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.