Monday, April 25, 2011

We won first place at Startup Camp LA!

On a whim we (me and audreyr) decided to try out Startup Camp LA organized by Semantic Seed. This is one of those Silicon Vally style competitions to launch a minimally viable product along with a business plan and marketing pitch in the course of a weekend. We thought it would be a good excuse to hack on a project we've been cooking up in our heads over a year. So we booked our tickets via and showed up at the new Nextspace Los Angeles location.

The organizers did a really good great job providing space, food, and lots of useful advice. I look forward to the next event that they run in the area.

Startup Camp LA Pitches

The first pitch was on Confidox, an exclusive recruiting site for lawyers with a focus on clean design, security, and good use of email/sms. The presenter, a professional attorney with great oratory skills, had mockups and a business plan ready to go.

Audrey gave our pitch, which is a site for recruiting developers that is created and maintained by developers. Developers are treated with dignity and respect, and not as replaceable components. We've talked to people on-and-off about this for over a year, and thought this would be a good opportunity to get things moving.

After Confidox and our proposal came a lot of other dreamers.

Then began the bargaining and voting for team placements. Voting was done with paper money. We received the second-highest amount of paper money and Confidox got third place.

Switching projects

As said, our recruiting idea got second place in votes. We got assigned two other people, one of them being the Confidox guy. This meant we got the most paper money total!

Rather than work on our project and have to educate the new guys on the developer ecosystem, we decided to switch to Confidox for the weekend. The scope was reasonable, the plan sound, and the mockups meant we had a specification to code against.


"Ideas are cheap, implementation is hard."

From the start Audrey and I decided to not allow any scope creep. No social media widgets, banner advertisements, forums, branding, coupons, or anything that distracted from the business model. That would allow for a clean design and elegant implementation. We went to work, taking breaks to help hammer out the marketing pitch and socialize with the other teams. Our goal was a stable, functional prototype - something we achieved thanks to our mostly open source technology stack.

Technology Stack

Unless specified otherwise, everything is open source:
The Final Pitches

The Confidox pitch:
  • Our group presented as a team. Marketing talked marketing, techs talked tech.
  • A live prototype site with fully functioning authentication, registration, profiles, listings, search, and email/SMS notifications. 
The other teams presented well, but I was shocked by a few things:
  • Most pitches lacked even a buggy prototype.
  • Presenting teams bickering during their presentations.
  • Unbelievably, one slide presentation had music that the presenter had to shout over.
Why Confidox won Startup Camp LA

Audrey took charge of the group and kept us focused on the elegant, straightforward idea. She didn't just code, she also treated the business side as being equally important as the technical delivery (giving them constant feedback and coaching). Which meant we could both roll out a working prototype and nail the marketing pitch.

When it came down to it, we were a team. Everyone had purpose and everyone contributed. We communicated our idea and demonstrated that our prototype works.

Going forward

Confidox is not off the ground yet, we'll see where it goes. We certainly have a capable team.

This event was a success for us and our company Cartwheel. Also, with ancillary projects with large contributor basis such as Django PackagesPackaginator, and Django Uni-Form, me and Audrey have proven ourselves capable of just launching dynamic projects quickly that work and are used by real people for real work. We'll see what we can do with that proof.

Finally, if you want to learn our techniques for constructing Confidox and other efforts, come to our Los Angeles area classes.

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