Boston mobile startup weekend (Nov 12-14)

Startup weekendLast weekend, Doerte and I attended our first Startup Weekend in Boston. For those who are unfamiliar with Startup Weekend, it is a franchise-based event that takes place in various cities around the world to promote entrepreneurship across the globe. The event takes connects entrepreneurs with like-minded people germinate an idea over a weekend – so even if you have a day job you can still fully participate in this event.

I hope that this blog provides some insights and what to expect at Startup Weekend with my recount of the last Boston Mobile Startup Weekend, which took place from November 12th through 14th. Before we even talk about what happens at Startup Weekend, we have to ask ourselves why bother going to one? Here are some of my reasons:

  1. You got an idea, stop being a wannapreneur. Maybe you are still in a funk or are too afraid. Well, stop procrastinating, and  do something about it. Attend a Startup Weekend.
  2. Network and meet potential co-founders. You may be a non-techie with a tech idea or a developer who needs a business person. Guess what? You need to connect with people and get them join you in your venture. Sitting at home isn’t going to do it. Go spend a weekend with other passionate people and think about how you can change the world. And what better way to find and work with a potential co-founder under pressure during Startup Weekend.
  3. Build a product. What good is an idea if you can’t bring it to fruition? Build a prototype of what you or your team envisions.
  4. Form a business around it. You are not only launch a product but a business. Why should MBA students have all the fun. Analyze and figure out your target market, customer demand, industrial trends, competition, and go-to-market strategies. Many teams continue with their projects and even turn them to viable business after Startup Weekend ends.
  5. Awesome learning experience. The event provides you with opportunity of doing something new. You get to learn form your team mates about a new skill or idea. Execution is hard – making difficult decisions, working under constraints, and doing tradeoffs; but you learn by doing.
  6. Have fun. Need I say more.

Boston Mobile Startup Weekend Friday Night

Boston Mobile Startup Weekend Friday Night

Now that you know the why’s. How do you sign up for one? First, you need to stay tuned for future Startup Weekends in your area. To do that follow @startupweekend on Twitter, look out for announcements on the official Startup Weekend website, or start plugging into your local startup community and stay abreast of what’s happening in your area – perhaps the best place to start is to subscribe to the local edition of Startup Digest. Anyone (techie or non-techie) can register for an upcoming event in the local area. Even if an event is over subscribed, don’t get discouraged. Talk to the organizers, they can get you in especially if you are a developer or designer.

Doerte pitching at Boston Mobile Startup Weekend

Doerte pitching at Boston Mobile Startup Weekend

Startup Weekend kicks off on Friday evening with a series of keynote speeches by established local entrepreneurs to prep the participants up for the event. These speeches are terse so that activities on the first night can move along quickly. Immediately after the keynote speech, you can either pitch an idea of yours and form a team or join a team to pursue the idea.

Sometimes there may even be a workshop scheduled just before Startup Weekend officially begins. In our case, we had a developer’s workshop on developing for Android, iPhone, and Windows Phone 7 in the afternoon before the official start to assist developers get up to speed with the skills and technology in the mobile space. Don’t expect to pick up new skills in one afternoon with this pre-event workshop, it is just a crash course to get yourself set up for contributing at Startup Weekend.

Our team, tired but focused

Our team, tired but focused

On day 2 (Saturday), you go back to the hosting venue, meet and work with the new team to develop the idea as far as the team can go; often to the mock-up stage, some to working prototype stage, and a few even to production stage (one team published a WP7 app by Sunday night, this is rare but possible). The first few hours involves a lot of brainstorming in defining the scope of the product and the business model. By early-afternoon, most team would have determined the market viability of the product and devised go-to-market strategies as well as coming up with basic design of the prototype. My advice for people new to Startup Weekend is to think big and come up with a compelling but realistic business model. For product development, start small by developing a simple but functioning prototype, which by the way score your team points in the product development category, for Sunday night presentation.

Michael and I demoed our prototype at Boston Mobile Startup Weekend

Michael and I demoed our prototype at Boston Mobile Startup Weekend

On the third day (Sunday), you get the whole morning and afternoon to refine your product and slide deck before presenting your team (now a startup) in front of panel of judges, participants, and even press and investors. It’s really gratifying to see how much teams can accomplish in setting a foundation of a startup in a weekend. As for our team, we didn’t take home the bacon but it was fun and we are planning to pursue the idea. Also congratulations to Hitchery who won for their social game based on virtual hitchhiking.

If you still have questions about Startup Weekend? Check out the official FAQ from Startup Weekend, a great read for a first-timer to the event. The most important thing is to stay motivated, be a team player, and have fun during Startup Weekend. Needless to say, I had a blast last weekend.

Remember that Startup Weekend is just a start. The team, business model, and product you built at Startup Weekend can turn into something real and big. Do continue the project and relationships outside of Startup Weekend.

Credits: Hacker Chick for some of the pictures taken at Boston Mobile Startup Weekend

The success of WP7 depends on developers

Windows Phone 7 (WP7) was officially introduced on Oct 13 and the devices are set to be released in the market on Nov 8. This blog captures my thoughts on WP7, in particular how software developers can strongly influence the success of the platform.

In a network-based market, the value of the WP7 platform is proportional to the number of other users who use the product. It is commonly known in the business of hardware/software that software sells hardware and vice versa. And through this consumption, the demand of one good becomes directly proportional to the demand of the other. Take the case of Micosoft-Intel PC market, the buyer typically purchase a PC primarily for Windows and the applications the operating system runs.

So software matters and a higher proportion of quality apps can attract more people to adopt the phone platform. As the installed base grows, more software developers begin to see a market potential for developing apps for the platform. As more developers enter the market, a wider variety of software is produced. This is the self-reinforcing cycle of the hardware/software market. However I don’t think the number of available apps available only is enough to drive mass adoption. At this writing there are about 250,000 apps available on the iPhone and 100,000 on the Android. WP7 has a lot of catch-up to do in order achieve the same number of app offerings – don’t forget that old Windows Mobile apps don’t even run on the new platform. Quantity alone is not the determinant of higher adoption, diversity and quality of software titles are important drivers too. It is imperative Microsoft must attract software developers to create apps for the platform. But building a thriving software developer ecosystem isn’t something new to Microsoft. Ballmer famously said in the past that Microsoft business is about developers, developers, developers (I still laugh whenever I watch this video). For WP7 to compete successfully, Microsoft needs to build a base of developers to build apps for the platform and initiate this self-reinforcing cycle. Are there any interest from developers so far? It’s hard to tell. Right now, iPhone and Android apps development are keeping most software and mobile app companies busy. It’s difficult for developers to develop for multiple platforms at once. There are already numerous solutions available in the market to address multi-mobile-platform development. I won’t be surprised if Adobe would release a developer tool to compile Flash apps to native WP7 apps.

The technology used to develop WP7 apps isn’t something new. WP7 apps can be built using Silverlight or XNA. Both technologies are already well established in the software development world. Silverlight is based on existing, mature .NET technology while XNA is used by game studios to develop DirectX hardware-accelerated games on XBox and PC. Microsoft should exploit its 3D development suite and existing network with software developers, software retailers, and content partners to develop new titles or port existing best sellers to WP7. While all these initial complementary assets may not have been the only factors influencing the two companies’ successes, they certainly helped the companies to overcome initial entry to market barriers.

I give Microsoft a lot of credit for revamping the Windows Mobile platform and redesigning the user interface. This is a gutsy move but I think it will pay off in the future. I haven’t played with the user interface, but it looks promising. And thank you for eliminating the corner Windows Start button. I quite like the utility of a task-oriented UI of WP7 as opposed to iPhone UI, which is app-oriented.

As a late entrant to the highly competitive smartphone market, Microsoft faces tough competition. Microsoft has strong complementary assets and products which put them in a good position to compete effectively in this market. While I don’t see Microsoft faltering, I don’t see the company emerging as the market leader in this market space anytime soon. But seriously, who knows how this market will play out. For me, I am adopting an (optimistic) wait-and-see stance on developing software for the platform and using a WP7 device.