Sunday, March 11, 2012

How Givingline Transformed on The Startup Bus

The learning experience on The Startup Bus is hard to imagine in any other format. Three long days together on the bus and a few in Austin gives you a much more time to devote to your startup effort. You pitch your product over and over again. Product ideas have more time to transform, iterate and pivot. My biggest take away from Startup Bus is how much the concepts can change.

Our project started as a points system for doing good deeds that feed into LinkedIn. We added the "pay it forward" aspect very quickly. A few hours later I drew on the bus window what was to become the Givingline infographic. For a few hours it was difficult to move forward. There was a problem with the team meshing and with the point system. We knew that many people don't want to boast about their giving.

We simplified. We pivoted. We worked on a viable product. The point system was gone. LinkedIn was no longer a consideration. Our team also reduced from three to two. It was uncertain how the revised concept would work, if at all. The bus schedule pushed us to do a prototype.

After about four hours on the first day we had our slim, working mobile prototype. It did not look like the idea that was presented 18 hours earlier. We felt better with something concrete.

On the second day the other teams on the bus really helped us refine the Givingline concept. They heard our pitch several times and offered feedback. They also became a great resource. For example, we were looking for the types of help where Givingline would be useful. We created a list of 10 different examples and passed it around the bus asking busmates to check what they thought we the two best. We also got some great additions.

The Startup Bus ends with making pitches to Venture Capitalists who need a big return on their capital. How does a social good concept fit? How do you monetize it? At the end of the second day there was a party in Baton Rouge. We threw out the sponsorship model. First, we'd open source the project. Second, we would sell it using the software as a service model to non-profits, religious organizations and civic minded companies in local communities. In addition, I came up with a method of users being able to input request via twitter.

At the start of the third day it felt like the clock was winding down so we set priorities. In the morning the prototype wording was cleaned up and we launched the product by uploading it to a public web server. was live. Then we focused on the Givingline graphic or inforgraphic. I got some technical help from my busmates and started to work. From our pitches it was clear that this was the secret sauce, the sex appeal or the eye candy. Because of a lack of internet connection, I was never able to complete the coding of the twitter feature that I had hoped to demo on stage. Regardless, we had a slightly more that minimal viable product that looked very good on mobile.

The fourth day was not going to be a product day. The morning was spent at Rackspace, another wonderful host, listening to several all-start startup experts: Robert Scoble, Guy Kawasaki   and the two founders of Rackspace. Then there were selected pitches to all-start judges. Then a bus ride in the rain to Austin. Then trying to figure out housing. Our product saw no additions that day. Finally at the end of the day, I did get our screencast of the prototype completed and posted. In addition I finalized the two minute pitch to include the open source and software as a service model. We had a completed product ready if we were one of the 16 teams to be selected to make the semi-final cut. With 60 other teams competing and a social good model, I wasn't hopeful. I was very proud of the product we created.

Thanks to my partner Zainab Zaki, all of our DC busmates and conductors and all of the Startup Bus people that made it possible.

Tuesday, March 06, 2012

On the bus! On the Startup Bus!

Venture capitalist and true rock star Bono speaks the truth about the bus.

Early this morning I got on the Startup Bus to South By Southwest Interactive in Austin, Texas. On the way 30 of us will break into teams to prototype a new startup venture and present it to a panel of investors at SXSW. 

Look for my post here and in the Washington Post for the next week. There will also be tweets, pinwheels and a few other social messages along the way. Comments and encouragements are welcome.