This past weekend, I participated for the first time in Triangle Startup Weekend. It was a tremendous experience–essentially a 48-hour “lock-in” (minus time to go home and sleep) at American Underground in Durham. The ~50 participants (mostly strangers to each other) pitched their own ideas, formed teams around the 9 ideas which garnered the most votes, and spent the rest of the weekend creating a Minimum Viable Product and business-case presentation for each one. The weekend ended with presentations to a panel of 4 judges.
I joined Amanda Heironimus’s “Wandergram” team. The product idea in one sentence: A smartphone app that helps people plan real live trips based on photos they see on social media. Amanda and I were joined by teammates Stephen and Caroline… none of us knew each other before the event, but we worked together really well and had a great time helping each other do our best work.
One of the most surprises to me was that I ended up not writing any code. As the only software engineer on the team, I figured I would be coding madly to get together the best possible actual smartphone app I could assemble by 4pm Sunday. But, based on advice from mentors around lunchtime on Saturday, we decided that we would be better off spending our effort on an app mockup rather than an actual functioning app. (My software engineering experience was still useful in determining what functionality was actually feasible, and thus appropriate to show in the mockup!)
Another surprise was the constant drumbeat of “validation”, “validation”, “validation” we got from the mentors. Meaning that it was more important for us to gather data supporting our contention that our product would be useful to some demographic segment(s), than for us to build a product that the judges themselves would like. Many thanks to my friends who took our survey on Saturday, in response to my Facebook pleas. 🙂
I spent most of the time assembling the app mockup using atomic.io (oh, and teaching myself to use atomic.io, and finding atomic.io in the first place, among all the other app-mockup tools I had never used before). Happily, the mockup functioned nicely during our presentation, giving a good idea of what a sorta polished version of the app would act like, and the judges were impressed enough by the presentation (including the demo) to award us second place.
Now that I’ve had a few days to breathe (and catch up on sleep), I need to figure out if the idea is worth pursuing as a startup business. Watch this space for developments.
No matter what happens with Wandergram specifically, I met so many great people with great ideas and great energy. I suspect that I met my next co-conspirators at the event. I’m just not sure yet which ones they were.