Birthday Parties, Major Events, and Beta Tests

I thought that the middle of winter was supposed to be the time of year when you hibernate and things slow down, recovering from the festivities in December. This really hasn’t been the case this year for me and around my house. Just a couple of years ago, during a really harsh winter, my older daughter – only daughter at the time – got to the point where we were leaving the house to go to dance class, visit relatives, and go grocery shopping. This year, I’m spending about 90 minutes a day, 5 days a week just shuttling my older daughter to and from preschool!

Needless to say, things are busier than they once were around here – this explains my lack of updates here on the blog since the end of last year. Between the middle of January and the beginning of March, I have five weekends in a row with something going on. There are a few weekends off in March and the beginning of April, and then things get rolling along again toward the end of the school year.

The first couple of weekends during this long stretch were birthday celebrations for my daughters. Their birthdays are officially two weeks apart, both on Thursdays this year. With the way other events were shaking out this winter, it made the most sense to have parties two weekends in a row. The younger one had her first birthday and the older one turned five, celebrating with a party with the family in the late morning and a party with her preschool classmates at an arcade in Cedar Rapids in the middle of the afternoon. Two parties and three birthday cakes later, I think the entire family was a bit relieved to be done with birthday parties for a little while. Granted, the cake and ice cream were pretty delicious.

During those two weekends, I met with the rest of Team Sexy Life to finish developing the product we are now beta testing. Yes, we have an actual product, and we’re nearly ready to start accepting pre-orders! Once we had our beta test boxes built, we all sat back and let everything soak in a bit. Sexy Life is really going to be an actual thing! It’s been an idea for so long that, at least for me, seems a bit weird that it’s actually a physical thing that couples can enjoy. I’ve been reaching out to friends to help test this thing, and if you would like a complementary Sexy Life kit to test, let me know. You must be in a committed relationship (more than 1 year is preferable), be between the ages of 25 and 35, and have at least one child to qualify for our testing. Drop me a line if you are interested in helping us with this project!

The third week of the event marathon involved a trip down to Decatur, Illinois, to participate in Startup Weekend Decatur. Why make a 4 hour trip just to participate in a Startup Weekend? Well, multiple reasons. Courtney and Gregg, the organizers for the event, made the trip to Iowa City to participate in the last Startup Weekend Iowa City event, and are part of Team Dress Me Please, which we still intend on pursuing this year – it’s a matter of finding some time this summer to build out a rough version of the app and finish out the social media sites that were started during Startup Weekend back in November. Second, the facilitator for the event is a good friend and he wanted to carpool to Illinois. Carpooling down there got me a free place to stay during the weekend, and who would turn down free lodging? Third, and possibly most importantly, I believe that entrepreneurial communities in the Midwest need to work together – we’re not truly in direct competition with each other until there is a critical mass of entrepreneurial energy on the scale of what exists in California or Colorado, and I don’t believe that we’re anywhere near that point yet.

In going to Decatur, I believed that I’d show up, help out a team, and maybe we’d place in the competition. I didn’t really want to get up, pitch an idea, and lead yet another startup team. So, what happened? I pitched an idea, formed a team, and won a very close second place. Because Startup Weekend, that’s why.

My original idea was to combine the power of searching for things on the Internet – namely, favorite beers at local establishments – and the laziness of checking whether these beverages were available without leaving the comfort of home. Turns out that others already are implementing 50 to 70 percent of the idea in the craft beer space, but nobody is focusing on hard cider. There are over 600 local cider manufacturers in the United States, and hard cider alone is a $1 billion industry. Lumped in with the rest of the craft beer market, hard ciders would rank second in popularity, just behind IPAs. My team and I couldn’t believe that nobody has done anything in this space yet, and we could be sitting on a gold mine.

Thus, Cider Finder was born. The rest of my team are from Fairfield, Iowa, and had just come to Startup Weekend Decatur to observe what happens at a Startup Weekend, in order to run their own this summer. They had no intention of participating and were only staying through Saturday afternoon, but they loved my original idea – the craft beer finder – enough to participate in the weekend and helped me pivot over to cider. We decided to continue the project on Saturday morning before they left, which is the earliest that a team I’ve been on has made that kind of decision. It’s a solid enough idea, and I think we may have found that one diamond in the rough that Startup Weekend organizers like to brag about.

This past weekend was the first ever 48 Hour Phones Only Film Festival. The goal of the weekend was to create a 3-5 minute video using only your phone for the videography. From the way it was described, I envisioned a type of Startup Weekends, just for video production. It turned out to be significantly more relaxed than that, with most of the work happening on my end on Sunday morning, once all of the video clips we had captured on Saturday afternoon had a chance to get a base render. Editing only took a few hours, and once the file was exported, it was just a matter of driving to Cedar Rapids and turning in my flash drive with the video file.

I think the video turned out pretty well, given the limitations of using a smartphone and the time constraints. If I’d have more time, there are a few more things that I would have tweaked in the video, but hindsight is 20/20. The video did pretty well with the judges and the audience both – we won Best Use of Creative Criteria and Audience Choice. I didn’t expect to win anything, and the other videos in the competition were really good. It was a fun experience, and I hope that the organizers decide to throw another one of these competitions in the future.

The final weekend of the marathon is this weekend at Gamicon – my yearly unearthing of my classic video game collection. Over the past few months, I’ve done a full rebuild of the Gamicon Web site and just have a few bugs and kinks to work out for the convention in 2018. I’m also collecting information on the most popular games that are checked out in the video game room in order to make recommendations for the new Mindbridge Video Game Library. I’ve been bringing my personal collection to the convention for nearly 10 years, so it will be nice to have a convention-owned collection of the most popular titles. At least 80% of the stuff I bring each year goes untouched, and I’ve considered scaling down what I contribute. Building this Video Game Library will finally solve that problem. If you’re in Cedar Rapids this weekend, check out Gamicon at the Marriott on Collins Road.

Outside the event marathon, I have plenty of other irons on the fire at the moment. Planning for both Startup Weekend Cedar Rapids and Startup Weekend Iowa City has begun. Cedar Rapids’ event is planned for the first weekend in June, and Iowa City’s event is going to happen on a weekend in September without a home football game. I’m helping organize these events because I don’t really want to walk away with yet another startup project – my wife is starting to joke that I have an addiction to startups. I’ve just had an oddly successful track record with these events. Three out of the four startups that I’ve helped found are still going in one capacity or another – Cider Finder and Sexy Life are the most active, and Dress Me Please is going to be worked on later this year. Only ASAP Venues was shut down due to lack of interest. So, I’d rather help run the events for a while and let others participate. Stay tuned as the year goes on for more information on both of these events.

I really want to post more than I have this year. It will be a bit easier to post updates when things aren’t moving as quickly. I knew that these first months of this year were going to be a major rush, and I’m glad that I finally got the chance today to synthesize some of my thoughts. 2017 is going to be a super active year, with many events and activities already on the calendar. Major highlights of what’s to come include the Young Entrepreneur Conventon, EntreFEST, Flyover Fashion Fest, Startup Weekend Cedar Rapids, Startup Weekend Iowa City, a potential Startup Weekend Fairfield (run by much of Team Cider Finder), Denver Startup Week, and a few possible pitch competitions to begin to fill Sexy Life’s bank account.

This year is going to be a rush.