3DS Participant Spotlight: Dan Otto of 3DS William & Mary

Contributor: Dan Otto is a student at William & Mary and was a participant at 3DS William & Mary.

The question we kept asking ourselves at 11:40 pm, 20 minutes before the due date of 3DS William & Mary application  was, “Is it worth applying?” Looking back, we could almost laugh at ourselves for thinking that.

3 Day Startup (3DS) was an experience that we never expected to have. Initially, we didn’t know if it would be useful to us, but we thought it would be at least a decent opportunity to make some new connections over a weekend. Our startup idea had already been incubating for months prior to 3DS, so we initially thought this was going to be a way to get the opinion of others, and nothing more. In reality, we couldn’t have been more wrong.


The Zairge team at 3DS William & Mary

Starting Friday, all the accepted applicants got together in William & Mary’s Mason School of Business. Everyone was split into small groups to discuss ideas they wanted to potentially build over the next three days. Once each small group decided on one or two ideas to move forward, those ideas were pitched to the entire program at large. At the end of the day, teams formed around ideas with the top votes. Our idea ended up being one of the top three, and managed to accrue a group of about 13 members. Naturally, 13 self-selected strangers is a huge challenge to manage, but we didn’t have any time to waste worrying about that kind of thing.

On Saturday, the team split into a business team (B-Side), and a development team (Dev Team). The B-Side went out and gathered critical data and market research from local hotels, while the Dev Team quickly whipped up a functional prototype to show everyone by the end of Sunday. The time crunch was real, but man, it was fun. The Dev Team was screaming when things didn’t work, and screaming harder when they finally got something going. The B-Side was ruthlessly efficient in gathering information from real sources, to create a compelling pitch deck. It was a rapid-fire, over caffeinated, roller coaster of a time and every single person had a smile on their face throughout.

Finally, on Sunday night, we pitched to a panel of influential entrepreneurs, investors, and tech experts. The Zairge team was last, and collectively rocked it with our thoroughness, our obvious passion for our product, and the enjoyment we got from working with our teammates. The idea we pitched was modern hotel management software that leveraged tablets and cloud-based technologies. Our product aims to address the needs of the hotel client, the hotel deskstaff and managers, and the hotel owners in a single integrated system that multiplies employee efficiency, speeds customer check-in/check-out, and gives the property owner real time information about each of their properties. At the end of the program, we had many of the 3DS mentors approach our team to express not only their interest in what we were doing, but to push us to go further with our idea.

That weekend alone showed us what we were capable of more than anything else we’ve ever experienced. It brought to light what the startup environment looks like: hectic, fun, frustrating, exciting, stressful, and rewarding, to list a few. It was 3DS that truly opened our eyes to what we wanted to do with this idea, and that there wasn’t anything stopping us. Looking back, I don’t think we’d even be close to how far we are now if it weren’t for this program. It’s insane to think that one short weekend could have this kind of effect.

With new found energy and excitement, we decided the best way to go about reaching our goals was to apply to tech startup accelerators such as TechStars, Y Combinator, and Dreamit Ventures, among others. 3DS has really shown us that we are prepared to take on what was originally believed to be a far off dream.

A month later we received an email that Techstars was going to host an event during SXSW for early applicants to come and meet the TechStars team at a private party. At first we thought traveling 1,200 miles across the country during one of the biggest tech events of the year, just to meet the accelerator team was crazy. Then again, Techstars has a less than 1% acceptance rate, so we really wanted to make a statement.

Maia Donohue, our 3DS Program Manager said, “Do it. 3DS will make sure you connect with the people you need to meet,” he said. So within 72 hours of receiving that email from TechStars we secured flight to Houston and rented a car to drive to Austin (roundtrip tickets to Austin cost $1400 more than a flight to China.)

The energy in Austin during SXSW was palpable. The up and comers of the tech scene mingled with the brains behind today’s “next big thing.” Everyone was approachable and passionate about entrepreneurship. We had more than one conversation where it was only later after we googled our new acquaintance, that we realized the cool guy who had chatted with us over beers had recently sold his startup for tens of millions.

During SXSW the 3DS team connected us to potential investors and mentors. Maia introduced us to one of the admissions officers at TechStars and even Jason Seats, Managing Director. Meeting the startup community in Austin, made us even more eager to throw ourselves into our company full time.

By the end of SXSW, the 3DS team not only helped us build our professional networks, but gave us a glimpse of the tech startup community we dream of joining. From the first day where we met our teammates at 3DS William & Mary until the present, 3 Day Startup has taken an active interest in contributing to the realization of the Zairge, and the growth of its founders. The mentorship and holistic support have been irreplaceable.

We go forward as 3DS alums knowing we have a team of mentors at our backs that were there from the first can of red bull on idea night and that will continue to be there for years to come.

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