Startup Weekend – Salt Lake City

I thought it would be fun to get a couple of participants to write the Startup Weekend recap this time (instead of from my vantage point). I will say this though — the weekend was really fun! It never ceases to amaze me what people can do in 54 hours. I think everyone there had a great time, met terrific people, enjoyed awesome food and just overall made the Utah technology and startup scene a little bit stronger. That’s the whole reason I am such a fan of Startup Weekend. I’ve never seen an event that brings out the real community like they do. I am already looking forward to the next Startup Weekend (it will be at the new Startup Ogden building in September).

With that, here is a great (and funny) recap from my friends, and Startup Weekend attendees, Leron and Sarah.


Startup Weekend events bring together anyone interested in entrepreneurship in order to build a business. The twist? It’s all done in 54 hours. If you’ve never been to one before, you’re probably saying “54 hours to validate and build something completely from scratch? Can’t be anything that great.” Well, I have to say – I’ve been to a few of these, and Startup Weekend Salt Lake City (#swslc) definitely showed it can be done, and done well.

Before jumping in, let me note that any mistakes in capturing names, numbers, ideas, etc. are mine.

Thursday – Having just moved to Utah fairly recently from the east coast (where I’d been to multiple Startup Weekends in the past), I really had no clue what to expect from the participants coming in. After getting off to a slightly rocky personal start (Apple Maps led me to a highway exit which was HOV only, thanks Cupertino! Any chance you could use some of that $150B in cash to pay my ticket?) I arrived at the site. Turns out over 170 people signed up, easily the largest SW turnout I’ve seen.

Everyone settled in for a special opening Google Hangout that organizer Alex Lawrence had arranged – having Mark Suster talk and answer questions from the crowd. He had a lot of good advice – one thing he said that really resonated with me was to look to work with people who aren’t like you. He said in the past, one of his mistakes was working with people who were basically exactly like him, and that was a path to failure.

After that began the pitch round, where anyone who wanted could go up and have 60 seconds to pitch their business idea to the crowd. At SW SLC, there were over 50 pitches. A couple of thoughts:

● Pitching is hard, but all of the pitches were quality. Even the ones that didn’t eventually make the cut I thought had the potential to make a bit of money, from “farting.fm” – an app to replace online ads with fart noises, to “Paid to Poop” – getting paid for microtasks in your down time. And yes, I promise the pitches went beyond the scatalogical. You’ll see.

Sara Jones is writing more about this so I’ll just note as something that will hopefully improve – of the 50 or so pitches, there were only 2 women. The ratio in the crowd wasn’t much better. Since people generally pitch ideas to solve problems they have, we missed out on a lot by not having more women there.

After the pitches, everyone got 3 votes and narrowed the pitches down to 16 finalists. From there, the 16 teams then had a super-condensed 20 minute “hiring process” – where everyone looked to fill their teams with developers, designers, and business people. I joined the “Glass Node/Wedgies” team (mashing up the Google Glass and Wedgies social polling APIs), mainly out of my interest to see if there was potential behind all the hype of Google Glass. The rest of the night was spent by most teams fleshing out their ideas and laying out their workplans for the remaining 2 days.

Better than SharkTank

As a “patent attorney turned business strategist,” I love startup energy and there is no better way to experience this than being part of Startup Weekend. There were plenty of ways to catch the energy including Twitter, live feeds, and stopping by in-person.

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Startup Weekend is like getting a mini-MBA. Launching a product in 3 short days is very powerful. In educational learning theory, the saying goes that you learn best by doing.

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Sometimes in our “day jobs” Lean Startup principles get lost in the bureaucracy of growing companies. So working in small, collaborative teams allow pivots like this.

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Or like this.

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Friday – Work picked back up Friday morning at 9am, as teams continued brainstorming ideas and business models, getting “out of the building” and doing customer validation, creating mockups, and diving into code. Since a lot of the work with Glass was pretty technical (and since I’m not technical), I had the opportunity to talk to a lot of other teams and check out what they were working on. Right away I could see that there was some serious talent – from the illustrations that were coming together for Wizard War App (seriously, look at those Wizards – how do you not crack up?) to the sound mixing going on by the Strawberry Jam guys.

Few other notes from Friday:

● Alex had another special guest for us via Hangout, Stocktwits founder Howard Lindzon. Probably the best guests I’ve seen at a SW.

● One of the underrated parts of SW – the food. Had some Red Iguana for dinner, some of the best Mexican I’ve had anywhere. Only downside, as @heyharmon put it – “200 people just ate refried beans and burritos at #swslc and the next 24 hours in same room.”

● Teams were not messing around – a lot of people were still there at 2am when they had to close up.

● I hadn’t seen this before and I thought it was really cool – all teams worked in one big room, and anytime a team hit a milestone they cheered, and everyone else would join in cheering them as well. People were genuinely willing to help other teams as well.

The Food Prayer

I underestimated the stamina that it would take to get through 54 hours. You are so buried in your work that sometimes, despite the awesome food and caffeinated beverages that always abound, you are ready to eat your shirt.

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Thanks to the awesome Startup Weekend Salt Lake Team for taking very good care of us and for the awesome facilities. Lots of opportunities for collaborative collisions. Which, when you think about the awesome food and space, it definitely had its effect

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which then had this effect.

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Saturday – Saturday started off early again as teams were in a dash to wrap everything up with enough time to practice their pitches. On the Glass team, we spent part of the day trying to validate by talking and brainstorming with Jeff Barson of Hirevue Labs (one of the event sponsors) about Glass and potential applications using the Hirevue API. Another team had a 16 year old Android developer who said something along the lines of – “Shoot, been writing code all day and forgot to test it. Let me see if it works….yep, it works!” Left some of the older developers shaking their heads in awe.

Finally, it was time for the presentations. Each team had 5 minutes to present, with 3 minutes of Q&A from the judges: Alen Peacock of Space Monkey, Jeremy Hanks of Dropship Commerce, and Clarke Miyasaki of Kickstart Seed Fund. If I forgot any, my apologies:

● Prototypr – A marketplace for 3D printing designers – sort of a “99 Designs” for getting your idea designed.
Prayer Roll App – helping you remember people and causes that you wish to pray for, and connecting you w/others.
● EventPutty – a service/app for small and medium size conferences to help their attendees connect
● CashOBO / MusicMoodBot – Big data for buying/selling used goods. Also an excellent “pivot” in using big data – check out the link.
SwapCrops – An app for swapping crops you grow at home with others looking to buy/trade
Fund My Edu – A Kickstarter for helping to fund a friend/family member’s college education
● Strawberry Jam – An app for musicians to record a piece of music individually, then share it with other musicians who could then record their own piece and collaborate. They had a great demo video showing the power of the app, could also easily see this becoming a Guitar Hero but with real music (picture recording your drum track with a Jimi Hendrix guitar track let’s say).
TrophyMom – Built an app for social recognition and real rewards for moms, they actually had submitted the app to the app store already by the time of the presentation, and had Trophy Mom t-shirts to give away!
● Celebrar La Vida – talk about identifying and going after a specific niche, these guys built an easy Content Management System for funeral homes in South America. Also had perhaps the best line for customer validation I’ve ever heard – “People keep dying and there’s lots of people in Latin America.”
Boodle.in – Started off as “The People’s DDOS”, these guys had the funniest and certainly most energetic presentation. They built and launched a working site that you could basically call “Kickstopper” – where you could pledge money to make something stop. An example – getting Justin Bieber to stop singing for 2 years (they actually brought up 4 random high school kids they had found to pledge money). As of writing this they have over $5k in real money pledged for different “causes.”
Creatives for Education – led by a local Assistant Principal of an elementary school, they built a site for teachers to find designers to help them design beautiful course materials
Scrimp – Another app that was basically completed in one weekend – taking the money you don’t spend, and actually saving it.
GlassNode – mentioned before – live demoed creating a social poll using Google Glass and the Wedgies app, and showed as results came in in real-time. I don’t mind saying this since I was part of the team, but the developers and designers – Kevin Cocco, Seth Jenks, Scott Weinert, Jeff Poole, and Mike Reid were ridiculously talented. They took something that was pretty much Wild West and in a couple of short days built the first node.js platform allowing for connecting Glass with other APIs.

Diversity is profitable

There were so many great ideas, which is why we need diversity in business. Diverse ideas are appreciated, like this one:

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But even wizards seemed to be in more abundance than women at this particular SWSLC.

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And we are all still scratching our heads wondering how Wizard War won Startup Weekend without adequate wizard representation on their team.

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Seriously, how did they do their market validation? All kidding aside, here is an infographic of the Top 10 cities for women entrepreneurs. Unfortunately Salt Lake City is not in the top 10. But we can change that. Women hold up half the sky. That means (at least) half of the problems in the world affect women, and technology is a powerful means to solving those problems. And it’s not just women-focused products. There is huge market potential in education, health care, and baby boomers.

I felt completely welcome and would love to see more diversity at future Startup Weekends in Utah! Not a negative comment all weekend – just a bunch of tech lovers.

And finally, the winners:

3rd Place – The Ultimate Mediator – A web and mobile app for coordinating scheduling between divorced spouses.

2nd Place – MapItTrackIt – Another service targeting an interesting niche – an app for door to door salespeople to keep track of and close more sales. Having lived in large cities for the last 12 years, this is a much bigger market than I realized – over 20 million people in the US involved.

Winner – Wizard War App – A “Rock/Paper/Scissors” type of game with wizard spells that you can play with your friends. Simple, but super fun and engaging. It may have just been because their table was located directly between me and the food, but I found myself stopping here the most this weekend and marvelling at how great the graphics were and how much they were able to get done in one weekend – both an iPhone and Android app submitted. I said it before, but take a look at those Wizards again and tell me you don’t crack up. A very well deserved win.

Sheer awesomeness of dev power.

I have to confess that I was slightly annoyed that my kids who came to watch the pitches thought MusicMoodBot was cooler (curse you!) than TrophyMom. Now that that is off of my chest, my only comment here is that the skill level of the developers was mind-blowing.

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The judges took notice.

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Wait, I actually do have one other comment.

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Oh, that’s right. TrophyMom did. How did I get so lucky to get this awesome dev team?

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So get your TrophyMom T-shirt gear (tons of styles) for 50% off until June 1st for the awesome women in your life. (Use the Scrimp app to put the $9 you save into savings!)

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In Closing – I know that a lot of Startup Weekends say this, but I really think in terms of the quality of ALL the teams this was one of the best I’ve seen. At most Startup Weekends you’ll usually have at least a few teams that are basically presenting powerpoint mockups, but everyone here had something built and ready to demo. It speaks very well to the level of talent in the startup community around Salt Lake City. An exchange between Clarke Miyasaki and one of the teams said it all:

Clarke: “You guys really did this all in one weekend?”

Presenter: “Yes.”

Clarke: “Some of my portfolio companies are in trouble.”

Finally, a few thanks – to Alex Lawrence and Ryan Money for putting it together, to Frank Denbow and others for helping out, to Jeff Barson of Hirevue Labs and the other sponsors as well, and to Junior Achievement City for hosting all of us for the weekend.

Looking forward to the next one!

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About Alex Lawrence

Alex has been a successful entrepreneur for 20+ years. His current venture Lendio ranks #34 on the Inc. 500 list. Alex earned a BS degree at the University of Utah and his MBA at Weber State University, where he is Vice Provost and Director of the Entrepreneurship Program. If you want to talk with Alex about business and entrepreneurship (or other questions), email him (alex AT startupflavor DOT com), or you can find him on Twitter @_AlexLawrence.
  • http://www.igobydoc.com igobydoc

    Great recap! This was such an awesome event Alex! Thanks for putting it on!

  • Dave Brough

    I recall one of your organizers bragging that a person could have a business not only up and running, but generating income before the end of the weekend http://www.standard.net/stories/2012/10/18/business-minded-folks-share-ideas-startups, but requests for names of actual companies and other details were never answered. So as a member of the ‘older’ generation questioning the validity of paying $99 for a minute to stand up and pitch their business idea, I’m wondering if someone who actually has created a business this way would enlighten me.

    Dave Brough

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