.


A few years ago, though, I decided to go and fake it anyway.

I’d just launched a small business and heard these events were great for networking, so whether it sounded dangerous or not, I was headed to a hackathon.

What I found there were people who didn’t care that I’d never played Angry Birds (whew) or that I’d had zero exposure to the startup ecosystem beforehand. In fact, the qualifiers I thought were important were not and many other attendees were also newbies to the space. The ones who weren’t were thrilled to have fresh perspectives and talents at the table.

That weekend, I got a taste of what startups are like before they’re polished and flush with venture capital, which is when most of the world meets them. By the time that happens, their websites are flashy, their marketing viral, and their offices swagged out in sit/stand desks. But there’s so much beautiful un-sexiness that leads up to that point.

What really happens

At Startup Weekend, you get to nurture an idea from ground zero.

You get to go crazy with post-it notes, hit the streets with clipboard surveys, call people you wouldn’t normally, think so hard it hurts, be thankful when people tell you your shit stinks, rip everything up and start over again, put yourself in someone else’s shoes, question yourself, and then tell yourself you can and will solve this problem because the world desperately needs you to.

It’s not about chasing something shiny or trying to be impressive; that will get you nowhere fast. It’s about creating something of value and committing yourself to helping others above all else. That takes an enormous amount of passion, trial and error, and empathy.


My pivot

My worldview changed after my first Startup Weekend. I began to realize that all the innovations I use and take for granted on a daily basis required regular people with a desire to improve the world and the gritty courage to do actually do something about it. I started seeing problems as opportunities and shifted my perspective on what’s possible.

If you think this sounds like the stuff of motivational-quote calendars, I realize it does.

But these are the mantras that entrepreneurs cling to — the truths they recite for sanity’s sake when their mind is on a midnight marathon of doubts. Because innovation, if anything, is an up-mountain road, but from the little I’ve experienced, it’s an amazing, worthwhile hike that’s turned me into one of those positive people who used to annoy me.

Ultimately, I’ve encountered some of the most ambitious yet humblest souls in the startup world — people who have welcomed my ideas, encouraged me to do what others call foolish, and eagerly offered me a helping hand along the way.

Perhaps more than anything, though, I’ve found that startup folks care about others.

When you think about it, it makes perfect sense.

Last month my husband and I attended yet another Startup Weekend — not as participants, but as filmmakers. There’s nothing like experiencing this community first-hand, but we hope our documentary captured enough of its heart to inspire you to get involved yourself. You don’t even need to enjoy Best Buy to fit right in.


Get involved

Learn more about Startup Weekend and find an event near you at


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