Big Hacks In Little Paradise – The Story of the First Naples Startup Battle

It’s 12:30 AM on a Sunday, and instead of being out with friends, I’ve locked myself indoors, busy building the most boring piece of software I’ve ever heard of. Of the team of four people I just met, I’m the only one left. But all the other teams seem to be going strong, staying together.

The only thing I’m thinking is: Don’t look like an idiot tomorrow.

48 Hours to Pitch and Build a Business

Hackathons are sprouting up all over the world, as people try their hand at pitching and building ideas in heroic little sprints. It’s an opportunity to network, and measure your talents against your peers. Think you’re hot stuff? See how you do in a crowd of your peers, everyone trying to outsmart one another.

Everybody meets on Friday, and introductions are made. We all get a feel for one another, and then pitch our personal idea. Votes are cast by the participants, and the top five ideas are chosen. The winners then sell their idea and build a team to the other participants.

From Friday until Sunday at 4:30PM, they’re figuring out their customer, building mockups, coding demos, drawing a financial plan, calling potential suppliers, getting quotes, and trying to figure out a profitable business model. They’re also building a slide deck to pitch to potential investors on Sunday.

It’s an MBA and a half in a weekend.

Competing With A Room Full of Intelligence

At 4:30PM on Sunday, all bets are off, as the pitches all get heard. Investors walk in, and the place gets a bit quieter, more tense. And the pitches begin.

And while you’ve been justifying why your product is better than everyone else in your head, and why their idea would never work, you finally hear the details. Everyone is so damn talented! And yes, they’ve addressed the exact problems you saw walking by their desks.

A panic sets in as you start thinking about getting up there, and having to defend your idea. Do we have any big blind spots?

It’s your time, and you try to focus on breathing slow, but everything seems to blur. You’ve spoken, and had your say, but you could not remember a single thing you actually said, if asked to.

The Teams

This is the part that really blew me away. Only two people had actually worked together before. But other than that, every team had just met over the weekend. They instantly fleshed out a hierarchy and got to work building a product demonstration. No egos bruised, everyone working and being honest.

Team Chime

The Tech: Arduino, Cloud Services, Windows Mobile App, .NET
The Pitch: Mobile Enabled Intelligent Doorbell
The Demo: Here

These guys were incredible. The idea was a smartphone enabled, intelligent doorbell.

The team was nothing but talent, and every single person delivered on their promises. It really was a pleasure to watch these guys build a cloud enabled physical hardware project with a working mobile app by the end of two days.

They not only designed and built the electronics, and a promotional website, and a strong financial plan, but also got a working app on Windows Phone. Just insane work, and they’re launching on Kickstarter shortly. Look for huge things from this team.

And oh yeah, they won the Startup Battle. Congrats guys!

You can view their demo website here.

Team Accessory Addict Society

The Tech: PHP, eCommerce, Subscription Commerce, Social, Machine Learning
The Pitch: Accessories as a Service for Women
The Demo: Here
These guys were our biggest worry while developing.

They really had a kickass idea, a great team, and an especially talented leader. Great design, great social media, and great programming. Really incredible to watch them build an eCommerce store, get 50 Likes on Facebook, and build a great brand targeting women.

Their idea was a subscription based accessories service for women. They built everything, including social media, and an algorithm for predicting which sorts of accessories would work best for you within two days. Incredible work.

View their page here.

Team Pronecter

The Tech: PHP, LinkedIn, Geolocation, Tagging
The Pitch: Networking Improved. Know who you should be meeting.
The Demo: Here
Now this was a strong team of technologists.

These guys built a mobile site, with geolocation, LinkedIn API calls, interests tagging, all in a functional prototype in under 48 hours. The leader of the group also managed to squeeze in building the pitch deck and presenting on demo day.

Their idea was discovering people to connect with at conferences by searching for attendees with keywords you’re looking for. You also set your own keywords, so people can find you. A really powerful concept for conferences.

Their product is viewable here.

Team Rectangle

The Tech: Android, NFC
The Pitch: Business cards that sync data with your phone.

Incredible presenting skills from the leader of this group, Marc Rosa. Of all the pitches, his seemed the most relaxed and confident. Also, the coder from the project, Tyler Thomas, was still in school, a double major (Computer Science and Mathematics!), still learning Java, and managed to build an Android app in two days with zero prior Android experience.

Look for huge things in the future from Tyler.

Their idea was for NFC enabled business cards which automatically synced with Android phones. A very fun presentation.

Team BAUSS Management

The Tech: Twitter Bootstrap
The Pitch: Eliminate Homeowner’s Association drama with a single place for communications.
The Demo: Here (Click demo up top to see backend demo.)

Finally, we have my team. Our idea was SAAS for homeowner’s associations. We built a single portal for all communication to flow through for Board Members, Vendors, and Home Owners. We hoped to reduce headaches, and have a single place for all communication, so a paper trail could be established, and accountability increased.

I was blown away by the business development talent of my team, as we’d already talked to 10 potential customers by 3:00 PM on Saturday. Kevin Brachle really took the lead, and got on top of the leads, speaking with both Property Managers and Lawyers currently working with Homeowners Associations. Also, Parker took control of business development, calling 4 property managers to make sure our product would work with what procedures they had already established.

We build a live web prototype you can visit, at, and you can even click Demo in the top corner to view what the backend would look like for the board members. It was designed for use on the iPad.

The Takeaway

The hackathon (or Startup Battle) is a very fun idea, like a version of the Olympics for intelligent business people, coders and designers.

It’s an incredible opportunity to meet and figure out who’s talented and who’s a bullshitter very quickly. You have to be at a very high level of talent to push a product in two days.

And that’s the real power of the Startup Battle, building a sense of camaraderie with people you only just met. I now know my team members bring an incredible amount of talent to the table, and wouldn’t hesitate to work with them on any project in the future.

Thanks to Venture X

None of this would have been possible without the incredible service to the community of Venture X and Brett Diamond. He’s traveled all over the US looking at co-working spaces, and really built a world class place for us in Naples, FL. I was skeptical at first, but having world class people around you is worth paying for.

I’m buying my membership today.

The Human Transcendence Economy

We used to live in a world where propaganda worked. We all shared access to the same information, and that information came to us from above. Those who were at the top designed a worldview, and through advertising pushed an idea of what we should want.

And in that economy, overt manipulation of our desires and fears worked. Telling people stories about their teeth, and how they weren’t quite clean enough without Sensodent was effective. People listened, because they didn’t want to be the one person without Sensodent in their bathroom and fuzzy teeth.

So for the last 50 years, we mostly motivated people to buy with stories which instill fear and guilt. These have always been power’s main manipulative forces.

But then the world got flipped on its head. Our one way information stream from the top down has become an interconnected information stream. There is no longer an architect to design our desires and insecurities. Instead, we’re left to figure things out for ourselves, in a huge, constant information stream.

Now, we’ve got each other to ask, and the power of authority to tell us what’s good and bad is disappearing. With search, we can decide for ourselves whether or not a product will meet our needs.

The only reason we won’t search before deciding are because we think it will require more cognitive energy expended than the value of money saved.

Because of information freedom, we’re becoming less susceptible to the manipulations of advertising, and the overt influences of power.

And really, I don’t think advertising will be an effective medium in the foreseeable future.

Because the most dire currency in the future will be the currency of our focus. With a mostly virtual world, the true powerhouses are our minds.

Advertisements institute a real expenditure of energy. Whenever we pay attention to them, we’re not paying attention to something else.

The people who appreciate the cleanliness of their minds are already willing to pay to keep advertisements out.

Propaganda doesn’t work when everyone has access to information. The rise of internet censorship in countries is extremely telling. You can’t convince the whole population of an evil looming threat when they can just talk to the “enemy” on Facebook or Twitter.

A population having access to information is really the most dangerous threat that governments have ever faced. They have two options, either embrace the new face of authority with accountability, or close it up and break it down.

So we’ve begun to cast off those artificial personalities that were created for us, and have started to follow our own personal truths.

Apple was really the first company to respect our cognitive world. They saw, correctly, that a computer was more than just a machine, it was a way for us to manage and direct our minds. Using an Apple computer means being more focused, more creative. Because that’s the environment which Apple has created in the ethereal world of their software.

The computational power of the device we’re using no longer matters. What matters is the amount of cognitive energy that’s wasted when we work with them. Having a PC that boots up, with an Antivirus that pops up and interrupts us every five seconds, with software that has nag screens, desktop widgets that display bad information, and CPU monitors, we’re just wasting our mental energy on the non-essential.

And that’s where the real inefficiencies will lie in the future. At the gaps between ourselves and our devices. Because computers are already nearly infinitely powerful, with the cloud and internet everywhere. But the load that our devices put on our brains is very real and measurable. Bad software makes the human brain function poorly, and wastes our most precious commodity – cognitive energy.

The future belongs to those of us who build the tools for measuring and managing ourselves. Tools which allow us to approach human transcendence, and new forms of power structures. We’re outgrowing those power structures which for thousands of years manipulated us by deception and lack of information. We need new tools for us to build the next step of humanity.

What if the level of intelligence and focus of the team that built Instagram became the regular level of the population? What if billions of people instantly became just as motivated, focused, and intelligent as the 13 people who built a billion dollar company in under 2 years?

What would we humans occupy ourselves with?