Posted November 23, 2009on:
I attended the Bay Area Startup Weekend in Mountain View this previous week-end. This was the first such event I attended and it was an amazing experience – so I thought I’d share it.
The idea behind the event was that a bunch of folks would show up, some of them would pitch ideas for new startups and the others would join them if they liked the idea and/or had the necessary skills to build it. The goal was to build a working prototype over the course of the week-end.
This seemed like an impossible task to me – not the part where you build a prototype but the idea that random people could come together and actually form a startup. And on talking to one of the organizers, he confirmed that the goal was really to form a community, help people get to know each other – sometimes the team does gel and a successful startup is formed.
Nevertheless, there were probably a 100 people at this event. And contrary to my thinking, a good chunk of them weren’t even developers. Some of them had ideas and were hoping that others would build a prototype for them. Others came to hang-out and learn and still others came to simply make connections.
In the spirit of things, I joined a team called “medilist” which is a service aimed at caregivers to monitor their loved ones. Steve Echman proposed the idea since a potential client wanted a system like this for the UK. He is a business/marketing type but I found him to be quite knowledgable. We also had Prashant Sachdev, an entrepreneur running onion.tv from India on our team. Prashant ended up developing the front-end, while I did the back-end. We were going to use Twilio for getting input from the patient, but neither Prashant nor I knew anything about it. We hashed out the use case we would prototype on Friday night and I decided to tackle Twilio first thing on Saturday. Prashant worked into the wee hours figuring out how to hook Flex to MySQL.
Lucky for me, on Saturday we had Kevin Morrill join out team remotely from SFO and knew Twilio. That was great, as I could then focus on just the database and PHP application logic.
But as usual, things were’nt that simple. We lost half of Saturday over issues with the hosting site, versions of php,mysql etc. But on the plus side, we had Nutan Panwar, a user interface designer join us later in the day.Steve and Nutan colloborated on the page designs and by 10 or 10:30 PM we managed to get the dashboard working. It was pulling data from the database and displaying relevant fields.At this point, I called it quits for the day but Prashant and Nutan worked into the wee hours, Nutan recorded all the voice questions for twilio and Prashant was once again fighting with flex.
Sunday morning, things started moving. Kevin came down in person and quickly got the twilio app hooked up to the database. Prashant and I finished up the details page and by 7:00 PM we had our demo ready to roll. You can see what we put together for the caregiver app here. I can’t post the link to the phone app, as it inserts into the database, but what it does is call the specified phone number, asks a series of questions, gathers the responses and stores them in the database.
There were about a dozen teams presenting and most of what they put together was incredible – from a new twitter search (1st prize) to a jazzy looking demo for choosing what to wear, the apps ranged from useful, thoughtful to plain fun. The evening wrapped up around 10:00 PM.
On the whole, it was one of the most intense week-ends I have ever experienced. I enjoyed every minute of it and may even consider doing it again. I learned about several products and companies, got some business tips, got to know my very nice team and hacked some code. Even if you are never going to do a startup. I highly recommend participating in an event like this – it really gets your adrenalin flowing and bring some passion to whatever you are doing. And who knows – perhaps you will do that startup !