I started out at Startup Weekend feeling very non-committal about everything. Would I be in town on Sunday for the presentations? Did I have the energy or motivation to get something done over the weekend? On Friday night, I didn’t know. After the ideas were pitched I talked to a lot of people looking to start projects, figuring that even if I couldn’t join a group I could at least lend my vote of confidence to any ideas that sounded worthwhile. The SnoozeMail team caught my attention, and I had a wide-ranging conversation with Al Abut about use cases, and I even reminisced about some of the features I had loved as a Lotus Notes user (when I worked for Expeditors).
First There Is a Mountain
After running into some fellow Seattle-ites (Kintan and Ayush) I felt my desire to be a part of building something grow – and so I committed to help them. The original project idea was that we would take the skittles.com concept and apply it to anyone’s online persona, so that they would have a one-stop-shop for all of their social profiles. At dinner we were informed this had already been built (domain name we wanted and all!) with the precise implementation that we had planned at Skittlr.com, and so it seemed like a huge waste of time and effort to build it all over again.
That left us, at about 1am on Saturday morning, headed back to the drawing board. Realizing that our only hope of recruiting more developers was dependent on having a solid idea first thing Saturday morning, we began the brainstorming process in the hotel lobby of The Palace and a couple of the more sleep deprived teammates passed out on the couch. We agreed it would be fun to use the Twilio API somehow, and began to think up ideas of how to use it. We parted ways at about 4am with the essential concept – to make it easy for anyone to plan and execute an automated phone call. This would eventually be scoped down and become MonkeyCalling. As I fell asleep, I wondered how we were going to pull off building this simple product with no developer in the mix, and resolved to use my rusty HTML skills for good in the morning.
Then There is No Mountain
Saturday morning I had a meeting, so the team agreed they would meet at the Microsoft offices in Union Square and I would join them around noon. Watching a couple of emails back and forth from my iPhone confirmed my fear, the idea we had come up with was unpopular with those who had been sleeping and it was shifting again – but to what? It was unclear what we were going to get done without a whole lot more direction, and fast! The team’s scattered focus was grating on my sleep deprived nerves, and I was weighing whether or not it was worthwhile to keep committing my valuable weekend time to this project as opposed to my real job. I decided to take my sense of urgency down a notch, at least temporarily, and see how things worked out. Sometimes it pays to stop being driver-driver for a moment, and see what happens.
We got into a conference room, got to the whiteboard, and threw up 5 ideas (yes, very much like vomitting ideas). We actually discovered that two of them were use cases for the same idea – and it came back to the original idea to plan a phone call. I fought for the market research survey idea, knowing it was an actual business and something we could implement even if we had to hack the entire solution without a professional developer. Somewhere in this whole process we ran into Rahul Bhide, a friend of Kintan and Ayush, and he agreed to help us in our coding efforts. Newton, our other developer, had slept in his car the previous night and was ready to go to bed so we said goodbye to him (and to the venue and its terrible wifi) and headed out to Starbucks (where the wifi was just as bad) and then finally to Rahul’s house.
Then There Is
Rahul saved us. If not for his house, and his ability to learn the Twilio API, we would not have had a product to demo on Sunday evening.
Once we actually settled in, around 4pm, it didn’t take long to get a front end mocked up and begin digging into using Twilio to make phone calls and ask questions. Before I called it a night and headed to Palo Alto to watch a friend conduct his orchestra we had a functional, albeit un-sexy, website live and later in the evening I got a call from Monkey Calling!! The call flow was complete, now we just needed to make it pretty, make a connection between the web form and Twilio (they apparently call this “the plumbing”), and write up some marketing stuff on our site.
Sunday was spent make the UI you’ll see now if you visit MonkeyCalling.com based on Ayush’s super simple design – which include magenta as the accent color. The guys were convinced we needed a “naughty” color – although I didn’t ask what this meant (and I still don’t know), I like how it looks. We ended up quickly getting a blog, about us, team page, facebook group, and twitter account going thanks to Nirav and we began the pre-marketing of our product. If you don’t know, this is an excellent tactic for getting the most you can out of Startup Weekend — and we actually scored an interview with a reporter for TechCrunch. Would be fun to see where that goes…
Overall it was a lot of fun, with a lot of typical problems you have whenever a bunch of smart people come together and try to get something new and cool built over a weekend. When you consider how much we thrashed about, we got quite a bit done, which I think is a testament to both endless resourcefulness and dedication, and also the awesomeness of our tools. I realize that I work for Twilio, but I am still learning about the API and I don’t code for a living, so I am happy to find it really is as simple as we say it is. And we built something that works, and people can use it today!
Give it a try!
We also made our own video, which is quite silly and pointless but was good for a laugh:
Don’t Forget the After Party
I really feel I should mention that I have been so impressed with how welcoming the SF tech community has been. Coming from Seattle, where we have a tight knit group of people supporting and participating in tech startups and entrepreneurship in general, I have been thinking about how I’ll make new friends and find my home in the community here as I make my move. It is nice to go to events and see familiar faces, to find like-minded people to support you and give you a sanity (or reality) check from time to time.
Here are pictures of some of the fun, interesting, fabulous people I spent time with last night: