Startup Weekend Honolulu condenses entrepreneurship into 54 hours
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|Saturday, 11:15 A.M.|
10:30 a.m., Saturday
The mood has shifted from the previous night. What once felt like a college keg party has now turned into a serious study hall. Teams cluster around folding tables as members focus on their laptops. At one table, a team member has just returned from the convenience store with a bag full of sugar-free Red Bull.
In the past 12 hours, some teams have made significant progress with their projects, but there’s still more work to be done. Where’s My Toot? – a marketplace for tutors – has changed its name to Tudah. Kevin Shin, a UH student who pitched the idea, looks stressed. The team’s to-do list, which includes market surveys, is on the wall but nothing is marked as completed. The goal is to have it all done by 5 p.m. that day.
Minded, an app that links birthday and holiday reminders to gift-giving websites, offers free coffee as an incentive to participate in a market survey, or to sign up for an email newsletter and like it on Facebook, Twitter and Pinterest. Jamie Noland, a team member focusing on business development and a marketing project manager at Olomana Loomis ISC, says the team started with “literally nothing” yesterday and signed up for social-media accounts and had some design mockups ready to go by noon on Saturday. She says the team has two developers and hopes to have a functioning web-based platform ready to go this evening. By signing people up on social media early, they would have an audience to beta test the product on Sunday, she explains.
John Abram Cruz created a working app for Fan Addicts before he left on Friday night. On Saturday – with 48 college football games scheduled for national telecast on more than two dozen broadcast and cable networks – the team’s business-development members took it for testing and validation to local bars such as Kanpai in Kakaako, Murphy’s downtown and Jimmy Buffett’s in Waikiki. The team says it got positive feedback from both customers and owners. Bar managers said they were tired of answering calls asking, “Are you showing this game?”
Ken Brady, a Startup Weekend Honolulu judge, says most teams build their projects through Saturday morning. Everything should be planned and mapped out by midday, he says, and, by the end of the day, it will be time to refine presentations.
1 p.m., Saturday
The master of ceremonies formally introduces the mentors and judges, who include investors and startup founders who have flown in from as far away as the East Coast. Among them are Rohan Mehta, a founder and entrepreneur who runs the early-stage investing firm Bulwark Ventures, and Brady, a futurist, science fiction writer, and co-founder of Genkii, a developer and consultancy based in Tokyo. Participants could tap the brains of Daniel Leuck of local software company Ikayzo, Chenoa Farnsworth of venture-capital firm Hawaii Angels and Greg Gaug, a senior investment associate with Ulupono Initiative and former head of strategy and financial planning at StubHub. Unofficial mentors who helped teams included Darius Monsef, founder of Creative Market and Colour Lovers.
“The mentorship that Startup Weekend provides is invaluable,” says Bryan Butteling, adding that participants get free counseling that would normally cost hundreds of dollars an hour.
10 p.m., Saturday
Seven teams are still at The Box Jelly, some planning on working through the night. A few hunker down by passing around a bottle of bourbon.
Some teams have had setbacks. The team working on Minded, the birthday reminder app, does not have its product ready as planned because a developer left due to illness, says Jamie Noland.
She is not completely discouraged, however. The team ended the day with 25 people signed up for its email newsletter, 80 Facebook likes and 25 Twitter followers. Not bad, considering those were all zeroes 24 hours before.
The team working on Move Me or Else stayed up late Friday night into Saturday morning, and had a working app. Its founder, Ray DeGuzman, says the company has also thought of franchise possibilities, like “Stop Smoking or Else” or “Diet or Else,” and saw the company providing tools to improve one’s life. For the competition, though, the team was focused on refining Move Me or Else.
Other teams have shuttered themselves in one of the four enclosed conference rooms.
With a 54-hour time limit – and much fewer hours to actually write code and develop the project – some people think that no one sleeps at Startup Weekend. The stereotype does apply to some people, but most get at least a little sleep. Even so, Startup Weekends asks for a big time commitment from all participants, which may be impossible for many people with families. Some other stereotypes fit: Most people here are under 30, and most are men.
Everyone’s story about why they came is unique. Steve Monas, an entrepreneur from Poipu, Kauai, came for the experience. He pitched an idea for a business that monetizes open government data, but was unable to persuade people to back his idea. Undeterred, he is excited to spend the weekend working with smart people.
Fan Addicts team member Eamonn Donlyn, a sales and marketing executive at KGMB who moved to Hawaii from Ireland a year ago, says he came to network and meet people.
Unlike some work situations, Butteling says, the participants are generally easy to work with. He says it’s pointless to delegate; instead, people just fall into their roles.
|Sunday, 3:57 P.M.|
1 p.m., Sunday
Inside The Box Jelly, the mood is relaxed as teams prepare their presentations. Presenters rehearse their lines and go over slideshows. Designers and developers seem to take it the easiest, sitting back and chatting. Their work is done.
Plate Nation starts a barbecue at 2:30. Michael Reisor, who works at the state’s High Tech Development Corp., says the cookout is to get the word out about Plate Nation and test its software. It is a web-based platform that connects travelers with people who would like to host and share a home-cooked meal. Reisor is hoping to create a community for people who like to eat, and home cooks who want to validate their own cooking expertise. People rate users on their cooking and the first user is cooking the barbecue.
5 p.m., Sunday
Presentations have been moved to Fresh Cafe, about five blocks from The Box Jelly, where there is a large back room with a stage. As presenters and guests arrive, it’s not as crowded as Friday night, but it is again standing-room only.
Each team is called up to present and then is grilled by the judges. How do you plan on making money? How are you going to differentiate yourself from other businesses with similar ideas? How will you incentivize people to join?
Some of the pitches from Friday have changed names and morphed into new businesses. Prompt Me has turned into Literately.co, a creative tool for readers and writers to use to compose stories on their mobile phones. Where’s My Toot? – which turned into Tudah – now is focused on one specific market, foreign-language tutors.
The most audacious presentation comes from Ally.io, a reservation system for small- to mid-size businesses in the local hospitality and activity industry. At the end of his presentation, the founder estimates $80 million in annual revenue and, matter-of-factly, asks for $5 million in funding.
After the anxiety of the presentations is over, everyone enjoys the moment, and no one bites their nails waiting to see who won.
The judges announce the top three projects: Fan Addicts, 26 Ideas (a website that lets you post an idea and like other ideas) and Move Me or Else. Each gets prizes, including a micro-incubator workshop with Kinetiq Labs. The top team gets a chance to pitch its idea to the investors of Hawaii Angels, though the pitch does not guarantee funding.
What happens next?
At the Startup Weekend Honolulu event in April, Elyse Petersen introduced Tealet, a business that connects tea growers in places like China and Japan directly with tea drinkers around the world. Tealet placed second at that Startup Weekend and has since been invited to participate in 500 Startups, a renowned startup accelerator in Silicon Valley.
The No. 1 team at April’s Startup Weekend Honolulu event built WhoWillSee.Me, a site that connects its members with a doctor who’s immediately available. That app has not taken off, but it was the brainchild of developers from HMSA, and the project has influenced how the health insurance company will approach startup culture in the future. In fact, HMSA was one of the platinum sponsors of this September’s event and a number of its developers signed up.
On Sunday, DeGuzman and Bryce Bearchell say their Move Me or Else app will be ready for launch in about three weeks.
As for Fan Addicts, the team was determined to meet again, says Bryan Butteling. He says the weekend gave him an incredible experience, new colleagues and a viable business model. That’s exactly what Startup Weekend was designed to do.
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