Thoughts on Startup Weekend Dallas and Bookedd Wins

On November 27, 2011, in Inspiration, Startup, by Mike D. Merrill (@mikedmerrill)

Startup Weekend Dallas

The weekend before Thanksgiving I participated in my first Startup Weekend here in Dallas and wanted to share a few thoughts about the experience. It was the 5th event to date in Dallas and I’m kicking myself for not making the commitment to get engaged earlier. I was impressed with how many solid ideas folks pitched as well the caliber of talent who participated. Big thanks to Brad Anderson for organizing the event and perpetuating innovation and entrepreneurship here in Dallas. See the full wrap up of the event here. I am even more excited because the team I was part of Bookedd won the weekend competition and we need your votes to win the Global Startup Battle.

Vote for Bookedd

Before you finish reading this post, please go vote for our team now. After we were announced the winner Sunday night we quickly had to produce a video and upload to the Global Startup Battle site within 24 hours. Given it was a Sunday night, we were a bit stressed to get this done in time. Big thanks to Brian Curliss and his video editing skills as we were able to produce a solid deliverable about our idea for the voting website.

The team started the weekend comprised of Brian Curliss, Mike Merrill, Moyez Thanawalla, Allen Torng and Neil Hiddink. Neil ended up coming down sick and wasn’t able to complete the weekend. Brian originally pitched the idea of a last minute rental application on Friday night and had some experience matching renters and fully furnished property managers/owners. One fundamental issue uncovered during our discussions about potential challenges in this industry was trust of the last minute renter. Common perception that the last minute renter is not desirable.

So we discussed current scoring mechanisms today and investigated a way to evaluate trust and rentworthiness. Our solution is a trust ranking algorithm named ConfidenceKarma. This algorithm is a combination of social signals and publicly available data allowing us to score a potential renter on their likelihood to be a risk to the property manager. Today we have FICO for credit worthiness and Klout for measuring online influence, but what about trust of an unknown purchaser and buyer. Think of the power of trust score on Craigslist and what it could do to speed up transaction momentum. For example, say you were going to buy a used car from someone. You could ask them to send you their ConfidenceKarma username and you could look them up directly.

Market Research: After surveying several property managers we confirmed that if we could resolve the issues of trust, not only would they be willing to rent last minute, but they would be willing to do it at a substantial discount. Why? Because otherwise that property will sit empty. Now there are few other factors such as property readiness and cleaning costs that play into the mix, but we believe there is a market here to be served.

Today’s vacation rental websites are basically matchmaking services. They match the renter to the property manager and they then have to vet the trustworthiness of the renter through a back and forth email and phone dance. This is fine if you are planning months out in advance. What happens if you decide last minute you’d like to bring your family out to LA for an event? Wouldn’t it be great if you could pull out your mobile device, find a fully furnished rental that fits your needs and book it right there? As a property manager, it sure would be nice to get more weekday rentals to boost occupancy? Bookedd aims to solve that.

The Startup Weekend Experience

If you are looking to better understand how ideas come together and form potential businesses I strongly encourage you to pledge one of your many weekends for this great learning opportunity. Even current college students studying programming, marketing or business should consider doing what they can to get involved. My biggest regret was not doing it sooner. Several of my friends such as Chris Walters, Chris Bond and Joey Pomerenke were involved very early when the event came to Dallas. In fact, Joey is now CMO of Startup Weekend globally and Chris Bond’s company is in the current Tech WildCatters class. The weekend was intellectually stimulating as well as provided a great opportunity to network with other entrepreneurs in the DFW area.

To learn the history and structure of Startup Weekend I’d consider buying the book. I purchased the Kindle edition right after signing up for the weekend and was only able to get through 3 chapters with the BlogWorld event a few weeks ago. There have been several notable successes out of Startup Weekends, but more importantly the process can make you realize how possible it is to form and idea, build a team and actually validate your idea with potential customers.

How Teams are Formed

After the 3 speakers completed their 10 minute talks, anyone with an idea was asked to line up and pitch it for about 60 seconds. This process went very fast and with 32 presenters it was hard to keep track of who presented which idea. Once this was completed, each person was given 3 tickets to place in the cup of one of the ideas they thought was compelling. So basically the top ideas were crowdsourced based on votes. The folks with good ideas and that were also willing to convince others to vote for their idea rose to the top and 9 teams were chosen. Basically even if your idea was not chosen you were strongly encouraged to participate in another team. However, it was clear once the 9 teams were chosen, many folks with ideas that weren’t chosen left the event, which is crazy given what they paid to attend.

Now that the 9 ideas were solidified, each person had to decide which team to be on. This process went very fast and since personally I had already forgot what the ideas were I went up to each person asking them to repitch their idea. Brian appeared the most passionate about his idea and knew what he needed so I joined his team. There were clearly not enough developers and designers to go around and we stressed about this most of the weekend but in reality our simple screenshots and no working application still won the competition. Clearly the power of a solid idea, compelling marketing validation and solid delivery made a difference to the judges.

Big thanks to Janie Morris of LomoCreative who responded to my tweet asking for creative help. She came in Sunday morning and spent 3 hours of her time designing a solid web and iphone app mockup. You are the best!

Gamification

Brad Anderson, organizer of Startup Weekend Dallas, reached out to me several weeks ago after I signed up asking whether I’d like to judge and/or speak at the event. Since my desire was really to participate, I opted for speaking. Given my interest in social media and consumer applications and the overwhelming number of Startup Weekend ideas that involve social media, I thought I would offer a 10 minute primer on using gamification to drive user adoption and return visits. This was an area of personal interest to me and ties deeply into recent discussions about Robert Cialdini’s Weapons of Persuasion. See my high-level presentation below and I encourage you to check out Gabe Zicherman’s Blog and book to learn more.

I highly encourage you to participate in the spring at Startup Weekend Dallas #6. I haven’t seen the confirmed date but follow Startup Weekend on Facebook or Twitter to stay informed. If you have any thoughts on startup weekend or gamification please comment below.

 

 
  • http://twitter.com/shegeek Rhonda Rice

    Mike, I wish I had been able to participate as well. I will definitely cue up for Spring and Startup Weekend Dallas #6. But thank you for your view into the process and the experience. Given the steady stream of startups, I believe market validation is critical for those great ideas to stick and for the gamification to bear fruit. I like that you took a current solution and looked at how to solve the problem & add to the solution a deeper level of value for both buyer & seller. Here’s another book I’d add to the list http://www.businessmodelgeneration.com/canvas. It will get the ball rolling when thinking about the value proposition of an idea and prepping for a pitch. Good luck to your team and Bookedd. My vote is in.

  • http://www.mikemerrill.com Mike D. Merrill

    Thanks Rhonda. It’s definitely worth the time. There is a great app we used called Lean Canvas as well from Ash Maurya at http://leancanvas.com

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