Queenstowner leads team to victory at Startup Weekend Christchurch

Startup Weekend is a global event, with more than 1,000 events a year taking place in 130 countries. Last weekend Startup Christchurch hosted Startup Weekend Christchurch 2019 at Te Ōhaka, the centre for growth and innovation.

Participants traveled from around New Zealand to learn and compete, including Startup Queenstown Lakes CEO James Burnes, who has participated, mentored, or helped organise more than a dozen events over the years.

ShippingBot team wins Startup Weekend Christchurch 2019, led by Queenstowner James Burnes.

James and participants Henry Bersani, Caleb Martin, and Max Marie Tei, joined forces to build a product to make shipping your stuff overseas easier. The team, who spontaneously formed during the pitch-idea vetting session, came out on top, winning the event. Their business, ShippingBot, provides a technology-first approach to finding, booking, and shipping yoru stuff overseas into New Zealand.

We asked James to put together a first-person account of his experience, as we prepare to roll out Startup Weekend Queenstown 2019 from 18-20 October at the Queenstown Memorial Centre.


“Over the weekend I got to do one of my favorite activities: Startup Weekend.

I’ve been a mentor, helped facilitate, am in the middle of helping organise Startup Weekend Queenstown 2019 (taking place 18-20 Oct.), but my favorite role is as a participant.

I don’t care how many times I do it, I learn something new every time and hone skills that I need to rely on every day in my career.

Friday Night – The Ideas & Teams Form

At Startup Weekend Christchurch 2019 I sat among the participants with no intent to pitch an idea. As more and more ideas were given, one problem that I’d been noodling on kept getting bigger and bigger. I popped up and pitched “Box” – a modular shipping system for sending your stuff overseas when you don’t need a full container. (We bought WAY too much space when we shipped our stuff to NZ last year).

James stands next to his “idea poster” he created after his 30 second pitch. It received enough votes of interest to allow a team to form for the weekend.

As the teams started to form, the idea got some interest, but mine struggled to come together with enough players to be picked. I resolved myself to join another team – which was perfectly fine, but Henry Bersani and Caleb Martin stood by me. Max Marie Te joined in too, and so with the minimum of 4 – we set to work.

As teams got underway (things can be pretty free-form), we put our heads down and really focused on the problem – shipping your stuff overseas is harder than it should be.

Mentors came by and ideas and input were offered. While other teams likely got into creating prototype solutions, we focused on the problem and customer. Caleb, a UX/UI guru, mapped the entire customer journey, and from that, we developed 6 potential problems that could be solved.

We left around 11 p.m. that night. We were back there at 7:30 a.m. – the first team on site; eager to get at it.

Saturday – The problem is honed, the validation begins

We developed a survey that would help us understand the issue better among individuals who have, or are about to, ship their items overseas.

This survey was fundamental to our understanding of the market problem – and would be used to validate our solution.

Team member Caleb Martin works out the potential solutions technology could play in the shipping experience.

As results rolled in, we spent the remainder of the morning seeking contacts in the shipping industry to give us insights. It was extremely hard to get ahold of anyone – they just weren’t answering emails or their phones. This was an important lesson – it’s critical on Friday to start reaching out to people who have experience in the industry you’re entering to establish a point of contact to get advice from over the next 36-48 hours.

By dinner time, we had well-defined solution and understood our sales channels. Hours of googling, more than 100 surveys received from around the globe, and in-room interviews among participants, mentors, and volunteers who had shipped things themselves gave us a solid understanding of the space.

Team members Caleb Martin (left) and Max Marie Tei discuss the validation process and our online survey results.

By Saturday night, we had honed our unique value proposition around ease. We weren’t going to be the cheapest, we were going to be the easiest business to ship with to get your stuff overseas. How? By being technology-first, versus the antiquated methods used by the industry.

Late into the evening, the team continues to work on designing a business model that has validation.

We left the building by 10:30 and returned around 8 a.m. We were the second team in that morning.

Sunday – The solution clarifies, the pitch is created

On Sunday, we got focused on our pitch presentation and building supporting tools for our business model. Execution is a big part of the judging criteria.

Teammate Henry Bersani gives a one-minute update – a part of the process throughout the weekend where teams share their experience and where they need help from others.

We built a website, launched a Facebook page, created props, launched an early version of our AI-enabled chatbot, and focused on the pitch.

I was comfortable to give the pitch – but it was important we give everyone a chance to do it. Caleb gave the morning practice pitch and Henry delivered in the afternoon. As we got to crunch time, the mentors put on the pressure and the team elected me to deliver it.

The final pitch event was fun. I enjoy listening to the outcome of all the teams was neat to see how they’d evolved from the original pitched idea on Friday night.

One of the other teams pitch to a panel of 3 judges, visitors, and the teams on Sunday night.

Our pitch was really tight – and when it got to Q&A, the judges didn’t even use all the time they needed to ask us about our business model.

Spirits are high as the team gathers outside Te Ōhaka after the pitch session before the awards are announced.

In the end, when the judging results came in – Shipping Bot was declared the winner. That was us – the humans behind the bots. 🙂 It felt great. I was so proud of the team.

Observations and hindsight

A few thoughts on the experience:

Each of my teammates was a pleasure to serve alongside – my life is richer for adding them into my network, along with many others I met over the weekend.

– We won. WE won. The outcome of our work was a result of a combined effort. The sum of our parts made our final offering what it was.

– I am confident that we did such good work that ANY of us could have delivered the pitch and we would have came out on top. Every component of our business model, presentation collateral, and concepts was heads above the rest. We found a real business opportunity.

– No one was afraid to do the work. At most events, there is always someone who bails on actual work. All talk, no walk. Not the Shipping Bot team! When a task was identified, everyone stepped up and delivered.

– We never rushed. We stuck to our plan to understand the problem and think through a solution. It’s easy to rush to solution, but we didn’t and we were rewarded with a better plan in the end.

James at the whiteboard, sketching out the workflow of the customer using the manifesting app the team envisioned.

Startup Weekend is lifechanging. Hone your skills. Learn new techniques to do what you think you already know. Make lifelong friends. Compete to win.


James and Chris Barnhart, a team leader of the winning team at Startup Weekend Dunedin 2018, will be conducting a Startup Weekend Bootcamp and Info session next week (Click links to register for the FREE events)

Tickets are still available to participate in Startup Weekend Queenstown 2019. Visit www.mystartupweekend.com to register.