Landing in Austin, we were welcomed into the Vast.com offices for a welcoming party. The office turned out to be a base of operations for many of the teams during the week. Teams only had a brief chance to relax as we got word that our pitch videos were due pretty soon.
While we were holed up coding and designing until about 6A, Keith Axline, Bhavin, and Josh were filming the video they conceived while on the bus. The video
shows our hero, Josh, freed to enjoy a night on the town without having to wait until his table request to clear thanks to WalkIN. The trio used the bathroom as a recording studio for the voiceovers before handing over the assets to Jesse to edit together.
The HTML5 site that almost wasn't
Jesse was bored one night in the Vast offices and decided to make an HTML5 version of our app. We tried to discourage him telling him it was a waste time but he pressed forward. In about 3 hours time, he had a version running locally that a pixel-perfect copy of the Android code. Even down to the UI errors I couldn't get sorted out, much to Alex's chagrin. It really specs to the strength of his design that the Android design was glitzy enough to stand out online. The HTML5 site also helped in that it was something we could easily show people without their needing to install an app.
The semifinalists were announced about an hour or so before the semifinal pitches. Luckily, our team had been preparing about a half a day or so. I thought we had a chance to make it but I wasn't as sure as some of my teammates. We gathered everyone together to head down to Dogpatch Labs for the pitches. To our surprise, the venue was already at capacity and they weren't letting people in, even SEMI-FINALISTS. It was one-in/one-out. We finally got it sorted and were all let in. The room was incredibly packed. The judges panel was deciding the winner of each bus right after the teams pitched adding to the stress level. One of the shockers was the upset of Lemonade Stand. I thought they were a shoe-in not so much because of their product but because of the marketing blitz they had unleashed during the bus ride and up to the semis. The judges instead chose TripMedi
, a more altruistic and possibly economically impactful vision centered around medical tourism (I hate that term). Both SF and SV conductors had wanted to go last but we last a coin flip to them. At this point, the SV bus could rest a bit easy because FlyByMiles
had already made it to the finals. Personally, however, I was a wreck. Bhavin, Jared, Keith H, and Jesse gave a solid preso. It's interesting that I speak at lots of confs but wasn't involved with the presos. Excuse the requisite moment of gloating but that's how deep our team is. Next up was Speaker Meter
, a tool for heat mapping conference talks and lead by Pamela Fox formerly of Google. The five minutes were some of the longest in my life. I was happy for her and wanted my friend to win but wanted to win myself. I couldn't find any hiccups in the pitch. The Speaker Meter team even used their product to rate the pitches so far and boasted about predicting the winners. They also had created Speaker Meter pages for all the talks at SXSWi. The judges' deliberation moved equally slowly. A team member and I had the presence of mind to film it. I thought to myself, "This would be cool if we win. If we don't, I'll just chuck it." We did win and I captured some very amateur footage that got so jerky at the end that no amount of iMovie magic could help it.
With no time to refactor my Android app (which like all the other apps was not a part of the finals pitch), I decided to try some media outreach. I reached out to my former colleague Kristie Wells
, who runs the Social Media Club
and had an awesome chill space and Jennifer Van Grove
, an Associate Editor for Mashable whom I'd met a couple times in the SD tech space and with whom I share a couple mutual friends. Kristie couldn't fit us into the schedule and I didn't get a response before the finals from Jenn, who was probably inundated with emails. For most of the day while giving my brain a break, I chilled out in the smoker's area of Vast's Austin office and watched the StartupBus hashtag. Based on the Twitter buzz, it looked like it would be between us (WalkIN) and Bouncr, Bit.ly for email. To pass the time, I set up a IAMA on Reddit to field questions. We headed to the Hilton at about 5:45 or so and after some initial wandering around, we found the room. After setting up shop in the front row, all but those actively pitching were bumped and we were forced to seat fill in the already packed room. Come on guys, you don't seat the Oscar nominees for Best Picture all over the place…but I digress. FlyByMiles started off the show and one judge said "I feel bad for whoever has to go after you…" My heart sank a bit. We went third I believe. While it did have some things that could be tweaked, the core preso, IMHO, was solid. There was no overly critical comments and one judge called the name WalkIN "aspirational." After all teams presented, the judges deliberated for a very long time. They announced they were selecting two winners by giving the region names: New York and Silicon Valley. It caused a bit of confusion as both FlyByMiles and WalkIN were on the SV bus. After the "New York! New York!" cries died down, they announced WalkIN as the co-winner.