Tucked away in a building next to the library on Cal Poly’s campus, 107 brilliant minds came together to pitch ideas, build teams, and launch ideas to change the world. This is the essence of a startup weekend and it is an experience that I recommend you put on your bucket list.
To kick off the evening was a local success story of a business that formed out of Cal Poly by Jesse Dundon, the CEO of Hathway . He told his story of transformation that began with carpet cleaning and evolved into a local 50+ person mobile web design firm. One point that he made is that the pivot greatly improved his dating outlook as girls thought web development was cooler than rug cleaner 😉 It was a great talk and really helped set the stage for the transformations that most teams would go through over the weekend. Granted, nobody pivoted their concept this far over the weekend, but to be fair Jesse had a few years to do that pivot. What was clear from the story is that not everything happens in a clean and orderly fashion. The story was great and the presentation was excellent.
Chaos to Calm
The Startup Weekend process is a cycle from chaos to calm. The chaos begins within the first hour thanks to a crowd mixer game of Rock, Paper, Scissors (but with a twist); Every time a person wins they accumulate their losing competitor and also whatever followers they had accumulated. In the end we are left with two competitors and their cheer team of accumulated followers. In other words, the room is divided into two teams rooting for their victor! This gets not only the energy up but also the volume.
Within 20 minutes the noise level is down as one speaker at a time gives a 60 second pitch on the product or application they want to launch this weekend. Of course, some people are more animated than others but somehow calmness takes over the room. This does not last long as it results in about 60 ideas up on the walls for the chaos of the vote. Chaos is actually too mild of a term for what happens next as people are pulled between voting for different ideas or representing their own.
The crowd swirls and flows through the room as vote stickers are placed on pitch idea posters and people ask qualifying questions of the pitch presenters. Once the voting is closed, calmness returns and everybody sits in anxious silence as the event leaders take all the idea posters and count the votes. When done, the top 12 ideas get an additional 30 seconds before the pure chaos of team formation begin.
In the business world team formations for startups take years to evolve yet so do businesses. In this event businesses are created over a weekend and 107 people divide into 12 business teams in only 10 MINUTES!
When the event leadership asked if anyone was without a team after the formation process, only one person was left. Once this individual stated that they were a developer a bidding war erupted in the room as groups warmly invited the orphan to their team. Afterwards, each team went out into the wilderness to stake their claim in one of the two buildings designated for this event. Our team picked a spot on the second floor of the Bonderson Engineering Projects Laboratory while others remained in the Advanced Technologies Laboratory. Now things started to happen as computing devices of every form emerged from backpacks and power cords reached out to walls full of plugs.
Our team quickly evolved as did the two other groups in our area as the challenges were discussed and people were assigned to take on each of these tasks. Leadership evolved in our group based on the role of each person. Milad, a 3rd year finance major, became the business lead in partnership with Charles Hu. Grant Terris and Kevin Vincent were the technical horsepower. Grant took the backend work with the server side development and the portal and Kevin did the iOS app development. With specs still in flux they started putting the framework together so that the rest of the team would have things to react to.
Pivot & Repeat
Startup weekends are nothing if not flexible and fluid and this time was no different than the prior five teams I have been on. As people talked and ideas changed the concept evolved over most of Saturday. Our team went through three major pivots as the idea evolved and unlike in a business world where every change is debated on its merits this team just took the changes in stride and kept moving forward. After all you only have 54 hours so there is no time for people to become vested in the idea so the pros and cons are less personal. Other teams went through the same process in different ways but every idea evolved radically over the weekend. Names were changed, missions evolved, concepts crashed, and the process went on.
Throughout the event meals are provided and if you look at the $50 event cost and the meals provided it is the best deal in town. While the meals were varied and great quality the one vendor that really deserves a huge shout out is Guayaki. Jose from Guayaki was at the event providing Yerba Mate for all three days. I had the opportunity to talk to him and was surprised to learn that a local company from a Cal Poly senior project in the local business community for 20 years is not an authorized vendor on campus. Even more surprising was to discover this is at least partially because of a vendor contract restriction from Coke . I think we can all agree that Coke, with $10 billion in sales, does not need contract protection from Guayaki in SLO. It is also distressing that a contract is stopping Cal Poly from doing business with a local business. So much for the fair shake for the little guy.
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Other local firms that provided food to the event include:
A Day of Focus
While Saturday was a day of pivots and debate Sunday is about focus. There is nothing like staring down at a deadline to make a team focus on the delivery. On Sunday, we started in the morning at the Library across street discussing the big idea that we had settled on and the business model that would get our team to the innovation finish line. As you walk around the event you can feel the change in the force (think Star Wars) as groups move closer to the immovable presentation at 5pm. The afternoon is refining and practicing the pitch and getting the technical types to shift from creating to fixing so the presentation works. Our team was pretty good about this with software changes down to just fixes by about 2pm. That is followed by a tech check, a deep breath and the final presentation.
Reflecting on the results
On our team (CheckMate) we got the mobile app working for iOS and the backend partner portal running. As a full disclosure not everything was perfect but it worked. I think the technical team can be rightfully proud of the result because in a normal business setting this would have taken several weeks to get done. The prototype demo went without any problems other than the projector in the room that jammed up several teams.
As I watched the other teams I was impressed by all of them. They had gone from a wild concept on Friday night to a presentation in just 54 hours. There were some stumbles but not a single on-stage failure – I have to wonder what the odds of that are! One thing I will probably never forget is Katie White on the Lettuce Team who lost her voice during the event. During the Q&A Katie wanted to answer the question so badly that she ran up up to the judges and whispered the answer and everyone listened. It was an amazing example of turning a liability into an asset. It demonstrates just how dedicated to these teams are and that it is not how loud you talk but what you have to say.
Team Summary – In presentation order
- Unlimited – Financial Training for Kids
- Extra Lettuce – Saving app for students – saving plan with auto deduction
- Project Take out – Home chefs to home delivery app
- Hitch – Long Distance Ride Sharing
- Spottr – Fitness Matching App
- Moola – Employee Recruiting Expense reimbursement and finance
- Head Count – School Field Trip Management
- Quinch – Smart Water Bottle
- PC Kit – Build your PC for Gamers – specs based on Game & Performance
- The APIARY – Bee Hive Monitor
- Virtual Realty – 3D Real Estate Marketing
- CheckMate – Consumer Driven Coupon Delivery App
Team Photos for those that provided them to me – as the ace reporter on the scene I should have gotten photos from all 12 teams but in the end these are all the photos that I could get my paws on.
Team: Head Count
From left to right: Kevin Mckinnis, Rebecca Krieger, Kaitlyn Henry, Kristen Henry, Mike Hurdelbrink, and Daniel Williams.
HeadCount is a mobile application that simplifies field trips for teachers, chaperones, and students. It empowers field trip leaders to work collaboratively and stay organized, so they can focus more on learning and less on the little things.
Front Row left to right: Michael Hbib, Danica Liang, Emily Cai, Nikki Duffy, Tiffany Lam
Back Row left to right: Neda Sales, Matthew Eng, Shain Lafazan, Anthony Fontes, Tyler Chen
The Tinder for Fitness buddies! Swipe right if you find a buddy that matches your fitness interests, level, and availability.
Left to right: Charles Hu, Kevin Vincent, Milad Hassibi, Bob Dumouchel, Grant Terris
CheckMate is a mobile app that delivers coupons to consumers based on their preferences rather than the advertisers distribution plan. System pulls from available coupon inventory based on personal settings rather than having them pushed by the advertisers.
Employee Recruiting Expense reimbursement and finance
We apologize, we were unable to get the team member names!
If you are one of the other 8 teams and would like to be included, just send to firstname.lastname@example.org a photo, your team members names and a description of your app and we will be sure to add it to the article!
The judging panel included:
Aaron Steed, CEO and founder of Meathead Movers. https://www.linkedin.com/in/aaronsteed
Charmaine Ann Farber, who worked as a ux/ui designer, illustrator, graphic designer, animator and educator, both nationally and internationally, for CIVCO International, MacArthur Foundation, Congressman Loebsack of Iowa, Stamats, Lipman Hearne, SMC Marketing Hong Kong, and Benson & Hepkar Design Group, and have spoke at events everywhere from Yale University to Chiba, Japan of Directors of AIGA and also served on the Pittsburgh board of Directors of AIGA.
Greg Gibson, Entrepreneur in Residence at CIE. Entrepreneur and senior executive with experience on the founding teams of companies in consumer internet, SMB ecommerce, online advertising, and social media spaces. https://www.linkedin.com/in/ggibson
Each group got 5 minutes to present and 3 minutes for QA from the judges. Because presentations are so unpredictable and nerve wrecking It truly is amazing that all 12 groups did so well.
And the WINNERS are:
- Project Takeout
- The Apiary
- Virtual Reality
Honorable Mention from the Judges:
Judging something like this is difficult and as I watched I ranked each of the groups on how they did on the presentation and the questions and answers. I came up with some of the same names but my top list was very different from the judges with Project Takeout being the only common name. This is not to take anything away from anyone but it does show that reasonable people can disagree, especially when you have so many really great teams. What is amazing is that all the teams could be a viable business if they can keep the team alive. I would bet that locally we will soundly beat the 12% continues after the event average of the Startup Weekend Program.
A true story from the Event
From Nick Sinai Event Coordinator:
I was sitting with Joe from virtual realty when he sees someone walk by with his wife and kids and tells me, hey that’s Tim Cook! So of course I’m surprised and like no way, “Joe you wanna go talk to him??” And he says no because he’s already met him and I’m like well I haven’t! So I grab Tim Elkana the main organizer and tell him “Dude! Joe says Tim Cook just walked by!” So Tim is freaking out and like “Heck yeah I want to go talk to him! Let me grab my camera!” So we run down the campus to where Tim Cook is walking with his wife and kids, and as we get closer we say ” Hey! Are you Tim Cook?” This man laughs and say “Nope!” And walks off. Tim and I walk back disappointed to find Joe laughing hysterically and then we realize Tim Cook would never be walking around Cal Poly with his wife and kids because Tim Cook is gay.
Shout out to the Event Leaders
Startup Weekends cannot happen without the inspiration and perspiration of the event leaders and the team this year did a great job. Here is the team that made the magic possible:
- Tim Elkana
- Luke Bayard
- Nicholas Sinai
- Katie White