This post is long overdue. Also, this signifies my return to blogging; this time I think it’s a more of a personal renaissance. I’ve always enjoyed writing, but these days I’d rather type than write several paragraphs or pages with a pen and paper.
Anyways, not to digress any further, I have been wanting to write about my recent experience at 3 Day Startup San Antonio. I have been a member of Geekdom since last November and I kept hearing about the event. The main reason I joined Geekdom was because of my interest in technology, startups and the fact that I’ve always had an inventive mind since I was young. I thought joining a larger tech-based community would make me feel more welcomed with my crazy ideas or just being able to talk about the latest news, such as the 40 mph building elevator in China, which is now the world’s fastest elevator! Well, I made no mistake because I have gotten to know more cool friends, meet more women in tech, and learn from seasoned professionals who are enthusiastic in sharing their journeys and wisdom. I think it is awesome how Rackspace and Geekdom are cultivating a startup ecosystem here in San Antonio–proof that Silicon Valley is not where ALL greatness happens!
In a nutshell, the 3 Day Startup website states as follows:
The idea of 3 Day Startup is simple: start a company over the course of three days. We rent work space for an entire weekend, recruit 40 students and young professionals with a wide range of backgrounds, cater food and drinks, invite top-notch entrepreneurs and investors, pick the best idea for a software startup during the Friday brainstorming session, and release a minimal prototype by Sunday night. The goal is to build enough momentum among a network of motivated people to sustain the company beyond the weekend.
The previous 3DS event was held back in April, but that particular weekend was very busy for me. When I heard that a summer event would be held, I did not hesitate to go the first info session and absorb as much information on how to become a participant. I happily completed the application within the next week, including details with my idea/project I had been working for a year now: an energy efficiency mobile + web app. While I do not have advanced technical expertise in programming/coding, I did build up some proficiency in Adobe Creative Suite(AutoCAD and Google Sketchup as well) while I was studying architecture my first two years of university. It is funny though, because before all of this, I only took one computer science class in high school and I hated it. However, I think my reconsideration into programming and software is due to witnessing the profound impact of world-changing apps and products. At the same time I started working at an amazing energy research lab last year, I decided to take the dive and learn iOS development by myself. Learning Objective-C and XCode is still a challenge, but when is anything ever easy at first glance? It seems mundane to just stare at a computer screen for hours on end, but as I have read many times, coding is a type of art. It is a truly magnificent art form, in my eyes. There are no limits in what kind of end product you want to create.
So what does this mean for me? Well, I think programming would be a useful as an additional skill to complement one of my main passions in life, which is sustainability. There has been a recent emergence for energy software to not only help manage our global energy resources, but as another enhanced pathway in developing a more intelligent built environment. Building automation systems and the like have existed for decades now, but I think there is still a large gap between optimization, management, and the human-building interaction component. There are already numerous energy startups tackling such challenges, and I highly commend them for their efforts.
Personally, I’m not interested in creating another photo-sharing or other similar social app. I have a strong desire to change the world in some way during my lifetime. I am and have always been a strong proponent for energy efficiency, renewable energy, and high-performance, green buildings. When I found out I got accepted to 3DS, I was beyond excited. I wanted to test out this energy efficiency idea and go through the entire process from idea to concept to a potential company. Also regardless if my idea made it to the 3rd day, I wanted to soak in the learning experience and network with other like-minded entrepreneurs.
Day 1. On Friday afternoon, we got to hang out and meet the other participants before the main presentation started. Everyone was nice and conversations were rolling on right away. I’m glad there were a handful of women participants because this industry is still outnumbered by men. After the main presentation started, we were split up in our groups according to the number on our name tags. We went to our designated office to discuss all of our ideas and vote on the top two. Afterwards, all the top two ideas from all groups have one minute to pitch to the mentors. From there, the top seven ideas would move forward using the Lean Startup methodology. There were only two other people in my initial group: one was a construction business owner and another was an electrical engineer. We had only two hours to discuss the problem, solution, feasibility, marketability, and scaling for those 3 days. Some of the 3DS mentors stopped by to share their thoughts, which were helpful. Unfortunately, among the three of us, my energy efficiency app that I had been working diligently for a year now, was eliminated by process of votes. Initially, I was a bit withdrawn, upset, and even frustrated. Honestly, even thinking back about it now, I knew it wouldn’t have survived to the 2nd or 3rd day. Here are some things I took away from those first three hours of the event:
1. Service on top of a service– The energy technology I had been working/accessing was existing hardware. The app I have envisioned thus far only provides data analytics, visualization, and a behavioral science component. Although I had already drawn out wireframe diagrams and worked on a few rapid prototypes on identifying key features, functionalities, UI, and UX, I overlooked the dependency on another pre-existing system, which is the hardware.
2. Productization – I think I should have worked on the business model more thoroughly after the initial research (data, building energy management, occupancy behavior, etc) if I wanted to take a shot at developing a prototype in those short three days. Since customer and market validation is a crucial part of the methodology, there would have been very little success in getting in contact with commercial energy managers and building owners on a Saturday or Sunday.
3. Scale – Others agreed that my idea presents a large problem and untapped savings potential in the commercial and institutional building sector. But 3 days would not be enough time to complete a Lean Canvas and a viable prototype for the final pitches.
Later that evening, we listened to the one-minute pitches and voted. There were really all awesome ideas and it was great to listen to motivated and driven individuals! However, the 2nd elimination round occurred. Everyone was able to choose the idea they liked most and form a team. I chose to join a fitness app team because I value my personal health and fitness a lot and I resonated with the problem. There were five of us initially total. We moved to a large conference room. The rest of the night we started tackling the lean canvas worksheet and discuss with mentors about factors such as the pain points, what are the unique value propositions, and revenue streams. The conversations got intense and we ran into a large barrier; we were unable to fill the rest of the worksheet. After much frustrations and attempting to find another solution, we all went home around 12:30am.
Our team met up around 7am to discuss the path forward with the fitness app, but without further progress, it pivoted to another team member’s idea of manufacturing a unique boxed water product. We also had a new team member join after her frustration with her original team. Everyone agreed that there are too many plastic bottled water options on the market and there should be more environmentally conscious options. We then split up, half the team going out of the building to complete in-person customer validation, while another team member and I stayed to work on online surveys. We had mentors walking in and out of the room, checking on our progression, and providing feedback and criticism when needed. When the rest of the team got back to the conference room, we ate lunch and discussed the next steps. Another huge roadblock: there would not be enough time to calculate the cost structure and manufacturing details of the product due to the feasibility concerns. Most manufacturing companies would not be available to be contacted on the weekends. At this point, everyone was frustrated and we knew we had to abandon the boxed water idea and find something else to work on. One team member left our team before the evening as well. I did voice my support on the boxed water idea, especially the sustainability perspectives, but given the three-day time frame, it would be impossible to create something substantial by the third day. The 3DS mentors had the authoritative right to not allow us to present on the Saturday night pitches. After a heated discussion with the mentors that afternoon, we were given the suggestion to explore a personal safety problem that a few other team members and I expressed while we were working on the fitness app idea the previous night. We proceeded to whip up a quick presentation explicitly stating the problem, target market, use case scenarios, proposed solution and revenue models. A panel of mentors asked questions and provided good feedback, but overall it was a decent presentation despite the limited preparation. Next, all of us went to the parking garage roof to play dodgeball. Fun stuff. Then two team members and I went to play ping pong before going back to the conference room. We then developed a strategy for the rest of the night and for Sunday. I worked on a new online survey while others explored the personal safety market and other similar apps. We left all left around 11:30pm.
At the office again at 8am. Another team member and I went to conduct customer validate at the Riverwalk regarding the personal safety problem before lunch. We spoke to a lot of tourists and a received a lot of positive feedback. The importance of customer validation was to verify the pain points of the problem we are trying to solve, which is to find more efficient solution to personal safety, wherever and whenever. I had an enjoyable time striking a conversation with others, although there will always be a few who are not as receptive of in-person surveys. The other team members stayed at the office to work on the presentation slides and determined what kinds of features would distinguish this as a viable solution unlike any others that are already out in the market. After lunch, we had the first practice pitch. One team member presented and I got to take part in a special skit-type reenactment to visually explain our solution. It was fun. After more feedback from a different panel of mentors, we spent the rest of the afternoon to prepare our final presentation slides and bring more realism to our product. An interesting thing to note is that we lost another team member earlier that morning while another team member joined (shortly after the practice pitch). It was all boiling down to the wire of the entire weekend and we needed to speed things up in terms of the mobile app prototype, funding allocations, and finalizing any necessary research. The guy who joined our team the last four hours of the event was the electrical engineer who was in my initial group on Friday afternoon. He was very excited about our idea and felt he was able to contribute more to our team than the team he joined. His input was very useful, especially for the hardware component. I was excited I got to work on a few rapid mobile app prototypes using an awesome prototyping service, given my my previous work on my energy app. We even had one team member’s friends not attending the event to help design our logo. Channeling all our energies to make a great presentation, the entire team dynamic changed positively. The loss of two team members and gaining two others in the course of two days exemplifies what kind of character exists in people. Around 7pm, the final pitches started and I didn’t know we would be the second group to present. There was a panel of investors that we had not seen before. One even flew in from New York City. We got some challenging feedback from the first investor, but the two team members representing our team on stage had no hesitation in refuting our product. The other presentations were all great as well. It was inspiring to hear about all the amazing ideas and products. Afterwards, we got to talk to the investors for further feedback and questions. One friend who is a part of the iOS developers group at Geekdom talked to another team member and I about his thoughts. He was very encouraging and started to give us suggestions in terms of the technical feasibility and other explorative ideas. Lastly, there was an awards ceremony before the end of the night. My team received an award, gold spray painted Red Bull cans, due to our tsunami of a team change and multiple pivoting of ideas in these short three days. There was also an after party at a local tequila bar, but I was so exhausted from the entire weekend that I went home to catch up on sleep. The rest of my team decided not to go either.
I thoroughly enjoyed and had a blast at 3 Day Startup. This was one of the most gut-wrenching and life-changing events in my life. I knew this was an event I wanted to participate for a long time. I wanted to expand my knowledge on the startup methodology and experience the excitement in the entrepreneurial/tech world. It was great to meet others who were passionate about entrepreneurship, technology, and collaboration. I got to work with an amazing team, experience the ups and downs that exist in all businesses, and create a product all in three days. Tenacity, unrelenting determination, positive energy, and confidence are what made our team follow through to our final solution. I really appreciate all the mentors, volunteers, and organizers of this event who took time out of their busy lives to be a part of this event. Although my personal idea did not get chosen, I was prepared for that possibility. It was almost heart-breaking at first, but I went to learn and experience what it takes to be a dedicated entrepreneur. It definitely takes a strong personality, positive outlook in all conditions, and a futurist-type mind to survive in this world.
To learn more about Ripcord and other great companies, watch here: Final Pitches.
Press release here.