Friday night 40 to 50 people gathered to discuss a problem. Sunday night two of these problems were solved and four more were well on their way to being solved. Why? Startup Weekend Boulder 3.
This was my first startup weekend and the only thing that I understood coming into it was that people came together over a weekend to focus all of their efforts and talent on creating a startup. Friday night I left work, said goodbye to my family and headed to the Leeds School of Business on the University of Colorado campus. When I arrived most of the group had already gathered and was making quick work of the pizza and socializing. I slapped on a nametag, grabbed a couple of slices and caught up with people I hadn't seen in a while After people were fed and sufficiently socialized we began the process that would define the rest of the weekend. Answering the question "What is your problem?" Out of the dozen or so problems that emerged, two intrigued me. The first: it is a pain for IT departments to support multiple client operating systems and how to you ease this pain. The second: I want to run a good photo service on my own system without a lot of development overhead, aka Flickr on my own server. After the problem pitch I wondered around, listening to how people might solve the problems and by the end of this really felt that I could contribute to the second of the problems that interested me, the photo server, as did the person who pitched it and two others. We agreed to revisit the idea in the morning and that is pretty much how the first day of startup weekend ended. Well that, and beers at Southern Sun.
Saturday, with enough coffee and bagels for 40 in hand, I arrived back at the school. People trickled in and the groups started to take shape. Tom, Harry, Jason, and myself started to really tear into the use cases and possible solutions to the problem and "running Flickr on my server" quickly morphed into something much more flexible that would allow for a much broader set of use cases. Around us the other groups were hashing out their own solutions, some people who hadn't commited to anything were simply watching the process and finding out if they could contribute. About half way through the day one group found that the problem they were trying to solve had already been solved and instead of quitting on the weekend they either helped other people or started solving another problem. This kind of passion is where the real strength of startup weekends is. Over at our table it was up to me to stand up the systems that the rest of the team could work on. After a few issues we finally got something up and running that people could start working with. Without any of us realizing it another day had passed and it was time for the teams to pack up and grab dinner together. Once again our group really liked the direction we were headed and determined to make further headway set plans to meet at The Cup the next morning.
That night, as I explained to my wife what we were doing, I realized just how excited I was about our project and couldn't wait to go back at it the next day. I think that everyone in the group had a similar experience because not only did everyone come back with more use cases to explore but with renewed energy to make this into a viable startup. Not only did we continue to develop code and, in my case, standing up a much cleaner system on Sunday but we did some organizing around what we were going to call the product. Tom began to organize us so that we had a clear direction and not so much duplication of effort. Harry and Jason really dug deep into the heart of what we are building. I, leaning heavily on the kindness of others at startup weekend, began to learn more and more about how to manage the Amazon EC2 web service. Other groups were making similar progress and as the day wore on we began to trickle into the business school again to meet as startup weekend boulder 3 and have each group present the solution to our problem.
Each group gave a quick presentation, a very dark video of which can be found on Ustream. MediaPatcher, SpotGrab and CraigsWishList were all born and developed over the weekend and, as of Sunday night, are planning on moving forward. Some of the startup weekend team was with us and they spent the weekend refining how Startup Weekends are run as well as announcing on Sunday a possible extension to reward one project that continues to do well after a year. By the end of the weekend I was really very impressed with not only the passion that everyone brought to the weekend but the incredible knowledge as well. I am seriously considering trying this model of problem solving in other venues of my life because if I learned anything this weekend it was that people, passionate about what what they do and unencumbered by the rest of what life throws at them, can accomplish a great deal in a short amount of time.