The following is a guest post by Jackson Gariety that originally appeared on his blog right here. He is one of the founders of HashTraffic, one of the winning teams at Portland’s Startup Weekend. At 15, he is also proof that Startup Weekend is a place where anyone can make what they want happen and that it’s a community that looks for great ideas and respects entrepreneurs of all kinds.
It’s been an eventful week since I attended Portland Startup Weekend (#pdxsw), almost as exciting as the weekend itself. After the intense 54 hours of networking, coding, blogging, pitching and exploring new ideas for my business, my latest project #HashTraffic was shot into the Portland startup scene at the speed of light.
I never imagined the visibility #HashTraffic would get when I signed up. In fact, I almost didn’t attend, as the $75 ticket price was a bit steep for my current budget. The reason I was even looking at is was because of @turoczy, the entrepreneur behind the Portland startup scene, the Silicon Florist startup blog, and the Wieden+Kennedy startup incubator called “P-I-E”. Brian Hendrickson, the co-founder of #HashTraffic met with @turoczy the previous year on a different idea, and we both thought it would be wise to consult the guru before proceeding with the project. At Café Umbria on 12th & Everett about a month ago, the startup guru told us, “don’t worry about monetizing it, just scale it. Take it to startup weekend.” So that’s what we did.
Walking up to the PSU Business Accelerator building, I had no idea what to expect. After looking at the schedule and seeing that we could pitch our idea in an #elevatorpitch, I got checked in and immediately called Ben Martin, a Portland developer who had put together the #HashTraffic pitch for us that we took to the P-I-E pitch club a few weeks back. Eventually the #HashTraffic team of three wandered in, one by one, and we took our place in line. We got in line to pitch 2nd, as we all had places to be that evening.
The pitch was vague, slow, unexciting, and got interrupted halfway through by a lapse in memory. The human mind does strange things when the spotlight is on it. Brian grabbed the microphone and crammed everything he could into the last 15 seconds of the pitch. The timer turned bright yellow as it counted down, 9, 8, 7, 6, 5, 4, 3, 2… 1. The buzzer sounded and our time was up. All seemed lost, as this complicated idea involving #hashtags and social media required far more explanation than we had given. The #HashTraffic team wandered back to their respective homes.
I was sitting, browsing my Twitter timeline, just a few short hours after we had given our abysmal pitch. Suddenly, @mentions start to roll in under the hashtags #pdxsw and #hashtraffic. They were mentioning my twitter handle, @JacksonGariety and @HashTraffic. “Where is #HashTraffic?”. As it would turn out, we had been voted into the running of 17 teams that would continue on. That night was team-building night and we were missing it. I call Brian, told him he was right for being the optimist and I was wrong for being the pessimist. We raced back to the PSU Business Accelerator only to find that we were too late, most everyone had chosen a team when #HashTraffic wasn’t there to sign people up. Brian and I frantically jumped from person to person trying to gain members, but we returned home with only one signature. It was that of Rhyan Reid, the #bizdev guy for another team. We had nobody to help us, #HashTraffic was alone for the weekend.
Thankfully, our room was next to the beer room (team named “exBEERience” and product called “Beer Tuner”) so we attracted many passers by with whom we could network. Though we had no committed developers beside ourselves, we persevered through the 54-hour weekend without a minute to ourselves. Helpful mentors, designers and entrepreneurs constantly flooded the #HashTraffic room, eventually for all the commotion and not just for the beer. We received great help from @rmreid, @ntaggart, @sheetaldube, @mpeden, @kriswallsmith and countless others. They made the entire weekend a spectacular experience that helped Brian and I define our product, #HashTraffic.
Fast forward to Sunday evening: I’m standing in from of over 300 businessmen, designers and developers, on average 3 times my age, pitching a wild idea that would usually require a fairly deep understanding of how the internet works and how Twitter works. About a minute in, we show the video (on the #mondopad) that I had made for #HashTraffic a few weeks earlier. The song “Volieré” by Camille Saint-Saëns from the video begins to drown out everything else in room. For the rest of that 5 minute period, even after the video ended, I was in a surreal, blissful state catalyzed by both classical flute playing and the thrill of speaking about the future of the web in front of hundreds of people that were far more intrigued by #HashTraffic than I could have ever imagined. The pitch is over, and one by one, audience members cheer and stand up from their seats to congratulate the face of a new company born from #pdxsw. I was receiving a standing ovation for a product that Brian and I had put together in our spare time. We had a small team to help, but in the end we took home the award for execution, and most crowd-pleasing product. In addition, I received the best developer award and a ticket to Portland’s Open Source Convention (#oscon). The weekend showed that in the worst of times, the best things can happen.
My experience at #pdxsw was worth far more then any amount of money. The feeling I got from pitching my idea to hundreds of people with the sounds of Volieré echoing through my head simply cannot be bought at any store, not even an online one. Thank you #pdxsw.