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pingWHEN Blogs During TechStars

Techstars Day 1: Let the Countdown Begin

This is a blog post in a series written during the first fortnight of our participation in Techstars London 2015.

And the countdown to Demo Day begins …

What did you do today?

Sam and Julie in-front of the TechStars countdown clock
Sam and Julie in-front of the TechStars countdown clock

We strolled into Warner Yard with our two stuffed penguins, hot pink t-shirts, and our MacBooks ready to take on TechStars. After we were introduced to the space and the people behind the scenes to make this program a success, we got a general overview for the next 99 days (a time that’s going to disappear very quickly, as a large count-down screen constantly reminds us!). Basically, we are told to – Do. More. Faster. The next few months are going to be filled with tons of feedback and criticism as our business ideas are ripped apart and put back together. It will be extremely important to be intellectually honest or what is working and not working and establish regular rhythms. Or we are bound to fumble in the start-up journey.

We decided as a company, we’d focus on a few daily non-negotiable:

  1. Daily Standings: Which consist of what you did yesterday, what you need to do today, and any bottlenecks or headlines.
  2. Blog: We are going to commit to writing a post. Every. Single. Day. It is our insider journey through the TechStars program.
  3. Exercise: We must not forget the realities of the world and sacrafic on our bodies – therefore, we are going to do 100’s (or hundo’s) which are 100 push-ups, 100 sit-ups, 100 calf raises, and 100 lunges. Every day. If you don’t do them – you owe the partner lunch the next day!
On the scavenger hunt, we passed the inspiration for Diagon Alley
On the scavenger hunt, we passed the inspiration for Diagon Alley

The afternoon was filled with a surprise scavenger hunt! Teams were split up into random pairings and given 7 clues to rush around London. The clues were actually much harder than anticipated and we relied on Google. Sam’s team figured out a way to get a free Uber ride and used that to propel them into a running start. Julie, on a different team, ran, literally, all across London as they gathered all of the clues. In the end, neither Julie nor Sam were on the successfully winning team (although Sam’s team did make it back first!). Instead, the team that won actually came in last for the race, but spent a considerable amount of time doing all the bonus points to make up for the lack of speed.

The evening ended with a social as the founders got-to-know each other over drinks and light dinner.

What did you learn?

Interestingly, there were a few points that were made by Max Kelly during his presentation that really hit it home for our team on ensuring we have good communication architecture and brutal honesty with each other.

  1. Point #1: There are most certainly teams that will not be working together at the end of this experience.
  2. Point #2: People may need to move around in their titles as it will continue to be an ebb and flow on learning what is needed and works in the market.

Quotes of the Day

Max Kelly on the experience and us at Techstars

“Get something out of everything, everyday.”

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pingWHEN Blogs During TechStars

Techstars Day 0: pingWHEN Takes Flight!

This is a blog post in a series written during the first fortnight of our participation in Techstars London 2015.

Welcome to our blog where we will document how pingWHEN takes flight from our participation in the TechStars London Fall 2015 cohort.

What did you do today?

As a US-based company, there was nothing more patriotic that we could think of than jumping on a plane to come across the pond to the United Kingdom on America’s celebration of Independence. On July 4th we began our journey to London for a 100-day accelerator program with TechStars London. We knew we couldn’t start this journey without bringing a few of our cuddle mascots along for the ride (check out how our Penguins took flight across the Atlantic on Twitter).

pingWHEN Penguin in the Airport
pingWHEN Penguin in the Airport

The last 24 hours before our arrival was a complete and utter whirlwind. A few great highlights included just receiving Julie’s passport a day before departure after much stress and anxiety from the UK Consulate. We tried to book into our flight, but there was a technical glitch on the British Airways website and our bookings completely disappeared. Last, Julie from her nostalgia of growing up as a competitor figure skater, wanted to have a last hurrah by going with her friends to the ice rink. Sam continued to warn Julie of the dangers of ice skating – that she could break her ankle and jeopardize her ability to join the program for the first week. We have a joke that our company’s bus number is 1 – which is an indication of how many people from the team need to get hit by a bus for the company to completely fail. As Sam came around towards Julie he took a graceful, but oh so small tumble to the ice, slicing the bottom of his chin open. He was rushed to the emergency room (ER) for 5 stitches. On her way to the hospital, Julie got quite lost and was pulled over for looking ‘suspicious’ until the cop realized that she was just purely lacking in a sense of direction and pointed her off to the hospital.

Sam and Julie in hospital before getting stitches
Sam and Julie in hospital before getting stitches

Arriving into the UK, we are filled with excitement, curiosity, and just amazement that despite all the craziness that we made it — successfully. We arrived to our hotel which we will call home base until we are able to support a living situation. We did a few quick errands such as dropping off our computers to Warner Yard and walking aimlessly around looking for food, though there was a sufficient place to eat literally across the road.

Tomorrow begins the first official day of TechStars and we are excited to see how this journey unfolds. If anything – we will come out with a ton of lessons learned, failures, good stories, and hopefully insane amounts of laughter as we work to build a startup that sustainably helps to empower women to fill safer in their communities.

What did you learn?

We had a few lessons learned for the day:

  1. The US duty free does not contain much selection of alcohol
  2. Julie should have bought an apple computer with her to the UK

Quotes of the Day

Discussion on hiring a pingWHEN ninja to join us for the program:

“Julie, I don’t mean to take the piss – but she seems so young do you think she would actually be valuable and a good worker?” 

“Sam, she is a year younger than you and you seem pretty competent.”

“Good point.”

Carrying stuffed Penguins through airport security

“Excuse me sir, where are you coming from and what were you doing? And why do you have a penguin with you?” 

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Computer Science Entrepreneurship

It’s been a long time…

From the week after Yacht Hack in September last year, I’ve been pretty full-on busy for the last academic year, focussing on achieving a First (Summa Cum Laude for any Americans reading) (successfully achieved!) and co-founding a new startup called pingWHEN (made all the more difficult by a 4500 mile gap between my co-founder and myself).

Some of my earlier blogs refer to my undertaking a 4-year Masters degree course. This changed during Yacht Hack. I’ve been interested in Entrepreneurship for a long time, running many small businesses from aged about 13. During my first two years at University I forgot all about this passion and was just focussed on software engineering, academia, internships, and hiking mountains. Yacht Hack reminded me that I should be working in the entrepreneurial space, and after a conversation with my now co-founder and business partner, Julie Markham, I decided to drop my masters year, thus leaving myself with just one year of study (the year I have just completed) and a Bachelors degree.

Now that I’m done I’ll be focussing 100% of my energy into growing pingWHEN into a viable business. More posts to follow!

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Computer Science Entrepreneurship York University CS Student Blogs

Yacht Hack – The Best Week Ever

I was super super lucky this summer and was able to attend Yacht Hack 2014 – the first hackathon on a Yacht, organised by Entrepreneur’s Handbook as part of Tough Hackers.  And without any shadow of a doubt, it was the most enlightening single week of my life.  I had to keep reminding myself that I was actually on a yacht with some of the most innovative, creative people in the world and had the chance to work with them to create something really special.

What is Yacht Hack I hear you asking?  Julie Markham summed it up perfectly with “Yacht Hack is the epitome of an island effect, bringing brilliant creative misfits together on a yacht, that are brainstorming positive ways to make an impact on society.” in the promotional video (below).

So, at the end of August, I arrived in the port of Split, Croatia, to meet the rest of the Yacht Hack team.  Boarding the Yacht (a 40ft Catamaran) was super exciting – not knowing quite how cramped living conditions would be was fun, and it didn’t take long for everyone to migrate to the trampoline-like net at the front.

After an evening of getting to know each other, we set-sail on the Sunday.  We worked in teams of 3 to first come up with a project to work on – something that solved real-world problems.  Each team contained one Hustler, one Designer and one Hacker, which was the absolutely perfect combination of people.

Julie Markham, Nicholas Hopper and I came up with the idea for Shy:

Shy is a mobile app and service that aggregates frequently asked questions a user may feel uncomfortable to ask publicly to their friends and family. Shy is a trusted source that gathers these private questions for curious teenagers ranging from information on their body to sex, to drugs & alcohol. Shy’s mission is to empower people with useful and relevant information and advice that they can quickly find right in their pockets to help them make more informed decisions. Shy also tries to encourage a user to ask more questions by learning what areas they are searching in and suggesting relevant questions they could ask.

Don’t be Shy (sorry!) – check out some screenshots:

Yacht Hack really gave me a new perspective on what I want to do with my skills in the coming years – having seen what others are doing and the effect they are having.  Working on Shy has further driven me to create products that bring knowledge and education to those who would not normally have it.

If you want to know more about Yacht Hack, check out our interviews here.

And if you’re reading this, you’ve likely no excuse not to apply for one of the future Tough Hackers hackathons.  I’ve never been to an event where the connections I made were so meaningful.  Brainstorming world-changing ideas with trend-setting geniuses on the roof of a yacht in the middle of the sunny sea is not an experience I’ll ever forget, hence the connections are so strong – as shown by the constant, continued collaboration between attendees since Yacht Hack.

Most of us on the Yacht Hack yacht roof
Most of us on the Yacht Hack yacht roof

By taking people away from the distractions of everyday life, they can truly focus on developing innovative ideas.  What better place to do this than a Yacht with super-slow internet access?