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One year ago, Startup Weekend Chicago teamed up with SPARK Chicago to create an epic six-day startup competition with 60 developers, designers and entrepreneurs. Neal and I were fortunate enough to get accepted into the program in early July, so we just had to wait until July 22nd to get started.
But by the week of July 22nd came around, we were doing anything but waiting around. We were in a full out sprint to finish the Code Academy site in order to get applicants for our inaugural class. After pulling two all-nighters to attempt the get the CA website done, we decided to pivot our attention to Startup Weekend and SPARK to see if we could win it.
There were so many crazy things that happened during these six days that we could probably write a book about it, however, to save your eyes I will distill our experience down into the top ten highlights of the competition. Come along for the ride :)
10. Forming an all-star team
Neal switched from web developer to talent scout as he poured through the Weave The People site with all 60 of the SPARK contestants listed on there. His focus was to find awesome designers and developers to help build another idea of ours called Code Mountain, an online platform to track your progress in becoming a web developer. After about 48 hours, our team went from me and Neal to 8 people!
9. Dominating the first night
We arrived at TechNexus Friday night with our team already formed and ready to get to work. Neal and I were almost like the security guards (or bouncers) as other people would come up to try to steal people from our all-star team. But none of this prep work would have meant anything if we didn't get through the pitch round, so we patiently waited as over 40 people pitched their 1-minute ideas for Startup Weekend projects. Neal went up and pitched Code Mountain and then the voting began.
After 20 minutes, Code Mountain was voted as the most popular idea and it went into team formation mode. Within 5 seconds, our team assembled Captain Planet style from all four corners of the room. After this happened Neal asked the organizers, "We have our team, so can we start now?" The shocked organizer nodded and we ran off to a corner conference room to get to work while the other teams were still forming.
8. Collaboration from the get-go
While we had done some upfront work on formulating the idea, we still wanted 100% input from our other teammates. We spent Friday night getting on the same page with what we wanted Code Mountain to be and then split off into our respective areas to get the work done.
7. Getting the news that we were going last
On Saturday night we received this email about the presentation lineup for Sunday night.
Order of Pitches Tonight
We were shocked that we were going last. After reading the lineup it seemed as if they stacking up the lineup to have a strong finish so we knew that we had to bring our A-game in order to win.
6. Pulling an all-nighter to get the initial app ready
Having already pulled two all-nighters trying to get the Code Academy site done, I decided that during this competition I would continue to go all out to do whatever it took for us to win. On Saturday night before the semifinals we still had a lot of work to do, so I decided to stay up until the Code Mountain app was done.
5. Prepping for the Startup Weekend presentation + riding the trolley to the Mart
On Sunday morning, the focus was tightening everything up to get it ready for Neal's presentation. Those four hours felt like 30 minutes. We got about 95% of the way there, but luckily Neal took us the rest of the way. After we couldn't work on our presentation anymore, we joined the rest of the SPARK teams to head over to the Merchandise Mart for the semifinals. In a trolley. Which was awesome!
4. Unofficially winning Chicago Startup Weekend + getting into the SPARK finals
Turns out the SPARK team had it right with putting us last because Neal ROCKED our Code Mountain presentation. Shouldn't put a guy who was a Junior Olympics track & field athlete as the anchor leg. Just sayin...
Luckily for us we were on his team and we were off to the SPARK finals with Duck Duck Dish and Career.li!
3. Working with Pathfinder Software
We didn't know a lot about Pathfinder before connecting with them for the SPARK finals, but once Monday came around we knew we were partnered with the best company. Bernhard Kappe and Todd Wyder are lean startup masters and helped us iterate on our MVP, target market and business model. Brian Chamberlain and Jen Fournier put grown-up pants on our little Code Mountain app. We came into Wednesday retooled and super polished for our final presentation.
Bernhard also wrote a great blog post about our experience working together, so please give it a read.
2. Ravi developing a mobile app in less than 24 hours
Ravi Singh is one of the most amazing developers of all-time. He develops killer mobile apps and in his spare time he goes all over the country and wins every hackathon he participates in. Ravi rarely works on a team during these competitions, so it was pretty much the steal of the weekend to get Ravi to work on our team.
So what did Ravi do?
He just built the Code Mountain mobile app. In a day.
The last part of Neal's awesome Code Mountain presentation was pulling a Steve Jobs with a "one more thing..." line. He then unveiled Ravi's mobile app and the crowd was like, "Oooooohhhhhh!"
Our victory was sealed after that.
1. Winning SPARK Chicago
After all the all-nighters, iterations, meetings and preparation, it finally came down to Mitch Lowe announcing who won. It goes without saying that it was pretty surreal to hear Code Mountain as the winner, but we were very excited to see our six days of hard work pay off with a victory. This SPARK victory also propelled our progress with Code Academy which we were able to launch the next week.
It also wouldn't be right without thanking all the people who were a part of our awesome team!
In startup land a lot can happen in one year, but as this competition proved, sometimes even more can happen in six days.