Atlanta Startup Weekend - My First Time

SW_Atlanta(UPDATED 11/12/2012: Added links to meetups/groups)

What a weekend. Much to the chagrin of my beleaguered girlfriend, I signed up to be part of Startup Weekend here in Atlanta. I haven't had the chance to do one of these events before and it was a lot of fun. I want to thank the organizers and the great people at ATDC for holding a great event.

For the uninitiated, a Startup Weekend begins with a series of business idea pitches. This has to be a new idea that you haven't worked on before (no code, no design, etc.). After the pitches (2 rounds) you join a team to help build a business proposal over the next 54 hours. This usually entails a prototype, a business/marketing plan and a 4 minute presentation at the end of the event.

My Experience

I had the great experience to work with a great group of people on ReleaseQ. I was drawn to the team as I liked the business proposition. We worked really hard on the prototype (or Minimum Viable Product) over those days and came up with something that was workable. At the end of the three days, the teams (there were 13 teams this time) are judged on a 4 minute pitch, and 3 minute Q&A with real investors/VC/angels. We didn't win (or even place) but we did get a startup off the ground. I came into this with the hope to just have fun and be able to contribute meaningfully to a team. I know the guys over at ReleaseQ will take this idea to the next level...I just wish I had more time to contribute.

A Problem?

But there is a fly in the ointment. I've hung around the Startup community here in Atlanta before (not as much as I'd like, but a bit) and this even cemented my observations. As I listed to different ideas and talked to different people at the event, it was clear to me that there isn't much Microsoft technologies represented. Rails is clearly king here still, but PHP and Java were well represented too (as were Obj-C for the iPhone prototypes). Realizing this was the case, I had decided going in to find a team I thought I could contribute to but focus on helping entirely on the front-end with HTML/CSS/JS. I thought, it doesn't matter what the back-end is...I'll just play in the UI.

As we build the project, I suggested we use a handful of libraries that have become pretty important to the UI work I am doing: KnockoutJS, AmplifyJS, Twitter Bootstrap, et al. We were able to prototype the UI pretty quickly and had something assembling a working product on the front-end very quickly. For a web project, this made our life very easy. I was surprised that some of these the other team members hadn't heard of but I love teaching so I did take a chance to walk them through how KnockoutJS was helping us out so much.

I was watching the Java guys build the back-end to the solution. While we had some hiccups working with Google App Engine, they were able to get it running by demo time. But watching them and hearing other teams and their Rails or PHP work made me think about the state of Microsoft tech. Was the MS stack really a problem, or was is that these folks just didn't have much exposure to them? It's hard to say. There certainly was a huge number of Macs and anti-MS sentiment was heard here and there (not a lot but it was noticeable).

I will say that my Surface was well played with my the attendees as people were genuinely interested in the form factor (and overall it got very high marks).

Of Technology Choices

A couple of years back I took a few weeks to learn the basics of Rails (I'm not even well enough versed in it to speak intelligently about it) but I was trying to understand how it worked so I could evaluate its use on a product I was building. I came away from that believing that Rails is a great product...and when stacked up against ASP.NET Web Forms, its hard to beat. But I also came away from that knowing that with ASP.NET MVC and Code-First EF, I could build the back-end of a system really quickly and efficiently. Now I think with SignalR, WebAPI and other MS-driven projects, that you can build great solutions...quickly with MS tech. At least I could be as productive as I could be...knowing that I know the MS eco-system (e.g. C# versus learning Ruby). I think the playing field is much more level now when it comes to that. So why isn't a player here?

I don't exactly know but I do notice that the two communities are very segregated. As most of you know I do a fair number of user groups and other community events. The Microsoft developers seem to limit themselves to only MS-specific events. Some of this might be proximity (e.g. MS is stronger in the big enterprise space; whereas Rails, NodeJS and PHP are stronger in SMB) since many MS customers are in the north of the city; and the startup community seems very centered around downtown and the universities.

Be Part of the Solution

So I have a challenge to my Microsoft-focused community. Get out more. Going to the user groups at the Microsoft office are great but there are other communities that you'd learn a lot at if you'd invest a little time. The Startup Community downtown is one of them, but the JavaScript meetups are fun. The Designer/UX community is simply fantastic. And there are still good Agile groups going strong in Atlanta. Pick a meetup/user group and go meet new people. It will also be great for your career IMO.

I'd also like to do what I can to help get a lot of us that are using MS tools to the next Startup Weekend. It's a lot of fun and having more of a presence at these events will really help spread the word that we're able to get a lot done and maybe even end up in a great new startup.

Local Groups without a Microsoft Focus

Thanks to Peter for a great suggestion to list some of the great groups. Here is a quick list:

 

If you're a startup in Atlanta, you should seriously think of joining ATDC at Georgia Tech. Lots of great resources there:

Feel free to drop your own great resources that I don't know about in the comments.

 

Comments

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ct Monday, November 12, 2012

I'd like to see more .NET usage in startups as well, but there's no popular startup poster child success story for .NET -- Ruby is used heavily in startups due to 37Signals. I think if there were more .NET success stories we'd see more adoption. It's a chicken and egg problem.

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Rick Strahl Monday, November 12, 2012

I think there's less and less real differentiation in back ends. All the best ideas have been copied and have become fairly common. Whether you do rails or ASP.NET MVC really shouldn't matter that much and be more of a preference rather than a religion. Like you I've spent some time in the last weeks playing with Ruby and while I think it's nice and definitely has its strengths, I don't see it as something that would make me want to switch for what I'm doing with the ASP.NET stack.

In the apps I'm building I'm finding a very large percentage is spent on the UI - whether it's HTML layout or client side logic to deal with UI creation/interaction. Regardless of server technology that problem doesn't improve.

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Shawn Wildermuth Monday, November 12, 2012

Rick,

That is exactly what i've found about other back-ends. I end up doing about 85% of the work of green-field is in the UI anyway (wasn't true a few years ago).

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Dave Ward Monday, November 12, 2012

@ct: Stack Overflow is probably the best example of a successful ASP.NET based startup. ASP.NET's superior scalability (as compared to Ruby, PHP, and other dynamic languages) allowed them to run the whole site on one web and one database server for a surprisingly long time when they were driving a huge amount of traffic.

They aren't alone. I remember seeing a thread on Hacker News just recently where someone asked why there seem to be no .NET-based startups and several YC-backed founders replied that they were actually using .NET in their startups.

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Peter Monday, November 12, 2012

@Shawn: Could you post links or more info about these groups you mentioned?

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Shawn Wildermuth Monday, November 12, 2012

Great idea Peter!

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John Croft Tuesday, November 13, 2012

I think most people steer away from .Net, now, because they don't want or expect to deploy to a Microsoft Server. That then drives a lot of other decisions.

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Shawn Wildermuth Tuesday, November 13, 2012

John,

I get that...but with Cloud deployments being a common startup strategy, the costs are about the same.

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Glen Gordon Tuesday, November 13, 2012

The choice of technology really depends on the platform the startup is targeting. If they're merely after a web presence, then yes things like RoR or even PHP are the skillsets of the typical Startup Weekend attendees. But ASP.NET MVC and the like can get people up and running pretty quickly.

If the technology for the end user is a smartphone app, my guess is most startups reach for iOS or Android first, even though Windows Phone is really greenfield and they can make a bigger splash, although the market is smaller. Though there's less of a disparity in market size overseas.

For tablet and larger apps, I think a startup that focused on getting a Windows 8 app out could be such a hit from the beginning, with the brand new store and the visibility on so many devices from desktops to PCs to the Surface.

A lot of it is attracting people who favor development with Microsoft tools to these events, but even those who don't have much experience with our tools could ramp up pretty quickly.


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