Philly Startup Weekend

A week or so ago now was Philly’s Startup Weekend. It was an awesome experience, though especially tiring since it was back-to-back with Charrette. A little background, Startup Weekend is a three-day activity that begins with people pitching business ideas and ends with people presenting their businesses. Anyone can attend, tickets aren’t expensive. After the initial pitches, they get voted on and narrowed down and then people with the approved ideas go around looking for people to make a team to spend the next two days, researching, developing and prototyping so that they can present the most comprehensively developed business.

I pitched an idea to develop a mobile app that would collect bicycle rider route info, that I ended up calling City Bikes. This way we could provide locational specific discounts from businesses and then we can sell the collected data to the governments so that they could stop guessing where to put bike infrastructure and spend their money more wisely.

It wasn’t picked. Oh well. I ended up working on a team with Samir Malik and John Young, that seemed to have the most straight forward money-making idea pitched. The idea was creating a orbitz like site for bus/train travel in the Northeast corridor of the U.S..

We lacked a developer so I ended up mocking the thing up. I did the thing initially in InDesign to make an interactive pdf, however I quickly learned that ipad’s, the device for doing research, don’t support interactive pdf’s, or really pdf’s in general. It was fun, because lacking a developer allowed us to focus more on the interface and the business. The idea was to really flesh out the wire frame. Make it as usable, fast and straightforward as possible. We were only able to do  two iterations, but conceivably(this is where the developer comes in) it’s a pretty straightforward thing.

We walked down to 30th St. Station and talked to people waiting in-line to get on the bus. They seemed very enthusiastic about it. We also showed it to people around the event because our market is more of the last-minute traveler and we suspected that many of the attendees, being involved in a lot of things, would be inclined to have to move between cities often. This gave us insights into not only the usability, but how we could market it as well. Things like literally walking through a line and offering the chance to allow people to use our tool to buy a return ticket immediately, quickly and easily.

In the end we didn’t place; the winners got tablet pc’s. It was a company that had actually made money already. It’s premise was a way to help you avoid parking tickets. It would not only show you on a map ok places to park, but it would allow you to set an absurd amount of timers as reminders. Finally, if you did manage to get a ticket it would prompt you to take evidence in the form of written statements and photos and then connect you to a local parking lawyer, of whom you could employ to get your ticket handled.

Oh, one night I moon lighted with another company developing a cab-calling app. There must have been about eight people on that team, but it was all business and developer people. They were very appreciative to have not only an extra set of hands, but someone with the designer sensibilities that were lacking otherwise.

In the end East Coast Easy, my business, is still looking for developers. We’re hoping to make this thing happen quickly and easily, as the name implies. Otherwise my biggest take-away would be having another opportunity to see where I can fit my skills into the normal machinations of business. It helped me work on my phrasings and pitches and made me feel pretty good, in lieu of all the demand for my services. Good times.