I have avoided talking about my experiences with working in startups for some time now. It’s one of those things like being an actor. Talking about being a successful actor is awesome because most people have seen your work. Talking about being an “aspiring actor” is horrible because you fall in line with a very large population of other people that are all trying to do the same thing but falling short in one way or another.
Mt first startup experience was actually my dad’s company growing up. It was called E-Motion and what my dad was doing was buying broken down gas cars, converting them to electric, and then re selling them. This was in the mid-80s up until the early 90s. This was before Al Gore won the Nobel Peace Prize for making a movie about climate change and the “go green” movement hadn’t really taken off here in Oregon. My father passed legislation here on the state level providing tax breaks to those with alternative energy vehicles, the first legislation of it’s kind on the west coast. He was the founding president of the Oregon Electric Vehicle Association. All of that being said, my dad only did a handful of these cars over the decade or so that he was doing it.
Back then, the batteries simply weren’t as good. Lithium Ion batteries hadn’t come out yet and the cars were very heavy. Still though, they had about the same speed, range, and charge times as a Chevy Volt, which is impressive since this happened over 20 years before. That picture at the top of this post is me, in the third grade, taking an all electric Triumph TR-7 with my dad down to Phoenix Arizona for an all electric race series at PIR. They called it “Formula Lightning” which I thought was a pretty sweet name.
We raced it at Phoenix and the ruthless Pikes Peak Hill Climb in Colorado and actually won. I went with my father to countless trade shows, owners club meetings, and PR events and spent a lot of time hearing people ask my dad the same questions over and over. In the end, my father was unable to find a way to make it a viable business profit-wise and got out of the electric car business. These days, he’s a science teacher up in Alaska. A lot of the things that I know about running your own startup come from that time.
Lets fast forward a couple years. Today, I am 31 years old. I no longer have those cool 80’s acid wash jean shorts and I currently drive a gas powered Acura. However, I have worked in a couple of startups of my own. This all started about 4 years ago when a friend on twitter told me about something called “Startup Weekend” happening up at the Microsoft campus in Redmond. So I went up there for 3 days with my brother Gavin who was finishing law school at the time. Basically, the way it works is that you meet some strangers, come up with an idea for a company or app and then try and build the thing in 54 hours. It was crazy but it went well. We ended up building a kind of HR training app that was built on Coldfusion which I had never worked with before. I did all of the design and front end development work and we just barely got things working on time.
A couple months later there was another Startup Weekend event here in Portland. This time, my brother and I knew what we were doing. At this particular event, we meet up with a Flash developer named Joe Kim and built a web app that let you video chat and play a flash game with someone in browser at the same time. The demo went well and we won the event. You can see the 3 of us below on the left with the judges for the event.
Local blogger Scott Garman was there and did a great writeup for the event. We left this event determined to keep working on our startup. Shortly thereafter Joe decided to leave and game developer Mike Parks down in SF came on board to take his place. We decided that we wanted to build a web-based video chat platform that would allow you to use apps and games with your friends while interacting over video chat. We named the company eyeclash.
We didn’t want to raise money until we took the product public and we didn’t want to take it public until we felt like we had a semi-stable beta with at least 3-5 apps available. That doesn’t sound like much but that is actually a very large scope for just 2 developers that were holding down full time jobs to pay the bills. After, about a year of building things, realizing they were wrong, rebuilding them and then rebuilding them again, we decided to shut it down. I was completely burnt out from working all of those long nights and weekends. Gavin was moving on to other things and Mike needed to spend more time on something that actually generated real income.
Since then, I have done a handful of other hackathons and Startup Weekend type events but I have yet to go all-in again on a real startup. The lessons I’ve learned are way too extensive to list here but I will say that next time I do this again I’ll build a team first and then decide what we will build based on the skill set of the people involved.