A cold startup weekend in Seattle – The rise of the designer
After Vancouver Startup weekend, I pretty much decided to head to the next Seattle event. Mujtaba Badat @MujtabaBadat (he presented Duke Nuke – one of the winners) and I became friends after the Vancouver event and so drove down to event from Vancouver together. The Seattle event was themed the “Rise of the Designers” on January 13 – 15th 2012.
Bootcamp (Thursday night)
I loved the idea of the bootcamp, but we could not get down on thursday night. In the last event I helped out with business model, marketing, wire framer and social media setup. This weekend I wanted to help out with front end web dev. The bootcamp offered the following:
- Get your computer configured with all the tools needed to work collaboratively with your future team members.
- Setup and configure a GitHub account with a skeleton project including:
- App Engine – web framework with simple user accounts, database, and hosting.
- Bootstrap – HTML design toolkit
- Backbone.js – Rich application HTML5 framework
Entering into the venue there was real energy, most people were up and talking to each other. There was the fresh smell of pizza, beer and excitement, it was infectious.
I met as many people as I could without being rude. Sometimes I forget that I have a British accent and I find that americans tend to listen to my accent more than my words for at least the first sentence.
Speaker – Matt Shobe CEO Big Door (@shobe)
Here are some highlights I took from his presentation.
- Surpass fear (learn from everyone, the answer is yes to any reasonable request)
- Successful teams (speed of execution, empathy, transparency (Good honest arguments))
- Openness (No such thing as a private conversation with your customers, Admit your mistakes publicly)
- Personality (The spirit of the people who created the product, find opportunities to high-five your customers when they succeed)
So one difference at this event from Vancouver was that you had to put your pitch online. I liked this, as it made it easy to track which ideas you like. There was about 50 pitches. The ones that stuck with me include:
- QR Codes for giving to homeless,
- Robots – Here is Justin’s initial pitch
- Writing community
- A wish list of places you want to go
- After party mobile app
- make the most of an event
- A mobile app to plan surprises for people
- Bus route app
- Web monitoring to provide affordable home security
- Superheros mobile app where you could conquer real life locations
The ideas were presented and we than got a chance to meet the pitchers and discuss further. I was looking for an interesting idea, but also people who would be fun to work with. I wanted to avoid people who came over as too serious or who appeared to need to control. I also wanted to avoid ideas that had being researched in great detail, as then focus tends to be narrowed and there is less clay to play with (although they are more likely to win). I did not care about how good a presenter the idea pitcher was. We were given three votes. After the vote 15 ideas remained. Each pitcher got 60 seconds to tell us who they were looking for.
Deciding who to join?
- QR Codes for homeless donations I really liked and they had a decent sized team.
- Robots: the pitcher (Justin Wu) I had met during networking and I loved his energy but he had only two others on board, one tech and one interior designer.
- The Surprises App had a really big team, maybe too big.
The Team In the end I decided Robotic team, as they had no business person (yes I wanted to code, next time), I had never worked on a physical product before and I knew I would enjoy working with Justin (he has sooo much of energy, and surprisingly he works at Microsoft!). We moved quickly to find the best location, a window for light, a white board and near where the food would be setup.. The team consisted of Justin @jzwoo (Microsoft engineer) – standing at the back, Guru (Microsoft engineer) sitting down on the left , Elijah (Interior Designer) hiding at the back on the left and me (the nutter in red). Justin basically wanted to find a business model excuse for playing with robots! We brainstormed use cases, the strongest seemed to be:
- Checking in on elderly parents
- Playing with your pet at lunchtime
- Security for second home owners or people who travel a lot
Getting to know Robots
Justin talked about the capabilities and what we would have to build ourselves. From this we felt that an Open source robot operating system, with a modular chassis into which you could plug and play extra hardware and sensors. The intention was to allow the shell to be different shapes and materials. We also considered giving 1% of profits to WWF and modelling our robots on endangered species Making money with a consciousWe live on one planet when it’s done it’s done. So we considered what could we do sustainably. 100% Organic Polymers seemed easy enough. We debated the concept of Cradle to Cradle – essentially we take back your dead robot to recycle and reuse.
Up early with the Dogs
In the morning I went to the nearest dog park to gut-check some early name and price points with the locals and to see if I could learn anything to help us. I learned that the most receptive target market was young, professional woman, who live in small apartments (especially tower blocks) and whose commute to work was at least 25 minutes. The price point seemed to be under $300 I tested a number of names and found that animal concepts worked well, but that most women did not like made up names. The name “Chicken Checkin” brought a number of smiles to people’s faces. Pushing a bit further, most of the people I spoke to had grandmothers who they all felt guilty about not interacting with enough and that about 50% did not live anywhere near them,
I sold the “Chicken Checkin” idea to Justin and the rest of the team as they came in, and updated them on what I’d learned. Justin worked on giving an us a set of robot feature set that would cost under $300. This was a product name only, the company name would be Life Style Robots.
Drafting the Business model
I found some research conducted in Japan that showed elderly people preferred robots to look like robots or animals but not humans (maybe they watched Battlestar Galactica). Also women tend to care more for aesthetics of a device (and this was rise of designer weekend). So I played with some concepts and trialled them out on random women in coffee shops and fellow weekenders. I worked on animals that had fat bellys so to be able to accommodate the chassis.
- Chicken checkin – to be our cheapest option under $300
- Chatty Panada – Use an iTouch equip device and allow for two-way video and be under $600
- Periscope Penguin – To be able to see above a kitchen counter to be under $700
- Reaching orang-utan – with long arms
So during saturday several mentors came over to ask what we were up to. After describing our idea they would give their perspective. Early on some of the advice was tough to listen to as it was extremely critical. Each of them had some really different styles. The style that really worked was those mentors who owned their perspective and gave what they saw as our weaknesses with ideas about how we could overcome them. At some point on saturday we had two mentors come and give their perspective, both were pretty aggressive with their opinions. Some of their advices was not helpful as they wanted a lot and we just did not have the resources (people to carry them out). We as a team felt really deflated. Justin had being to a couple of events and he said he called this “Mentor Whip Lash” and his perspective was to take the good advice and follow our instincts. Labelling it seemed to help. For the mentors that came after this, whilst we listened, and I wrote copious notes and then we also chose what to ignore and what to take on. NOTE – this is not say that the advice that was given was wrong, in some cases we needed to process it, others we wanted this to be our path, and not the mentor’s. That said mentors sometimes need to tell us the uncomfortable things.
Facebook page is the easiest, least resource intensive way of getting a presence on the internet. That said, you need 25 likes of your page before you can own the URL for the page. So my poor Facebook friends got spammed.. I asked some of the other teams to help out too. www.facebook.com/chickencheckin/
Justin and Guru concentrated on the software: in our perfect world we want to show the robot being controlled by a web browser or via smart phone whilst video chatting.
Who should pitch
Sometime during the day Justin said that his head was going to be in making sure we could present the robot and asked if I could present the pitch. I nearly said no but he looked stressed when I started to, so I agreed. We talked about how to divide the pitch, I would get two and half minutes (out of four) leaving the rest for the robot. At some point on sunday one of the mentors check us out and the presentation and told us that Justin should pitch as does not sound “above the audience”. Sidenote – Over the last couple years US TV and film has put a lot of English people into ‘evil’ character roles. I wonder sometimes if is becoming part of the american psyche to assume that we are. (Mwa-Ha-Ha-Ha-Haaah!!) http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=v2hmP8_mXUc&feature=related
During the day, teams stopped for 15 minutes to give each other updates with where they were, including accomplishments and problems. Most teams stayed in the same space which kept the energy high. I believe a couple of teams went to a VC’s office and another some other office space. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pH9Gx_IdLic&feature=related
Drafting the pitch
So as the cards fell out, I ended up building the presentation deck as I was the only one comfortable with design and presentation software. So I built out the skeleton of what we need to cover. My process is to put down everything, work out what is missing, fill it out and then replace all the words with images.
Drafting Business Model Version two
Concept diagram & logo
I pitched a couple of times to mentors and strangers alike. I am an amateur designer and would loved to have a graphic designer on the team to help me build out the visual story.. We got some good news the pitch length was going to be five minutes. Now we could really cover the business model.
Business Model version three
At some point we narrowed down our target market to provide senior citizens with life style robots and dropped home security and pet care. Whilst they were nice additions there was no way I could sell all three markets in three and a half minutes. Better to focus. Guru pulled a competition analysis together. Elijah helped me pull out some more figures together and Justin gave us the final breakdown of components and costs.
During the day I kept researching to find some real nuggets of information and to be ready for the Q & A. I think this is where our team size hurt us as if we had another person we could have worked out all the figures we needed for a professional, investor pitch. I went to a couple of stores to find some senior women (over 65) or women in their fifties (their daughters) to talk about our Chicken checkin. I spoke to five woman in their fifties, three out of five liked the idea, but on two occasions they were with their daughters (grand daughters) who really liked the idea. Again, three out of five (woman in their 50s) did not live anywhere near their mothers. I had a great conversation with one elderly lady who frankly I wanted to adopt as my grandma! She had a great sparkle in her eyes and was very cheeky. Practice, Practice, Practice
I found a quiet spot and practiced my pitch out loud and timed it. I was coming in at three minutes forty. I showed it to a couple of others in another group and got feedback. Later, I joined the locals around pioneer square, talking out loud whilst wandering around. ;-) I even practiced my chicken noise with a homeless guy for a while. I got back to find the pitch length was back down to four minutes.. back to two and half minutes. I watched Mujtaba give his (it was very good for CloudSense) and I gave mine. We gave each other honest feedback.
Err.. Snow in Seattle!
About 4pm we chose our pitch position. Our team felt going near the end to help us buy more time to get the robot ready, so we might learn from the other pitches and be more likely to be remembered by the judges after 14 pitches (a lot to remember). We ended up pitching last!
- Iron Curtain was polished, this was led by Seattle venture capitalist Greg Gottesman, who also pitched.
- Street Code was powerful, this was pitched and led by one of the judges (Mike Koss who was replaced by Adam Philipp). They had two pitchers.
- Suprize had a lot of bumps but was immensely funny (in a good way)
- WhichBus was gorgeous
I knew I had to bring the audience back to life after a long weekend and 13 other pitches and Q&A. I had to give them all the energy I could muster (I was balancing my drinking of energy drinks with water), but being sensitive enough to feel what they wanted from me. Our pitch can be seen (well just heard really) on Ustream http://www.ustream.tv/recorded/19798455 and starts at 45:20 it misses about 10 seconds but the sound quality is really good OR or you can see below on YouTube. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2978E3H1cTU&feature=mfu_in_order&list=UL http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MNNpuR7mBEw&feature=mfu_in_order&list=UL It starts with Chicken Checkin Screen and ends with Demo Time.. Sorry cannot get the slide show to exclude the other images.. I started the pitch with a Buuraaa ac (chicken noise). A couple slides in I noticed a big spelling mistake in one of the slides (I changed the word right at the last moment). I would have liked to allow some of the jokes to rest with the audience but I did not have time. At the end of my section I asked the audience to cluck to encourage our chicken checkin robot to come out. The audience was awesome! :) I am pretty sure I even heard a judge cluck :-) I then handed off to Jason at 2 minutes 40ish, to demo the robot. Of course there were a couple technical hitches but we showed it working.
The Q & A
The judges were speechless. “The obvious question is… I guess there isn’t an obvious question….” was tweeted out referring to Scott Rutherfords’ reaction (one of the judges). I got asked some good questions and I gave OK answers, but I should have practiced this more. There were questions about the serious uses of the robot, what market validation had we done, an offer for help and the cost margins.
F*ck, we won something..The judges awarded five companies and we won best presentation and came third, prizes for which included:
Iron Blanket (@Iron_Blanket)came out top with the best business model, followed by Street Code(
@StreetQR_Code) with the best market Validation, followed by us (Chicken Checkin) for the best presentation, followed by Surprise with the best UX. With honourable mention going to WhichBus for best design. More detail can be seen here on Geekwire. For the other teams have a look here http://swsea.posterous.com/
We had to drive back to Vancouver, so we headed, straight after the event (with the snow we were not sure how icy the roads would be), so we missed the after party :( . Mujtaba and I reflected on what we learned, how it was different from the Vancouver event, how are respective pitches went and what we would do differently next time. It was at this point I noticed how HUNGRY I was, having not eaten since breakfast.. Junk food here I come..
1. The size of teams
I think Iron Curtain had 14 bodies and Surprise was 13 bodies, having that many people really helps what you can deliver in a weekend. Clearly you need good leadership if your team is that big. At just 4 people we needed more people, but we did good.
2. Graphic Designers and Artists are important
We did not have a graphic designer, in fact 75% of team were engineers. Having that capability on your team will make such a difference in UX, branding and story telling. I need to find a way to recruit one next time.. Maybe show them a very badly drawn presentation that breaks ALL of the principles.. Just in case you want more proof, here are the sketches I did in my hostel for the pitch for the website (saturday night). 3. Pre-weekend work
Both in Vancouver and Seattle it felt like, those that had some good pre-market research done before the weekend started. This gives a team a real edge, as it can be quiet difficult to do effective market research at the weekend. Some people avoid their e-mail, some businesses are not even open, depending on the weather it maybe possible however to find people shopping, which gives the possibility of some direct marketing (face to face clipboard questioning).
4. Accessible network
Having friends to help out to cover spots that your team is missing is really helpful, I saw this happen both in Vancouver and Seattle.. As well as having friends respond to your survey to get some serious validation. Maybe give some of your specialist friends a heads up and an offer for beer..
Having the awards broken down into why they were in best was really good. However, there was a little confusion (and a lot of emails) as the judges did not state beyond best design, best UX, best presentation, best validation and best business model any order of winner(s). But this was cleared up after Geek Wire published an article declaring the winner – Iron Curtain (well done guys) and that the order reflected the position of the winners (reverse). We just have to work out how to reward developers with some credit now.
I learned from my first startup weekend that you need to always focus on how, what you are doing is going to help the pitch. I think I took too long in letting go of parts of the pitch (e.g. the two other sectors – pet owners and house security), mentors certainly told me what to concentrate on, but on occasion I resisted (because targeting 50 year old women seemed a tough nut to crack and maybe not so fun). I think my pitch was OK, but not brilliant. Areas I could have strengthened it were in demonstrating the market validation and building out the finances. Maybe having that extra slide with component prices etc, ready for the Q&A. And of course I should have practiced the Q&A with some of the team to be stronger on the answers. Don’t get me wrong I am extremely proud to be part of a team to win best presentation and win some prizes, I just want to learn and be better.
7. A place to reflect and share
As there was no online announcement, there was no place to see the final winners and prizes given. In additional people like myself write blogs, to reflect on the experience, process it and hopeful learn (and publicly show off our failures and successes). It would be good to have a final page listing the winners, the final teams and who was in them (with contact details) and blog postings. On this occasion the GeekWire Article and the #swsea(twitter tag) became the informal places to carry on the conversation.
8. An idea? Angel List for Startup Weekends
It would be awesome if Startup Weekend started to keep an archive of all the startups, maybe even profiles for people who do it on a regular basis. Maybe even game it like foursquare? Maybe that could be my next pitch??
After finishing this article I re-surfaced and found some other posts, have a look: Harmony Hasbrook on the team “Hungry, Thirsty, Bored.” Dwight Battle on the surprise team. Paige Pauli on the WhichBus team. Katie Kuksenokon multiple teams.
[Update] Here is a promotional video looking at the Designer story.
BIG Thanks to:
A place to stay Not from Seattle I stayed in the Green Tortoise Hostel
The Venue – The Hub A great location, one BIG room. Thanks to Lynsdey who was an awesome hostess.
The Startup Weekend Crew Thanks to John, Sean and Ashley (@A6Hodgson) – You are a great waffle maker :-)
The Food Was awesome, particular the Thai food on saturday night.
T-Shirts Thanks to Rohre from Five Bamboo for the T-shirts.
Extra Video Thanks @adamlovering for the extra video!
Posted on 18 January , 2012, in Communcation, Design, Marketing, Startup, Strategy, Technology and tagged designer, mentor, pitch, riseofthedesigner, robots, seattle, Startup, startup weekend, Tech. Bookmark the permalink. 1 Comment.