Participant Spotlight: MakerSquare Students Launch Company at 3DS Austin

Contributors: Taylor Smith, Clay Stewart, and Gamble McAdam are MakerSquare fellows. The following blog post recounts their experience at 3 Day Startup Austin Fall 2013 as first time participants of the program.

Pictured on the left: Clay Stewart, Gamble McAdam, and Taylor Smith

Pictured on the left: Clay Stewart, Gamble McAdam, and Taylor Smith

While the three of us were MakerSquare students, we were approached with the opportunity to participate in 3 Day Startup Austin, an intensive weekend workshop where participants attempt to develop a business idea and launch it in one weekend. 3 Day Startup places heavy emphasis on validating a product-market fit and making sure that people actually want the product that you are creating.

We could see no better opportunity to put the skills that we were learning at MakerSquare to the test than to see if we could successfully build and launch a web product in one weekend. In lieu of a MakerSquare hackathon, we opted to participate in 3DS.

The three of us each had a business idea that we planned to pitch at 3 Day Startup; Gamble wanted to build a music collaboration service, Clay had a prototype of a bookmarking and link sharing engine, and Taylor had a prototype for a Kickstarter-like event planning app, which came out of the first MakerSquare hackathon from a project with fellow classmates. When we arrived, we were split into different groups of six in order to discuss ideas and see who would move onto the next round of selection. This round would consist of pitching the idea to the entirety of 3 Day Startup participants, who would then vote on ideas and self-select into groups.

When the dust had settled, only Taylor’s idea moved forward to the next round, and was ultimately selected by the group to be one of the 3 Day Startup businesses. Eventstarter would get a shot to become a business.

A diverse group of students, including a McCombs MBA student, an accounting student from UT Austin, an electrical engineer, and a student getting her Masters in Architecture, joined the project. That night, we began forming a plan to validate our business idea, as 3 Day Startup mentors grilled us on our business model. This grilling posse became known as the “legion of doom”, but they forced us to constantly think about all the in’s and out’s and the viability of a business model.

The next day, we embarked on our quest to validate Eventstarter’s market with high hopes. A sobering realization occured throughout the day as we found that nobody wanted to pay money for our service, and our idea did not truly solve the pain point of people “flaking” on their plans and commitments.

After attempting (and failing) to pivot to a viable idea, we went back to 3 Day Startup with our tails between our legs. We had nothing to show for a hard day’s work of talking to customers.

After receiving a much needed butt-kicking from our 3DS mentors, we set back to work as we tried to find a business idea that people actually wanted to pay money for. We brainstormed and dialed countless numbers of friends in hopes to validate our crazy schemes. After a few hours, we finally decided upon something we thought we could make work: a matching site for tennis players seeking opponents of a suitable skill level.

Taylor Smith sleeping under a desk during 3DS Austin.

Taylor Smith sleeping under a desk during 3DS Austin.

Renewed by a sense of purpose and direction, it was left to the three developers to actually build the product. We stayed up all night (or more accurately, Clay beast-moded the app while Taylor slept under the desk). Eventually we had a working MVP that we called MatchSetter. The rest of the team arrived later that morning and we quickly got to work calling tennis clubs to verify that our idea was something that they would actually pay for.

Ready or not, we had to pitch MatchSetter to actual investors later that evening. We worked with the designer on our team to make the app look more beautiful while the business-minded folks set to work creating a pitch deck. We eventually gave a successful pitch and won the Phoenix Award (team that most successfully rises from the ashes) at the end of the night.

Overall, we learned a tremendous amount from our 3 Day Startup experience. As developers, we are more likely to go ahead and build something without actually checking to see if there are people out there who would use our product. Going through the process of leaving the building and talking to potential customers was a challenging yet rewarding experience, and ultimately, we discovered that our first idea was not viable and were able to switch to a more promising business model early on.

3 Day Startup’s great team of advisors and mentors helped us connect the dots between developing applications and making money. As developers, we must be cognizant of not only the technological challenges facing us but also of the sales and business challenges that confront any business idea. 3 Day Startup complimented our MakerSquare experience perfectly, and we cannot wait to participate in or advise a future event.

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