It all began from a controversial Twitter post.
I had a short visit to my family in Malaysia at that time, when the GeekWire article was all over my newsfeed. Rahul Sood, the General Manager of Microsoft Ventures, tweeted that a Startup Weekend exclusively for women is pointless.
While it was not reasonable to fly back to Seattle on Thursday, trying to get over jet lag and participate in a hackathon over the weekend with school just around the corner, I hit the Eventbrite registration button and purchased the ticket without hesitant after messaging Marion, one of the organizers, to get a special discount code for students. I have been to 10 hackathons in the past, but only one comes close to what I would call as “an inclusive, diverse and welcoming” hackathon event — Hack@Brown that I have attended this January, which I worked with 4 female students and 2 Google engineers as mentors in the team.
Although it was interesting to see the debate at the comment section, I decided to participate, because I had a strong feeling Startup Weekend Seattle Women is going to be different, and I was curious what ideas and pitches we can come out with.
People > Idea
I talked to Deima during the networking session before pitches started. I also met Su, a software engineer at Google, and we have a mutual friend. I pitched an idea about bringing high end fashion affordable to everyone, but unfortunately it was not popular during the voting process. I was struggling to find a team to join, because the 10 ideas selected are equally compelling and intriguing. For instance, there is LadyBox, a Tampon subscription startup, and PerfectFit, for standardizing clothing across manufacturers.
I was late into joining a team, but it did not take long for me to join Beqqia team, simply because Deima and Su were in the same team, and I already get to know them. Ideas are a dime a dozen, but execution with the right people is the key to succeed.
Beqqia is an online marketplace where people can sell and buy used/new items, then convert money to charity.
On Friday night, we selected the room for our team, settled down, discussed about the idea further and went back before midnight. We came in the next morning, tried to split the tasks within the team and figured out the schedule and goals to hit. In the afternoon, we had appointments scheduled with our mentors — Bridget, Stephen and Luz at different periods. They came in and gave us some helpful advice, but every time one of them left, we changed our mind on what tools and framework to use for building the app. We had quite some discussion and debate within the team just to settle down — started with an ambitious goal of building a real working app(since Su is an Android engineer), from my idea of using FramerJS, to Polymer and Bootstrap, and finally we came to an agreement to use InvisionApp, a rapid prototyping tool that simulates the real app on your mobile phone and showcases great user story. Each of them has its strengths and weaknesses, for details please read here.
We started working after that: Deima and Vivian were working on business and marketing strategy and presentation; Lamia, Su and I were working on the mobile app mockups and user flow.
I was also in charge of the visual branding of Beqqia, so I started designing the first draft on Saturday morning. Deima had the idea that we should have a matching t-shirts team and she was going to print it that evening, so I had to design the logo quickly and finish it before 4pm. Vivian and I worked together to generate a bunch of keywords related to Beqqia, such as “collaboration”, “sharing”, “gift”, “product exchange”, “smallest things” and “hands”. This practice helped me to make associations and I started sketching out images like a hand holding the ‘B’ of the Beqqia logo, and a Happy Cart that conveys the message of “happy shopping”. I brainstormed a little more, and then stopped at the concept of “happy fingers”, which I thought it combines both values of sharing and collaboration.
I pulled up the images from Google, and started working on Illustrator for the logo. My first draft passed the review of my team. I was pretty happy with it, but I had a weird feeling about how it turned out and insisted to work more on it.
Luz from UP Global came in to our room as a mentor right after I finished the logo, and I was excited and thought it couldn’t be a better time to ask for a designer’s feedback. I just burst out laughing, kept nodding my head, and I couldn’t agree more after hearing her feedback:
“First of all, your logo looks like… a phallic.”
In fact, I admitted that it was actually pretty hard to portray fingers in Illustrator, just by using the outlines. There are details that simple lines just could not cover, thus I switched to a different font, made some customization, and it looks a whole lot better:
We were the last team to pitch to the judges. Deima, Lamia and Vivian were up on the stage presenting, and I am glad it went well. Besides the prototype and presentation, I believe Deima and Lamia’s incredible experience in the industry was the critical factor that we succeeded in the Q&A section. There are times when you are in a team that does something extremely well but fails on other aspects; but I couldn’t be happier because our team was a dream team that wore matching t-shirts with a balance of talents — we won 2nd prize in the end!
Here are some kind words on Twitter, we are honored and thankful:
Takeaway, and Thoughts
Before the announcement of the winners, I remembered one of the judges joked that “I love being at a tech event where I have to wait for the ladies room.” Laughter filled the room, but I felt a little sad at the same time. From LAHacks Wingman project, Github Scandal, objectification and stereotypes of women to the male-dominated startup and tech world, we all know that the system is broken. The STEM Education for girls also takes time to change the situation.
But hey, let’s start from here — let’s start from Startup Weekend, and hackathons to make the events more inclusive for everyone. You’d be surprised when the gender ratio is flipped at hackathon — how the team works and the final outcomes. For instance, each project presented at the end of Startup Weekend Seattle Women has potential to disrupt each industry: Fashion(PerfectFit and Style Palette), Social(Sherox.co, EveryCop and Readable) and the list goes on. Moreover, I can safely say projects like LadyBox and Birchbox would never spin out from a typical overwhelmingly male heavy ratio hackathon; it seems ridiculous if the project even get nominated at the first place. Play Works Studio, a Seattle startup that creates RoBees to get children excited about STEM Education, was mentioned by judge Shauna Causey at the event. Came out from Startup Weekend Seattle Women 2 years ago, the startup is focusing on getting children engaged rather than generating revenue, and it makes you rethink what are the consequences if startups from hackathons can promote social causes instead of staying within the constraints of being business-oriented and needing to generate x amount of revenue in n amount of years.
Thus, I urge you, if you are a guy, to step out of your comfort zone, and join gender inclusive hackathons such as Startup Weekend Women in your local area. I had a unique experience — first hackathon with matching t-shirts dream team, first hackathon serving ice cream, met a bunch of awesome people, and I have no regrets joining it.
I am looking forward to read your story soon!