Last weekend around 60 budding entrepreneurs, product managers, marketing people, developers, and designers met in the offices of PayPal in London to build a brand new product from scratch in 48 hours.
Launch48 was an event to both foster and kickstart innovation in entrepreneurs. The first day covered talks about different subjects related to starting a product, being an entrepreneur, and dealing with running — and subsequently also selling — a company.
The speakers included winners of earlier Launch48 events, successful entrepreneurs, VC funding specialists, and legal advisors.
Building in scalability
My job as a representative of the Yahoo! Developer Network was to show how to quickly build a product, rather than only designing and planning it. I was also a technical feasibility mentor during the two days of product building.
My talk revolved around building products quickly by planning them to scale in the future and by piggybacking on existing infrastructure:
The resources I talked about were:
- Amazon S3
- Amazon EC2
- Google App Engine
- Microsoft BizSpark
- Winter Olympic Medals
- Guardian data set on Winter Olympic Medals
- Yahoo YQL
- Yahoo Design Patterns
- Yahoo Grids Builder
- Yahoo User Interface Library
- Yahoo Exceptional Performance
- Yahoo YSlow
Selecting and building the projects
At the beginning of the event, the soon-to-be entrepreneurs introduced everybody to their idea of a product. People voted on which one to have a go at building. This happened in two rounds of voting; in the end, six projects were chosen to be most likely to succeed.
One of the projects died during the first day of building it — that is all part of the idea of Launch48. It is not a hack day; it is about learning to build a real product as a team and network with people who complement one's own skill set.
Once the products were picked people flocked together in teams to start creating them. The organizers made sure that there is a good mix of skills in each team, introduced the mentors, and sent them on their merry way.
Every few hours the teams would have to come and join "board meetings" with mentors and organizers, where they had to show their progress and discuss stumbling blocks and problems.
In essence, the two days were organized as if it were the first year of a new company, and the mentors and organizers played the role of shareholders.
Here are the products that were built during Launch48:
- Punttr is a social gambling site based on Twitter. You predict outcomes of football games and other events. You tweet in a certain syntax about your prediction; Punttr tracks the tweets, retweets, and enables other happenings about your bet. There'll be virtual goods and badges — Farmville and Foursquare style — and you can take on your friends with side bets around virtual goods.
- Facebooktu.be is an interface to make your Facebook videos available to the outside world, without viewers having to go through the Facebook interface to watch videos (which is 3 clicks and can be daunting). Facebooktu.be is an aggregator of Facebook videos and YouTube videos in a single, simpler interface.
- 42 Voices is a marketplace for voiceover jobs. Its aim is to connect customers who need a voiceover for a video or an ad faster by directly pitching to voice talent without having to go through agents. Clients describe what they want, while speakers can upload recordings that get automatically encrypted and watermarked.
- Recip.ly makes it easy for you to create a weekly meal plan selected from offered recipes. You'd then log on to Tesco (British supermarket chain with an online site) to order the food ingredients and get them delivered to your house automatically. They are also working on an API to embed recipe web sites; a button will activate the scraping of recipe information and prefilling Recip.ly for you — thus turning the whole Web into your food menu.
- TaxiSquare is a service that solves the issue of black cabs in London being only used 40% of the time. Research by the founders revealed that, most of the time, cab drivers sit around waiting for customers rather than driving them. To work around this issue, this simple application for your mobile phone lets people call a cab with the click of a button. The phone knows where the client is and sends the request to a central system, where a cabbie can indicate that he will pick up that ride.
I had a great time at Launch48, as it was a very targeted event that forced people from different backgrounds to work together to reach a very defined goal. Hack days are great — but it is hard to find people to form larger teams and get non-technical people to participate.
Launch48 is an accelerated mirror image of how real products are built. It shows that if we work together as a team and pool skillsets, we can deliver a lot in a very short amount of time.
The other very interesting aspect of Launch48 is that the team and the mentors all were very pragmatic about the nature of startups and entrepreneurs. This was not an event to hail products to be the groundbreaking new frontier and find millions of dollars of funding. It was an event that taught people the basics of starting a maintainable company and building products that solve problems of end users.
The only thing I was missing a bit was larger attendance by actual developers. That will change next time, I hope.