The Bard of Robots

Startup Weekend

A week ago I attended my first Startup Weekend in Provo.  The experience was good overall, but for none of the reasons I expected.  And in the end I had plenty of disappointments, even though I was glad I went.

The Ideas

From the onset I was really excited to hear the great ideas from other people.  I have worked on a lot of fun projects, (from Face Morphing to Augmented Reality and from Kid’s Games to Voice Changers).  I have a notepad full of ideas, and always love to hear ideas from other.  So I was super curious to hear each of the different pitches.

But to be honest the ideas I was underwhelmed.  There were only three ideas that stuck out to me as being interesting enough to work on.

  1. Love Journal - This was interesting since the pitch was given by Nate Bagley.  Nate had spent a year of his life interviewing couples to find the keys to a successful relationship.
  2. Draw-A-Doll - Jethro’s idea to turn kid’s drawings into sewn dolls.  I really liked the idea, but I didn’t want to spend my first Startup Weekend working with a friend as I was worried it would taint my experience.
  3. Mouth Music - An idea to turn your mouth into an instrument.  I had all the skills to make the project a success, I’ve worked on voice manipulators in the past, and was probably the most qualified person in the room to make it happen.  It didn’t make it past the first round, but I was apprehensive about repurposing old code I had already written for the competition anyway.

With so many pitches, I was really hoping to hear a variety of amazing ideas.  But to be honest I came away from the first part of the weekend disappointed.  Day to day, I hear a lot of ideas.  It seems like everyone has an idea for an app, and (not having the skills to make it come to pass) they really want to share it with me.  Since I’ve heard so many one minute pitches in my life, perhaps I just set the bar too high.

Don’t get me wrong, there were a variety of good ideas.  But I was looking for both a good idea, and something I was interested in working on.  In the end I picked Love Journal.

The Skillset

After picking the idea of Love Journal, which later was changed to be called the Love Note the work began.  We looked around the room to assess what kind of skill-set we had.  The goal was to build a moderately complex mobile app.  The breakdown of the skills was interesting…

4 Non-Technical
2 Graphic Designers
3 Web Designers (1 of which is new the field)
1 Android Developer… Me.

From the very beginning I was worried about the amount that we would be able to accomplish.  Nobody had mobile design experience, and I was the only mobile developer.  And the main focus was a mobile app.  But I decided to go in with full throttle and accomplish as much as I possible could.

I threw my headphones on and started working my tail off.  Luckily it turned out one of the graphic designers (Richard Austin) had a good handle on the mobile design, and between the two of us we were able to put together a pretty snazzy looking product with nice animations and good functionality by the end.

The Work

In the beginning I was pretty optimistic.  I knew the project depended upon me so I was working my tail off.  For the first 8 hours or so this worked out great.  But as time went on I started to get more and more discouraged.

The first discouragement was realizing I wouldn’t have the proper backend support.  I tasked a couple of the designers with building me one, but they didn’t seem to know where to start.  So I took the task on myself.  But as time went on, and the hours ticked by I started to lower my expectations further and further, and started to add more and more hacks and shortcuts.

My second discouragement came later in the day when much of the rest of the team just stopped working.  The non-technical members had worked hard, but ran out of things to do.  They were goofing around, watching videos, and chatting on Facebook.  All while my stress was going up realizing the amount of incomplete code that still needed completing.  I really felt the weight of the team on my shoulders, but I didn’t feel the support I was hoping for.

The Company

I love competition, and when I go, I go to win.  That was my attitude with this weekend too.  So there was a big disappointment not being part of a winning group.  On the flip side of things I am really glad I went.  I met some really awesome people.  And, the goal for me of the competition was to meet people, so in the end the experience was well worth it.

Honestly, I’d go again in a heartbeat, even with all my disappointments.  As a developer I don’t always get to interface with the non-technical crowd.  Getting to meet them, hear their side of the story, and learning from them was invaluable.  I run a business on the side, and I know that the business lacks in marketing, business strategy, ect.  I know I need to connect with people that have those skills, but it isn’t something that happens often for me.

If getting away for a few days and working my tail off is the only way to get to know great people, then perhaps it is a price worth paying.

The Food

The most surprising piece of the competition was how greasy gross the food was.  I guess I should have expected as much, but the whole experience left me feeling fairly ill.  It really felt gross by the end of Saturday.  I guess I have a good wife that cooks fairly healthy and treats me well better than I deserve; but I can’t imagine others didn’t feel that same way by the end.  It took me the better part of the next week to rebound from the lack of sleep and gross internal feeling.

All in all the experience wasn’t what I expected at all.  I really wish there were better ways to get in contact with potential entrepreneurial individuals.  But I’m not aware of where they may be.  So until then I’ll probably keep attending just so I can meet great people.

This project is maintained by bradgrimm