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Building a business in 48 hours

September 9, 2012 – Jacob Geiger, Work It, Richmond

Chances are you’ve never heard of Simple Survey, a startup that makes it easy for restaurants to get feedback from customers.

After all, the company didn’t even exist at 9 p.m. Friday night.

But marathon sessions of strategic planning, web development and customer surveys this weekend brought the company to life. A group of entrepreneurs who spent the weekend developing Simple Survey pitched their concept Sunday night during the conclusion of Richmond’s first-even Startup Weekend at the Virginia War Memorial and took first place.

The idea for Simple Survey grew out of separate pitches Friday from Rob Forrest, who was thinking about new ways to do surveys, and Martin Romero, who pitched an idea for creating paperless receipts that could be sent to phones.

Once they recruited additional team members, the group spent Saturday talking to local restaurants. Owners and managers told the team they struggled to get consistent feedback from customers and want an easier way to get that feedback.

Helen Dow, an accountant on the team, said she was impressed by the product’s financial viability.

“I think the customer research we did was key,” she said. “We’re going to meet soon and set up the corporate structure. We definitely plan to keep going with this.”

The other team members were Chase Worthington, James Goodwillie, Lee Gimpel, Joey Figaro, Hope Norman and Tim Masterson.

Startup Weekend is a global series of events backed by The Kaufman Foundation

Twelve businesses pitched their ideas Sunday evening. The 12 were selected by the Startup Weekend participants from a pool of 38 pitches delivered Friday evening when the event began.

Second place went to Event Space, a website that lets venues promote themselves online and helps organizations seeking a venue search based on various criteria.

Among the six judges was Karen Booth Adams, a serial entrepreneur who has launched 10 businesses in Richmond over the past 20 years. Her company, Hot Technology Holdings, has sold seven of those businesses and continues to run the other three. Also serving as judges were Ryann Lofchie Wayne and Ned Wheeler, CEO and COO respectively of The Frontier Project, a business strategy company.

Judges considered four topics when evaluating the companies.

Customer validation: The startups used online and face-to-face surveys to judge the market for their product.

Execution: What did the company build during the weekend? Did the idea change over that time?

Business model: Judges used the Q&A period after each pitch to ask about revenue projections and the competitive landscape each company would face.

Future plans: Who would serve on the development and management team as the business grew?

The teams took a break from their planning Saturday to hear from Aneesh Chopra, who served as the United States’ first chief technology from 2009 to 2012. Chopra, who announced this summer that he would run for lieutenant governor, spent an hour with the teams. His remarks also were telecast to a Startup Weekend in Lincoln, Neb.

On Friday night, Julia Pfaff pitched a proposal to build a mobile app that would help gardeners trade vegetables. Say someone had lots of extra zucchini and wanted to trade some for a neighbor’s tomatoes. Pfaff and Kelly Ward, an art designer, joined forces Friday night and got to work on their new company, which they named ShareGrown. They also got help from Anthony Peng.

“We built a [mobile] app over the weekend, mapped out the website landing page and started designing the back-end database,” she said.

Joey Figaro