What happens when you reserve a weekend to bring together 300 of the most talented and inspired people in tech in Toronto (and, ahem, Montreal), open up the floor to any and all business ideas, provide a beautiful, open space to work in, amazing food and tons of volunteer support? You get Startup Weekend Toronto, and by Sunday evening, you end up with 20 solid, market-tested minimum viable products that solve real problems.
On Friday morning I boarded the megabus to Toronto (and yes, “The Vengabus” was stuck in my head the whole time), wholly unaware of the completely immersive, intense experience I was about to have. I was there to support Context.IO‘s awesome platinum sponsorship of the event, help get apps that wanted to leverage email data up and running, and join a team myself to help build something awesome.
Friday night was a flurry of activity: the floor was open to any and all attendees to pitch an idea and form a team. Over 90 people pitched some really cool concepts. I pitched an idea I’ve had for Context.IO for a while: a tool that will allow you to connect your mailbox once, pull out all instances of unsubscribe links and generate a simple page listing them all, with checkboxes that can be used to select which recurring mailers to remain subscribed to and which to unsubscribe from. In one click of the “submit” button, the end user could potentially reduce a significant percentage of incoming email, freeing up time to be more productive. I wanted to call it “TTFN” (Ta ta for now (annoying unwanted emails)!). Ultimately, my idea was not selected to form one of the final 20 teams… but I still want to see it built. Do get in touch with me of you’d liket to help me make it happen!
Although my idea wasn’t a winner, I was thrilled to hear the pitch for Unbox… a idea that was selected to form one of the final 20. The Unbox team was looking to create a Facebook-esque timeline based on social objects and data sourced from email. Obviously, this was an idea that really stood a chance to get off the ground quickly with help of our API. I worked closely with the team throughout the weekend (including the awesome Fernando Duran who was one of the winners of our Startup Weekend contest), watched them pivot to include email analytics in their MVP, and ultimately take 2nd place! I was thrilled to support the team and know that Context.IO sped up their dev process to the point where they were able to build a winning app in less than 54 hours. We’re sure to be hearing more from Unbox, the buzz on twitter, including interest from Fred Wilson, is very promising indeed!
While I provided tech support to Unbox, I lent my marketing/community talents to the PredictWith team. Our aim was to validate and build out a working prototype demoing predictive analytics that leverage big data for a few small business use cases. We worked closely with API data from FRED (http://api.stlouisfed.org/docs/fred/) and Google Trends. Through intense market testing (a survey that we seeded and got 27 replies in less than 2 hours, and interviewed 24 local business people on Queen Street West), we built out some truly interesting, simple and beautiful insights that had the chance to truly improve the decision making process for small businesses, without the level of complexity that requires an dedicated analyst to pull value. We even imagined a day when email data could play a part in this tool, analyzing customer service inquiries (for example) to pull out semantic predictions for the future. A big idea to tackle in one weekend, and something we were really proud of by Sunday evening. Take a look at our site at http://predictwith.com and stay tuned to our twitter feed for updates!
As one of the first large-scale events we’ve sponsored, we couldn’t have been happier with the outcome of Startup Weekend Toronto. Thanks so much to Chris Eben and his amazing team of volunteers. You can count on seeing us at Startup Weekend Montreal in February, and we hope to see all of you there, building amazing apps that unlock the power of email!
Don’t forget, our Startup Weekend contest is still open… have an idea for an app that leverages email data? If we like it, we’ll pay for your ticket to any Startup Weekend around the globe! Get in touch with your ideas now: sarah-jane @ context.io.