This is a guest post by Curtis Herbert who won Startup Weekend Philly and is the cofounder of Slopes, an app to display your runs in meaningful ways that are easy to understand, and fun to show off.
Before attending my first startup weekend, Philly SW ’13, I debated with my wife about pitching my app idea in front of the weekend’s participants. The idea had been consuming me for a few months, but I was skeptical that Startup Weekend was the proper place for it. “What’s the point? It’s an indy app, not a startup.” Eventually I listened to reason (aka my wife), and figured “What’s the harm?”
As an avid snowboarder I wanted to see an awesome app like Nike+/Strava/Runkeeper for when I was on the slopes. A way for my friends to track and brag about our stats on the mountain. There were one or two apps out there, but they really didn’t work the way my friends and I wanted, and I felt like there was a void to fill.
Pitch in hand, I got up in front of my peers and presented my condensed (sixty second) idea. After all the pitches were done, I didn’t attract enough votes to make it pass the preliminaries.
Lesson learned #1 – know your audience. They aren’t always all avid snowboarders that already understand your passion and pain points.
Somehow, despite my mistakes and not being an “official” project, I managed to attract a few interested people willing to work with me on my idea. We formed a misfit group and got to work; Slopes was born.
The majority of the weekend was spent doing market and user research. While the idea and some of its concepts were novel, the technology needed wasn’t ground-breaking, so we decided to focus our Sunday pitch on the app’s design/experience and why we thought the idea could lead to a sustainable business. We explored possible adjacent markets, pricing models, data licensing opportunities. Armed with feedback from over a hundred users in our target market we shaped and planned what a real MVP would be, knowing that would be left for me to execute on post Startup Weekend.
As a developer it was a great crash-course in biz-dev and marketing.
Lesson learned #2 – your peers are awesome, learn as much from them as you can while you’re there. Make friends where you can because they’re all great people.
The final presentation Sunday night came quicker than expected – a Startup Weekend really flies by. I went into the presentations thinking we did an awesome job all things considered, but was content to have had a blast all weekend. The final presentations had lots of great MVPs, quite a few of which were really well executed. Our presentation came and went and I figured we did OK.
Design award: Slopes. First place: Slopes. Wait…what?
Lesson learned #3 – Startup Weekend isn’t just about churning out some code and a pretty MVP, it’s about showing you really understand your market and proving there is a need for your product.
I left Startup Weekend on such a high (the Red Bull might have had something to do with that). The extremely helpful and positive community really inspired me to go all-in and run with my idea. Slopes has evolved and grown a lot since Startup Weekend, but I’m happy to say version one is ready for submission to the App Store, to launch along side iOS 7 in mid September.
“What’s the harm?”, indeed.