This was my first time being an Organizer for Startup Weekend New Jersey, and I have to say that it was an amazing experience holding it at JuiceTank. Of course, putting together the event was a lot of work and effort, but to see the startups that attendees created over the weekend made the process a cherished one for me. Feeling nostalgic for the events that transpired last week (March 28-30), I have decided to spend my Sunday afternoon writing an extensive recap on the event.
- 15 sponsors
- 114 attendees (sold out event)
- 30+ on the wait list (not able to attend due to SW’s restriction of limiting # of attendees; easier to manage teams)
- 20 teams formed based on ideas pitched on Friday
- 13 teams actually pitched on Sunday
- 2 teams were selected as the winners; Prizes included semi-finalist status into TechLaunch, free office space at JuiceTank, & give-aways
- Hundreds of tweets throughout the weekend
When were about to launch Startup Weekend New Jersey on Friday (March 28), we had about 114 attendees who had signed up. This was a turnout that no one had expected for New Jersey. We had set to prove the naysayers wrong from the beginning, but no matter how hard we worked, if there wasn’t a fundamental enthusiasm from the grassroots effort that you are all helping to put together, then it wouldn’t have mattered.
So while this is starting to sound like a bit of a thank-you note (and it definitely is), I just wanted to take the opportunity to show my appreciation for all of you, the Startup Weekend participants, judges, coaches, and volunteers so that the world can see what we are trying to do. And the next event that we do will make an even bigger impact and more noise.
We Were Sold Out Days Before #SWNJ
So on to the recap – As I said before, we had 114 attendees that were signed up. This meant that we were well over capacity (100 is the perfect number to go by in case you want to organize a SW yourself – it makes it much easier to manage teams while still creating the necessary amount of excitement) and we even had to create a waitlist (which ended up ballooning to about 30 people)
That alone would have shown me the enthusiasm and talent that is present in New Jersey – but on Friday night we had over 50 pitches from people that had come to event with an idea of what they wanted to accomplish in 54 hours.
Friday Night – Pitches, Louis Gagnon Speaks, Teams Form
After an introduction to what to expect from the weekend, attendees were treated to a great talk from Louis Gagnon, Chief Marketing and Product Officer of Audible. Gagnon shared his valuable insights from his own entrepreneurial journey.
Some bits of wisdom from Louis Gagnon
“If you really love what you do, the result does not matter. Being an entrepreneur means loving to build and loving to change”
“The chance of business success is low enough that we can be happy with where we are”
Over 50 ideas were pitches afterwards – any attendee could come up and give any idea. The only rule was that they had 30-60 seconds to get everyone to buy into their concepts. Participants then voted on the concepts presented, and this 50 was whittled down to 20. From there, it was up to the 20 people whose ideas made the cut to try to convince others to work with them. Achieving a key balance of developers, marketers, business minds, and designers was key for success. 13 teams officially formed at the end of the night, since several merged due to lack of specific skills needed to get a concept off the ground. Some of these groups formed as many as 10 members! Teams that were larger than some fully formed startup teams began working as soon as that night.
Now The Fun Starts…
Starting on Saturday the teams were in full crunch-mode. Each team took a spot around the JuiceTank coworking space and made it their home. Brainstorming, business model writing, coding, and gathering market data were just some of the tasks that teams had to delegate amongst themselves to make sure they had something to pitch on Sunday. And there was nothing you could do to distract these teams. Even when the food came, some participants preferred to just keep working…
But for a Startup Weekend to be successful it needs to be able to provide the tools and resources help its teams. Luckily we had a fantastic group of over 20 coaches from a wide spectrum of sectors including finance, legal, web development, design, and marketing. Some of coaches included Matt Hamilton, Lead Developer – API and Integrations at Venmo, Mark Ciapka, CEO of Applied Dynamic Solutions, Mike Calamusa, Designer at Aardvark Brigade, and Peter Hogan-De Paul, Developer at Phone.com.
All of the work of the weekend was leading up to one big moment – the opportunity to make that 5 minute startup pitches to a panel of judges. The crowd was huge for this, and we had about 30 additional attendees that were just looking to view the startup demos.
The Judging Criteria
The judges based their final scores of these four criteria listed below. Startup Weekends tend to be different from hackathons since the judging criteria is more holistic – there are more factors to the verdict besides for technical execution.
Can this idea make money? Is there positive customer growth or revenue? Is there a customer acquisition / rollout strategy? Has a revenue model been defined and is it realistic? Is the idea/team ready for capital and execution? Would you invest in this company at this point?
Did the team identify customers (demographic, location etc)? Did the team get out and talk to customers? What is the value proposition to customers? What channels of communication are used? Product/Market fit?
Technical – Execution
Is there a functional product (e.g.in the case of an app, did they build one)? Were architecture diagrams and API signatures included? Which services did they integrate with? How much of the product is running on a real server with non-sample data?
Design – Execution
Does it have a professional look and feel? Does it deliver a compelling and captivating user experience? Is it memorable? What key insights were gathered over the weekend to go in this creative direction?
The Two Winners
Usually after a Startup Weekend, one winning startup is crowned. However, two of the companies were so close to each other in scoring that there needed to be a tie. Congratulations to these two teams listed below!
Waddle (#SWNJ Winner – Tie)
A platform that let’s you create your own travel footprint – Waddle integrates with social platforms, displaying a map of where the subscriber has traveled, based on posts to FourSquare, Facebook, Twitter and the like. By using date filtering to figure out when these events occur, the app lets users recall events by location, as opposed to having to sift through a timeline. It takes these check-in platforms, eliminates the noise, and creates a beautiful travel footprint for you or your group.
A quote from Waddle Co-Founders Vishal Reddy and Suma Reddy:
NJSW was a fantastic experience. We didn’t know what to expect coming into the weekend, and were blown away by the incredible energy, talented team and helpful coaches. Winning the competition has really kick-started our product development process — we now feel that the sky is the limit!_______________________________________________________________________________________________________
ShopSmart (#SWNJ Winner – Tie)
A tablet platform that can be mounted on shopping carts, providing consumers with their shopping lists as they travel through a store. Users can add items to their shopping lists before entering the store, and the same shopping list appears when they log in on the shopping-cart tablets. Location services in the store notify shoppers when they approach items they need and check the item off their lists by scanning the item using a barcode scanner attached to the device. In addition, the app could give users reminders about items they purchased before and may need to pick up, suggestions for recipes, and notifications of special promotions.
A quote from ShopSmart Founder George Steiner:
Startup Weekend is truly exhausting and exhilarating at the same time. You spend all weekend working, yet it’s the most fun you’ll ever have in a weekend. I came in Friday with an idea for an iPad mounted on a shopping cart, and I left Sunday night with nine colleagues, a new company, and an investment offer for $25,000 – does it get any better than that? Startup Weekend is truly amazing, and JuiceTank was the perfect place to hold the event. I’m really excited to continue working on this idea and thanks to TechLaunch we’re going to be able to develop a prototype.__________________________________________________________________________________________________________
The Other Great Teams That Pitched…
An application that uses SMS messaging to facilitate financial transactions among users, similar to Venmo, but without the need for a smartphone application. Since it’s through SMS, their primary market consists of customers that do not have access to 3G or 4G networks.
Don’t you hate your alarm clock? It technically does the job, but the team at Morning Moment sought to make some changes – mainly make it so that you don’t dread it. The idea started as a simple question: wouldn’t it be great if I could wake up to my daughter saying a nice message in the morning rather than have to listen to my alarm? The Morning Moment app makes it much easier for users to curate content so that they can a pleasant morning wake-up call based on what they actually want to hear.
This app helps you aggregate and keep track of all of the folks that have owed you money in the past. Think of it as your personal database of IOU’s. With the inclusion of a database of humorous reminders to send your delinquent friends, this app seeks to bring back a friendliness and integrity to personal lending.
Plenty of Cats (**Runner-Up For SWNJ**)
This team took a great approach to helping animal shelters save cats by gamifying the process with their game “Meow or Hiss” (think of this as their Minimum Viable Product for the weekend), similar to Hot or Not. Using the Petfinder API, this group was able to garner 1,600 likes on their Facebook page in a single weekend, demonstrating how fervent the cat community is. They plan on adding more games to the platf0rm and adding a social networking component (similar to how pet owners make Facebook pages for their pets).
AP Test Hacker
This group modeled their business off of a prevalent problem – college tuition is just too expensive. One solution that sometimes gets neglected in these discussions are the more immediate solutions we can provide to our incoming college students, such as helping them prepare for AP Exams. This app will create an algorithm that determines your strengths and weaknesses on a certain AP subject and condition you to get a 4 or 5 on the exam. As a result, the AP Test Hacker can help some students save over $1,000 per college credit.
Let’s Meet 4
You have too many professional network contacts to sift through, but most all you don’t have or resources to be able to coordinate when to meet up with them. Let’s Meet 4 creates a system to let you know when some of your contacts will be around the area, recommends when/where you should meet based off of both of your schedules, and then sets a date and time.
Inspired by the show Shark Tank, this platform allows people a fun way to learn about the world of venture funding and finance. Using actual case studies from the TV show’s history, users can learn the terminology that they need to know in the space, know which investments turned out to be failures/successes, and become savvy virtual investors.
This startup provides middle-tier businesses access to database analytics with a simple to use interface. Companies that rely on this type of analytics could ending up saving a lot of time and resources taking advantage of this platform.
This platform allows you to quickly visualize your trip and generates a travel itinerary for you based off of your interests. Think of it as a more community-based version of KAYAK that goes beyond booking the hotel or the flight.
A community for people suffering from depression, this platform will allow people to form ways to help each other move on from their issues.
Think of this as Startup Weekend but for finding jobs – a way for hiring managers to engage with potential hires without having to email a single resume.
Prizes For The Winners
As the winners, Waddle and ShopSmart will receive free space to work out of JuiceTank and were made semi-finalists in the technology accelerator group TechLaunch. Both startups have the opportunity to receive up to $25,000 in seed funding and be admitted into the LaunchPad3 program.
We also had some fun giveways, including some awesome Phone.com swag which awarded to Honey Badger for producing the most hilarious Tweets (check out the Honey Badger Twitter) and some free Startup Vitamins posters and a $250 credit for MOO.com to the attendees that had the best use of #SWNJ. Finally one of our awesome supporters, NetElixir, had a running campaign throughout the weekend called #SEOSUCKS. The person who used this the most was awarded a prepaid $250 card from American Express.
Hope To See You At The Next Startup Weekend! (Or The Next JuiceTank Event…)
Startup Weekend is a global movement, so even if you don’t reside in New Jersey but happen to stumble upon this article, there are Startup Weekends going on in your area to participate and be inspired. Whether your team wins or loses, the partnerships, ideas, skills and collaboration is well worth your time, sweat, and money. I am looking forward to organizing my next event.
Thank you all again for supporting Startup Weekend and I’m excited to see how these teams end up. After all, they do say that 6 months down the line, 30% of Startup Weekend teams are still working with each other. To know that based off of our numbers, that should account for 4 teams. That truly makes me smile.