Evolving Bits

Tue Jan 29 2008

New Company in a Weekend: A Skillbit.com Developer Wrap-up

Seattle Startup Weekend

What does the process look like when 80+ people get together in a weekend with the goal of building a new company and a product?

Here's a quick overview of:

Friday: Let's pick a product

In just a couple of hours of product brainstorming and socializing at Seattle Startup Weekend - 120 people narrowed down the top ideas into just 4.

This was the first major decision of what became many rapidly-paced decisions. In the sense that a startup often does this entire process in a year's time, tonight was the equivalent our first 3 months!

Saturday: Heavy lifting time

Saturday morning: We haven't picked a development platform yet and don't know much about what we're building yet.

Django declared the winner partially due to the Python experience in the room, and partially because it was one of the few platforms that no one had an aversion too. After Friday night's initial meeting, I wrote "What about Django for Seattle Startup Weekend?" to explore this possibility. I think this is a compliment to the easy of entry for both the Python language and the Django platform. Only 3 developers in the group had extensively worked with Django, but that was enough to get various teams quickly "unstuck". Saturday was our big learning day - we felt much more confident on Sunday.

I'm partial to Python, but was prepared to learn a Ruby on Rails if that was our chosen platform. This was the first Startup Weekend group to use Django.

Choosing the platform reminded me of the Open Space principles of "Whoever comes are the right people" and "Whatever happens is the only thing that could have". Had there been a different mix of people, a completely different platform could have been chosen, and that would have been ok too.

What impressed me what that this diverse team of developers were all willing to give the chosen platform a hearty try even if their platform-of-choice was not picked. Nobody complained, we just made it work!

Saturday afternoon: At this point we've been all ramping up on Django (and Python) with the help of our experts. We all paired up into self-selected teams - pairs are nice because you have a team mate (a la Extreme Programming), plus if someone decides not to come in the next day, you have continuity.

"So what are we building, again?"

With the web development off and running, it was time to get more familiar with what we were building. The teams who have been working on mockups (in the form of whiteboard sketches that were photographed and added to Basecamp) were our next stop.

Saturday night: We've got ourselves a working alpha. This is beyond my expectations - in just one day we accomplished the wide range of tasks starting with choose a platform ending with an early alpha. 30 developers plus 50+ business development/marketing/designers working together.

Sunday: This is really coming together!

Sunday morning. Hard to wake up. A bit tired. I then heard about the "coup" code branch -- basically a sub-group went to the bar and decided they needed to rewrite the entire database layer late Saturday into early Sunday. A bit worried at what this did to the parts of the app I was working on, but turned out to be just fine.

I spent most of the day working through templates and navigation and merging functionality with the graphic design that was in formation. This was rewarding because the site quickly goes from ugly to beautiful over the course of a few hours.

Sunday night: We actually finished by our planned 9pm launch. Core functionality is working, content is in, graphic design looking good -- we even had a patent filed, though I don't know what we actually patented. I even lucked out with 2-seconds of fame making the King 5 News segment, albeit my coffee mug (sitting next to me) had a bit more air-time.

Site is live. Time for sleep.

Some final bugs are being squashed - you'll soon see this at http://skillbit.com


A core team was chosen at the end of the event to decide where this project goes next.

Web Collective Inc LogoHaving just recently started my own company Web Collective, Inc (in May 2007 with 6 others) my hands are full with that venture, though building a company in a weekend brings with it new relationships, new ideas, and new energy from seeing what's possible when a group gets together to create something new.

For something a bit smaller scale, I'm interested in checking out what this Seattle group is doing: Ready, set develop: How to create a six hour startup.

Some Photos

Some of the core dev team members (taken at the end of the event). We can still smile! I'm the guy in the second row with glasses and the black shirt 3 from the right.

Seattle Startup Weekend - Picture of some of the Core Developers

Seattle Startup Weekend - Picture of some of the Core Developers