The Download: Racing the clock to build a startup
By Steven Overly,
The challenge had the trappings of a reality television show: More than 100 strangers pile into an office. They discuss business ideas, form teams and build a company — in 54 hours.
The clock starts ... now.
That’s the concept behind Startup Weekend, a worldwide collection of events designed to inspire and educate entrepreneurs. This year’s D.C. edition came to the region on Nov. 18 at Microsoft’s building in Chevy Chase.
“These people have amazing dreams of what they want to build,” said Mack Kolarich, who co-organized the event. “And we’re telling them you’ve only got 54 hours to build something presentable and get it out there.”
Perhaps that’s the first lesson this sleepless weekend has to offer participants: Entrepreneurs can’t just be dreamers. They actually have to deliver.
Of course in the real world, the work during those 54 hours would actually take place over many months. If a thorough review or more market research were conducted, some would have died as sketches on scrap paper.
“It’s not so much even about the idea. It’s about connecting with other people and working on something that you have an interest in in order to learn something more about entrepreneurship,” said Maris McEdward, a community manager at Startup Weekend, a Seattle-based nonprofit.
“It would be great if every team walked out of here a functional startup, but because we’re focused on entrepreneurial education, we would really like everyone to end on Sunday night knowing something more about starting up.”
Mike Fogel learned to move past self-doubt. He arrived on Friday night with ambitious plans to build a time machine, or more specifically, a mobile app that shows users key moments in history at the exact spot where they’re standing.
“Maybe I won’t pitch it because it’s just going to be too difficult to do over the weekend,” Fogel recalled thinking. Then he met someone with a similar idea and three other guys willing to help build it.
“This just proves that [stuff] can get done real fast, especially if interests are aligned and focused,” he said.
The key lesson for Dov Markowitz wasn’t about getting started, but sticking with it. There were several points during the weekend when his group felt Weekly Eats, their recipe recommendation Web site, might not make it to the judge’s table. Still, they pushed on.
“Honestly, it was a competition thing,” Markowitz said. “We wanted to at the end of it have something to show for it. And as it went on we started to believe in the product more and more and more.”
That product ultimately won the entire competition. Lesson learned.
Funding for Fixmo
Investors have poured $23 million into mobile security firm Fixmo, a softwaremaker that allows government agencies and corporations to protect their networks as a growing number of employees use personal gadgets on the job.
This marks the third investment for Fixmo since its formation in 2009 with technology licensed from the National Security Agency. The money will be used to make its software compatible with more consumer phones and to attract clients beyond North America.
Chief information officers “have a very tough challenge these days,” said Bruce Gilley, president of Fixmo’s U.S. business, which is based in Sterling. “Mobility offers a tremendous amount of capability and employees want to leverage all of that capability.”
But employers often lack oversight when those devices are purchased for personal use and brought into the workplace. Fixmo allows an organization to enforce its safety policies, such as mandatory passwords, and monitor work-related applications for security threats.
The company’s existing clients have more than 600,000 mobile devices running its software, said Tyler Lessard, the firm’s chief marketing officer. Government agencies and financial services firms are big customers.
“On the back end is the ability to create standard reports that prove the state of your devices,” Lessard said. “Therefore I can prove my compliance.”