In September we were lucky to be able to take part in Seedhack – an event organized by Seedcamp at the London Business School campus. The idea behind the event was quite simple: bring together industry people as well as programmers and designers so that they might jointly conceive of and implement solutions for organizations or sectors that desperately need them.
The Selleo team joined in on the tech side, but eventually decided to come up with a business problem and a product concept to solve it. What happened during the 72 very dynamic hours we spent in London? Read on.
WEDNESDAY, 21ST SEPT
FROM SMALL BEGINNINGS…
In the afternoon – two days before the event officially opens – the attendees gain access to the HackerPack, which contains:
* Event schedule
* Founders’ Collaboration Agreement
* API cheatsheets / presentations
THURSDAY, 22ND SEPT
When signing up for the event, we quite naturally meant to contribute on the technical side – as developers and designers. But what if there was no business idea or product concept we would be really keen to work on?
On Thursday evening, we start working on our plan B – develop our own business / product idea, just in case. We decide to tackle a problem we faced in running our own business and come up with a product idea which, we believe, might be a solution. We realise we may be in Selleo’s customers’ shoes for the next few days to come – we may be the Product Owner.
What’s the problem we want to address?
Many small or even medium-sized professional services companies lack access to reliable up-to-date info about Client / Project / Project Manager (Team) / Resource profitability. It prevents them from making well-informed decisions to optimize profitability.
Michael starts reading Running Lean. We go to sleep for the few hours before the departure.
FRIDAY, 23RD SEPT
HATCHING THE PRODUCT CONCEPT ON THE WAY
We get up at 1 a.m., drive to the airport in Katowice and arrive at Luton at 7:30 a.m. GMT.
We get to London; 120 pages of Running Lean devoured by Michael in the meantime.
9:30 we start working at the Betjeman Arms Pub, St Pancras – the first draft of the Lean Canvas finished.
BTW, who the hack are WE?
At about 1 p.m. – we check in at Jurys Inn Islington Hotel. We know we won’t spend much time in there. Not this time.
Rafal sets up a small network in the room. We work on the idea – with Greg supporting us from the base back at home. We keep filling in the remaining sections of the Lean Canvas.
At 3:00 p.m. we start browsing through the business problems, challenges and ideas posted on the Seedhack forum – some of them are promising, others much less so – none of them, however, seems strong enough to offer the thrill we are very much after. Half an hour later, we decide to execute plan B; we complete our proposal and submit it to the Seedhack forum. There are already about 20 posts on the wall at the time.
At 5:30 p.m. we get to the venue; half an hour later presentations of sponsors & their APIs begin.
AUGMENTING THE TEAM & REFINING THE IDEA
About 8 p.m. – time for teammaking. The participants browse the forum looking for ideas and people to join.
Ideas get voted for and presented. We try to find someone to strengthen our team on the business side – we post the info on the forum and set off on a hunt for guys with services business background to work together on the solution. Seedhack turnes out to be a great place for it.
We pitch our idea, get a room, Simon Jackson @saimeng replies to us on the forum and eventually joins the team. With years of experience in software product marketing and sales, he is well equipped to question many of our assumptions and help us produce a better thing.
We spend the rest of the day discussing the business model and the product concept.
SATURDAY, 24TH SEPT
At 1:00 a.m. we finish our discussions and go to get a 5-hour sleep.
TURNING IDEAS INTO SOFTWARE
8:45 a.m. or so we are back at the venue. The team gets both the post-midnight badge AND the pre-9am badge. We get a cup of coffee and get down to work.
Rafał works on the Graphic Design for the app.
Michael, Błażej and Simon work on financial metrics to track in the application.
At about 12:00 p.m., Błażej and Michael finish the database design.
At 2:00 p.m. or so the barebones app, including the full database scheme, datasets models and a single dashboard view with authorization – DONE. In the meantime, Siomon conducts his research on the target market in the UK. Mentors keep dropping in and offering invaluable advice – special thanks to Natasha Saxberg@saxberg and Geoff Watts @geoffwatts.
As we move through the day, there are sandwichies, pizza, delicious icecream and even beer for the thirsty ones… and there is a lot of work in between the refreshments. Błażej works on widgets, Rafał – on visualization (chart director, high charts, fusion charts), styling and widgets customisation. Michael writes the data generator (a 2-year period, 5 customers, 22 projects, 180 milestones and invoices, 100 000 tasks and time entries) and starts to develop database views for calculating metrics. Simon prepares the presentation to be delivered on Sunday.
At 2:00 a.m. – we call it a day to get a 3-hour night’s sleep
Full of energy, we greet the day with a breakfast at Jurys Inn.
At 7:45 a.m. at the venue and back to work …
Michael finishes views for the company. Błażej puts the final touches on widgets. Rafał finishes merging graphic design with the app. Michael sets up the app on the server and gets the views for team context metrics done. Simon closes off the market research and finishes the presentation.
The rubber hits the road
4:02 p.m. Simon takes the floor to deliver the demo presentation.
After the presentation we get awesome cups and t-shirts as well as … a lot of positive feedback, both on the venue and on Twitter.
At 5:30 p.m. we take the last picture of the whiteboard, clean up and leave to enjoy a few pints of lager and share impressions with quite a few awesome people. We finish the day with a delicious Lebanese dinner at the Al Shishawi restaurant in Edgware Road.
MONDAY, 26TH SEPT
1:00 a.m. – in beds for a deserved good night’s sleep.\ In the morning we go on a tour of Camden Town.\ 11:55 p.m. we arrive back in Poland. Michael finishes reading Running Lean.
CONCLUSIONS AND LESSONS LEARNT
* If you are building a web startup, you can have a solid, visually-attractive prototype developed within a week(end).\
- An interdisciplinary / cross-functional team generates many more valuable insights by drawing on a mixture of perspectives.\
- You develop much greater speed when driven by other goal-oriented team members; it is often hard to gather and maintain momentum when working alone.\
- It is very hard to speedily build a team with people you have not known / worked with before – many teams did not survive / maintain all their members through to Sunday.\
- Skills matter hugely \
- Graphic design for your demo version may be the key to gain OR lose the audience’s attention; it was very hard to find graphic designers at the event.\
- Ruby on Rails is a perfect framework when speed is vital in application development.
Great thanks to all organizers, sponsors, mentors and participants. Special thanks to Carlos Eduardo Espinal@ceduardo who came up with the Seedhack idea and did a lot to make it happen. If you are a tech entrepreneur, keep an eye on Eduardo’s initiatives.