With Atlanta Startup Weekend behind us, I wanted to write a recap of my thoughts on the event.
As always, the organizers did a wonderful job. Compared to previous weekends I’ve participated in, this event has come a long way. Only one team dissolved after the first night, which was really impressive, and that alone shows that the mix of the teams was a lot closer to where it needed to be.
I worked on Local Loyalty. To be honest, I was drawn to it because it gave me a chance to play some more with my shiny new Ruby gem called Passbook. We ended up with a great team and I really enjoyed the long hacking sessions and releasing code at the last minute. All three team members really got stuff done and even though the demo didn’t show all of the functionality that we built into the app, we ended up with something that can be used by customers. While I’m not sure if this would be a “quit your job” business, it might be a interesting self-serve niche business or a tool that another company could integrate into their own product. But, most importantly, we had fun. We worked hard but I also took some time to fly my ARDrone and joke around, which is some of what the weekend is all about.
Now, on to the winners…
1. Bed Wed or Dead
Would the judges please reach out to me and tell me what the hell they were thinking? Yeah, it’s a funny idea, and yeah, they had a working prototype, but how is this a viable business? I really don’t think it makes the Atlanta startup community look good.
They had a developer boogie after the first day, but finished with a working back end. The remaining founders have experience in the domain and I honestly think this has a chance to go somewhere.
I hate the idea but I like the team. Their developers are rock solid and the two guys who originated the idea have a lot of passion. It will be interesting to see what they can do with it.
Some other good ones worth mentioning:
They had a great working prototype, and, more importantly, came up with something that could save people’s lives. There are patient privacy issues that they would have to resolve but I would really like to see them carry forward with the idea.
I absolutely love the team. It actually could be a product and I was really happy to see them get two honorable mention prizes. Their developers also stayed up really late knocking things out and they had a working prototype.
I’m not a fan of Air B-n-B, but if that could make it, this one might have a chance as well. And guess what, they had a working prototype. It would be interesting to see what they can do with it.
They created a working prototype and had an interesting concept. The problem is that I hate LinkedIn, so I would love to see the team pivot.
Impressive track record from the guy pitching the idea, but I wasn’t feeling the concept.
As an aside, I would also like to see “Am I Going to Die” (an app for identifying things in the wilderness that may or may not be poisonous) go somewhere. A limited product might be the ticket and offer enough functionality to help out in those situations.
The organizers limited the number of non-technical people who could attend, which was a good thing, but it would have been nice to see more designers, because one guy was tasked with designing logos for almost every group. With that being said, some of the business/marketing types made me sad. Granted, there are some marketing types who are great. They do impressive things and “get it”. And then there are the ones who pitch great but can’t deliver a working product. One team in particular kept tweeting about how awesome their product was going to be, but when the rubber met the road, they delivered nothing more than a video and some HTML designs.
Now, I understand that stuff can happen, but nothing turns me off more than marketing types using marketing hubris to tell me that their company is going to be the next Google (albeit with non-technical leadership). Just to be clear, Google was founded by four engineers from Stanford, arguably one of the top engineering schools in the world. They had the best of the best executing the idea along with the best connections along with great sources of funding — and even with all of that, it took a lot of work for them to reach the level of success they did.
If you are a non-technical person wanting to launch a tech startup you need to understand something when approaching technical people. Your idea is not worth anything without execution, and, once you start executing, there is a good chance that it is going to pivot and evolve. Any engineer worth his or her salt gets bombarded by emails every day from recruiters for jobs with very nice salaries. In addition, if that same engineer goes to startup events and meet ups, he or she are also being approached by people who have awesome ideas but need a technical person to build it. Hence, if you want to be a founder and you are are non-technical, you need to understand that the bar is set high for success.
Some of the questions you would need to be able to answer “Yes” to:
- Do you have a really good network to be able to bring in funding?
- Are you willing to go all in?
- Are you doing this because this is a idea that you are really passionate about?
- Are you willing to wear multiple hats and work your ass off to make things happen?
- Are you willing to fail fast and kill the idea if it doesn’t get traction?
And then there is the issue of women in tech startups… Atlanta’s very own StartupChicks have done a lot to get women interested in startups, which is awesome. In the past two decades, many industries have seen women rise up to leadership positions. During the last recession, unemployment numbers were higher for men than they were for women. Yet, with all of that said, there is STILL a white elephant in the middle of the room: Despite the events and the focus on women in tech, there is a dire shortage of hardcore female engineers. There were lots of startup chicks in attendance at Startup Weekend, but I could count the number of female engineering/STEM graduates on one hand. In fact, whether I’m at technical conferences or meet ups in Atlanta or elsewhere in the world, a solid female engineer is a unicorn. More often than not, the women at these events are either:
- Sales and marketing managers
- Designers/UI specialists
- Project managers
- Former engineers who have since moved into one of the above-mentioned soft skills
Startups need people who can execute. In a tech startup that means engineers. So when you have a shortage of women in engineering you are going to have a shortage of women in tech startups. To me this begs the question, “If we have women starting tech companies and they have no technical co-founders, are we really solving the problem?” If you are pitching something that you don’t have, and can’t build, you are just another snake oil salesperson (neither sex has a corner on that market). Investors want quality.
Bottom line: We need more women in tech who can code. RailsGirls Atlanta had 100 applicants and only 33 openings. Why aren’t StartupChicks actively getting involved in this? Why aren’t they banging down the doors of the women in tech groups and not taking no for an answer? Every conference I have attended the past year has either had tracks dedicated to women in technology, or hall conversations to discuss what we can do to get women more involved. There is not even a mention about these great groups on the StartupChicks webpage.
Instead of organizing more pitch competitions to pitch ideas that no one has the resources to really execute well, how about organizing more groups to teach women how to code? Even though we’re busy, if you organized events to get more women coding, us males in the tech community would help. I know that there are outreach programs to the universities, but there are still a lot of opportunities that you are missing. There are plenty of women who are into the geek culture. The geek culture tends to attract people that would find engineering interesting. How about introducing StartupChicks to women at DragonCon? How about trying to attract them to hack nights? Lose some of the cocktail culture and get more of the geek culture. There are women in Atlanta who really enjoy putting together computers, talking about DNA sequencing and who enjoy messing around with robots. These are the people you need to make your startup a success.
I really think that Atlanta can do better than this and would like to see it happen. We need more than just getting our women-led companies on the stage in New York and San Francisco. We need to get quality companies with hardcore women engineer founders up on those stages.
As an addendum: Some of what I have written here is born out of frustration. The Chicks are trying to do the right thing, Jenn has worked tirelessly to get them to where they are and I support what they (and she) are trying to do. I want to see them go massively global, but haven’t been the first person to make these observations. This is said as someone who cares and who wants to raise the bar. Hopefully that it is taken as a challenge rather than a criticism which is the intent. I, for one, am tired of seeing mostly men at tech meet ups and want to see it solved sustainably.