By Mike McGee
on November 01, 2013
Last Friday, TSL almunus Bobbilee Hartman and four others met at Startup Weekend Twin Cities and started working on an idea called Kid Around Travel. Two days later, they won Startup Weekend. I talked to Bobbilee to learn how they did it.
How does it feel to win a Startup Weekend?
Why did you decide to participate in Startup Weekend?
I love working on new things and learning about different stacks. There is only so much variation you can learn at work so it’s fun to learn how other people work and manage software projects. I also love to hear about new ideas, network with the community and potentially pick up side projects.
Through The Starter League and your involvement in the tech scene over the past few years, you've participated in your fair share of hackathons. With all that experience, how did you approach this Startup Weekend?
Yeah I have done a lot of hackathons, but this was only my second Startup Weekend. I definitely approached this SW very differently because I knew more about programming and how to manage projects in a short amount of time.
I put a lot more thought into what idea / team to choose:
- Would I use what we were trying to build?
- Could some version of minimum viable product (MVP) be completed over a weekend?
- After our first meeting on Friday night I had to think: could I work with them, did our skill sets mesh well?
- Team Size: Last SW I had a group of 3, this year I had a group of 5 and it was perfect.
Throughout the weekend I referred to my friend Eli Rubel’s article when he mentions to “…not sweat the small stuff” From this I knew what not to waste time on.
ASK FOR HELP / FEEDBACK from the people your organizer provides: mentors, investors, and engineers. Ask either about your idea, presentation, MVP business plan, or MVP engineering management.
Overall a good product/idea will sell itself and as long as you can connect with the judges personally then you should be golden (which we lucked out in that regard because we didn’t know who was going to be judging until we stood up on stage).
Lastly, I think the best part about all of this is that we all got at least 8 hours of sleep each night!
Let's talk more about the app that won SW! What problem are you solving with Kid Around Travel?
We are solving the problem of young kids in this day and age not engaging while on vacation. They are always using electronics and aren’t really caring or embracing their surroundings; ‘looking up’. Along with that parents are taking so many pictures of their kids and not printing them anymore. These images are sitting inside their ‘camera roll’ and the memories that went with those moments are being lost.
What was the role of everyone on your team and how did you work together to build Kid Around Travel?
We had three full-stack developers on the team. On Saturday Michael Cameron taught us how to set up and develop with PhoneGap (we are planning to make it a native iPhone and iPad app next). I took the role in managing everyone’s tasks throughout the day, building the main tile board page, simplifying our overall brand message, and seeking traveling mothers on Twitter.
I also helped with establishing our business plan: One app with several city-specific scrapbooks inside of it. For example, when you download our app for free you get two city-specific scrap books included and every city scrap book after that you pay X dollars.
Building an idea in 54 hours is never easy, so talk to us about the most challenging part of the weekend?
Honestly this was not a stressful project at all. We took small steps in a very agile manner. All of us took the tasks that came naturally to us and each one of us did about the same amount of work. I would say the only thing that made me nervous was that we wanted to do a live demo because a screen cast wouldn’t do justice for the uploading of images. We made a backup screen cast just in case, but luckily the live demo worked just fine!
What's next for Kid Around Travel?
We are going to meet next week to go over what everyone’s schedules are like and how we are going to manage everything going forward. Currently all of us are working full-time as product managers, designers, producers, and developers. We were invited to present at Ignite Minneapolis November 7th , an event that will be great for strategy and validation.
Also when we are ready and solidify a plan we will be speaking with Gener8tor in Milwaukee or Madison who approached us after the big win. Lastly by winning the competition we get accepted into Startup Weekend Next!
To learn when Kid Around Travel launches, please sign up on their landing page. Also, check out some photos of the winning team from Startup Weekend Twin Cities below.
The Kid Around Travel team (from left to right): Aneela Kumar, Bobbilee Hartman, Mike Nistler, Michael Cameron. Not pictured: Stuart Wainstock.
Michael Cameron testing the desktop and mobile versions of Kid Around Travel.
Aneela Kumar nails the pitch for Kid Around Travel in the finals of Startup Weeekend Twin Cities.
By Mike McGee
on October 30, 2013
Here at The Starter League, we are passionate about creating innovative solutions to solve old problems. From being the first in-person school in the world to teach beginners web development and design, to our new 9-month immersive program Starter School, we have prided ourselves in starting what others have not.
Today, we are proud to partner with Upstart to help current and future students at Starter School finance their education. Like Upstart, we believe that more people should have fair and reasonable access to capital to start the companies or get the dream jobs they want. We recognized the great work Upstart has been doing and are excited to be working with them to help students realize their entrepreneurial dreams at Starter School.
We are also proud to join General Assembly, DevBootcamp, and Launch Academy in this partnership with Upstart. We hope that this will help create even more developers, designers, and entrepreneurs for years to come!
To learn more about the Upstart partnership, be sure to read their blog post here as well as this feature in The Wall Street Journal.
Note: Upstart funding is not offered or made by Starter School but by Upstart Network.
By Mike McGee
on October 27, 2013
Akie Attawia is a member of our Winter 2013 class at The Starter League. While in the Visual Design class at TSL, he and his team created an awesome app called exactli, which you can learn more about below!
Explain what exactli does.
Exactli is a simple software solution offering project organization and design feedback tools for graphic designers and their clients. Our software allows for designers to organize their portfolio of projects; different iterations of each design; along with associative comments made by their clients. One of the key differentiators between exactli and other design organization/feedback tools is the client coaching element of our platform. From speaking with customers, we’ve found out that client education about the design process and the evolution of a design are equally as important as the design itself. That’s why we’ve provided an area on our platform where a designer’s client can see their research/thought process and reasons behind design concepts.
The main user page for exactli. Easy as 1-2-3!
Tell us about how the idea for exactli came about?
Working in the engineering industry, I wanted to improve the process of reviewing technical drawings. I worked on this idea for my Starter League Demo night but through some small freelance projects of my own, it became clear that the same communication problem I had noticed in the engineering space was ever more present for freelance graphic designers and much more acute. Designers were resorting to email threads for sending design concepts to their clients. This makes it extremely difficult to stay on top of projects and avoid massive miscommunication. Email communication leads to significant time lost, as well.
How did you come up with the name?
Sometimes, it’s hard for people to say exactly what they mean without pointing things out. Especially when two people are working in different places, but on the same project. We knew the basic concept and premise of the platform, and we knew what we wanted the name to convey. Similar to the process that designers go through, the team (which at that point was made up of primarily my Starter League Visual Design classmates) started brainstorming. Quite frankly, it was an "aha" moment for us. Everything about the platform we were building was contained in this compact word, and that was it.
How did you build the team that created exactli?
I talked about the project a lot and mentioned it to a friend of mine who saw the need in his daily work and was extremely interested in bringing it to life. He in turn recruited another friend who essentially wanted to tackle the technical challenge of the project. Finally we took part in the Lean Startup challenge this fall, and through a random Starbucks working session, I ran into another entrepreneur also taking part in the challenge. A couple of coffee meetups after that, she officially joined the exactli team; seeing the need for the platform in her line of work.
Talk about the development process. What were the challenges in making this idea real?
The biggest challenge for us— something that continues to be a challenge— was the risk of not going too big with the idea. As we develop exactli, there seems to be potential to create a host of branches and off-chute features from our main idea. Staying focused on our end goal and vision and not allowing it to be watered down as the process evolves has been a challenge.
How's the reception been so far? Do you have users?
Together, we have put up a low fidelity product for exactli and garnered some feedback from usage. The team is currently working on the second version of the platform; improving the UI/UX for both clients and designers.
What have you learned the most in building exactli?
Well, personally, it’s been a process of learning patience. I think there’s a huge emphasis on building and shipping products relatively fast in the startup world, and I’m of the same mindset. However, with all of that, it’s key to listen to customers and understand what they really want. Assuming we knew what designers wanted from the get-go came back to nip us in the butt. The feedback cycle, "build, learn, iterate," is what we’re trying to master.
What's the next milestone for exactli?
We’re currently working on the second version of the platform, improving on the UI/UX for both designers and their clients. I can’t stress the importance of UI/UX enough, and this has been a great learning experience in the regard.
If you are a designer in need of a collaboration tool, exactli might be the solution you are looking for.
By Mike McGee
on October 26, 2013
Nate Lassiter is a member of our Winter 2012 class at The Starter League as well as a student in our inaugural User Experience course. During the Winter 2013 class, Nate and fellow classmates developed a music magazine called Off The Record. To learn more about the creation of Off The Record, read the profile below!
What is Off The Record Magazine?
Off The Record (http://offtherecordmagazine.com) is a music magazine that tells the story of amazing artists and music festivals by curating the most interesting videos, pictures, and articles.
How did you come up with this idea?
I came up with the idea by combining two things that I really love...music and design. I also wanted to build something as I was taking the advanced HTML/CSS and visual design class, so Off The Record was born.
The cover of OffTheRecord's inaugural issue featuring Alabama Shakes.
Explain the building process. How did you get this idea off the ground?
The building process is whats most exciting. To start, I chose to focus on Alabama Shakes as the first artist to feature. From there, I curated various types of content...videos, pictures, and articles about the band. Then the design process starts, where I figure out how to weave the pieces of content into a story that creates an interesting experience for the reader. Lastly, I dive into code (html/css/js) to bring the issue to life. There were many times where I hit road blocks while coding, so it was great to have TSL teachers and mentors around to help.
How did it feel to launch your first issue?
It felt AMAZING to launch the first issue. Seeing your idea come to life is a great feeling, especially when you're able to share it with others and they enjoy it.
How's the reception been so far?
The reception has been really good so far. We've released issues covering Alabama Shakes, the Forecastle Music Fest, and the Electric Forest music fest. We're excited to release more.
What have you learned the most from building this product?
What I've learned the most is how powerful it is to be able to bring your ideas to life using code. In hindsight, I should have learned these skills a long time ago, but really glad that I'm learning them now.
Nate and the rest of the OffTheRecord recently released the latest issue covering the TomorrowWorld music fest. You can check out the issue on OffTheRecordMagazine.com.
By Mike McGee
on October 11, 2013
Our latest alumni feature covers the story of how a trader, a lawyer, and an engineer came to find each other at The Starter League and then went on to create an awesome web dev consultancy called LaunchPad Lab.
What were you all doing before The Starter League?
Tom came from a finance background. He traded on the floor of the CBOE for 6 years before moving off the floor to start a high frequency trading firm. He led the development of the hardware and software needed to excel in the ultra-competitive area of high frequency trading.
Scott is a trial attorney who is always looking to innovate on the archaic workflows of old school lawyers. He spent his days in the courtroom and nights building applications to help lawyers improve their practices.
Brendan is an engineer who loves to solve problems. He sees the web as an exciting and new place to create and build products to make ideas come to life and change the world.
How did LaunchPad Lab form?
Two companies sought us out to build software for them. We knew that we could build better software as a team. Tom was Brendan’s mentor in The Starter League and Brendan and Scott had partnered to build WarRoom Law. The three of us met up at 1871 the Monday after Demo Day and decided to partner in building LaunchPad Lab.
Explain your team dynamic. Who works on what at LaunchPad Lab?
Our clients love us because we bring a lot of experience from a number of different areas. We all contribute to each project to give our clients the most value. We become partners with our clients. Each project has a lead developer (usually Brendan or Scott). Tom spends a lot of time time working directly with the client.
Who was your first client?
We started the company working on projects for Chesapeake Energy and UrbanBuddy.
There are tons of web development shops out there (especially in Chicago), what makes LaunchPad Lab special?
We get to know our clients business, understand their goals and innovate new technology to help them succeed. We constantly look for new revenue streams to increase our client’s success. There are a lot of developers who can write lines of code, but we feel that we have a unique ability to develop software that helps our clients grow their businesses.
What industries are your clients in?
About half of our clients are finance and trading related. It’s a huge market that’s in need of innovation, especially on the retail side. Since we know a lot about trading, it’s a natural fit.
Topstep Trader is a company that focuses on trading education. We are their CTO and are rebuilding their platform to allow them to scale. We think with our help they will be able able to increase their revenue 10x in the next year.
AlgoFast is a high-speed event trading platform previously only available to professional traders. We are helping them bring their platform to retail traders.
Our most well known client is Chesapeake energy. We built a mobile web survey application that they use to monitor and increase employee safety on oil rigs. The application has helped them identify key areas to improve safety training and education.
The band Hanson has a new album out and we launched a new site for them as they announced their album and world tour. Over 30,000 people visited the site within the first 10 minutes of launching.
You guys do client work, but are you building your own products as well?
We built four products in our first year. Two of them are law related applications. We also built a Twitter-based sales app and a beer brewing app. Some have failed, some are coming slowly along, and others have attracted thousands of users in the first couple of days. When our clients see that we have our own products and understand what is important they want us to help them.
Are you guys looking for more people to join the LaunchPad Lab team?
We recently brought on our first apprentice, Ryan Francis, a recent Starter League grad. We want to create a small team of the most talented builders in Chicago.
How does working on web apps compare to your previous jobs?
We wake up every morning and literally jump out of bed. We are changing the world. None of us could say that before.
What's the next milestone for LaunchPad Lab?
We recently invested in one of our clients. We bought a sizeable stake in their 3-year-old company and they currently have fantastic revenues. We are partnering with them to grow and scale their business and technology. That’s what we do: grow businesses!
If you're interested in getting your next website or web app off the ground, look no further than LaunchPad Lab!
By Mike McGee
on October 09, 2013
These first two weeks of Starter School have been a blur, but thankfully we have cameras to capture some of the highlights!
To see more pictures from the first two weeks of Starter School, please visit our Facebook page.
Starter School New Student Orientation
Before the first class of Starter School, we held an orientation for incoming Starter School students. This was the first time that Starter School students got to meet each other in-person!
Here is Starter School student Pete Albertson (Seattle, WA) introducing himself to the rest of his classmates.
Here is co-founder & CEO Neal Sales-Griffin explaining the first (and most important) goal of Starter School.
Caity Moran, TSL & Starter School Marketing Director aka "The Queen of Swag" talking to the students about some of the goodies that they will receive.
And boy did they get some cool stuff! First up: Starter School hoodies. Won't be able to miss these hoodies around Chicago!
We have also gave them Starter School t-shirts! Killer combo.
TSL Alumni Panel
One of the highlights of new student orientation was having alumni from The Starter League come in and share advice about how to get the most of this program.
Pictured from left to right: Claire Lew (Founder & CEO, ClarityBox, Michael Crismali (Consultant at DevMynd), Scott Weisman (Co-founder of LaunchPad Lab), Abby Raskin (UX Designer at Solstice Mobile), Jimmy Odom (Founder & CEO, WeDeliver)
We also got a surprise from Starter School instructor (and CTO of President Obama's re-election campaign) Harper Reed! While Harper only dropped by for 10 minutes, he had a lot of insightful (and colorful) things to say to our incoming students.
Here is Starter School student Venvictor Aduana getting a laugh from one of Harper's many one-liners.
The Marshmallow Challenge
At the beginning of every quarter, we give our students some spaghetti, string, tape, and a marshmallow and challenge them to build the tallest free standing structure. Below are a couple pictures of our Starter School students doing the best they can to accomplish the task.
Pictured from left to right: Katie Astrauskas (Chicago, IL) Garrett Martin (New York, NY) Lukas Ransmayr (Vienna, Austria) and Chance Griffin (Wilmington, NC) gameplan for their marshmallow tower.
Kate Wolin (Chicago, IL) and Parag Rajadhyaksha (Chicago, IL) try their hand at the Marshmallow Challenge.
Tower of Hanoi Puzzle
After the Marshmallow Challenge last week, our students attempted the difficult Tower of Hanoi puzzle. The puzzle puts the difficulty of learning how to program and design in perspective.
Starter School students Laurent Curau (Paris, France) and Mohammad Ouyoun (Chicago, IL) attempt to figure out the Tower of Hanoi puzzle.
Pete Albertson (Seattle, WA) and Alan Salganik (Skokie, IL) tryout the strategy of laughing to figure out this complex puzzle.
While these pictures show a lot of swag and games, these students have also taken a crash course in HTML & CSS, entrepreneurship, and have just starting learning about the Ruby programming language. To keep up with everything Starter School, bookmark The Active Record and signup for email updates on http://starterschool.com.