Philly Startup Weekend

The ink has barely dried on the weekend that was Philly Startup Weekend, but I felt the need to just jot down the experience before I lost it in the chaos of getting back to the grind.

I need to just start by saying that it was for me simply an awesome experience.

If you don’t know what the Startup Weekend phenomenon is, then I’d suggest scurrying on over to startupweekend.org and getting a quick gist. For the overly lazy, you get 58 hours to build a prototype to then show off to a panel of judges at the end of the weekend. Friday night, folks pitch ideas that range from insane to awe-inspiring, and in between it all you hope to find someone to work.

The event this weekend in Philly happened at the University of Arts (where the art is dope, btw). There were some presentations on Friday night, including yours truly showing off OpenTok. Folks shared close to 35 ideas, and then the whole crowd voted on their favorites to get it down to 20. In the end, 16 groups presented Sunday evening (and are probably still presenting as I write this at 30,000′ over the Midwest).

So, given the background info, why was it awesome?

  • Inspiring Folks
    • Let’s be honest. Most of the time when dealing with the world of startups, people with ideas, folks pitching, we all immediately glaze over or think to ourselves about how often we’ve heard that someone thinks they can beat Google at text ads. There’s a malaise to hearing people tell you how great their next big thing is.Now, that said, there’s something to a room filled with people who think that in some small way they’re going to do the impossible. Build a minimum viable product in 50+ hours, create buzz around it through their own social networks, Hacker News and TechCrunch, and then buy an island in the Caribbean. I made the last one up, but the crowd-sourced energy has an infectious buzz to it that some of the meet and greet, idea kick around sessions seem to lack. There’s a real bravado to the “I don’t give a damn about telling you my idea because I’m going to do it better than you”. I LOVED it.
  • Good energy
    • I already mentioned this in the previous bullet, but it has to be said again. The people were amazing. Nothing but good energy in the room for 3 days, and that just makes everything better. Enough said.
  • Fun ideas
    • There was a real quirkiness to the ideas that I really enjoyed. One guy through out the idea of building a dating site where it was only people who were rated an “8” or better. The collective thought in the room was definitely how do you build a product you can’t use.There was this amazing iPhone art application built by a grad student at RIT who wanted some help with taking it to the next level.Someone wanted to solve the ever-unsolvable guarantee a parking spot problem.

      Jewelry rental, clothing measurement management, relationship analysis by text message aggregation, the list goes on and on. I ended up working with a group who hope to bridge the teacher-to-student divide amongst high schoolers by having Facebook be a critical part of how information is shared (but more details on that in another post).

      The whole gambit of ideas was really impressive.

  • Opportunity
    • I would say the weekend started with an interesting split of 50/40/10 to engineers/business folks/other. That really surprised me. If you’re a developer, and you’re bored, then build an OpenTok app. But if you don’t want to build an OpenTok app, then find some of these business folks at your local graduate school, and start building things. Business folks are desperate to see cool ideas turned into applications, and I feel as if good developers have an angst to work on something that they believe is fun.If this weekend taught me anything it’s that if you don’t love your job the opportunity to find something you love doing is 56 hours away.

I want to thank the organizers of the Philly Startup Weekend for a really great event, and I’m really looking forward to going to more of these in the future. Let’s hope they all live up to the hype.