Startup Weekend Boulder: Bridge My Path
I spent all weekend at Startup Weekend Boulder. This is an event where people pitch their business ideas, vote on the top ideas, and then form teams and try to get the ideas from zero to launch in 54 intense hours. It was my first time participating in Startup Weekend. Overall, it was a really fun experience and I met a lot of really smart and fun people. Friday was pitch night where somewhere just shy of 40 people gave 1-minute pitches. There was good variety here from already established projects to things conceived just moments earlier. There were gaming ideas, social networking ideas, education, finance, retail, even a medical marijuana related business and an infrared steak griller. I pitched one of the ideas I have sitting around on my big long WorkFlowy business idea lists: ThreeShopper, a curated shopping site to end the paradox of choice and narrow things down to exactly three choices. My idea got zero votes. :-) I think there were around 60 total attendees including folks from Nova Scotia and South Africa.
After the top 7 or so pitches were elected we each had a chance to choose a project and join that team. I joined up with Marshall Hayes who was working on his mentoring networking idea. We ended up gathering a very large team. It was nine people even after a few joined and then switched to other projects. Folks were enthusiastic about promoting the concept of mentorship but I felt like the idea needed refinement. So we spent a lot of time just debating whether it was going to be consumer focused or licensed to universities for alumni networks amongst other variations. Saturday morning as these discussions continued and the idea seemed to be heading towards a profile-based "linkedin for mentoring", which was not at all appealing to me, I suggested we pivot the focus and instead of focusing on the mentors themselves, focus on a skill path and connect people along the same skill progression, facilitating mentorship from those ahead of you, connection with peers at the same place as you, and also helping those following you on the learning path. The team was receptive to the pivot, and we started refining that idea. Eventually we ended up with Bridge My Path as the company name and got to work on wireframing, graphic design, market research, copy writing, etc.
In the next day and a half we built the home page and refined a lot of the idea, as well as creating the demo pitch for Sunday evening. Our MVP was our graphic designer Carly Gloge from WarbWeb. She created a beautiful site and graphics. Nicole Glaros complemented her during the pitches and said we had the best design of all the teams. I think the aspiration of startup weekend is to actually get a functioning product up and working end to end, but given the lack of initial clarity in the idea and my years working in enterprise software, I am very skeptical of the utility of this goal. So we ended up just building a static HTML site to launch the concept. I put together most of the HTML/CSS using coffeekup templates and rendering them via node.js/express, then just posting the static HTML files.
Sunday evening teams had 5 minutes to pitch their product. Wow. What a difference a day and a half make! Everything was much more refined and lots of teams had at least a nice home page designed and live. Some teams had working mobile apps. I don't recall any of the web apps having much to show in terms of code written over the weekend (SnapGames had some pre-existing code). The panel of judges commented liberally on each idea and gave a lot of good feedback. Suzan Bond was there blogging and tweeting the event as well as conducting some video interviews (which I can't easily locate on her site just yet). After the event, I took a long overdue nap, grabbed some ribs at the Rib House, and then hung out at the Spark Palace after party.
Again, this was a really fun and valuable event. In general I like high-commitment events (like Burning Man), so the fact that all the participants sprung for a $75 ticket and committed to locking themselves in the bunker all weekend makes a great dynamic. A few lamers did pitch their idea and then jet when they didn't get selected, but what are you going to do? If you like those early days of product ideas, I definitely recommend giving it a try.