Philly Startup Weekend

This weekend I got to take part in Philly Startup Weekend!

My Startup Weekend Badge

Startup Weekend is a world wide organization dedicated to hosting events to help educate and inspire entrepreneurs. The goal is to launch a startup in 54 hours. There have been several past Philly incarnations leading to some well known companies. I’ve always wanted to go but have had too many commitments. This weekend worked out and I’m glad it did.

The overall format is pretty self explanatory. For us there were about 110 attendees, 50 pitches, 16 projects selected based on a popular vote via stickers and then informal team formation. The teams worked on their new startup for the next two days with occasional drop-ins from local coaches to help out. The event hosts 4-minute presentations with 3-minutes of Q/A from the the judges for each project. Things closes with awards and a final party/mixer.

What I Liked

The attendees I interacted with were good people. No one there was slacking, nor did I see people looking to milk free work out of volunteers for their pet projects. Everyone genuinely seemed to be there to learn and do what they can to launch these startups.

The coaches that showed up were extremely helpful and provided great feedback as we matured our startups.

Overall, the whole event was a blast.

What I Didn’t Like

The venue / wifi. Once work started it was clear the organizers couldn’t support everyone on the main floor via wifi. Workbridge who is located in the same building was gracious enough to host moving a few teams up to their offices to help the congestion and while it did fix the wifi issue it also disrupted the “single open floor plan” which I think is extremely welcome for events like this.

The value in having an open floor is that you’ll overhear ideas and problems your fellow attendees are having and be able help each other out. It’s a great way to meet people and share ideas. On our 2nd floor space each team was isolated into their own offices so there wasn’t as much cross communication as I would have preferred. To balance things I took walking breaks back down to the main floor and talked with people. Even just having the ability to see the other team’s whiteboards was pretty interesting.

Some Take Aways

When you are given a project to do with a team of people, make sure you modify your plans to get the most out of these people and their skill set. Don’t get bogged down in that you are missing out on a specific developer or designer skill set. If you have someone who has experience with WordPress, figure out how to integrate WordPress into your solution. Make the most of what you have. Embrace constraints!

The overall entrepreneur community is maturing. I think it has been common to think that having a working prototype at the end of a weekend like this is a major goal however from my experience this weekend I was very pleased to see a larger percent of time focused on customer validation and the business model than code. More than working code what I think you need to at the end of the weekend is strong visualization of your product, and this need not be working code. I think UI renders or even a mocked up Keynote deck that fakes your website or app suffices. What you don’t want to do is let the complexities of the code implementation get in the way of prototyping different ideas during the weekend.

Our Project

I helped out with MentorShake, a website that aims to help connect mentors with students. Over the weekend during our validation we actually got back a lot of contradictory feedback from mentors on what they wanted and also struggled with the business model. By presentation time I think we ended up with a pretty good business plan and verbal commitments from over a dozen locals who were willing to be listed as mentors. Time will tell if the idea has legs but if you’re local to Philly and interested please sign up to the mailing list by visiting this page.

Thanks!

I’d like to again thank the organizers of the Philly Startup Weekend. It was a great time and I appreciate their hard work. If you are at all interested in this kind of thing I recommend you be on the lookout for a Startup Weekend in your area.

Panic’s Status Board for iPad

I finally got some time to play with Panic’s new Status Board today and I have to say it’s pretty cool.

My Status Board Setup

Status Board is an iPad app that helps you produce a visually pleasing status board to keep track of things in your life. There are built-in tools for email, twitter, weather and more. The real power though comes from the free-from widgets that let you build your own data sources.

In my own first draft status board I’m using one such custom source called MintStatusBoardHelper, which is a Mint Pepper that will produce Status Board friendly JSON to help visualize website stats, in my case per-week visit counts. (Note: there was a little bug in this particular per-week source but it was easy enough to fix in PHP. I sent a report to the author as well so hopefully it’ll be gone soon.)

I was particularly happy to see that Status Board only required iOS 5. For me (and I assume others) this means we finally have a good use for those iPad 1s that sadly can’t run iOS 6 and have been collecting dust.

To stand it up I purchased a portable fold-up iPad stand on Amazon for ~ $8. The stand works well though you’ll have to plug the iPad in on the top as there isn’t enough room on the bottom. If you keep the iPad plugged in (to a full power outlet) and set the auto lock to never, the iPad basically becomes an always on screen.

Some things I’d love to see in the future:

  • More boards, swipe left and right to switch.
  • Font size options. My poor eyes can’t read the tweets.
  • Render single and sequences of photos. Think digital picture frame.

I was always jealous of Panic’s old HTML/TV-based status board and now I have my own. So happy! :)

Retweet Etiquette

I know I’ve done it. After months of working on a new project, I release it to the world and am extremely proud. I tweet about it and maybe even occasionally retweet some nice things people are saying.

Dave Winer recently release Fargo and while I haven’t had a chance to play with it yet I do follow Dave on Twitter and he’s been busy promoting his new baby.

I have nothing against this, but along with his own tweets he’s been retweeting other people talking about Fargo, and in my option excessively. The majority of these retweets could be summarized in “Dave made a new outline tool. It’s cool.”

I’ll call these ego tweets, and the problem with ego tweets is that they provide no value. I as a reader of your tweet stream gain no relevant information or resources from them. Their sole purpose is to promote the fact a certain person likes something you are invested in.

As a comparision, one of the retweets Dave sent was good. From Lawrence Lessig:

This is a good retweet. It still has a bit of an ego smell in that here is a well known person talking about my product but the value is present as it gives me something to do. Fargo sadly does require a Dropbox account to do anything so if you don’t have one or are antsy about linking up with a new app blind this is a great resource.

Normally maybe I’d keep this bit of “retweet etiquette” opinion to myself but I was kind of disappointed in how my feedback was taken.

Dave Winder feedback conversation

The lesson to be learned here is this:

If someone gives you feedback or criticism, just say thank you. If you want clarification or more information on their comment or disagreement feel free to have an adult conversation. Do not ever tell someone who has taken an interest in you or your products and is providing feedback to go away.

A Mac Pro Guy Getting By in an iMac World: Storage

Recently I decommissioned my much beloved Mac Pro which served as a lowly file server since I moved to my loaded 27-inch iMac last year. The iMac is working out great though I would have still preferred a new Mac Pro for it’s overall expandability, particular to this post — it’s extra hard drive bays.

On the iMac, I use the 256 GB SSD for my boot drive and have the second internal 2 TB (disk-based) drive partitioned into three other drives, one for a nightly SuperDuper! mirror of said SSD, another for a Time Machine backup and then the final one for 700 GB of misc storage. This “misc storage” used to be for my iTunes library and backups of large downloads like Xcode/Mac OS X installs, but that’s changed now as you’ll see below so I might roll this back into the Time Machine partition or rework it to have a Windows Bootcamp drive again (like I had on my Mac Pro).

All in all, the built-in storage I get with the iMac works fine for day-to-day work but I still needed something for my archives: my monthly backup of cloud/server assets, archives of my video/screencast work and my iTunes library (which has ballooned with WWDC videos and slides).

For a while I debated getting a Drobo, particularly one of the newer Thunderbolt versions. From the outside it looks like a great system but at $850 with no hard drives included I just couldn’t justify it. So what did I end up with?

I bought a pair of Western Digital, My Passport, 2TB Portable External Hard Drives ($139 on Amazon). My digital closet sizes up at around 800 GB right now so I expect these should meet my needs for a good while. I got two of them and use one as my main archive drive and then the other to backup the main. They use USB 3.0 for transfer and while the speed isn’t crazy awesome, it totally meets my needs. I love the small form factor and the fact they do not need an additional power supply. I often throw the backup one in my bag for IndyHall if I’d like to have my iTunes library with me (it’s way to big for my MacBook Air’s SSD). I also love that I’m not using some complex RAID format. I can plug these drives into any Mac and get access to my files.

Anyways, I’ve been using these drives for three months now and all is working well. If you are in the market for some extra external storage, I highly recommend. I’m actually considering buying a third to start a rotation of sorts at IndyHall. With that I believe I’d be safe losing all my home gear to a theft or fire and still have all my digital stuff safe.

Checking In: April Flu, New Desk, Taxes

Sorry for the lack of updates. I kind of fell into a work drought over last few weeks with a mixture of a bad stomach bug, a new desk which required lots of teardown of my office and now a few days of tax paperwork. Oh how I loath the tax paperwork.

On the fun side of things, I got to play through the campaign of Starcraft 2 and have been practicing my Protoss skills in some vs AI and ladder. I also picked up a 3DS XL (previously had a normal-sized 3DS) and have been revisiting some older games, playing Super Mario Land 3D and a few others. I also picked up Bioshock: Infinite but sadly due to the state of my room haven’t hooked back up the Xbox 360. Finally I’m playing Link to the Past on YouTube as a new Let’s Play. Been pretty good about posting new episodes daily. Feel free to check it out.

Will be back soon with some updates to my CB Reader project and others. Until then… :)