Startup Camp Melbourne wrap up

Last weekend was Startup Camp Melbourne, an action packed event I participated in full of drama and success.

The idea of bringing unknown people together to learn about creating startups is a fantastic idea that we need more of in Australia. I know we have several incubators and a sort of venture capital industry but, we don’t have many technology startups unless they are funded by family and friends.

Now the weekend.

We kicked off at 6pm Friday night over at kisla Interactive Studios with the arrival of 20 people, most having never met, let alone worked together. In fact from what I could work out only 2 people (Jason & Matt) had in fact worked together before the weekend.

I was in the green team with Steve Hopkins, Duncan Riley‘George’ ProvoostJason BrownleePieter Peach and John Sherwood. I have socialised several times with Duncan but have never worked with him. I have met Steve socially once for coffee and at an MTUB, I had also met George & Pieter at two different Jelly’s. I would say I knew very little about anyone of them, especially not their strengths, or weaknesses.

Others have posted (here, here, here, here, here, here, and here) on the process of what went on so I won’t go into it in too much detail, just touch on some of my key thoughts.

The Good

  • The whole experience of being thrown into a room with 20 people you had never worked with and expected to create something by the end of the weekend.
  • The collaboration process to create ideas and workout what was worthwhile and what was less than fantastic :-).
  • The food & location.
  • Learning new technology & tools. Being a lowly hack, to be able to spend an intense period of time with expert developers and business folk was a buzz.
  • Helping organise the event.
  • Finally the process of having to think through the aspects of starting up a business was a great experience, Duncan summarises it very clearly:

Two and a bit days to come up with an idea for a startup, then to deliver it, complete with prototype, business plan and pitch may be (and was) an intense experience, but it challenged every participant. For developers, it focused their attention on results, and took away the luxury of time. For those in marketing or the broader business side, it forced decision making and hard decisions without the luxury of broader testing. Everything from the logo, site design and the usability/ needs case, through to financials and final pitch.

The Bad

  • Having slept a total of 10 hours in the 48 hours before arriving on Friday night.
  • Still being sick when I arrived. I had spent Monday & Wednesday in bed, and seriously considered not attending the weekend.
  • Expectations. I’m not sure we clearly communicated the expectations of the weekend to everyone, which caused a bit of confusion during the weekend. That was probably caused by Maxim and myself not really understanding what the expectations were either.
  • Having to work 42 hours straight to get everything done.
  • Our team made a serious error in judgement on Friday night, the technology platform. We didn’t have a common technology within the team. This resulted in us “losing” 8 hours of productivity while we changed direction and having to build our final prototype in a 14 hour long mad dash through the night.
  • Having to build a site using a technology platform I had never seen until that point in time, Ruby on rails
  • The VC feedback. My feeling was he was negative about what was being done, had no concept of technology and possibly what it takes to build a technology startup (I have not been able to find details on the types of companies he has invested in so I am not 100% sure). My feelings could be as I felt like complete crap during the final few hours having surviving on diet of sugar, Codral and caffeine (4 coffees, 2 redbulls, 3 V & 2 cokes) for the last 38 odd hours.
  • While having the VC arrive on Sunday afternoon to provide feedback to the teams was good I think we missed a major opportunity. If he had addressed the whole group for a few minutes about what should be included in a VC pitch then I suspect most teams would have done a better job. Telling us he wanted no more than 15 minutes per team after 2 hours of presentations was a bit of a waste for everyone.

The Ugly

  • My PC. I tried to install XAMPP on my PC as I was having URL rewrite issues with IIS. During the process version 4 of MySQL was installed over my existing MySQL 5 environment, this was after I had asked the install process not to install MySQL! The result basically put my PC out of action for almost 10 hours as I fought getting XAMPP up and running, only to have to remove it all and install Instant Rails when we moved to Ruby on Rails.
  • Following the change of technology platforms we needed to find somewhere to host the application. This meant a change of hosting environments, after John had spent several hours getting it going.
  • Once we changed hosting environments the domain name was re-delegated. The result we made too many changes to DNS records over a 6 hour period and the internet decided our domain was stuffed. By 8am Sunday morning with the original domain still not working we activated a backup domain so we had something to demonstrate.
  • Having a VC sit with you for 20 minutes and not telling you what they expected from a presentation and then hammering the presenters for not delivering on his expectations.
  • Me on Monday morning after the event.

Final Thoughts

  • More preparation is critical. The teams really need to be created around similar technologies, hosting should be worked out ahead of time, along with SVN access etc.
  • Look at having a pre-event briefing session the week before so everyone comes prepared for the weekend.
  • Less focus on external marketing of projects launching and more focus on building up genuine interest in the projects. This way you manage expectations of the outsiders and don’t over sell what is happening. A rule of business always under promise and over deliver.
  • I feel if the whole group came together a few more times to ensure everyone knew what was going on would have ensured common understand as to what was going on.
  • I feel due to my technology issues and being sick I was not able to add a full level of effort to the team.

One last thing. One of the ideas for these events is to bring together the startup community within Australia. Which is why I think the comments on Tech Nation are a bit counter productive.

And how does SUCM compare to Sydney Startup Camp 1?

Call me biased but I think all 3 startups in Sydney were better conceived, better executed and were far readier for launch by the actual launch time which, mind you, was 12 hours less than in Melbourne 🙂

Now not to get in to a war of words with the Tech Nation boys, it was not 12 hours less, code freeze and formal launches in Sydney were 1 hour earlier than Melbourne. Oh let’s not forget we have the change to daylight savings time during the weekend, so we lost an hour of work.


4 thoughts on “Startup Camp Melbourne wrap up

  1. Hey Michael

    Well done on making it to, and through, the weekend being so sick. It’s an intense couple of days, so I’m sure your team and all the people involved appreciated your commitment.

    Now, onto our war of words 🙂

    By launch – I meant our sites had to go live at 10pm on the 2nd night. You’re right in saying the code-freeze was the next day, but we had to be ready for the world at 10pm – approx 24 hours after start, and presented to the VC at 10am the following morning – approx 36 hours after start.

    But listen, that statement was more about trying to drive some competitiveness than division. I figure we need a little more friendly competitiveness in the industry to spur each other on.

    My bad if it was taken the wrong way.

    Keep up the good work on your site.


  2. The issue of machines (both laptops and the deployment servers on the Internet) is definitely something that needs to be addressed. We lost a lot of time on that and it’s not the first time I’ve experienced that problem during gun-shot projects.

    I agree that a pre-meeting briefing, having laptops pre-configured and getting hosting arranged before the weekend is a good idea.

    The only problem with that is that I would not like to see the choice of platform(s) made in advance.

    On the other hand, there could be a dedicated Starupcamp deployment server, with stuff like PHP, Ruby on Rails (Passenger) and whole lot of other things pre-installed. It should not run any projects from previous camps and one person in the room should have root access. Any extra tools could be installed during the weekend provided they don’t endanger other projects.

    Then there’s the laptops. The whole group has to set up their development environment on their Linux/Mac/Windows(XP/Vista) boxes, which is time consuming and a recipe for disaster.

    One way to solve that is if you group people with the same skills, but that takes away a lot of the fun and learning potential. It also makes the teams less flexible.

    Another way would be to have a central development box in the room with a login for everyone and pretty much the same config and root access policy as the deployment server. Files are shared via Samba so you can use your favorite IDE. This way the team needs to configure only 1 box in stead of 4+.

  3. @Kim, based on the plan we needed to have sites live by 10pm Saturday but I’m not sure the definition of what live mean was clearly understood. Our site did not make it due to DNS propagation issues.

    Competition is good but not necessarily were people come together for educational purposes which is what many in Melbourne were there for, to learn what was needed for a startup. Having said that I hear there is a rumour of an Australia wide startup camp over a single weekend, winner takes all ;-).

    @Sjors yep so many a project has failed due to technology, I feel next time we need more preparation.

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