September 17, 2012

Thoughts on Startup Weekend Bangalore 2012

I attended the Startup Weekend Bangalore(SWB) over the last couple days. I built a prototype of an service, Newsline. Below are my thoughts on the event.

The premise

Startup Weekends (SWs) are globally conducted hackathons where entrepreneurs get together over a weekend, get creative, and build something. Bangalore SW saw over 70 folks come in, and hack away.

The good

The people! The selection of people in the room was brimming with entrepreneur spirit. From tackling pet projects, to solving problems of down-trodden, to ideas tackling niche problems.

And a good collection of applications were created. All of the teams are listed here. Some of my favourites:

  • Reporter source: An app that connects sources and experts with journalists. The idea seems simple enough, one that seems essential to how things work. But the team's lead, a reporter himself, found no easy way to find experts on subjects, at least not locally. A group of savvy Android developers got together and built an easy to use app, that's like an sms app, but allows an expert to post his or her expertise, and a reporter to post his needs. And they would be the middleman who'd connect them to each other. They did a demo for me in under 40 seconds, and I *got* it. Good stuff, and I hope they take this beyond the weekend.
  • Farm2Mom: An ambitious project to tackle the logistics of fruit and vegetable transport. Currently the price of food stuffs increases ~3 times in value from the farmer to the consumer, increasing in cost as it passes through 4 middlemen. Worse, the farmer makes the least money in the chain. F2M sought to remove the middlemen, and sought to deliver fresh vegetables directly from the farmer into the corporate parking lot. Consumers could enjoy a lower price, fresher goods, and order from the comfort of their couch. The biggest challenge: figuring out the logistics in the middle. A very hard problem, and if the team decides to take this up after the weekend, I wish time luck and success.
  • Passion Fund: A crowdsourcing project, which allows interested parties to microfund ideas. Think flattr meets kickstarter. If you were on a news website, and read an article about an indie filmmaker making a movie, with PF's technology, you could do so right from that newspage. They had no demo/technology in place, but the idea is cool.

And of course that brings me to Newsline.


My pitch was the creation of timeline on any topic. Think wikipedia meets rss feeds. Or github meets lists. Or just take a look at the prototype.

The prototype currently uses a large RSS feed from a news source (Deccan Herald) over a couple of weeks, and builds timelines out of them dynamically, given a topic. The idea for the full product is that each timeline would be user curated, and anything that could be tagged with a date (news article, blog post, twitter update, youtube video, etc) could be added to the timeline.

Feels good to have built that (and learnt some basic javascript/jquery overnight).

The Criticism

My only criticism of the entire experience was the selection criteria.

The idea as presented by BSW was this: Anyone can pitch an idea, and a vote occurs. The 15 highest voted pitches are selected for implementation, and their pitchers become de-facto CEOs. Other participants are asked to join one of these teams, work on the idea, and finally deliver a product.

What was initially asked for - that developers go and pitch their skills to the selected founders - reversed itself pretty much immediately; it was the founders seeking out developers and trying to recruit them. Oddly reminiscent of that facebook movie: "If you could have built facebook, you would have built facebook".

The above selection criteria of voting on pitches, in my opinion, is a very bad idea on how to get startups going.

Going in, I expected to pitch ideas (and hear other pitches), find like-minded folks, and build something. What instead happened was my choice was restricted to one of 15, with my own idea being out of bounds. I joined one of the groups, Tourbox -  the winner of BSW, and incidentally, whose UI I helped envision - but immediately found myself pining to build my own thing.

I was prepared to work on Newsline even without the official status. Fortunately, a quick conversation with the BSW guys sorted this out. Adam, the CEO of SW, was present, and I pitched my idea to him, and asked if I would be allowed to be an official team. Adam agreed, as long as I had something built. And the rest, as they say, is a Special Mention for the Best Presented Startup.

This remains my only criticism of how BSW was conducted. Their rationale is this: from their experience, allowing laissez-faire building-of-teams-and-working-on-ideas leads to many single person teams, and many shy participants not being able to find people to collaborate with. This is a valid rationale, as one of SW's goals is to help bring out the startup gene in people who are currently a cog in a behemoth. My gut however tells me laissez-faire is the way to go, as far as getting the best startup are concerned.

Overall impression

The quality of participants was excellent. Just networking with these folks was worth the price of admission. I would definitely participate in another SW. Props to the organisers on taking care of all needs. No complaints there.

And if you're wondering if this could be an event for you: Are you a good hacker, looking to find others with complementary skills, to envision and build something cool? Then the answer is an unequivocal yes.

If you're a non-technical person, looking to find someone to build your idea for you, this is an event for you if you have done your homework, are able to articulate it to others, and have a vision for the product. If you aren't bring code, bring a heck of a lot of something else.