I think it’s incredibly admirable that highly skilled people are dedicated to this type of work. These are not individuals who could not be doing other things with their time.
They are developers, lawyers, entrepreneurs and others whose time is extremely valuable, however, they are so passionate about seeing a change that they invest their own resources, sacrifice and give everything they can to helping others.
When I heard about this event from Hypepotamus’s site, I knew that I had to attend. I did not know that this was the first hackathon that Black Founders would hold but I recognized it as an extremely rare opportunity.
WhenAndWhere Team | Courtesy of jdawkinsatl
I arrived a couple hours after the event started, rushing to get there after work. I was extremely excited about the opportunity to be surrounded by other minorities with a passion for technology and startups. I was not disappointed.
When I walked in, everyone was mingling and getting ready to vote for which app ideas would be built in the next 24 hours. Hadiyah Mujhid (@hadiyahdotme) was explaining how the voting process works.
Each person was to mark their top three ideas and the four ideas with the most votes would be built. The app ideas included: an investment club for tracking results, generating recipes from a list of ingredients, a mobile app for event listings, and a QR code technology to help recruiters manage resumes.
I didn’t vote. My plan was to roam around and help groups with design, development, and marketing related tasks.
The first group that I sat with was in charge of building the recipe app. I told them that I saw a website that did the exact same thing. I further explained that if they could get an API key then it would put them in a position to build their app before the 2:00 p.m. deadline the next day.
Their app could still be a viable business, assuming they added some value to the experience.
The recipe group spent the next few minutes discussing a list of features that they needed. I emailed one of the members a website with a recipe API and told him to sign up. If he gave me the API key then I could start messing around with the data for them.
No API key materialized but they had a ton of ideas.
Meanwhile, Steven Otu (@StevenOtu) came over and we began chatting. I eventually jumped into the conversation with the recipe app team and asked if they were familiar with the concept of a MVP or minimum viable product.
For the next several minutes, Steven and I would go back and forth explaining lean methodologies to the group and why these concepts mattered.
The group listened but did not seem to get the point we were making. Everyone had less than 24 hours to build something. Focus and a minimal feature set were critical to success.
I roamed over to the group responsible for the QR code resume app.
A member of the team was speaking to a representative from Microsoft as she helped them with possible workflows and important features for the app.
I sat for several minutes as they exchanged ideas. I eventually headed over to Hadiyah who was speaking to Jeremy, a guy who came to check things out and offer teams advice.
We discussed the current state of each group and Hadiyah gave more details about each app. We talked about how the investment club idea seemed to have huge potential but the group members were missing in action. They said they were going to move a team member’s car.
I eventually headed back over to the group working on the recipe app. It seemed like they were still experiencing scope creep.
I realized that there was a group that I had not spoken to yet.
When I went over to the mobile event app group, I heard Hadiyah explaining how important it would be for them to focus on a niche market. She further explained that the event app space was overdone and they had to serve the specific needs of a smaller market to survive.
It was genius advice. In fact, it was the only shot they had at survival, were this idea to live outside of the Hackathon.
Hadiyah went on to explain that the concept of the app was extremely simple and that “This guy could probably build it in about 15 minutes,” pointing to me.
Everyone looked at me with a “who-the-fuck-is-he?” expression on their faces. I nodded toward the group and surrounding advisors in agreement.
It would take more than 15 minutes.. Maybe 20. I’m joking but it could definitely be done before the 2:00 p.m. pitch tomorrow.
Hadiyah continued helping them and as the conversation winded down, I went to grab my machine from the first table and started learning more about the mobile event app group and their idea.
Matt Poole came up with the concept. He had wireframes on his iPad and he even owns the domain name for the app, WhenAndWhere.
Jordan is a budding developer, he was trying to get a feel for which technologies he wants to work with.
Taylor is also interested in coding but only has experience with Java, not having done anything with web technologies.
Shay is a FAMU graduate who I connected with based on our Tallahassee roots, I attended FSU.
Lily is a student at Clark Atlanta University who already has a job lined up with Deloitte.
I took to the whiteboard to scale back their ideas after looking over the wireframes. The group was extremely open and practical about what could be accomplished in less than 24 hours.
I think a huge factor to their reciptivity was that I listened to everyone before saying anything. I knew what they felt and understood why.
We agreed that we would go for three pages. These included event listings, showing individual events, and an event creation form. We set out to get it done.
Lily and Shay started gathering and customizing sample HTML to put together our event creation form using jsFiddle. This was an amazing feat considering that Shay had no coding experience and Lily had a little HTML experience from years ago. They took on the task with no problem or hesitation.
Jordan and I started building the bones of the app. I began to show him how Rails works. He loved it.
We all went back and forth with Matt on what would be possible to achieve before pitch time tomorrow. Matt decided to compile a list of future features to demonstrate that we had a vision for the product.
Matt also pointed out that it was critical to go a little further beyond our MVP and have a share button. This was an excellent point, we eventually worked it into our list of MVP features that would be available for the demo.
Joey Digital (@joeydigital) was the group’s mentor. He did a great job keeping everyone focused on customer validation. Justin Dawkins (@jdawkinsatl) also pitched in some great ideas, one in particular was algorithmic sorting of events by general interest shown by previous visitors.
Hadiyah eventually came back over and pointed out the stakeholder structure for our startup. We had attendees, hosts, and advertisers. All of which had to be properly managed for this to be a success.
Her comments gave me an idea. I got everyone focused on only one stakeholder group. The attendees. I figured that we could adopt a concierge model early on. We would handpick events and post those. This resulted in higher quality and relevancy for our audience.
Focusing on one stakeholder group also allowed us to focus our efforts on the attendee experience with less than 18 hours left on the clock.
Joey’s emphasis on validation caused me to take a break from coding to draft up some questions that we could call our friends and ask.
Matt started making calls and interviewing people on their needs and experiences. I made calls to several friends while waiting for Heroku deploys to complete.
Matt and I had some overlap in the feedback we received. This was good. Several people wanted to know about cover fees, drink specials, and student discounts or deals.
Lily and Shay emailed Jordan and I their HTML form. We decided to start a google doc to help us seamlessly transfer information.
Lily and Shay then began to search for events that would be of interest to our niche, Atlanta University Center students. These are the approximately 14,000 students who attend Morehouse, Spelman, and Clark Atlanta University.
We needed these events since we decided to take the concierge approach and substitute as the host stakeholder group.
Jordan and I pushed out incremental changes as fast as we could, eventually allowing Lily and Shay to start adding the events that they found.
Amidst our work, Matt looked up and said, “Can I ask you something? It’s not related to this.”
“Yea, what’s up” I replied.
“Where did you come from? What made you help us?”
That was the first time that I really thought about the fact that we were full force in this thing together. I told them a little about myself and why I gravitated towards them.
They were practical about the things that could accomplished within the allotted time. After talking and laughing for a bit we got back to work.
After a while someone announced that it was 10pm. It only seemed like a hour had passed since I got there. Someone asked someone else where they had parked. I panicked, realizing that I only paid for three hours of parking.
I grabbed my keys and headed out of the Biltmore hoping that my car hadn’t been towed, booted, or ticketed. It was the latter. But it was all good, I was having fun. I grabbed my jacket from the car, left the ticket and got back to work.
Before we knew it, it was 12:00 a.m. and Nnena Ukuku (@nukuku) made her rounds letting everyone know that Hypepotamus would be closing at 1:00 a.m. She mentioned that we could carry on at the Waffle House, a few blocks away.
I had my my fair share of college cram sessions. Enough to understand the value of sleep at times like this.
We went for about 30 more minutes before agreeing that we would get as much sleep as we needed and try to get back at 8:00 a.m. when doors opened.
Lily took the Marta to Midtown in order to attend the event so I offered to take her home.
During the ride, we talked about her part-time job as tutor, our families and her promising career with Deloitte.
We exchanged our experiences in teaching. I served as a social media instructor at the Tallahassee Senior Center before graduating.
After dropping her off, I called one of my best friends to tell her about how much fun I was having.
I eventually made it home a little after 2:00 a.m and ended up lying down even though I didn’t feel tired.
WhenAndWhere Team | Courtesy of joeydgl
My alarm woke me around 7:30 a.m. I jumped in the shower, drafted up a list of outlying tasks that we needed to accomplish and headed out.
When I arrived at Hypepotamus, the recipe app team was already hacking away. They changed their concept to a musician/DJ booking app for engaged couples. Joey’s tweet explains this in more detail.
this team has to come up with a new idea. their original one has already been done…twice. the clock is… instagr.am/p/Vfi2dPm3pG/— Joey Digital (@joeydigital) February 9, 2013
The advisors had breakfast ready ready for us. Many of us tried to eat and work simultaneously with less than 6 hours left before pitch time.
The relatively empty space provided some great uninterrupted time to put the finishing touches on our app. I styled and simplified things where I could. We still had to formulate our pitch, re-input data, and practice.
Shay was the second to arrive on our team. We chatted about how much sleep we got the night before and she asked what could she do.
I mentioned that we still needed a pitch. We cobbled together some questions that we thought would be important to answer in our pitch.
Topics included our growth strategy, customer research, success metrics, approach to competition, and monetization.
Shay she set off answering the questions and building our pitch.
I continued designing our app and adding some last minute functionality tweaks.
While working, I overheard a conversation that many of the attendees were having which revolved around the challenges of black startups getting funded.
Some people complained about the state of things while others talked about strategies to improve the odds.
I wanted to jump in but we did not have much time. I felt like they were missing the same lean insights that Steven and I offered the recipe app team the day before.
I wanted to know what was up with the enormous focus on outside investment? I feel like startups should focus on the problem that their company is trying to solve. Focus on becoming profitable early.
Greed is color blind. Investors will throw money at you when you don’t need it. My advice would be to achieve product-market fit then leverage your success to get better equity terms from investors IF your company does need outside investment.
I think outside investment receives too much attention in the startup community. Some startups may require large up-front investments but most don’t. Startups that do should get creative and test their hypothesis at a smaller scale to validate market potential. If a startup is successful at doing this, my guess is that the validation will warrant investments without much need to solicit investors.
This issue with over-prioritization of outside investment is not specific to color or culture. I see it everywhere.
Being that we were at a Black Founders event, I would have argued that we should leverage the make-something-from-nothin’ spirit of our community to encourage black startups to embrace lean methodologies and not focus on a lack of funding. Like I said, greed is color blind. If your startup shows promise, investors will flock to you.
Lean methodologies do not reject the idea of outside investment but they do assist in eliminating waste. Much of the focus on outside investment is a form of waste. Focus on solving a problem.
I would also point out that blacks disproportionately suffer from poverty, however, many families manage to escape these conditions over the course of one generation. We are natural bootstrappers. Use this to your advantage!
But I digress..
When the app met our requirements for MVP, I jumped in to assist Shay with the pitch.
We agreed that a business model similar to Groupon’s made the most sense. Groupon gets a portion of each deal redeemed.
WhenAndWhere would not be able to survive with a traditional advertising business model considering that we had a market of 15,000 people, at most.
If we followed the Groupon model, we could still reap a significant amount of income even if only a portion of our market redeemed deals on a regular basis. This would be enough to support a business with a handful of employees.
We wanted to be able to clearly articulate the mechanics of our borrowed business model, were we to be questioned about it.
Shay and I made a note to revisit the monetization strategy and continued drafting the other parts of our pitch.
Taylor arrived next. We asked him to do more research on exactly how companies like Groupon and LivingSocial generated revenue from deals.
Lily was next and I knew that she would be great at helping us distill Groupon’s business model. Our conversations about her experiences interning at Deloitte seemed to perfectly position her to dissect these deal-based businesses.
Lily and Taylor’s findings sparked an interesting conversation.
Shay asked “If they are taking 50 percent, how did Groupon ever convince businesses to work with them before they had lots of users?”
This would make a great case study. I also want to know the answer to that.
For about 10 minutes, our team went back and forth about how interesting and predatory the business model seemed. We knew such a business model was our only chance at survival.
We could probably even take less than 50 percent and still be incredibly profitable. There was an advantage to only having a handful of employees and a small, concentrated audience. We could focus our marketing efforts on a relatively small group of people. That isn’t expensive.
I told the group stories of companies that complained about how Groupon damaged or caused them to shut down their businesses. We talked about how experience-based industries such as skydiving and spas could probably benefit from such deals.
This was one of the best discussions that we had as a group.
Shay and I took Lily and Taylor’s findings then worked the material into our pitch. I asked Lily and Taylor to re-enter some event information that was dropped due to design decisions which affected formatting requirements. They split up the events and started inserting the information.
When Jordan arrived, we had all the initiatives being covered so he joined our pitch session.
Matt arrived shortly after Hadiyah told us where to submit our hack info. We asked Matt to handle submission.
As everyone else finished up their respective tasks, Shay, Jordan, and I were closing in on the 3rd draft of our pitch. We moved the drafting process to a whiteboard. We were working on final draft and this would allow everyone to participate.
Shay took to the board and drafted our main and sub-points as we discussed how to concisely communicate each idea.
Once Matt had taken care of our app submission, he started reaching out to people. He called everyone he could and told them to go check out our app, view events and use the ‘Share’ button to tweet about the events they liked.
With our final pitch on the whiteboard. I asked everyone to pick a part. Matt chose the 30-second opening, Shay chose completive strategy, Lily wanted monetization, Jordan decided on success metrics, Taylor chose growth strategy and I got the consumer research part which was left over. We decided that we would move right into the product demo afterwards.
I asked Hadiyah if they had a space where we could practice our pitch. She pointed to a small back room and I overheard someone say “Oh they serious..” Damn right! LOL
We wheeled our whiteboard into the room and began practicing with less than one hour left. Our mentor Joey Digital stepped in to hear us out.
With each run we got better. We clarified our messages and became more comfortable with our parts. Between runs, I logged into our server to massage data for events with long names. It needed to look good in our UI.
Another guy stepped in who introduced himself earlier as the founder of a company that handles speaking engagements.
Before we knew it, someone ducked their head in the room. “It’s time guys.”
We headed out of the room, planning to use our whiteboard in lieu of a PowerPoint.
Hadiyah took to the front of the room and asked everyone for feedback on the event. We all expressed our gratitude for Black Founders and everyone else who put this event together.
She pointed out that it was interesting how our team, WhenAndWhere, organized in less than 24 hours even though none of us knew each other prior to the event. Other groups were composed of friends.
She decided to go in an order that resulted in our team going first. Steven offered to let us use his machine to demo since I forgot my Mac display adapter at home.
As the team organized, I went to get the machine from Steven and noticed that the mobile site looked different on his browser.
I rushed to fix the issue with inspect element while I was still in the back of the room. We wouldn’t be navigating back to the main page during the demo.
Don’t judge me. We had less than 24 hours. LOL
With our group ready to go, we connected Steven’s machine to the projector and got started.
Matt opened up with our 30-second pitch, he nailed it. Taylor, Shay, Lily, Jordan, and I followed by selling our hearts out and addressing each aspect of our business.
We closed with a demo showing our mobile web app through a site which simulated mobile browsing.
Before the pitch, Matt suggested that we use a specific event for the demo. We clicked the event that he suggested and emphasized the fact that it had been shared 21 times after only being up for a hour and a half.
It was time for the room to hit us with questions. Throughout the building process, we were vocal amongst each other regarding the scope, vision, business model, and necessary features. This paid off. We were able to borrow logic from earlier discussions to explain why we approached things a certain way.
The next group was composed of an alumnus from Morehouse, a current Morehouse student, and a Spelman student. They presented their solution for recruiters to scan QR codes and retrieve all of a candidate’s information.
The team did a great job presenting and handling questions. They gathered testimonials from recruiters which demonstrated the pain felt in regard to managing candidate information.
Something that hindered this idea was it’s size. This was a huge problem to take on with less than 24 hours to generate a MVP. The group helped us visualize their solution by building an iPhone workflow of how the application worked.
I have no doubt that they could actually build it if they focused on a single problem in the recruiting space and had more time.
The next group was composed of the two guys who built an app which helped engaged couples find musicians/DJs for their weddings. The group was composed of an economics major and front-end guy.
Their presentation was very strong with nice visuals of a functional prototype. The economics major did a great job explaining the incentive structure behind the application, market size and exactly why it was a viable business.
The front-end guy built several pages overnight with SoundCloud integration. I think this was an amazing feat considering that they did a complete pivot, deciding to give up the recipe app idea the night before.
It was time for questions. Some hot areas for this group revolved around their complicated pricing structure, the possible circumvention of their booking system, and the missed opportunities of only focusing on musicians and DJs.
I agreed with most of these points except for the last one. I think it was great that they focused on early adopters for their startup. This enabled them to do things such as SoundCloud integration and cater to other specific needs of their early adopters. Some of these things would be useless to other wedding service providers such as photographers, however, they add a tremendous amount of value for musicians.
The investment club group never came back. I’m not sure what happened to them.
After the last round of questions the panel went into a room to deliberate.
I spoke with Jordan about how much potential I think he has as an developer. He was quickly able to process information and accomplish a lot of tasks I had requested of him the night before. Quickly processing documentation then coming up with solutions represents a large part of what we do as developers.
Being only a sophomore, I feel like Jordan would be in a position to work anywhere he wanted if he put his heart into development now. I offered myself up as a resource.
Although I am an entrepreneur at heart and yearn to go into it full-time. Those of us working as developers cannot complain about the perks, mobility, and intellectual enrichment that we get from our jobs.
After about 5 minutes, the judges returned. They commented on how each group did in each category, then announced the rankings. Our app, WhenAndWhere, placed first, the QR code app placed second, and musicians for weddings app placed third.
As we congratulated each other and took pictures, there was another announcement.
There had been a mixup in the rankings. The musician for weddings app actually placed second and the QR code app placed third.
The mixup may have ticked some people off but it made sense in retrospect. Having a functional product by the time of the pitch was a major aspect of the event.
The musicians for weddings app was breathing while the QR code app had not actually materialized. I am not sure how this mixup happened, it may just have been a slip of tongue.
It was great to see my teammates have their hard work recognized but it felt even better to be surrounded by other minorities who were excited about technology and startups.
After things calmed down a bit, everyone started asking us whether we were going to take the idea further. I mentioned that I could only serve in an advisory role since my startup, Shommi, takes nearly everything out of me.
I had the opportunity to speak with a jill-of-all-trades, Sharron Battle, the founder of DerbyWire. We talked about our startups and discussed things such as dealing with untapped markets. We also discussed how content generation and education were important for startups in these situations.
Sharron offered herself as a mentor and gave me her card, telling me that I could contact her for advice. I was extremely grateful.
Evaluation of WhenAndWhere
WhenAndWhere Team | Courtesy of matterfact923
I think that WhenAndWhere is a viable albeit tough idea to execute. A traditional advertising business model will not support such a niche market.
Without a niche market, the company will not survive amongst players such as Facebook and Eventbrite. A Groupon-like monetization strategy would enable the company to be profitable, even with a relatively small audience base.
Success will also depend on the company’s ability to incentivize the AUC community to repeatedly visit the app. Once a passionate audience has been formed, monetizing will be like rowing downstream.
The audience size can be leveraged to convince local businesses to offer Groupon-like deals through WhenAndWhere.
Hadiyah, Steven and Nnena | Courtesy of joeydgl
The Black Founders Hackathon experience will take a few days to fully process. I met so many talented, interesting and genuine people.
This was a life changing experience with lessons learned, bonds formed and contacts made.
I have no doubt that the teams who presented could survive in the startup world. In less than 24 hours we organized and made amazing things happen. It was fun and educational.
I cannot express how grateful I am for people like Hadiyah Mujhid, Nnena Ukuku, Steven Otu, Justin Dawkins, Joey Digital, Sharron Battle and a space like Hypepotamus.
Events such as these are great for finding co-founders, employees, or people offering professional services such as attorneys. You get a real feel for what people are about.
Nnena’s intelligence, altruism and hustle will definitely make her come to mind when I’m looking to hire an attorney for startup related work. Steven’s in-depth knowledge and active pursuit of startup best practices solidifies him as an entrepreneur to be reckoned with. Hadiyah’s leadership, intelligence, and personality makes her a co-founder that anyone would be lucky to have.
It’s the morning after the event and within a couple of hours of waking up I have spoken to Joey Digital. He is linking me up with a guy who almost fits the early adopter archetype for my startup.
I applied to Joey and Justin’s organization, SF35, as a possible advisee and advisor.
I have a meeting setup with Justin tomorrow to get some more of his great marketing ideas and general feedback on my startup.
Jordan has also reached out to me for the Github link to our project. He wants to continue working on WhenAndWhere to learn Rails.
So to all you introverted, entrepreneurial geeks.. I suggest that you get out of your house and comfort zone. You’ll be surprised at what you learn. I bet it’s worth your time. It was definitely worth mine.
Thanks to everyone who made this thing happen!