Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Final Recap of Startup Weekend

Over the course of the last few weeks I have been blogging about my experience at the Boulder Startup Weekend. You can read part 1 and part 2. Now I would like to talk about what we did and what we were able to accomplish. Here is the story of Helpmore.

After the initial pitches I found a guy named Lorne who was trying to help the homeless. While it would have been fun to be on a team that was trying to go viral and make tons of money this seemed like a hard problem to solve and a worthy one. His main pain point was that he wanted to give money to the homeless but he didn't trust that the money would go to a good cause. That has been a pain point for me as well. My other problem was that I have stopped carrying cash and so I was hoping to solve that as well.

Along with Lorne we had an guy named Satyah who joined the team as well. We set to work trying to come up with an idea. We spent all Friday night coming up with a plan on how to work with homeless shelters to provide goods for people and went to bed.

We had found an Airbnb in walking distance so while walking home I had an idea that we could use QR codes to create vouchers on the fly. Basically the user would scan a the code and it would give them a map of near by stores that accepted them. They could then pick items from a store and add it to the card. It would then . This would allow people to purchase specific items rather than giving cash. Also getting businesses on board would allow for a viral aspect since we could allow businesses to sign up on their own. Excited about the idea i got to our place and crashed.

I pitched the idea in the morning and Lorne liked it. We started going with it. Soon two more people, Trevor and Nick, joined the team and we were firing on all cylinders. We made a proof of concept app using Wordpress and paypal and hit the streets. The good news was that the homeless loved the idea! They felt the same pain we felt and were excited about something that would build trust between the homeless and others. We talked to two nice ladies who were down on their luck. They didn't want money for drugs or alcohol. In fact they were talking about how cool it would be to start a coffee shop when we walked up.

Getting businesses on board would be our hardest hurdle. It turns out they dont like homeless people hanging around. However much they want to help, it just ends up being bad for business. We had some who would be willing to use the service if it existed so we walked away confident that we could get them on board. I also thought if Helpmore could gain enough traction then businesses would flock to it to be seen as socially conscious. That is a pipe dream though because we hadn't got the first one.

We went back to base encouraged that we had an idea that people liked and began to talk to some coaches. All of the coaches liked our idea so we were feeling pretty good. After a good nights sleep it was time to get ready for the final pitch.

For the final pitch we had 10 minutes to present to some people who had created successful startups. They were very smart and had done this thing before. The winning team got $500 and some help getting their business off the ground, so there was something at stake. Lorne and I split up the presentation. I was very nervous. I am not usually that nervous talking in front of people but since we had such a strict time schedule we decided to script it out and go off a script. I don't do well with that so I feel like my pitch was a little stilted. We also ran out of time so we didn't get to all of our information. We were able to show our prototype in action and we got our idea across.

The judges rightly pointed out our most difficult hurdle. We had to get not one, not two but three parties on board at the same time to make this work. One audience is hard enough, two is really difficult, and three is darn near impossible. They said they gave us pretty high marks but  in the end we didn't win the event but I think we had a pretty good idea.

After the event we booked it back to Lawrence and arrived home at 5 AM. I crashed pretty hard and got up at noon to go to work. It was probably not my most productive day at work.

The big question still on the table is where do we go from here. To be honest, I am not really sure. We tried to get a google hang out together but our schedules were all off. I loved working on the team and we had a great group of guys. I think there is a key time period right after the event that can make or break a team and that time might be passed. Also there is something to be said about creating a business that can make money. I really loved the idea but startups are hard work and ones that don't make money are even harder. Like I said about the Lawrence Makerspace, sometimes money can be used as a motivator to do good things. Maybe a for profit business would have been able to get us going when a non-profit didn't.


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