After 2 grueling weeks of finishing up my old job and wrapping up my life in Michigan, I have finally made it to Boulder, Co to join the Techstars madness as a Hackstar.
As soon as I arrived to Boulder, I lost my breath, the mountains and beauty here are astonishing! I’m excited to explore this mountain town some more and just learn more about it! I arrived to Techstars HQ at 1:00 p.m. and jumped right in. I’m first working with a company called Varsity, a tool aimed to help college students discover events happening on or near their campus. I would have LOVED to have had this app when I was in school.
I also had the chance to listen to Jerry Colonna, a life coach, teach the companies + me about “Being a Founder.” We dove in deep, really deep. It was almost like witnessing a therapy session for these people. It’s interesting to see the flaring feelings these companies are experiencing. It’s obviously really exciting to be part of a startup with Techstars, but it also must be completely terrifying. The fear of failure is looming. However, Techstars is equipping their companies with tons of awesome mentors and talks like the one we had tonight with Jerry, in hopes to provide their founders with lots of techniques, knowledge and skills to be really successful companies.
One thing that really stuck out to me during this talk was this statistic: 65% of startups fail because of founder issues. Techstars provided Jerry Colonna as a speaker and mentor to help combat this alarming statistic. I’m hoping what he said has stuck with the founders because they definitely need to be equipped to handle feelings and the reasons behind why people feel the way they feel.
So far, I’m truly excited for what’s to come. I have some UI/UX work in my near future, so I’m gearing up for that. All in all, I have a great feeling about Techstars and I’m so grateful to be able to be a part of it, even though I’m late to the game.
From February 7 through February 9, it felt like time had stopped and my entire weekend was consumed by this thing called Ann Arbor Startup Weekend, held at the University of Michigan.
What an AMAZING experience. If you have never participated in a Startup Weekend and you’re entrepreneurial, a developer, a designer or a student, you seriously need to find one in your area, register and get moving.
I was an SUW newbie and going into it, I knew I wanted to be part of a winning team. I didn’t know that was actually going to end up happening for me and my teammates, but that made the experience that much better!
PITCHES For startup weekend, anyone can pitch an idea that they have, as long as it hasn’t been implemented yet. We heard over 50 pitches and with each one, I took notes on who I wanted to work with and who I didn’t. I even took some pics of the people who presented so I could remember them when we voted for our favorite pitches!
Here’s Scott, my team’s leader, while he was making his pitch so I could remember that I wanted to work with him. This was before I met him!
After the pitches were done, we had the chance to go vote for our top 2 picks. I searched and searched the room for Scott (and Griffin, our other team’s leader), but could not find them. It wasn’t until we had about 2 minutes left to vote, that I finally found them. It was too late at that point, I had already given away my votes!
We were all summoned back to the auditorium in Palmer Commons to tally the votes. I had the chance to speak with Scott and Griffin and told them that I was really interested in joining their team. Scott’s initial pitch was using pictures to solve problems, he compared his idea to Instagram meets Github. Github has the abilities for developers to post issues and actually get them solved. Scott wanted to apply this idea to real life issues. I thought it was a winning idea for sure.
After the votes had been counted, Scott’s idea was tied with three others for 10th place (they only pick the top 10 pitches). We all voted again for which group we wanted, and Scott’s pitch one! It was a cool thing that his was last picked, but we ended up winning the competition.
Check out the pitch winners before the competition began.
GETTING TO WORK Then, we all formed into teams. With the whole idea of “Instagram meets Github,” we got a flock of developers who wanted to join the team, 6 to be exact, and also 6 business-y/marketing-type folks. We got to work right away to narrow down our idea and figure out what needed to be developed/built first.
Here we are getting our ideas out on a whiteboard at the Tech Brewery, a startup hub in Ann Arbor.
What I experienced over the weekend is not un-similar to what an actual startup goes through in its early stages. We pivoted more than a few times, had lots of financial/business discussions, and even someone decided that our project wasn’t for them, so they quit. It took us a long time to get the business plan down, it actually took almost all day Saturday, which wasn’t something we time-budgeted for. However, our developers were on it. They collaborated well and learned what each one could contribute to the project with their skills. They were able to determine early what needed to be coded and developed. It wasn’t until 4:00 p.m. that the business team really narrowed our idea and got focused. We had the help of several mentors to steer us in the right direction, which was a great resource for us that the SUW crew provided.
We ended up deciding to help give university students a platform to post the issues they were experiencing on campus, like a broken door knob at their dorm or a drafty window (these were two actual problems we heard from students). We conducted actual student and maintenance staff interviews to get a feel for what their needs were. These interviews and our brief research efforts steered our content strategy.
We stayed up really late that night, hacking away. Being the only designer, I was pulled back and forth from the business team to the development team to get everything done. That was something that I was used to from my current job, but in a weekend, this is heightened due to the short amount of time we had.
It was a late night, we were the LAST team to leave on Saturday (at 2 a.m.) we all decided to ride the elevator together too :)
The next morning, we needed to work on our pitch and presentation. Unfortunately, we put as much time and effort as we could into finishing it before the deadline at 2:00, but the truth was, we needed more time. We literally turned it in at 2:00 on the dot, I think we were the last team to send it in!
When it came time for our team to present, our presentation was pretty sloppy and noticeably unprepared compared to the rest of the presenters. I thought for sure the judges would weigh their opinions of us based heavily on the quality of our presentation.
When it came time for the SUW organizers to announce the top three teams, I thought we were out for sure, even though we had a solidly built MVP. With our product, you could actually take a photo, post an issue and view other issues that other Fixworthy users had posted. One of our team members also built an analytics page for the admins to see how much issues they had, the status of them, who was solving the issues, etc. Additionally, we had started building up a small following on social media.
THE ANNOUNCEMENT The organizers announced 3rd place, which I honestly thought was the highest we could get after our less-than-stellar pres. Turns out, 3rd place went to a team called Turnip which was an app that lets you post and see what is going on around you tonight (get turned up in real life). I really liked their team’s energy and design, I think they can be really successful, especially with the college crowds.
Next up was 2nd place, which I really thought we weren’t going to get. The award went to Rush Timer, which was actually hardware that was built over the weekend for improving your football skills. Their business plan was legit and I can totally see them being on Shark Tank!
Then, they had us do a drumroll for first place and they announced… Fixworthy! I was in SHOCK! What a great way to end the weekend. After congratulating my teammates and getting a group pic, I wanted to talk to one of the judges to ask why they chose us. I spoke with Marie from Bizdom and she told us that though our presentation wasn’t so great, we had a great product and they appreciated the fact that we took the time to get insight from real students and maintenance workers.
Here’s a tweet from one of the judges, Bradley Hoos, from Grand Circus.
Latest meeting we had over the weekend with Danny, Mike and Greg! (Not pictured are DJ, Anuli, Kelsey, David and Chad).
So, now that Startup Weekend is over, what’s next for Fixworthy? Our team is still alive and kicking. We are considering going the non-profit route with our idea, and yes, pivoting, with a focus on solving civic/community issues. We believe we could possibly help Detroit organize their community involvement and do it in an innovative way. Right now, we are researching some pain points. Here is a list that one of our teammates created with what we want to try and target:
* News Outlets - I heard a Craig Fohle episode on NPR last week - Craig asked Detroit residents to post pictures of the worst potholes on his Facebook page. He facilitated a nice discussion about the potholes. I wondered whether someone like Craig could have a bigger impact if Fix Worthy provided a platform for such community engagement. * City Leaders - Mayor Duggan has made fixing Detroit street lamps a priority for his first few months in office. Would the mayor appreciate a platform to show the impact such an investment is making? Would the city residents appreciate a website dedicated to organizing their worst problems?
* Partners - Programs like Blight Busters do amazing work in the city. Could Fix Worthy help such programs highlight the impact they are making?
* Donations - Programs like DonersChoose.org help people contribute to causes that impact them most. Does it make sense for Fix Worthy to take on a similar mission but with a focus on Detroit civic issues?
* Sponsorship - If Fixworthy had enough website visitors, would businesses be willing to sponsor issues in the city? Would the city work with Fix Worthy to use such funds to fix the issues? We are still in the early stages of investigating this idea. We are looking into who has tried this approach in Detroit and what technologies (open 311), and partnerships (data driven detroit) might make sense.
I think we will be able to do something really impactful with our idea and we hope to get a lot of support from our Michigan community. We want to bring change to Detroit, just like everyone else. What seems to be working/helping is bringing change that is backed up by technological innovation. We’re hoping to make this work!
STARTUP WEEKEND COMPETITORS I wanted to also inform you of the other Startup Weekend participants, there were lots of great groups, so the competition was fierce!
1. Rush Timer: physical product to help you improve your football skills. They received 2nd place overall! 2. Turnip: An app that lets you post and see what’s going on around you tonight. @TeamTurnipThey received 3rd place overall! 3. Finch App: Share memories of events, make new friends, and say I was there! @FinchAppCo, 4. UpNextTV: Movie trailers in a “Pandora-eque” style, @UpNextTV 5. Greencoin: Buy whatever you want with your bitcoins 6. DreamQ: Social app to help you achieve your dreams 7. SafeSnap: New way to privately report crimes (Snapchat + Crimestoppers) 8. Swapzies: Coupon sharing between food service employees 9. Hive: Microconsulting, getting an advisor for your new job from people who have already had your job 10. Problempreneur 11. FashionBlossom: Marketplace for fashion designers
I loved getting the chance to make this infographic on my own terms and from my own research. I’m a huge user of Instagram, so it was great fun making this infographic that outlines Instagram in the last year. Keep it up Instagram!