It all started with a warning — what not to do if your idea is picked at Startup Weekend.
Don’t try to be a manager this weekend if your pitch wins tonight, he said, pointing out that startup founders often flounder when they build teams as if they’re hiring employees to carry out orders.
Instead, Hoffman said, look for co-founders — for people you can partner with to shape your idea into its best possible version. That’s where success lives.
I was behind my camera during Hoffman’s talk, trying to score the shots needed for Forward Films’ documentary of the event without getting too distracted by his hear-a-pin-drop words of inspiration.
Soon there’d be opening pitches, post-it voting, and team selection. Myles and I knew that meant we’d also be picking our own teams — the teams we’d be aiming our cameras at that weekend for our mini doc. What we couldn’t have known is that one of the teams we picked would end up winning the competition. With Steve Hoffman’s words in hindsight, though, it makes sense.
The winning team was an eclectic group of nine working to connect blood banks to matching donors in real time more easily through a mobile app. The original concept came from Jad Fayad, inspired to improve the blood-donation process after seeing his parents struggle to find platelet donations for his grandfather, who was dying of leukemia in Lebanon at the time.
“In Lebanon, it’s a developing country so people don’t donate much, so if someone has to go into surgery, the family of the patient has to provide replacement blood,” said Fayad, who added that his parents begged people and paid up to $300 per bag of platelets in an effort to save his grandfather’s life. Unfortunately, his grandfather eventually passed away.
“There’s not enough empathy to get people to go and donate blood on a regular basis, so we’re trying to have a more one-on-one basis with the patient,” said Fayad. “If I know someone who is also a 20-year-old person dying in the hospital and I think, ‘wait, that could be me,’ that would get me way more motivated to just get out of my chair and go give blood.”
According to the American Red Cross, 38 percent of the U.S. population is eligible to donate blood, but only 10 percent actually does. Fayad and his team want to change that with a mobile app that makes donating blood more convenient and efficient.
Instead of collecting all blood types regardless of current patient needs, their app aims to reduce waste and expense by sending alerts to matching donors based on real-time needs. The app will also streamline appointment scheduling, integrate transportation features, and let donors know how their blood is being used to save lives.
Spencer Arnold, a judge for the event and director of operations for Miller Center for Social Entrepreneurship, said their plan has “the makings for a trifecta in the social-enterprise ecosystem: breadth, depth, and meaningful social impact.”
Raymond Wong, a hackathon participant, said he chose to contribute to the blood-donation app because it was the most compelling and novel of those he heard Friday night. “I wanted to work on an idea that would save a lot of lives and at the core of our work, that's exactly what we're doing. We are optimizing to save more lives,” Wong said.
Though Fayad initially proposed the concept, the team operated as a flattened pyramid. Each member was not only deeply invested in the group’s mission, but invited to craft its direction through extensive roundtable discussions and structured brainstorming, where everyone’s input seemed equally cherished next to Fayad’s.
“We have people on the team from China, Korea, Spain, France — it’s a very international environment,” said Fayad. “Having all these points of views from all these different countries, we can have a much more coherent solution that would work in many different systems.”
The group particularly devoted their time and energy to defining the real problems in blood donation before attempting to solve anything based on assumptions alone. Sure, that cut into the time they could have spent perfecting their prototype or logo (or name, for that matter: Bloober; they later changed it to ABO), but when it came to presenting something of value on Sunday night, none of those fine-tooth execution details mattered if they didn’t get the basics right first.
By the time we interviewed them on Sunday night, they were describing themselves as family members, though none of them had met before that event. “My favorite part of our dynamic was the positive energy,” Wong said.
We counted at least three group hugs after they were announced as the winners. The group even had its own cheer (which we saw them huddling to do several times throughout the weekend). Wong said they probably would have won most spirited team, too.
Event judge Justin Renfro, program manager at social-good micro-lender Kiva.org, said they won the competition because they “had the idea, plan, and team to be able to execute.”
A lot of times you’ll hear that it takes more than a good idea to have business success — that it really boils down to execution.
Well, what we saw during our filming of this documentary was how positive team culture leads to better execution. Sure, it’s not the only factor, but we’re calling this win more than a coincidence.
Moral of the story? Create a team cheer and huddle up. It’s both fun and productive.