Last year we participated in the global hackathon organized by Koding.com at HackSummit.
We really had a great time there and we wanted to participate this year as well, but sadly they did not continue with the event. It's a big shame.
For us it was a great opportunity to bond as a team, learn something new and try to build something great.
So instead of just not doing anything this year we decided to participate at the local Startup Weekend event. Paul and I attended a few years ago and we had a great time, we met some nice people and ultimately lost miserably, but that did not matter. The experience we gathered there and the new friendships we made were more important.
At Around25 we're almost like a family, so I was very pleasantly surprised when so many of our team members decided to join and attend the event, not just developers, but also design, marketing and even our HR/sales guy Vlad.
Out of 19 people 13 decided to join, enough for 2 different teams/projects.
After some brainstorming and a dust off of our ideas notebooks (yes, we all have one) we made a list of 10 of the best ideas we could work on. We all voted on them and selected 2 ideas that everyone really wanted to pursue.
The first project was to design a platform that allows you to build complex backend systems visually, without writing much code and that can allow you to reuse some of the features you had on other projects. We nicknamed that one "Hashiru", which means "Run" in Japanese.
The second project was a platform destined for students to help them share classroom materials, stay informed about important topics and see what other universities are teaching. We called that "Studmate".
Similar to last year we didn't think about these projects as just something fun to do for a weekend, but as real life startups that we wanted to create and use in our daily lives.
We started to discuss about what features to include in each project, how it should look like and create a basic documentation for each functionality that we could implement at the event.
In the Hashiru team we were mostly developers because it was a lot more technical. We wanted to create something that allows you to build any kind of API. That requires a lot of technical abstractions and deep knowledge on how to implement and execute them, so naturally it appealed more to the developers.
I told them from the start that there's a good chance that we may not win the event, because it would not only be hard to implement, but it will also be hard to illustrate the value proposition in the 5 minutes we had to present.
Answer: Challenge accepted! (my kind of peeps)
We had 1 month until the event and we spent it detailing as much of the projects as possible. We met once or twice every week to talk about what each of us should focus on, to see how we progressed with the technical documentation and our understanding of the underlying specification. We even detailed what the APIs will look like and what they should do.
That time passed very quickly and the Friday of the event came upon us. We gathered all our Macs and we were off to the venue. Some of us even packed their iMacs, making it an interesting setup at our round work table.
We all knew what we had to do. We were prepared for everything, but when we got there and got set up, the speaker started with some introductory games meant to loosen everyone up and get them in a mindset to pitch their idea and collaborate with other people.
This might work very well with people in other industries and extroverts, but for a lot of the attendees it felt very weird. Especially since by the time we finished with the exercises, had our elevator pitch and voted for the best startup ideas 4 hours had gone by.
That would have been acceptable if the venue would not have closed at 11:30 and we had to pack everything up and move them back in the office to continue working. We had a lot of code to write.
You can't get a bunch of people excited about building something great and then tell them to go to sleep to be fresh the next day! F**k that... I'm not sleeping until I'm satisfied I started something awesome.
We went to bed at 04:30 in the morning that night and got up by 8:30 to be at 09:00 at the venue when it opened again. I think that if you can't bring that kind of excitement and dedication to your startup you will probably not make it.
The next day we lined up to meet with the mentors and see what they think about our idea, presentation, value proposition and go to market strategy. I talked with Sebastian from Techstars. He really liked the idea and how we structured our value proposition and helped us with how we could make the presentation better to appeal to someone like him who hears 10 pitches a day.
The Studmate team discussed with Roxana Rugina and I think she was instrumental in making them better understand how they can make a bigger impact. She was harsh and honest. I loved that. I personally heard her tell Paul that they didn't have a startup!. Sounds a bit harsh taken out of context, but it's awesome to hear that when you're starting up. I wish everyone would be as honest when reviewing or judging new startups.
You will never build a good startup if everyone is patting you on your back saying you're doing a good job, without actually believing in you.
We continued to work on our presentation, API, design and also researched our market and understood our business better. We also collaborated a lot between our two teams.
On Saturday evening after the venue closed... again, we continued to work from our office. Based on our previous experience we wanted to have a working MVP for the final presentations because we thought that was very important.
Sadly we found out by the end of the event that was not the case any more. A simple clickable InDesign demo is good enough these days.
We are pretty happy with what we built during the weekend. You can subscribe to get notified when we launch Hashiru at http://hashiru.co and while Studmate is moving slower for now, it's still not dead. Not sure I can say the same thing for some of the other projects from StartupWeekend.
We plan on first using Hashiru internally for our clients to help them build complex MVPs in very little time, until we are satisfied with it's performance and usability.
I want us to participate to more events like this with our team and also work with the same dedication every day. It's not always possible, but who knows... maybe one day.
Thank you all for participating. You guys/girls rock!