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Friday, April 12, 2013

Startup Weekend Cluj: The great clipboard in the sky


Friday, first day of spring, 7:30 PM. 150 people in a wedding venue. The atmosphere was pretty dull. After walking in, I knew I wasn’t going to pitch. Not only that, but I was asking myself what I was doing there in the first place.

I had an idea, and I made a short presentation in my head in the previous days, which I polished it until it got to one minute. At first I didn’t know whether I wanted to present my idea or not, but I came to terms with myself that I will make a final decision when I’ll arrive at the event, depending on the atmosphere.


“Pure cross platform file system.” It wasn’t an idea for a startup. Well, at that moment I didn’t even know what a startup was. I later found out... it’s an idea which longs to become a product. It’s not something exclusively tied to the IT world, only in our environment it’s relatively easy to come up with a prototype and do some market research. There’s one more essential thing: huge growth potential - index, spirals, segment - and other terminology I’m bewildered about.


The efforts of the host to invigorate and dominate the audience had the opposite outcome of the desired one, but in the end, the pitchfire started.

There were 36 pitches. Reactions ranged from “c’mon, get real”, “hmm, interesting”, “this might actually work.” I noticed: Catwalk15, FridgeChef, DoItForMe, CloudClipboard. Next, some of the pitchers posted themselves by their posters, in an attempt to further persuade people to vote on their idea. This shouldn’t have happened, the pitch should have sufficed. But... it seemed that lots of people had already set their minds on winning.

Is this the secret of success? ... I hope by the end of the article to answer this very question.

17 ideas made it past the voting and teams started to form. Piki (Istvan Hoka), which I knew from a CodeRetreat, looks at me, points to one of the teams, and asks “CloudClipboard?”

Călin’s pitch could be summarized as: “Seamlessly copy/paste across devices. As simple as CTRL+C, CTRL+V”. I don’t think I’m overstating if I say he uttered “seamlessly” at least a hundred times during the event.

And thus it begun...

Călin proved to be of contagious enthusiasm. He welcomed us in his team, we presented ourselves, gave our background in brief and as new members were joining the team, Călin introduced everyone of us. He quickly remembered our names and the things we’re good at. He also complimented us: “you look like smart guys”.

These being said, it was time to get to work. We started with a brain dump.

In the meantime, Kamillia (from the US) and Tudor joined. Tudor is a developer but expressed his intention to be in the marketing team from the start. We found that Tudor already has his own startup - KeenSkim - with which he took part in the “Eleven” business accelerator from Bulgaria.

Tudor was pressing us to focus on the business, on an actual product, not just a cool feature. That proved to be somewhat hard, with 7 developers around him, all having the same expression: “Forget that, let’s hack something!”.

We consented over the minimum viable product; for the final presentation we should be able to “copy” from a device followed by a “paste” on another. And the following teams were outlined: marketing, backend, Android, Windows, Linux and “the catalyst” (Călin.)

We each shared our ideas and debated until around 11:30 PM. To the delight of the majority, the plan were utterly simple: “tomorrow we code.” Java, C#, Ruby, Publish/subscribe, Pubnub API.

The venue was about to close at midnight and after being “kicked out” we stood in front of the entrance to further our discussion on - what else - implementation details. Pairing, backend, parasite on Google Docs or Dropbox for file transfer, discovery between devices.

Saturday


Saturday morning we started off with a lot of energy. By 1 PM we had a chatroom on CampFire, Github repository, documents describing the mentors and organizational details. By lunch, our prototype was catching shape, the first messages started being sent over the Pubnub channel.

But leaving the technical enthusiasm aside for a bit, I’ll reference some of the pertinent advice we got from the mentors.

CloudClipboard team with Christoph Raethke 

Ibrahim Evsan encouraged us to find us the behavior of users, what kind of data they have in their clipboard and recommended us to summarize what our product does, to reach a use case. He suggested, that we can even build a new type of search engine around our concept.

David Zwelke was simply genius. He was pouring out ideas and, after how much time he spent with us, I’m convinced he enjoyed our company. He suggested packaging our product in “Goldfish” and “Elephant” edition, idea which made it to our final business plan. He offered us recommendations about encryption, pairing (bump, QR code, Bluetooth-like), security, legal aspects and social features.

He suggested a pain point for which our product could be a solution: the frustration of not being able to share information quickly. He also underlined the importance of setting ourselves apart from the competition. One of his delicious comments, was something along the lines: “All those Linux neckbeards will go: I could pipe my clipboard over SSH back in 1992.” After which he turns to me and says “Your neckbeard looks better than most of them.”

“Remember everything you used to forget”, was a suggestion for a motto, and as features he suggested adding autofill between devices, plugins, ability to pull predefined things.


Sebastian Presecan brought up some questions to which we should answer: who’s our target group, how are people transferring information now, how much time are they spending doing it, why use copy/paste from the start, how is the problem handled at the present moment. He also suggested avoiding terms too technical, to communicate in layman language.

Christoph Raethke suggested us to direct our solution at corporations or to bundle it with existing solutions. On the other hand, Simon Obstbaum suggested that this is a user issue, not a corporate issue.

Around 3 PM, the marketing team was chatting with Bradley Kirkham. I barge in saying “Sooo, live demo!” At first, Călin laughed, thinking I was joking... “Really?!” Piki copies a text from his Mac, and I paste it on my laptop running Linux, Călin’s face lights up and Bradley goes “That’s so cool!”

After the conversations with the mentor, I, for one, felt discouraged. People were charmed by our idea, but did we really have a product?

We spent the rest of the day chatting and... searching for new features to implement for the next day.

Sunday


Tudor: “Who’s your target audience”
Călin: “Me.”

... was a conversation which happened at least a couple of times.

After a while things started sounding better. “A market of young IT professionals, 90% male, programmers, journalists who wish to be productive and stay organized, in the context of having to switch often between ideas.”

CloudClipboard proposes a process of two steps for data transfer, and the key combination is ingrained in the muscle memory of every user. An intelligent clipboard, global, data aware. There are other similar solutions out there but their biggest shortcoming is that they synchronize data using an interface (e.g. Evernote) or is restricted to one OS (take iOS, synchronization made via iCloud.)

Things were looking good, so we decided to start working on the presentation and slides. We filmed a demo: “copy” a phone number from a smart phone and “paste” in a Skype chat. We made a testdrive of the presentation with Philip Kandall (Skobbler), who suggested we find more realistic numbers about our market (the total number of IT workers didn’t seem credible). Thus, we studied the Evernote and Dropbox markets and included this in our presentation.

We aced the final presentation and Christoph (Berlin Startup Academy) came even before the winners were announced to invite us to Berlin, regardless of whether we would be announced as winners, or not. The guys at Today Software Magazine made a popularity poll among the participants and I noticed that we had about double the number of votes compared to the next team. I started sensing that things are starting to happen, but I refrained myself from thinking we would win. Neither one of us said anything about it.

But, perhaps not surprising at all ... CloudClipboard won!

©SWCluj

We complemented each other. This is the reason for which a great team was formed; we felt each other’s intentions and resonated in approach. We organized quickly and, at first, we simply didn’t care about anything. We also had the sincere desire just to have a good time. We didn’t think about winning, but we did our job well because it’s in our nature.

And we followed the advice. One of Călin’s conclusions was “always listen, don’t just pretend.”

Plus we had a great time. For the prototype we didn’t have pairing. We were all connected to the same channel. This is how “paste roulette” was born. You just “paste” and you don’t know for sure what you get, and from whose clipboard.

It was the biggest startup evening in Romania until now, and Cristoph stated that the potential he saw at SWCluj is similar to that in the German world of startups. We also intuited very well that “outsourcing companies in Romania [...] sweep the plate clean when it comes to hiring the best developers.” Things are promising, we’re not lacking talent and we’ll be hearing more and more often about startups.

As for the afterparty, Cristoph summarized it as follows: “the participating geek girls had revamped into bombshells.”

For team Omnipaste (renamed after a nameclash with another application) the real fun starts with 4 days in Berlin.