It was a glorious weekend in Seattle. The sun glistened off the slopes of Mount Rainier. Sailboats cruised across the waters of Elliott Bay. And, in a downtown Seattle office building, eighty geeks huddled around laptop computers trying to create new Internet businesses.
Welcome to Startup Weekend, the 54-hour coding marathon which tosses random developers together to see what they can create in a weekend. Think of it as an accelerated startup process on speed.
The nice weather in Seattle wasn’t lost on some of the attendees, many of whom forfeited their weekends in order to code with friends, learn a new technical skill or test out a business concept. But others were so focused on the task at hand that they didn’t even notice what they were missing outside.
“I didn’t even look out the window until we walked outside, and I said: ‘damn, we missed a nice day,” said Sam Grossberg, a 25-year-old former Microsoft developer who led Panda Task.
Others were just pumped to get into the event, which was capped at 80 people due to space constraints at host firm Madrona Venture Group.
Seattle architect John Morefield secured an invite at the last minute after another entrepreneur dropped out. Morefield showed up Friday excited to pitch an idea that he’d been incubating for two years.
The goal? Create a Q&A site called Askitecture where professional architects could engage with potential customers, sharing drawings and other tips about home remodels or other architecture questions.
“What I have been doing in the past two years has been eclipsed in 48 hours by six amazing guys,” said Morefield at Sunday night’s final pitch competition. “This company went from a one-man show to a viable product … in one weekend.”
It’s actually pretty amazing what can be built when developers focus on a singular task. Morefield said the weekend is all about “momentum.”
“The speed and availability of everything has just been mind-boggling,” he said. “I wouldn’t give this up for the world.”
Like Morefield, CityMatch founder Grant Goodale also was a newbie to Startup Weekend. He too was impressed by how much each of the teams accomplished in such a short time.
“I’ve done programming competitions before, but layering the business aspect on top of it has been incredibly useful and really surprising watching people pivot really dramatically over the weekend. It has been amazing,” said Goodale, who described City Match as “eHarmony for where to live.”
Goodale attracted five developers on Friday night for the idea, noting that it was tough to do so given all of the other compelling ideas.
“Most of it was convincing them that you could actually produce something of reasonable quality in a weekend. It seems like a boil the ocean kind of problem,” he said. “I answered a lot of questions on why this isn’t ridiculously out of scope.”
Perhaps the most ambitious project of the weekend was shubz.tv, an online video chat service inspired by Greg Gottesman’s 11-year-old son. At various points, as many as half of the attendees worked on the concept.
“We were interested in seeing what we could do around live video,” said Madrona’s Gottesman. “There’s Justin.TV, which is the closest competitor, but they do text. This is real-time video chat.”
Gottesman added that the idea would have been perfect for the Royal Wedding.
“The biggest surprise was how much you can get accomplished if you get a group of talented technical folks together in a day or two,” he said. “It is absolutely staggering. You can’t perfect it, but you can get so far.”
Madrona hosted the event, and Gottesman noted that it was among the best events in the venture firm’s history. He promised to host it again as long as the “offices aren’t too destroyed.”
Other ideas weren’t quite as ambitious. A fun one offered an online twist on the classic game Rock, Paper Scissors — including a whole new cast of characters like the sponge and wolf. And another hilarious pitch came from FanPong, which meshed online polls and basic games into the world’s “first and best massively-multiplayer online ping pong game.”
TuneField, led by Matt Shobe of Big Door, came up with a novel way of allowing individuals to broadcast music playlists to as many as eight friends in running, hiking or cycling groups. The mobile application allows individuals to set up an instant music hot spot, working where mobile networks may not be available.
Perhaps the most practical offering, at least for the audience represented at Startup Weekend, was a site called Can They Code which allowed potential employers to host online tests of developers’ coding skills. (It finished third in the voting).
I served as a judge for the festivities, having a ball listening to the creative brainpower behind the 15 presentations. Here’s the winning pitch from CrowdSort.me, a team that consisted of Harold Hing, Joseph Sunga, Matt Hallett, Evan Jacobs and Scott Windsor.
The second place award went to shubz.tv, a team consisting of Ludo Antonov; David Aronchick; Donnie Dinch; Nick Huzar; Roy Leban; Adam Philipp; Scott Porad; David Rosenthal; Julian Tescher; Umesh Unnikrishnan; and Thomas Yip. Full pitch here:
We were able to get a first look at the CrowdSort.me application, which you can try out below by choosing your favorite projects from Seattle Startup Weekend.
Reminds us a bit of the CubeDuel service from Seattle developers Tony Wright and Adam Doppelt, which allows users to pick current and former employees they’d most like to work with. Let us know what you think of CrowdSort.me and maybe we’ll add to more posts in the future.
Startup Weekend photos by Annie Laurie Malarkey.