Startup Weekend Ottawa Pitches: The Good, The Bad & The Winners

Startup Weekend Ottawa
Last Friday, I whined wrote about the amazing event that is Startup Weekend Ottawa and how amazing it was going to be and how I really, really wished it wasn't falling on the same weekend as Race Weekend so that I could actually go and hang out and be a part of it. I did manage to crash the opening and the final presentations, so although I wasn't able to be there for the blood, sweat and tears of the rest of the weekend, I got to see the happy, shiny bits.

And now, so do you.

I managed to chat with Blair Beckwith, one of the organizers, and Royce Haynes a Startup Weekend facilitator who was visiting from Boulder, Colorado. I'll be doing another article with their great insights as well as my thoughts on the event (or at least what I caught of it), so stay tuned.

The Pitches: My Synopsis

For now, I thought it would be fun to give you my notes on the main attraction: the final presentations and awards ceremony at the end of the event. (Ceremony sounds so formal; this is a very laid back event.) Although this post is called The Good, The Bad & The Winners, here is a major spoiler alert: There were no bad ideas. The teams really came up with some innovative, realistic concepts that are for the most part entirely actionable. Some of the details might face legal or other issues (some which I've noted below in my comments) but overall, I was incredibly impressed with the caliber of the pitches.

Below you'll find an overview of each idea and my take on every one. (Yes, there's some snark. I can't help it.) I'm also including links to their Twitter accounts and sites so you can keep tabs on them; they need customers and fans if they're going to make a go of it!

Here we go, in the order in which they took the stage... (If you just want to see the winners, jump to the bottom of the post.)

1. Watch It Later
Tag line: "Your videos, your time." This is a site that lets you rip online videos and save them to one playlist, no matter what site they are currently listed on. The service includes a site, an app and a bookmarklet for quickly capturing videos. They plan to make money by charging fees for usage starting at $1/month.

My verdict: Handy, if they don't get the pants sued off of them. My first thought was "this screams of IP issues". That is, it's a neat idea except that it is making copies of intellectual property which could mean that they spend a lot of time responding to take-down notices. I like that it solves the distributed playlist problem (i.e. you can finally capture your YouTube, Vimeo, Ted etc. videos in one place for viewing later). I use Evernote to bookmark all the things I want to watch later, but it doesn't keep a copy of the videos themselves. Would love to see the ability to access the videos offline in a Premium version.

2. PebbleTask
A Getting Things Done app that merges your task list, your location and your availability to figure out the best time to get things done. Basically, it's Google Now meets Remember the Milk If you're not familiar with either of those, this is an app that combines your task list, your current location and your calendar to figure out if you are in the right place to do something and if you have enough time to do it.

My verdict: Smart, but could use a tweak. I love the innovative thinking, taking Remember the Milk and adding the predictive side of Google Now to help me remember to do tasks. Problem is, I wear a tin foil hat so I don't use the GPS on my phone. I'd like to see a Wifi dependent option, so that if I sign into my home wifi, home-based tasks show up but if I sign into my mobile or work wifi, other tasks are suggested. (Additional note: this one was only a concept and design, but the team didn't have a developer and were trying to find one by the end of the competition to make a go of their idea.)

3. Park Buddy
Simple: matches people needing parking to people wanting to rent out their parking space or personal driveway. In real time. Provides users the ability to geo-locate available spots, view profiles, and compare rates, then actually complete the transaction all within the app.

My verdict: Smart and useful, if they can get around the bylaw problems similar to the ones faced by AirBNB in some cities. Also, DOH: they need a new name! I was Googling them and discovered that there is already a long-standing app available that is called Park Buddy which does exactly the same thing. Looks like someone forgot to do a quick search before they picked their name.

4. Gemagram
An urban quest/ self-touring app that combines crowdsourced content about points of interest and pre-fabricated tours. Users "drop a gem" on a location using a map app, and add personal content. They can string together a series of gems to develop a quest or tour and make it available for others to use. The group is looking to partner with tour companies to develop and sell tours to end users, integrate coupons and ads.

My verdict: Neat idea. We're less about urban quests and more about geocaching. So this might be of interest to us if someone mapped various caches on urban walks/ trails. Granted, this could be interesting if we were entertaining out of town guests or looking for something cheap and outdoors to do during vacations. Hmmm.... might need to keep an eye on this one.

5. FashionFinity
A shopping site that enables users to create outfits with pieces from a number of different websites, save their outfilts in their own "closet" and share them with others. Key audiences are fashionistas (i.e. fashion bloggers) who would be adept at creating outfits and sharing them, and their users who would want to shop from their fave bloggers' closets. Would make money through store affiliate programs. One of the judges commented that this would be ideal for people who suck at dressing themselves: they could just go to this site and buy entire outfits. Bam, new market!

My verdict: Maybe. Let's be clear, I hate to shop. I do like to shop online but only from brands whose sizes I know, so if I could pick the stores I'm interested in buying from and only see outfits made up of those brands, then there is a good chance that I would use this. I'd also like to see categories of outfits (dressy, office, casual)... yeah, I basically want a bunch of metadata on the whole site so I can run filtered searches on all the outfits and limit my exposure to the shopping part. LOL

6. Paperlis
@paperlis (pronounced paperless)
This site aims to make all of a small or micro business' forms electronic so they can use them remotely to produce estimates, share them with clients, and integrate them into their scheduling and accounting systems. Templates and custom forms are available, the system integrates with Google apps (docs, calendar, etc). It even processes credit cards using Stripe.

My verdict: Yessss. My Dad's second career was in water treatment sales so I know that contractors and sales people use their vehicles as mobile offices. Anything that makes it easier for them to provide information to the client, make the sale and move on to the next potential close is a good thing. And my little green heart loves that this is a greener solution than bringing a mobile printer or filling out paperwork by hand only to enter it manually into a system later on.

7. Beerd
Simple: a expert-sourced (not crowdsourced), searchable log of Beer reviews. An open app that anyone can access and search which combines beer reviews, geo-tagging (for the availability of local beer), and rankings compiled from an exclusive invitation-only roster of beer "experts".

My verdict: Not for me, but definitely interesting for people who actually drink beer. This one took a few minutes to wrap my head around because the presentation was a bit too deep at the beginning. You can tell that some of the teams were so far down in their ideas, they forgot to come back to the surface to make sure the rest of us could fully understand their idea. Once I got it, though, and they used the term "beer nerds," I thought it made a lot of sense. (And I realized that @KLWatts must be one of those :) They'll need to really vet who gets to do the inviting, though, otherwise this will become Beer Reddit.

8. Remoty
Tag line: "One world, one workplace." This is an app used to measure work of remote employees by combining keystrokes per app per minute and an algorithm to determine work completed (e.g. emails responded to, etc.). It moves the onus of timekeeping from the worker to the device they are working on.

My verdict: Yes, but they need to think bigger: So my first thought (and tweet) as soon as they started pitching was: "this is for Marissa Mayer!" (If you're out of the loop, she cancelled remote work when she took over at Yahoo.) Seriously, though, I think that they need to rebrand this thing quickly and sell it to consulting firms and project shops. For on-site workers who have to fill in timesheets. I HATED THE TIMESHEETS. Go ahead, log my keystrokes! If it means I will never ever have to do a timesheet ever again, I'm in!

9. Your Book Buddy
This is a subscription service that lets users access a library of ebooks and invite specific family members or friends to read to their kids via video, while sharing the ebook on the screen. Think Skype and snuggling for bedtime stories.

My verdict: Useful if they don't just focus on toddlers/ preschoolers. I Skype grandma in to the Dude's diving lessons, so bedtime reading makes sense. And often grandma doesn't have a bunch of kids' books lying around. This apps solves that part of the equation. Most of the kids-focused apps I've come across focus on the younger child set, so I would like to see them get chapter books that can be shared, not just picture books. There is one potential problem: I heard on a recent episode of CBC Spark that e-books can cost up to 5 times more in for libraries to buy compared to hard copies. If major publishing houses are charging exorbitant fees, they might be better pairing with alt publishing houses. Although if they don't have Goodnight, Moon or other big names, that could hurt their popularity in the long run.

10. Vidrack, @vid_rack
A simple site used to solicit client video testimonials: client gets a link or a QRCode with shipment, takes them to a site where they can record a short thank you video or testimonial which gets emailed to the company. Clients get rewards, companies get videos.

My verdict: No brainer. Simple, love the fact that the client does as little as possible. Probably the only smart use of a QRCode I have ever seen. Ever. They need to add a set of terms and conditions somewhere though, so that the customer who submits their testimonial accepts that they don't own the video and that the company can do with it what they will. Otherwise, welcome to court.

11. Quovey
Another one for the contractors: this app aims to match people who need trades work done with the tradespeople who can do it for them, based on price and availability. The client posts their need, receives multiple quotes from potential tradespeople and then enables booking.

My verdict: Almost. This has the potential to become a recommendation engine because really, reputation info on the vendors will make people feel comfortable about accepting a quote from a company they have never heard of. The team mentioned vetting the companies via accreditation like Better Business Bureau, but a social component would help too: Facebook page integration to see the feedback and testimonials the vendors get on their pages, ability to up-vote or down-vote companies after the service is rendered, sharing capabilities to be able to send a quote or post it on your own social account to solicit feedback from friends (e.g. has anyone ever worked with...?).

12. Lucru
Lucru is a career advice site that offers users the ability to view testimonials and pay minute-by-minute for a chance to speak one-on-one with people who work in specific industries. So if you have a kid who wants to be an astronaut but you think he should aim a little lower first, like engineer, then you can connect them to an actual engineer. (Aside: Just so you know, Lucru means work in Romanian. The Lucru folks really want you to know that since they not only said it during their pitch, but one of them made a point to tell me again when we were chatting after the event. :)

My verdict: Handy, but they'll need a strong search since job titles are varied and people may be looking for specific terms. As well, they considering marketing to job seekers but it might actually be better to target learning institutions and parents, since those are the people trying to direct assist students to pick a career path. I also worry for any site that requires loads and loads of custom, original content. Those have the hardest time getting off the ground, because it takes a lot of time and money to produce. Maybe they can invite their experts to give their testimonials through Vidrack? ;)

13. AdviceBid
This is an advice app that enables users to quickly find, evaluate and pay for advice from strangers. They bill it as being as in depth as Quora and as quickly as Clarity. Rates are low but the they believe that people would be willing to pay and use advice from the system because: "When people don't pay for your advice, they don't take it seriously" - Noah Kagan.

My verdict: Not sure about this one. The example they were using was relationship advice. Would people pay for it? Maybe. I am very much not the target audience for this one; I ask the Google all my questions. Or my trusted network of family, friends and colleagues. With the multitude of connections I have on Facebook, LinkedIn and Twitter, I would never pay for advice on anything personal. Buuuuuut, I could see this working in a business-to-business context providing small and micro companies access to industry experts. The team didn't go there, and maybe there is a market for it, but it originated from a market of one, and would need more validation.


Now that you know who the players are, here's a list of the winners.

Prizes were handed out in a variety of categories in addition to awarding the top 3 ideas from the weekend.

Best Design: Rumoty
Best Hustle: Gemagram
Best Hacking: FashionFinity (truth - the positioning of the outfit pieces and ability to resize were fantastic)
Most Effort: Team Lead from PebbleTask and the whole Beerd team
Crowd fave: PebbleTask (remember, I noted above that they didn't even have an app; just a concept!)

Overall Winners

1. Vidrack
2. YourBookBuddy
3. ParkBuddy

Congratulations to everyone who participated! Some fantastic ideas. Go check them out; they will only survive if they get users.

And stay tuned for my interviews with the organizers, coming soon.

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