A Nasty Storm, Ciders Found, and a Weekend of Side Hustling

I thought I’d come up for air momentarily before I head to the Inside Outside Innovation Summit in Nebraska next week. It’s been a crazy past few weeks since I last updated this thing. I have put in a lot of hours working on freelance projects and on Sexy Life, and I’ve put a fair number of miles on the car going around the area to different events. My garage and my yard have a few new dents that weren’t there the last time I posted, and I spent about ten hours in the heat making the outside of my house look like somebody actually lives there. I got to sample some great new ciders that aren’t yet available in Iowa City – a bit of “market research” for Cider Finder. College kids now look to me as some sort of “expert” entrepreneur, and I’ve started wrangling the committee to put on what we hope to be the largest Startup Weekend in Iowa this coming October. So, let’s get started.

And down it came.

This past weekend, my neighbors and I had a yard cleanup party. If you follow my social media accounts, I posted after a nasty storm went through the Oasis and tore a limb off the tree in the back corner of my lot. The limb was long enough to add a few dents to the roof of my garage when it fell. I’m guessing the tree is at least 50 years old, so the whole thing is pretty sizable. After the storm, I was able to find a guy to come by and cut the thing into smaller pieces, so I could move the ends of the branches to the neighbor’s brush pile, and keep the rest of the bigger chunks for firewood. After the tree was cut up, I didn’t have time to do anything with it for several weeks – can’t really do yardwork while watching a toddler, can’t do yardwork when out of town each weekend, and some of the pieces were too large to move by hand.

My neighbors and I came together after about 4 weeks to talk about what to do with the rest of the tree – the tree itself is the point where our three yards come together. I told them that the tree guy was going to be back in a couple of months to deal with the rest of the tree. In the meantime, they volunteered to help me move the rest of the debris back to the brush pile. We were able to enlist the help of the farmers down the street who have a backhoe and a large truck and trade some of the firewood for their time and energy for an hour. We couldn’t have moved all of the limb parts that weekend if not for the heavy machinery. The mother of one of the farmers even stopped by with some donuts for all of us laboring out in the heat.

I now owe the neighborhood a cookout before the summer is over – a small price to pay for getting my yard back in order.

Firewood, anyone?

My yard was also getting pretty shaggy from 4 weeks of neglect. I spent the better part of four hours going over the yard twice; first to do a rough chop of the grass, and then a second time to grind up the grass clippings left behind by the first pass. Of course, I wait to do all of this until we’re under a heat advisory. If it’s any consolation, my yard now looks amazing and I probably burned a fair number of calories buzzing around the yard with my lawn mower. Also, for most of the time between the limb coming down and now, we haven’t received any rain, so the grass was starting to go dormant closer to the base of the blades. I won’t have to worry about the yard this weekend – there won’t be time anyway.

While my yard was being neglected, I’ve been busy making connections and working on my two startups. The first weekend away was my trip down to Fairfield over Memorial Day weekend. The ffColab is hosting Fairfield’s first Startup Weekend, and Lee and the group down there wanted to throw a launch party to announce the Startup Weekend. I had been meaning to get down there and meet the proprietors of the two cider makers in that area, Cider House and Jefferson County Ciderworks. I enjoyed the beverages at both locations, and got to try some of the food at the Cider House. The launch party was at the bar right below the ffColab, so I was able to talk Lee into giving me a tour of the facility. The space is still a work in progress, but I could see the potential in what they are trying to create. The space used to be apartments before they took the sledgehammers to some of the walls, and it’s got a bit of an artsy feel to it. I’m looking forward to getting down there again during one of their free coworking events.

I hope that their Startup Weekend gets the turnout that they hope for. I’m looking forward to attending, and it will be fun to meet some new people in that community. The date they picked works great, as it’s the weekend following Denver Startup Week. Sometime in the next few weeks, they should be releasing the full schedule of presenters for Denver Startup Week, and I’m hoping that the votes I got were enough to secure my talk on the schedule. Even if I don’t present, I’m truly looking forward to getting out there for a week at the end of September – barring, of course, Cider Finder getting into the accelerator out there. We haven’t heard anything yet from Boomtown, but there’s still time.

In other Startup Weekend news, the team for Startup Weekend Iowa City had its first meeting this past weekend. Including myself, there are five of us helping to organize the event. I brought everyone together, which makes me the de facto leader of the group. We’ve all taken our assignments, and we have some great things in store for the weekend. One of the committee members is even looking into renting an entire house on AirBnB for the weekend and having a “Startup House” for 8 attendees. Our goal is 50 participants for the weekend, but I’m really hoping we can blow that number right out of the water. If you’re interested in participating, Startup Weekend Iowa City will take place October 13-15 at MERGE in downtown Iowa City. My goal is to promote this thing by contacting every coworking space in Iowa and a couple over in western Illinois that are within a couple hour drive of Iowa City. I’d like to also try to make it to all of the 1 Million Cups locations in the area to promote this thing – this might be a bigger challenge. We’re also inviting college and high school students to participate, possibly with some sort of subsidized ticket class. The team will work these things out closer to the event, but we want to cast as wide a net as we can over the next few months.

Photo taken by Mark Hadley

Startup Weekend Cedar Rapids was a couple of weekends ago, and Team Sexy Life participated in what the organizers called “Side Hustle Saturday.” We were the only existing startup team to participate in this event. We shared a table with another solo entrepreneur working on her own business. I wish they had promoted the event more to existing teams, because David and I were able to make a huge leap forward in the launch of Sexy Life (or whatever we end up calling the thing.) I coded most of the weekend, while David worked on Web site design. We had a couple of opportunities to get up on stage and promote what we were doing. We took the stage Saturday morning at the Cedar Rapids Farmer’s Market to give our elevator pitch. Then, on Sunday evening, I gave our full pitch to the entire group who had attended the entire weekend.

It would be fun to organize some sort of “side hustle” event in Iowa City in the future. It wouldn’t be paired with Startup Weekend Iowa City, but it could be its own event – essentially, participants would pay for the T-shirt and meals, and sponsors could pick up the tab for the venue. I’ve looked into the Ignite Talks program, and it’s more of a pitch-off. I think that it would be interesting to pair that with a weekend with existing teams, but I need to see what kind of rules the event has if we want to go that direction. Also, would it be worth it to brand the thing as a hackathon? The weekend gave me a lot of ideas, but for the moment, there just isn’t time right now to follow through on anything. Perhaps 2018?

This summer, I’m also helping out with the JPEC Summer Accelerator, which is basically a startup accelerator for college students looking to launch new businesses. I’ve met with a couple of the teams so far who have reached out to me, and hopefully, I’m leading them in the right direction. Those teams reached out to me due to my experience with media production. The questions posed have been really great – one of the teams is working on a business around 360 degree video and a virtual reality experience for music videos. I’ve always wanted to play around with one of those 360 degree cameras, and I’ve been looking into file formats and packaging the video for use on the Web – tough to do without a fair amount of compression, unless you’re willing to wait around for an enormous file to download.

I’ll be attending their weekly pitches the week after next for three weeks, and then attending their launch day toward the end of the summer. I’m looking forward to hearing from the other teams that aren’t as focused on media production, social media, or Web development. However, before I start popping in on Thursdays for in-person mentoring, I’m heading to Nebraska for the Inside/Outside Innovation Summit next week. Sexy Life won’t be pitching or participating in the demo showcase, but that’s not going to stop me from working the room and passing out as much information about our company as I possibly can. I’m looking at this event as a way to test our idea with a group of people who have never heard of us or what we’ve been doing for the last year and a half – it’s going to make for some interesting informal customer discovery. I’ll be heading west Sunday afternoon and coming back east in the dark of night Wednesday evening.

Hopefully I’ll see a few friendly or familiar faces out in Lincoln next week. If you’ll be there, drop me a line and let me know if you would like a ride there and back. It should be a interesting and informative event, and I’ll fill everyone in on what transpires after I return to the home office. Until then!