Startup Weekend Melbourne Women, Part 2

(This is Startup Weekend Melbourne Women, Part 2: The Projects. You can also read Startup Weekend Melbourne Women, Part 1: The Schedule.)

Whoops, I took a while to complete this second part! But here we go.

The Projects

In the end, there were 7 teams and 7 startup pitches. As with my summaries of the pitches at She Hacks, I’m not judging the same way that the judges would, but I’d like to talk about the startup ideas and share my thoughts on them.

1. Connect the Dots

Connect the Dots is a website/service that connects companies with young people wanting to get work experience (i.e. paid internships and junior-level jobs).

For example, if an advertising agency knew about Connect the Dots and they needed some extra hands to do some  basic data entry, they might post some short-term contract job opportunities on the site. Then, some university students who are interested in work experience in the advertising world might come along, and see these work experience roles, and see that they only require 4 hours a week, and they could apply for the roles. That way,

  1. the company gets some extra junior hands, and if the juniors are talented or a good fit, they might find some further opportunities for them, and eventually offer them jobs… and
  2. the students get some valuable work experience, and maybe a job (or at least, some business contacts!) in the long run.

I thought this was a fantastic idea. I wish the team had added their project to the Side Racket site (where teams were encouraged to list their projects) so that I could show you some of their presentation and screenshots.

Judges’ Verdict

Connect the Dots won the “Empathy Prize”. I’m not sure what that means, or if they actually won anything tangible/etc. During the judges’ Q&A time, after the team had pitched, they kept on telling the team that, while students might have a need for this service, they didn’t think that companies had a need for this service. There was a suggestion that the startup direction might need to change, to be successful.

I strongly disagree with this advice, and want to mark the judges’ assumption for what it is – an assumption that needs to be tested.

I do think companies have a need to be connected with junior talent.

One of my past companies had a wonderful arrangement with Swinburne University of Technology. Design/multimedia students had to get work experience as part of their degrees, so Swinburne had partnerships with several companies around town. They would assign students to these companies. It was great, because as designers become better and more experienced, they don’t want to do the really junior work, so each year, my company was able to promote one of the older designers and give them more interesting work, and then get in a new student designer, who would learn the ropes by doing the junior work. While I was there, several of the student designers were offered full-time roles at the end of their first year.

In another one of my past companies, the management staff were looking for a university/company partnership just like the Swinburne one. They wanted to bring in students and give them junior work, and possibly find some burning-bright new talent to hire – but they couldn’t find an arrangement like the Swinburne one.

Also: I posted about my confusion (about the judges saying that companies don’t want this service) on Twitter, and a CTO friend at another company replied: “we’d love to take some on if we could find them more easily…”

My Verdict

I would have given this a First Prize, tying with My Job Share (#7, below).

 

2. Very Flexy

Very Flexy is a website/service/app that connects startups with freelancing mums.

Startups can list “Flexitunities” (cute!). For example, they might need someone to help with marketing, for 3 hours per week. Freelancing mums can set up profiles and say when they’re available (weekdays, weekends, morning, night, etc) and list their skills. Then they can apply for the Flexitunities, and the startups can browse the mums’ profiles.

Judges’ Verdict

Very Flexy won the “Womens Prize”. Again, not sure what that means.

My Verdict

While I appreciate the need for new job models (flexible work arrangements, job sharing, making the most of the professional skills that mums have, etc), I think this app was a little too specific on both sides – one customer set being startups, and one customer set being freelancing mums. I’m not sure how many startups would need this enough (and often enough) to sign up for a service that has such a narrow focus, and I’m not sure how many mums would specifically sign up for a service that connects them with startups. I also feel like it cuts out other possible customers who might need flexitunities – plain ol’ small businesses, for example, and freelancing dads, and all the other freelancers out there.

 

3. Handlebars

Handlebars is a website for non-professional bike enthusiasts, with an online community, events for bike riders, ideas for great bike routes, and so on.

Again, unfortunately, the team didn’t add their project to the Side Racket site (where teams were encouraged to list their projects), so I can’t share any of the presentation or screenshots.

Judges’ Verdict

Handlebars won Second Prize.

My Verdict

I just don’t understand that verdict. Firstly, I think there’s some established competition (1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8), I’m not convinced there’s a market need, and I can’t see how it would make money. Secondly, when it comes to a startup idea, I think it should be something that can’t be easily made in WordPress in a week… because heck, you could make that any time, and there’s not really a point in getting together a team and pitching it as a startup. The Handlebars idea is completely fine, but unless I’m missing something major, a reasonable version of it could be made in WordPress.

 

4. First Curled Problems

First Curled Problems is a website for people who have curly hair. It’s powered by UGC (User Generated Content) – users can submit tips, articles, ideas, etc, and so it’s like a user-powered resource centre for everything to do with curly hair. It also has a weather widget, showing the weather forecast and how that might affect curly hair.

Alas, the team didn’t share much except their team listing on the Side Racket site, so I can’t share any of the pitch or the concepts here.

Judges’ Verdict

First Curled won First Prize.

My Verdict

Similarly to Handlebars, I couldn’t understand the judges’ verdict on this one. Lots of this content can be found somewhere else, like on Vogue forums or on magazine websites.

Then, there’s the issue of the very specific content angle. Imagine there was a site with really useful tips for people with curly hair. How many tips could they consume? If there were new tips added every day, wouldn’t tips be repeated and/or derivative? Would tips in 2014 differ drastically from tips in 2015? And if a woman checks the weather on her phone’s lock screen, is she going to check the weather on a website for curly-haired people?

Then, there’s the issue of UGC. What would motivate a person to add something to the site? If loads of tips have been added, why would they add a new one? Is all this content going to be moderated, sorted, and filed, to be made useful? If a person has one key tip for curly hair, is it likely they’ll have more? Will lots of people have very similar tips?

Then, there’s the issue of it also being, essentially, WordPress-possible. The team could build this site in WordPress in a week and see if it is successful or not; nothing particularly custom or new or complex needs to be built.

 

5. Flushed

Flushed is an app that allows users to find the nearest clean toilets. Users are also able to search for particular facilities (e.g. baby change), and get directions to their chosen location.

 

You can see the Flushed app here.

Judges’ Verdict

Flushed won Second Prize.

My Verdict

There are a few apps that try to do this, and they all have a similar problem: Who will be the passionate users who take the time to add a new toilet, when they find one, and add the toilet’s facilities? Who’s going to keep the database updated with relevant and detailed information? If someone uses the app and locates a toilet, then arrives at the location only to find that the toilet is closed or gone, how annoying will that be?

The only way I can see an app like this working is:

  1. Council ambassadors who agree to keep their zones updated with relevant information
  2. Government-provided data

So… you might have guessed it, but I don’t understand the judges’ decision on this one either.

 

6. Sprout

The thinking behind Sprout was that often, events are held in central locations (say, like the city, or Richmond) but because there’s so much urban sprawl, these central locations aren’t necessarily convenient for many people – so Sprout is an app that enables events in the suburbs. Users can request an event, and vote for events, then once there is the demand for a particular area, the event organisers / providers will follow through on the event and run it.

For example, if there was an event organiser who was running “startup business advice” events in the city, but there was strong interest in these events in the North suburbs of Melbourne, then people in Coburg, Thornbury, Preston, etc, could vote for this event to be run in their area, and when there was enough interest, the event organisers would set up the event in the North suburbs. Like Kickstarter, but for events.

Judges’ Verdict

Sprout won the Community Prize. I don’t know what that means.

My Verdict

I don’t have any strong instinctive opinions about this one. I think it could fairly easily be tested, and if the interest was there, then by all means, it could be a raging success. Melbourne certainly has tremendous urban sprawl. Or… it could be a complete flop. It would be worth talking to the people behind WeTeachMe or similar event services, to see what they thought of the idea, as they would have data showing how popular events are in non-central locations.

 

7. My Job Share

My Job Share was so crazy it might work. And, apparently, this concept has worked, in other countries!

The idea is that most companies want to employ full-time staff, rather than part-time or contract staff, because it can be annoying, inefficient, or downright unsuitable for a team (and for clients) to have part-time staff – but at the same time, there are lots of potential employees who want more flexible work situations, and they’re not prepared to work full-time.

So: My Job Share facilitates the paired partnerships of potential employees, matching up two people with complementary skills who can present as a united front and apply for a full-time job role together, as a team.

My Job Share then presents these pairs as a cohesive team – who will do the work of one full-time employee – to potential employers who are looking for full-time employees. My Job Share also works with the employers and with the paired teams to make sure that everyone’s requirements will be met, providing tools and support to both sides.

You can see the My Job Share website here.

 

Judges’ Verdict

My Job Share won the Innovative Prize. Again, not sure what that means.

My Verdict

I really liked this idea. I would have given this a First Prize, tying with Connect the Dots (#1, above). Anecdotally speaking, from my experience I’ve seen the need for a new employment model like this. I’ve seen companies are sometimes struggling to fill full-time roles, because the appropriate kinds of skilled workers are looking for part-time work – and I’ve also seen these kinds of workers are struggling to find part-time work that requires their (usually) sophisticated and experienced skill-sets.

And heck, I’m in the target market! I’d sign up.


Final thoughts

While loads of aspects were improved from She Hacks (the way ideas were presented, the size of teams, the way teams were formed, the way that time was split over 3 days, the ability to get a good amount of sleep, etc), there was one key aspect that was still problematic — the pitches and prizes.

After a team has put in 2 solid days of hard work, and they present their work to judges, I’m not sure it’s the best experience to be given a prize (e.g. “Community Prize”) and for that to be it.  I’m just guessing here, but let’s say that users (participants) want to get the following things out of the event (whether consciously or subconsciously):

  • Meet likeminded people
  • Make something!
  • Do something different with my weekend
  • Try something new / and / learn about startups
    / or /
  • Try this again / and / do better at a startup/hackathon event this time
  • Understand how my team (and I) went, compared to others, and how we could do better

I would recommend that the pitches are kept shorter, without as much time spent on instant feedback or Q&A with the judges, but that after the prizes are announced, everyone sits down again, and the judges spend 5 minutes talking about each pitch, explaining their decisions and giving constructive criticism to the teams (without any lengthy Q&A).

That way, if 7 pitches take 15 minutes (5 minutes pitching, 10 minutes questions and swapping to the next team), with an additional buffer of 15 minutes, that would be 120 minutes, so pitches could go from 3-5pm. Then 30 minutes for judging, then announcements at 5:30pm. Then judges could talk through their decisions, and the event could conclude between 6 and 6:30pm. Alternatively, the judges could write up small summaries of their decisions and share them afterwards — but I think it would really benefit the teams to be able to hear the rationale behind all decisions, not just the rationale for their team’s placement.

Words words words.

OK. That’ll do, pig.

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