Updated 10/30/2011 – The video of the event has been embedded below. I start at the 1:09:05 mark.
I’m about to head out the door to speak at PANMA’s “WhyWe LovePhilly – The Awesome Philly Tech Scene” event. The idea is to showcase the diverse, tech community in Philadelphia by having various organizers come in and speak about the groups they started or participate in.
As most of you know, I’m fairly active in Philly’s tech scene and I’ve spearheaded a few projects. They include:
I just started a LearnRuby 101 group as well and I’ll post more information on that once we get off the ground.
See you tonight!
It was about 4pm on Friday and I remember telling a friend I wish I hadn’t committed to going to Startup Weekend. I’ve had a grueling couple of weeks of work and I knew from my previous experiences that it was going to be a taxing weekend. As I was walking to the gym, I was struck with an idea. Why not float around during the weekend and go around helping teams instead of committing to one? I finished my workout and jogged home in the rain satisfied with my decision.
It was easy to spot the venue when I got there with my friend around 6pm as there were a few guys milling around in front of Drexel’s Earle Mack School of Law. The auditorium was packed at this point and pitches were about to begin. I went down the stairs and found a spot to stand by the wall. I was surprised at how many people I didn’t know at the event when I glanced around the room. I’ve been involved in the Philly tech scene since 2006 now and I like to think I know mostly everyone. I watched a long line of people line up on the other side, to the point where they had to stand outside the door.
Frankly, I found most of the pitches bland. A few grabbed my attention such as the hangplan pitch by Melissa Morris Ivone, the OperationNice gal from Philadephia. She found herself discovering what her friends were up to when it was too late and wanted an application that would allow her to look at her friends calendars and “check-in” if she was interested in joining. I walked over to my friend Chris Baglieri to see which ones he liked. We went down his list and briefly discussed them. By this time, the pitches hadended and everyone had a few minutes to go around and talk to the ones they liked. I snagged Melissa as she was heading over and the three of us discussed her idea in more detail. The more information she shared, the more I liked the concept. I could also see myself working with Melissa, and Chris and I have been talking about working together on a project. We talked to a few other members who came up to us and waited for the voting process to begin. By the end, it was clear hangplan was moving forward.
The pitchees (is that a word?) gave their elevator pitch one more time and everyone commandeered a spot to greet each other and talk about next steps. From right to left clockwise, our team included Michael Kolb, Brendan Lowry, Melissa Morris Ivone, Chris Baglieri, Jared Weinstock, Nathan Vecchiarelli, Quoc Le, Thach Nguyen (aka Rocky) and Andrew Ward.
The next morning, we determined our MVP would focus on 3 things – 1) integrating Facebook and allowing users to view their friends calendars 2) adding the ability to set up a new plan and 3) allowing friends to join a plan. The developers – Chris, Jared, Nathan, Mike, Quoc and Rocky – got to work. Chris and Nathan worked on the site, Mike on Facebook integration and the API and Jared, Quoc and Rocky on the mobile app. We literally had the perfect team, skill sets and personalities to execute on this idea.
Meanwhile, Melissa started designing the logo and background for the site. Brendon, Andrew and I talked about the brand, brainstormed marketing ideas and created a Twitter and Facebook account. We also bounced around some business models. Andrew put together a list of assumptions and we crafted a survey to test them. The goal was to figure out what type of people would use our application and what they would want to get out of it. We asked questions to confirm the pain-points we identified which focused on the methods they currently use to make plans with friends, what they disliked about it, what they would prefer, etc. We sent it to friends and spread it through our social networks. In addition, Chris and Muhammad from Houdini helped us get people to fill it out using their app which automates the Mechanical Turk process. We determined a couple of things from the survey – first, that college students were the perfect initial target market and second, that more than 50% of users would use the app to make plans a few days ahead of time so we decided to focus our messaging on creating plans within a week.
We had intended to launch our own sign up page but ran into trouble so we ended up using Kickoff Labs (a LaunchRock alternative) with the help of Chris’ friend. We were extremely active on our Twitter page, Facebook account and Tumblr blog (check it out for some funny posts), and it paid off – we had a hundred sign ups by midnight.
Day 3 was a blur and it seemed to drag on at the same time. Melissa had a fantastic, creative idea to put together a video showing a use case of how two friends can use hangplan as shown below. We used it in all our marketing initiatives to drive sign ups and found it helped our followers understand the concept better. We even got our first press story from PhillyPartyAmbassdor.com who agreed to endorse us and use our application when we launch.
We confirmed Melissa, Jared and I would pitch. Melissa would describe how she came up with the idea, go into the problem then the solution while showing a demo of how to set up a plan live on the site (You can check it out at http://hangplan.herokuapp.com). Jared would come in, act like he’s bored, glance through the mobile app and decide to join Melissa’s plan. I’d finish the presentation by detailing our user acquisition strategy, marketing plan and revenue model.
And that’s exactly how the demo played out Sunday night. Believe it or not, it took five minutes which was the time allotted for the presentation. Our Q&A lasted the same time. We were fifth to present overall from a list of twenty. The night seemed to drag on after and it was hard for me to sit still. Winners were finally announced around 8pm – Intro’d, an application that makes it easier to make introductions, by Jason Lorimer and Kevin Griffin took third place. We cheered when we learned we took second place and EffthePPA, an app that helps Philly drivers determine where to park, won First Place. For detailed coverage on the overall event, check out TechnicallyPHL’s recap.
I actually predicted we would win when we gathered together the first night. We had a great idea, the perfect team, the right personalities and all of us would use what we were about to build. All ten of us have confirmed we want to continue on. You’ll notice it’s been added to my sidebar under “My Projects.”
Thanks to the hangplan team for an unforgettable experience, to the mentors for helping us throughout the weekend and to the judges for recognizing our hard work. Of course, I can’t forget Brad Oyler and Yuiry Porytko for organizing the event.
No evidence will convince you on the truth of what you do not want – Anonymous
I just came back from a Philosophy meetup and that quote resonated with me more than anything else we discussed in the hour and a half I was there. Not just because it applies to our everyday lives, but because it has significant implications on us as entrepreneurs starting our own businesses.
How often do we fall in love with our own idea that we get tunnel vision?
Are we building the minimum viable product according to our own eyes or what the customer needs?
Do we ignore certain user feedback for the sake of others because we like that particular suggestion better?
When we’re cursing a VC for not getting “it”, is it because they insulted our ego or did they really not understand our concept?
Is our unique selling proposition truly that or is it a facade to differentiate ourselves from our competitors?
Was our marketing strategy unsuccessful because it wasn’t executed properly or was it tainted to begin with?
As I’m constantly learning, it’s extremely difficult to take a step back in your own startup and analyze things objectively. I would argue it’s damn near impossible. I live, breathe and sleep thinking about my Company and I’m sure you do the same. We can’t help becoming attached and emotionally tied to our concept. For me, when my Company is on the down slope of that rollercoaster ride, I have a bad day as well.
So how do we know if we’re basing a decision out of something we want to believe or what’s needed? Obviously, some of it is necessary trial and error. There are also ways to test our assumptions to ensure our decisions leave less room for speculation. Regardless, I bet a little bit of that quote rings true for all of us.
For those who don’t know me I’m someone who develops habits, particularly with things I like. And when I like something, I become OBSESSED with it. Take a new song for example, I will listen to it repeatedly over a course of a few hours. I ordered rancheros huevos while out at brunch with friends a couple of months ago and I have become so enamored with the dish, I cook it for myself at least twice a week now. I would go as far as to say you can’t find a better tasting one anywhere else. That’s me…I fall in love with things I like, thrive to become the best at it, and either stick with it or lose interest and move on.
What’s my point? The word “change” is not at the top of my vocabulary list. I’ve put myself out of my comfort zone more in the last few months than I ever have and the level of on-going discomfort I’m experiencing is new. That said, I’m noticing I’m becoming more relaxed about the possibility of change, even embracing it sooner than usual in some areas. I’ve learned more about myself during these last three months than I have in years and this process has helped me figure out what I want and more importantly, what I DON’T want.
I’m an extremely private person and even being this open is different for me. Maybe I should add that to the list! As someone once said, “If you don’t create change, change will create you.”