Tag Archives: Startups

Day 6 of StartupBus 2013: All-Star Finals

On the sixth day six after departing from San Francisco, buspreneurs gathered to socialize and to let steam off at a happy hour organized by Twillio. GhostPost brought a projector to the bar to show their anonymous live chat. The funny story is that the projector was sold to them by of a fellow busmate (from the Grassroots.io team) whose Austin-based friend the Grassroots guy to handle the Craigslist projector ad. :-) Apparently the GhostPost team weren’t happy with their defeat (and who would be?) and hustled their way through the competition to become an All-Star wildcard — and by the evening they were indeed selected as a wildcard!

StartupBus 2013 West Coast - random stop

StartupBus 2013 West Coast – random stop

Rackspace bought out the Champions sports bar in downtown Austin. GhostPost and other teams pitched during the evening to Dave McCure, Robert Scobler, and other important startup personas. The sound quality wasn’t very good. Every now and then somebody would shush the drunk, happy and tired crowd, but that didn’t help much. Despite it being very entertaining to watch Dave McClure rip apart startups and Robert (because he saw the evolution during the span of 3 days) explain and sometime defend them — in the end the decision was the same. They announced that the winner was CareerMob, and the runner up was NextChaptr.

StartupBus 2013 — Dave McClure and Rober Scoble

StartupBus 2013 — Dave McClure and Rober Scoble

Summary of StartupBus 2013

Overall StartupBus is a great experience but I can’t say that it has changed my life. :-) There are similarities to a real startup life:

  • Scarcity of resources, balance of risks and trade-offs, ample creativity to solve problems
  • Building, motivating and selling the concept to your team while pitching your idea to judges
  • Human drama: communication issues, interactions among team members in close quarters, under stress, without enough sleep, etc.
  • Startup lifestyle: exhaustion, abundance of stress

But some things are far from the reality. Mainly, in an actual startup:

  • Founders can focus not only on consumer segment, but also on small business and/or enterprise customers. Obviously, due to the lack of time and resource constraints buspreneurs targeted consumer audience.
  • Team needs to be serious and to pick not just fun and sexy ideas to get the most buzz. Solid business models usually come from ugly and boring, though concrete and painful problems.
  • These days, anyone who wants to start up a business has full-time reliable and even speedy Internet access without having to get stranded in the middle of a desert or having your mobile hot-spot picking up Mexican cell phone carriers. :-)

My conclusion is that a StartupBus trip was a good experience, but it’s not exactly the same as building a real startup.

Real StartupBus Tattoo by @claco

Real StartupBus Tattoo by @claco

StartupBus 2013 Day 5: Finals

On the final day of the StartupBus 2013, Americas hackathon competition, the judges had to choose two teams out of the six. Then, out of those two, they would pick one winner and one runner up.

Team GhostPost.io at StartupBus 2013

Team GhostPost.io at StartupBus 2013

Here are the six finalists from the previous day (to read more about that day and semi-finals go to my post: StartupBus 2013: Day 4, Semi-Finals):

  1. Grassroots.io (SF): kick-starter for activism campaigns (e.g., FixTheDMCA.org)
  2. GhostPost.io (SF): anonymous chat
  3. uSupply.me (Mexico): marketplace for construction industry
  4. NextChaptr (Chicago): book publisher with a kick-starter model
  5. CareerMob (NYC): website that helps military professionals find their civilian career
  6. Cloudspotting (Mexico): draw on photos of clouds
Team Grassroots.io at StartupBus 2013

Team Grassroots.io at StartupBus 2013

Everybody else was allowed to sleep in till 10am. An unheard of luxury, which came in handy for people who didn’t sleep well for the past week and went partying on the previous night in downtown San Antonio.

Then our pack rode shuttle buses to the same place at Rackspace HQ. We weren’t very lucky because our driver got lost, took narrow back roads, and drove in circles really slowly (more on this later).

StartupBus 2013 hacking

StartupBus 2013 hacking

The pitches of almost all of the finalists improved greatly. I especially liked how much improved Grassroots.io’s pitch (I wasn’t able to find the video but here is the GoAnimate clip). Unfortunately, I couldn’t say the same about the Cloudspotting or GhostPost teams’ pitches. They just weren’t able to replicate the success of the previous night. :-( It felt like the fun aspect of the crowd cheering and support wasn’t there. Maybe the audience wasn’t surprised any more?!

After some deliberation Robert Scoble, the famous racker evangelist, announced the runner up: NextChaprt; and the winner: CareerMob! The latter decision was unexpected for a lot of people (you could see it on their faces), and many complained that CareerMob doesn’t have anything live (even a website), and has no business model whatsoever. I guess the charisma of the Air Force lieutenant made the pitch and the whole idea sound reassuring. :-)

Famous Briefskate.com prototype

Famous Briefskate.com prototype

It was time to wrap up and go to South by South West (SxSW) interactive festival in Austin, Texas. Sadly for our West Coast team and other random people who joined our bus, we had the same driver that we had in the morning. We got lost a few times again, took the longest detours back to the hotel and around Austin airport and its military base. When somebody finally gave Google Maps to the drive, we arrived to the Austin Convention Center. This marked the final stop of the bus part of StartupBus 2013 adventure. Virtually all of us pledged not to ride any type of buses for at least a few months. :-)

GhostPost.io infront of the judges

GhostPost.io infront of the judges

Photos by Ruben Lemmens

StartupBus 2013: Day 4, Semi Finals

On day four of our StartupBus hackathon we arrived in San Antonio, Texas. Unlike on the previous days, we settled in a nice Four Points by Sheraton hotel. The West Coast bus came first, then right after us came the bus from Mexico City, representing the whole country of Mexico. Despite being exhausted, buspreneurs filled the hotel lobby with loud voices and cheers in English and Spanish. In a few hours, the rest of the buses arrived:

  • Chicago representing the Midwest,
  • Tampa representing the Southeast,
  • New York City representing the East Coast,
  • Alumni bus from NYC representing people who participated in the previous years competitions.

Because semi-finals and finals were supposed to take place on the next day, after the dinner pretty much all the teams kept on working till late at night.
The next day, after breakfast in the hotel, we (over 150 StartupBus participants) were transported to the Rackspace HQ, a.k.a. The Mothership. It is situated in San Antonio, and was just a short ride from the hotel. Although our driver managed to get lost due to roads blocked by construction. The Rackspace HQ building is a huge box-like structure resembling a shopping mall. It is surrounded by parking lots and construction (they moved here recently) in a suburban area. We were met like rockstars, but were told not to explore anything outside of the huge hangar-like room. Knowing that most hackers disrespect any rules, Rackspace management wisely put lots of employees and security guards around us. The lunch food was subpar. Elias Bizannes (the founder of StartupBus) and other judges listened to each of more than 40 teams pitch individually. Here is a list of the teams:

StartupBus 2013 North Americacs

StartupBus 2013 North Americacs: facebook.com/startupbus

  • AdventureCo.de
  • BriefSkate
  • CareerMob
  • Chromatix
  • Cloudspotting
  • Coderswb
  • Deliverish
  • DrunkSpotting*
  • Dry Erase Web
  • Emplify
  • Eventee
  • ExVersion
  • Fitchallenge
  • FlightShuffle
  • Friends Judging Friends
  • GhostPost.io
  • Gifdme
  • Grassroots.io
  • InstaLodger (alumni)
  • Jobber.io
  • MyBestRx (alumni)
  • NextChaptr
  • Nomscription
  • Ovrviews
  • Payvine
  • Portioned
  • Producers
  • Readin.gs
  • RepCheck (alumni)
  • SkillMeUp
  • Storedrobe
  • TagSet
  • Thumbtrotter
  • uSupply.me
  • Wrong Credit Score
  • Yaank (alumni)

More information on each team is available at StartupBus.com LeaderBoard.

  • DrunkSpotting was formed after the main competition on the way from San Antonio to Austin.

The judges looked at a few criteria such as working prototypes (or the lack thereof) and team commitment, and chose twelve teams. Here is the list of the finalists and the descriptions of their projects/startups:

  1. CareerMob (NYC): website that helps military professionals to find their civilian career
  2. Usupply.me (Mexico): marketplace for construction industry)
  3. NextChaptr (Chicago): book publisher with a kick starter model
  4. Grassroots.io (SF): kick starter for activism campaigns (e.g., [FixTheDMCA.org]http://www.fixthedmca.org/)
  5. GhostPost (SF): anonymous chat
  6. Coders with out borders (SF): code for a good cause/experience
  7. Deliverish (NYC): marketplace for delivery tasks
  8. Portioned (Chicago): single portion food delivery
  9. Readin.gs (NYC): curated book recommendation and store service
  10. Cloudspotting (Mexico): draw on photos of clouds
  11. Exversion (NYC): GitHub for data
  12. Gifdme (Chicago): animated way to share emotions via GIFs.

Next, those twelve teams pitched on-stage to Robert Scoble of Rackspace, Nicholas Longo of CoffeeCup software and GeekDome, and other judges from sponsors such as Elance and Rackspace. That was probably the most entertaining part of the whole competition! GhostPost and Cloudspotting had killer presentations. The former had a live anonymous chat on huge screens with all the unfiltered messages from the audience shown in real-time. GhostPost grabbed everybody’s attention when Elias read a Cease and Desist email, and people fell in love with GhostPost’s beautifully crafted PAC-MAN-like avatars. The latter team spokesperson can easily perform stand-up comedy: e.g., he said that Cloudspotting is not the first company to make money on clouds (Google, Rackspace, Dropbox). To appreciate the joke, you need to know that Cloudspotting allows users to draw on pictures of clouds and share their creations. :-)

The competition was set up that there would be one winner and one runner up from the pitch competition, two winners from the alumni bus (NYC) and two winners from the score competition. They selected six out of twelve teams for the finals:

  1. Grassroots.io
  2. NextChaptr
  3. CareerMob
  4. GhostPost
  5. Cloudspotting
  6. Usupply.me

Tired but relieved (for most of the people the competition was over), we went on to celebrate. The six finalists kept on working for the second sleepless night.

Read more about the finals and the conclusion summary in my next blog post.

Look at social story on Storify storify.com/azat_co/startupbus-and-sxsw.

StartupBus Day 2: Arizona

The journey continues. We entered and crossed Arizona stopping for a late lunch in Tucson near University of Arizona campus. The weather was nice and everybody got a chance to stretch legs and grab quality food.

StartupBus and SxSW

StartupBus is a national hackathon on the way to SxSW in Austin, TX. I’m participating with West Coast/SF team, there are buses from NYC, NY, Chicago, Tampa, FL and Mexico City, Mexico.

Storified by Azat· Mon, Mar 04 2013 16:47:39

Coders Without Border’s Open letter to Developer community. http://www.coderswb.com #StartupBus #WestCoast… http://fb.me/1CTtOY9O6Prateek Gupta
Open Letter to developer communitystartupbus.com , travelling from San Francisco to SXSW, Austin, TX at 70 miles per hour, through the Arizona desert with intermittent wi-…
Arizona: more than just old people, old dinosaur sculptures too #startupbus http://instagr.am/p/WdHoTFObh5/Craig Cannon
65 mph on a bus or 9 mph on a skateboard. #StartupBus #StartupBusSE http://yfrog.com/esr6asyjStartupBus Florida
No stop til’ NOLA. #StartupBus #StartupBusSE http://yfrog.com/h2czoyqfjStartupBus Florida
Check out the awesome #startupbus promo video from @nowthisnews about @thestartupbus – more coverage to come soon! http://jmg.im/W0J9vRTheStartupBus
This year’s @TheStartupBus website is now live; check out the live updating map, and explore! http://americas.startupbus.com/ #startupbusMikeCaprio(╯°□°)╯︵┻┻
Mobile hacking with @Verizon #LTE #MiFi http://speedtest.net/result/2551036993.png CC @TheStartupBusAzat Mardanov
Random guy wants to come on the @TheStartupBus. Here’s his audition. And yes, that is a tree on our bus http://pic.twitter.com/pRYQQIFHN2adam peruta
Our conductor, Ray, on @thestartupbus has been keeping us on track and motivated! http://pic.twitter.com/c5JRB5JQTqElance
Bus window whiteboards on the #startupbus @TheStartupBus http://pic.twitter.com/OzRyxyYfrPLate Labs
Stay for the night @thestartupbus (at San Diego Downtown Lodge) — http://path.com/p/1rhLMKAzat Mardanov
Burning midnight oil on @thestartupbus http://vine.co/v/bHWKwTJ213KAzat Mardanov
http://Coderswb.com @katescisel http://vine.co/v/bHWmrnYrmVBAzat Mardanov
Stephan got left, we returned and picked him up with beer http://vine.co/v/bHBUtJQm1L1Azat Mardanov
Falon takes the stage @thestartupbus http://vine.co/v/bXlXgOwZa1xAzat Mardanov
Departing @thestartupbus http://vine.co/v/bXlvME0hJJmAzat Mardanov
Coffee at the cycle place CC @thestartupbus http://vine.co/v/bXlMAdHwBuUAzat Mardanov
The bus driver on @thestartupbus stopped to help a lady change her tire. What a guy! http://pic.twitter.com/LklDDDPRoYElance
@elance @thestartupbus #startupbus #killinit #youkno #wego #cantstop #dontquit #killinitinthecode http://pic.twitter.com/MPGe2tgId2Ray Land
Thanks a lot @Astreets for the feedback on @GhostPostApp at @TheStartupBusStefan Broda
@justinisaf @gsvitak @davidykay @gregdrm DOINNNN WERKKKKKK! On @TheStartupBus #startupbus @EliasBiz on the beatz http://pic.twitter.com/UtD9ftIQOFRay Land
Constantly supporting innovation and entrepreneurs – @LaunchpadLA housing the @TheStartupBus http://pic.twitter.com/sFhj4kkgEkMeredith Birchfield
We on the @TheStartupBus. It’s name is Fred. Or Snufulupugus, depending who you ask. #startupbuschi http://pic.twitter.com/z36C3GhGT9Zachary Price
Late start for the alumni @TheStartupBus. But our conductor ray is leading us forward http://pic.twitter.com/WEo1R92mdjadam peruta
The bus is ready #westcoast #first @TheStartupBus http://pic.twitter.com/Ez0kmqjC3uAzat Mardanov
Startup Bus is Not a Joke | Web App LogWhen my co-worker heard about StartupBus for the first time he thought that it was a joke. How crazy is to put yourself on a bus with str…
Good luck to anybody gearing up to get on @TheStartupBus this week. Red Bull, and a power strip. You’re welcome.Adam Kerpelman
@thestartupbus kickoff party #startupbus (at @ffvc) [pic]: http://4sq.com/ZOqa7DJonathan Gottfried
Headed to @ffvc for the #StartupBus NYC kickoff very soon. @TheStartupBusCurtis Kline
going to pack for @TheStartupBus SF in an hour. Any #pro tips? Send them my way. #please #6DayTrip #flyingbackPrateek Gupta
Buspreneur @foursquare badge!!!! @TheStartupBus http://pic.twitter.com/nR5UVrBJ0xMikeCaprio(╯°□°)╯︵┻┻
photoPath
Getting ready for @thestartupbus and #SxSW #leanstartup #RPJS [pic] — http://path.com/p/17pfToAzat Mardanov
Hey hackers/designers, don’t miss the ride of your life on @TheStartupBus departing March 3 – apply today at http://bit.ly/nytmbusTheStartupBus
Stocking up NYC team with Vitamin Water.
Thanks @vitaminwater!! “@jonmarkgo An endless supply of @vitaminwater for @TheStartupBus NYC. Oh man I’m excited! http://pic.twitter.com/sqcU4zSejS”MikeCaprio(╯°□°)╯︵┻┻
And with Kind snacks.
Just got our final delicious food delivery for @TheStartupBus from @kindsnacks – thanks! http://pic.twitter.com/aIq36Z2PVYJonathan Gottfried
Thank you @pretzelcrisps for making @TheStartupBus NYC so much more delicious! http://pic.twitter.com/muvwIGeU5ZJonathan Gottfried
I’m pregaming @TheStartupBus with Dane! http://pic.twitter.com/Ki8uWU1Ic5Jonathan Gottfried
Wondering how to prepare for @TheStartupBus? Here’s a list of suggested items to bring on the trip! https://plus.google.com/114275248428793781779/posts/cNh6YLnCH83MikeCaprio(╯°□°)╯︵┻┻
Riding @TheStartupBus again this year out of Tampa.Joe DeSetto
Mexican teams have 3 days to conceive, build and launch companies at 60mph @TheStartupBus @StartupBusMX Cc. @l1452¿Cintli?
Holy crap. I’m on @TheStartupBus. Cannot wait to meet some people and code like a mofo.Rui
Excited some new gear came in before I left for @thestartupbus http://pic.twitter.com/7FoDSOD3cmJosh Seefried
StartupBus 2013 Promises More Excitement, Bigger Surprises http://bit.ly/15RcxZv via @TheStartupBusAzat Mardanov
NYC team is getting all exited as well.
@azat_co @thestartupbus Yeah! I’m on the NYC #StartupBus. You??Erica Swallow
West Coast team got some nice stuff thanks to @prtkgpt.
@prtkgpt @jonmarkgo @TheStartupBus @GranolaLab @michiamoalice Try Eat24 because you know what they say…once you try us, after ya love us!Eat24
@jonmarkgo @thestartupbus @granolalab @michiamoalice Haha! We got @eat24 on our side. #BeatThatPrateek Gupta
StartupBusWe’re building an entrepreneurial ecosystem through unique experiences and inspirational connections. Our vision is to empower the people…

To the story-tellers, it starts with an Australian and a pub (fun story). To the people watching, it’s a annual competition that brings out tribal-like rivalries. But to anyone part of the experience, it’s a personal challenge with a lifelong impact.

StartupBus has a long term vision to encourage the creation of successful startups that improve our world. We do that, not by building startup’s directly but developing a global community of some of the smartest people in technology, bonded by one of the most intense learning experiences they will ever go through.

GhostPost Twitter account was blocked because they were tweeting to random people too frequently.

Coders Without Borders (coderswb.com) launched their website and PR campaign. They’ve got over 200 likes on the MSFT BizPark Facebook post!

Grassroots.io is also making good progress. Their campaign against making cell phone unlocking illegal is gaining momentum with over 115,000 signed-up.

Tonight we’ve stayed in Americas Best Value Inn in Las Cruces, NM. The hotel hosts are very hospitable. They made a special sign for us, arranged for mid-night snacks and drove Falon and Ruben to Sonic to get us dinner! Such an upgrade with a swimming pool and gym over our last night’s downtown San Diego motel.

We use GroupMe for text messaging buspreneurs, it’s an amazing tool.

Checkout our photos and tweets at storify.com/azat_co/startupbus-and-sxsw.

LaunchRock vs KickoffLabs

UPDATE: KickoffLabs team kindly gave me one month worth of their service as a token of appreciation for spreading the word about them, I don’t think this in any way affected my review.

Tl;Dr

KickoffLabs is a winner, in my humble opinion. I picked KickoffLabs for my Rapid Prototyping with JS book’s landing page because KickoffLabs offers more functionality than LaunchRock does. Although LaunchRock has better user interface interface and less clunky user experience.

If you’re still bulging your own landing pages for whatever you’re launching, e.g., books, startups, apps, stop right now! Yes, I know, it’s not a big deal to throw together some PHP or Ruby on Rails, hook up email sign-up form and Google Analytics, and maybe even tinker with the design a little bit. Landing pages are all trivial but could be very time consuming especially if you’re a product perfectionist like I am. Lean Startup teaches us not to spend 10–40 hours putting together a landing page if there are solutions like LaunchRock, KickoffLabs and Unbounce!

LaunchRock

LaunchRock has seamless UI/UX

LaunchRock has seamless UI/UX

I’ve tried LaunchRock before they had a new design and multiple-site support, which is sadly unavailable for existing accounts, for CrowdSFX.

Pros:

  • easy step-by-step set-up and configuration;
  • user friendly design with live preview;
  • no hard selling.

Cons:

  • limited functionality and configuration;
  • no multiple-site supports for existing users.

KickoffLabs

KickoffLabs Dashboard is somewhat clunky

KickoffLabs Dashboard is somewhat clunky

Because I couldn’t set up new landing page with the existing account and I didn’t want to mess up with Google App setting up a separate email account for Rapid Prototyping with JS book website, I decided to try out KickoffLabs. I’ve heard about KickoffLabs from my designer friend, and she said that it had more features than LaunchRock, that’s even better I thought!

Setting up a landing page on KickoffLabs has started all right, but soon I realized that in order to get anything decent out of KickoffLabs service I needed to upgrade to a paid account. I went with the basic paid account which is $29/mo and got Google Analytics support, custom domain, no branding and something else. Google Analytics and custom domains are provided for free at LaunchRock, so it was sad to discover that I have to pay for those features at KickoffLabs.

Pros:

  • more features than LaunchRock;
  • easily customizable looks and feel;
  • free themes;
  • support multiple-sites.

Cons:

  • try to hard up-sell you on basic features like Google Analytics and custom domains (SRSLY?!);
  • some themes rely heavily on Twitter Bootstrap look and feel;
  • clunky user interface, easy to get lose in screens and menus.

In the end, I ended up using paid KickoffLabs account, for Rapid Prototyping with JS book with the unpaid old version of LaunchRock, for CrowdSFX project. Maybe I’ll try Unbounce next and write about it as well. No matter what service you choice to go with, just do NOT do your landing pages from scratch, or Gods of the Lean Startup movement will punish you! JK.

Follow up read on The Next Web — KickoffLabs beats LaunchRock out of the gate, throwing stones on the way.

PS: Scott Watermasysk, the founder of KickoffLabs, promised me a free month of service for this blog post. Let’s see if he keeps his promises :)

How to Decrease Chances of Success in a Startup

“Never make the same mistake twice.” – Gus Fring, Breaking Bad.

I’ve been in Silicon Valley a little bit over a year, but already have seen plenty of failed early stage startups. Therefore, I decided to organize my thoughts on observing key factors which might decrease chances of success in such. They are not deal-breakers. There are many examples of people succeeding against some of these rules, but in general it’s tougher and harder.

I never make the same mistake twice. I make it five or six times, just to be sure.

I never make the same mistake twice. I make it five or six times, just to be sure.

This list of red flags, or litmus tests, could be used by potential future employees, founders, or angel investors when weighing the pros and cons of a particular startup to join / invest in. So if you want to fail, here are some ways to do it.

  • Get a part-time founder or be a part-timer yourself. A startup is not a typical company. It’s a marathon (or series of sprints) but not a sprint. It’s important to maintain focus and not burn out.
  • Hire remote employees. For a majority of people working from home translates into no work at all not only due to lack of discipline but also because of distractions. Discrepancies in time zones, especially large discrepancies, slow things down, and miscommunications can lead to mistrust later.
  • Have too many business founders. Again, miscommunications between pure business people increase overhead and decrease runway time. In most cases there is no work for more than one pure business person in a team of less than 4–5 founders. Technical people can often perform a business task, but not vice versa.
  • Hire interns. Usually it’s a waste of time for founders unless there are some monotonous and time-consuming tasks. These tasks could be easily taught to interns and supervised later. But don’t delegate important tasks which are essential to your business.
  • Hire B- and C players. It’s the same thing as with part-timers, remote employees and interns. B- and C employees will drain resources (time, stipend money, salary and mental energy) to either learn basic stuff or by requiring constant supervision and micro-control. As a result, output has less in value than input. Beware, slackers bring down A players and inhibit idea-generating processes!
  • Have no domain expertise. Founders who have little or no domain expertise, and no desire to learn the industry or niche are not serious entrepreneurs. This should be self-explanatory. :-)
  • Work on the first idea which seems plausible. Intuition is a good thing only if and when propped up by good customer validation and market fit. Overly emotional attachment to an idea early in the game prevents looking at the data and pivoting when needed.
  • Validate ideas by your family, friends or unpaid customers. This point piggybacks on the previous one, and involves poor judgment and lack of action. There is nothing wrong with using your intuition initially, but there’s no excuse for lack of reality check.
  • Run a success theater. Spending lavishly on attending conferences, office space, chiefs, hacker house, cleaning, transportation, hotels while being far from profitable is border-line criminal due to the breach of founders’ fiduciary duties to the investors. In addition, it drains mental energy and distracts team and founders from more important things like growth, profitability and product development.
  • Date your co-founder. Dating might seem like a good idea when a couple is in harmony, but more often than not, all things that could go wrong in a startup do go wrong. This puts strains on personal relationships and adds drama (Bravo TV’s Start-Ups: Silicon Valley new TV show anyone?) because most humans are bad at keeping professional and personal boundaries.
  • Don’t work with your co-founders prior to starting a startup. Side projects, hackathons and just being pals in general (outside of work) could help greatly when/if bad times come during your venture together.

The average chances of failure in a startup are 90%. Founders should use any opportunity to improve the odds! Don’t make your work and life even harder, and look out for these early signs of trouble when dealing with startups.

Losing Hackathon Virginity: AngelHack San Francisco 2012

UPDATE: 06/28/2012 Today we received an email from AngelHack.com organizers. FashionMetric was selected to participate in the Grand Finals Demo on July 12. What are the odds? They choose 6 wildcards from over 40. Unbelievable! Main prizes include airfare to Silicon Valley, other team members are in Los Angeles, hotel and other things.

AngelHack Grand Finals Demo

We are the finalists, AngelHack Grand Finals Demo

I have been writing code for many years but somehow I managed to avoid hackathons till last weekend. I was wondering why would somebody spend their time and energy, deprive themselves of sleep and stress to deliver half-backed products in such a short time? Yet I’ve heard that it could be fun. When I got email with early bird 75% off code for AngelHack 2012 in San Francisco I didn’t hesitate to register. I’ve heard that it’s one of the biggest and the best hackathons around. Teams from different cities compete with each other using sponsors’ APIs.

Teams pitch their ideas

Team pitch their ideas to attract designers and developers

On the day of the event I still didn’t have my own team or even any decent idea due to being busy with other things. I thought I can still come and check it out, say “hi” to friends and meet new people. Immediately I was drawn into auditorium on the first floor to hear teams pitch their idea to attract designers and developers. I’ve heard a few good pitches and approached people. One of them was FashionMetric, they won Lean Startup Machine last week in Los Angeles and as a prize got tickets to this hackathon. Nevertheless I liked much simpler idea after I realized that it could be done in 24 hours and I decided to give it a try. Too bad there was only high-carb breakfast food and when I came back after lunch in downtown Palo Alto my team disassembled and their members split to contribute to other teams. Gladly, FashionMetric still needed developer so I joined them and was very glad that I did later!

Team FashionMetric

Team FashionMetric, winner of Lean Startup Machine in Los Angeles

I’ve noticed that there is clear separation between veterans of hackathons and just random curious folks. Former group bring sleeping bags, support teams, supplies, tooth brushes. They have strong teams of long time friends, know sponsors, their tech stack and stay heads down coding and hacking mostly all night. Latter group tends to be more individualistic, leave early to catch the last train back to San Francisco and seem to be less dedicated. I think there is nothing wrong with being casual but it could be distracting to more focused team members. We had funny situation when our designer disappeared leaving her laptop, food and 7th cup of beer on the table (she drank the previous 6). The AOL building provides many places to crash, in fact it’s the same building where startuper lived for free for 2 month escaping from security while building his prototype. She was nowhere to be found and our biz people, respect to them, had to master Photoshop, HTML and CSS to speed up our development :)

Hackers at rest at AOL lobby

Hackers at rest at AOL lobby

A few word about organizers. They were up all night bringing pizza, drink and normal food. They re-tweeted and responded to tweets quickly. I’ve seen somebody on Hackathon.io complaining about how they didn’t enforce rules of the hackathon: to limit development time to 24 hours, not to use code developed before the event, etc. but I’m personally not aware of bad were the violations.

Soldering and some real hardware hacking

Soldering and some real hardware hacking

Overall, despite the fact that our team, FashionMetric didn’t pass into second round I had fun working with awesome people. I was impressed by the amount of work we were able to accomplish, dedication and focus. Because we had everything brought and catered to us, even chair massage, we could concentrate on work. I think hackathons are good to test team, idea or even learn something cool like Firebase – I finally got beta invite! In addition we used Windows Azure cloud servers and BackboneJS as our thick MVC client framework.

15 things I learned from 500 Startups (aka Fail Factory)

Inspired by “50 things I learned at 500”, I decided to write my own but shorter version. It’s not as funny as Kim’s, but it will give you slight insight into this prestigious accelerator (chances to get in it is lower than acceptance rate at Ivy League colleges – 0.8%).

  1. 500 Startups is a fail factory for a reason: “…have fun cause most likely you are going to fail anyways” were the words of Dave McClure during one of our first batch meetings. Enjoy the amazing view from the 12th floor office while you can.

    2011-11-22 12.05.32

    View from the tallest office in Mountain View

  2. You can get into 500 Startups accelerator even if your idea or product sucks. Or even if you don’t have product yet. Killer teams of hackers, designers and hustlers – that’s what matter! Startups pivot a lot and often.
  3. Location matters: imagine if you have the greatest product, team and traction but in the middle of nowhere and there is a similar startup with inferior metrics in Silicon Valley. Mostly likely they will be founded! Connections and contacts are VERY important. Angels invest in faces and teams.
  4. Don’t f*ck up (or at least do it fast): the worst situation for founders (and investors) is when the startups in the land of “living dead” making some progress but not succeeding; failing fast and soon is important if you’re not blowing up.
  5. Many startups have similar recipes for failure. Too many non-tech founders in a tech startups is as bad as lack of focus and discipline.
  6. Don’t work with smart but unpleasant people. Business is personal no matter what other people tell you.
  7. Melissa and Christine are super friendly. Dave is super busy traveling most of the time. Spend your time wisely if you have office hours with him. True for any other office hours as well :)
  8. Living with co-founders is hard. Even if it’s okay for you it might not be okay for them and there is no easy way to tell how bad the situation is until the conflict comes up. So get your own place unless you are married or in a bromance with your co-founder :)
  9. Bunch of nerds in their 20s equals frat house like parties, beer-pong and poker nights, dirty dishes, messed up toilets (leads to public bashing by Paul).
    2011-12-08 19.40.00

    Beer-pong every other night

    2011-11-06 22.23.55

    Brazilian night

    2011-11-16 21.01.08

    Somebody going to get hurt

  10. Mentors, investors, angels, VCs, reporters, clients and random guests roam freely thru clattered office of cheapest kindergarten-like furniture. Be ready for it any time and keep your table neat.
  11. Get sh*t done: building things is more important than knowing some deep technical things and concepts. “Success theatre” could be fun (everyone like to be perceived as a next cool thing) but there is a problem if you start believing in it yourself!
  12. Don’t spend all your money on super duper rockstarts/ninjas/gurus with big titles in prestigious companies unless they really can deliver.
  13. Don’t spend your time on interns who slow or just not up to the tasks: it’s not fair to them and it’s just a waste of time for you because usually there is no time to teach them.
  14. Suburban life could be quite enjoyable: plenty of restaurants, trails, gyms, coffee shops, massages, etc.
  15. Naps are shameless and couches are precious.

    2011-11-01 16.24.04

    Power nap time

Now, enough writing – back to work.

Azat Mardanov (500 Startups F11)
azat.co
@azat_co