Startup Weekend: Technology for Good

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Before signing up for the Technology for Good Startup Weekend  in San Francisco, I was worried about two things:  1) that I would be the only developer on my team and 2) that I would be the only woman on my team.

Startup Weekend began on Friday with some mingling, and then the pitches began.  The theme of the weekend was “Technology for Good,” so most of the 50 pitches had at least some social or charitable mission.  Some of the ideas were really exciting, and people who pitched (I did not) had a chance to recruit people to vote for their idea to move to the next round.  Two of the three ideas I voted for moved to the next round, so I was left with a difficult decision:  which team to join.

I should explain.  There were many more “non-technical” people at the Startup Weekend than there were “technical” people (a.k.a. developers and designers), so I (as a developer) was in high demand.  I was torn between Sexy Giving, a site that would match dating interests based on charitable interests, and Those Who Rock, We Support You, a site to help musicians get paid for their art.  Both seemed fun and worthwhile, and I had a hard time choosing between them.  In the end, I joined team Sexy Giving because the founder and team members I spoke with were pretty convincing.  That, and they didn’t have a developer yet.  When I met the rest of the team, I noticed that they all were male.

In short, I got myself into the exact situation that I’d hoped to avoid.  Our team had two designers, several people on the “business side” who were responsible for putting together our business plan and testing the market, and me.

Our team spent Friday evening meeting about our plans for Sexy Giving, decided to use (at my urging) the Twitter Bootstrap UI for our prototype, and adjourned around midnight.  We were all excited about the direction we were headed in, and ready to get a good start on the website on Saturday morning.  I also liked that our fearless leader, Andy, was proud of the fact that the team had one of the few female developers in the room.  (Hooray!)

We arrived on Saturday morning at the Hub on not enough sleep, had some bad coffee, and got to work.  By “got to work” I mean experienced 30 pivots before 2 pm, eventually settling on the idea we started with.  During this time I set up MAMP, a PHP/ LAMP local development environment, got my database connection set up, and started working on the database structure.  It was a bit frustrating to work without a clear idea of what direction our company would be heading in, as it’s hard to build software (something detailed) without a pretty clear road map.  That said, our whole team made good progress throughout Saturday on our project, which was re-christened Honeycomb, and we had a new logo and a profile page (with gravatar) by the end of the evening!

Team Honeycomb, taking a short photo break (photo from Andy)
Team Honeycomb, taking a short photo break (photo from Andy)

On Sunday, I spent the early part of the morning attempting to move Honeycomb from my computer to Joyent hosting, but I mixed something up in the MySQL configuration, and it wouldn’t go.  After an hour, I cut my losses and headed in to the Hub, where there was a nice cup of light roast coffee waiting for me (thanks Team Honeycomb!).  While our designers made a ton of great wireframes (David and Robert have mad Illustrator skills) and our business team (Andy, our fearless leader, Chien, and Jin) hammered away at our business plan, surveying potential users and looking into the competition,  I worked on our matching algorithm for the demo portion of the pitch.  Once that was in hand, I recruited some people in the room to sign up for our dating service 🙂  Then it was time to practice the pitch + demo and head down to see all of the pitches.  Our team didn’t win, but we put forth a great effort.  The teams that did win (Herotica, SeniorServe, 2nd Servings, and Job Power) all had great pitches and ideas 🙂

All in all, Startup Weekend was a good, if exhausting, experience.  Being the only girl on the team (something I should get used to?) worked out well on our team.  I learned a lot about iterating on ideas, pivoting, and how to focus in the midst of that.  I am proud of myself for setting up a functional prototype of Honeycomb that gave people a good idea of what we want to accomplish with our product.  I also learned that I can get a fair amount done in a short period of time with a little bit of focus– something that has been lacking in my pursuit of side projects.  It was fun to build something fun, and to work with a great team on an idea that people relate to and connect with.

Thanks Team Honeycomb, for a great weekend, and thanks Startup Weekend Bay Area for the experience!

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