I was flying back from California last night, reading my latest Seth Godin purchase (Free Prize Inside) and happened to slow down and ponder pages 112 and 113.  After reading Software Project Survival Guide, Seth argues that successful projects have lots of thrashing up front with all the inventing at the beginning.  The “lock the thing, throw away the key and spend the last third of the project doing nothing but building it and testing it.”  Dang, that reminds me of the Startup Weekend process, whether here in Birmingham or over in ATL.  If you don’t, there’s no way that a final product can be launched by Sunday at midnight!

Then, he evokes a memory I’ve long but forgotten… that of a “charrette“.

The French word, “charrette” means “cart” and is often used to describe the final, intense work effort expended by art and architecture students to meet a project deadline. This use of the term is said to originate from the École des Beaux Arts in Paris during the 19th century, where proctors circulated a cart, or “charrette”, to collect final drawings while students frantically put finishing touches on their work.from National Charrette Institute

I started my college career in the field of architecture.  Many, many projects were assigned with a due date of the very next morning.  Nevermind family.  Nevermind work.  Nevermind dates with your girlfriend.  We had a massive amount of work due in an impossibly short period of time.  I got used to working ALL night and depriving myself of sleep.  To this day, some 25 years later, I still pull a full all-nighter about once a quarter. Now, it just takes me longer to recover! :^)

Seth claims the charrette is “the last-minute hoo-ha that occurs right before a presentation is due – where all the great juices flow and the good decisions are made.”  For that, he’s flat out WRONG.  While the cart is circulating, no one is making decisions… they’re putting the final production touches on the work product.  It also couldn’t be further from the truth for Andrew Hyde’s Startup Weekend, nor Birmingham’s.  But he does get one reference right… “have your charrette at the beginning, not at the end.”  That’s what is great about the Startup Weekend effort… it puts the high-pressure, time-sensitive effort up front and at the very beginning of the entrepreneurial process.


Craig Huggart, who worked diligently on FindASpeaker.org during our business development weekend, has an interesting account of his experience at “Confessions Of A Tech Barn Raiser” – worth the read!

Media Attention

13 November 2007

The Birmingham Startup’s first project has garnered attention from both of Birmingham’s local newspapers.  The Birmingham Business Journal ran an online story yesterday… read “Birmingham Startup taps Christian tech company” online.

Then, the Birmingham News ran the following story on the front page of this morning’s Money section…

Christian youth site sweeps startup contest

Win launches CrossconneXion.com

Tuesday, November 13, 2007CHARLES R. McCAULEY

News staff writer

CrossconneXion.com, a Christian social networking site for youth, was launched Sunday night – the winning product of “Birmingham Startup Weekend,” a two-weekend project to build an online business from start to finish.

The “online hangout for Christian youth” was an idea James Sutton, youth minister at First Church Worship Center in Tarrant, got two years ago at a Church of Christ National Youth Conference in Georgia attended by more than 700 youth.

He and wife Marie submitted the business idea for the “Birmingham Startup” project, an event organized by a group of technology professionals that includes former TechBirmingham President Curtis Palmer. CrossconneXion.com became one of three finalists chosen from nine business teams participating in the high-tech event’s first weekend, Nov. 3-5.

Palmer said CrossconneXion.com received more than 50 percent of the votes from event judges who heard formal presentations this past weekend. The event’s prize was assistance from a group of Birmingham-area technology entrepreneurs and Web site developers to create an Internet operation.

“It was two years of thinking and trying to plan it, envisioning it happening,” Sutton said. When it “finally became a reality, there was definitely a lot of excitement and joy to be able to see it up. We want to let youth know about it and hopefully change lives. That’s what it’s all about, having an online resource for them.”

Sutton’s idea for the business stemmed from workshops at the church conference, where youth “poured out their hearts … and shared their brokenness and struggles,” Sutton said.

Once the conference was over, there was no way for some of them to keep connections with new friends and mentors. “On the way home, we were kind of thinking of a way to how to make that happen,” he said.

CrossconneXion.com owners want to work with the Boy Scouts of America and other national Christian-based groups to provide mentors. The site has privacy features for members and “thorough background checks” will be done on mentors. All interactions will be online, he said.

The site is still in development, Sutton said. Plans are for an entertainment component and a monthly feature on overachievers in sports, ministry, business and other areas.

Palmer said CrossconneXion was chosen because it had a high chance of success and the Suttons made the most convincing business proposition.

“There were some people with some great ideas,” Sutton said. “The difference was we took all the criticisms and implemented them into our plan.”

Founder’s Gratitude

13 November 2007

James Sutton, founder of CrossConneXion, just sent the organizers the following email:

I just wanted to email you guys and say thank you for EVERYTHING over the past two weekends. We learned sooo much and got so much out of the experience, namely a live Web site. Everybody worked so hard and took time away from their own businesses and families to help build this site. That was a huge commitment and we will never forget it. We appreciate and value all the time and feedback from you as well as Shawn, Brian, Jeff, Richard, Brian, Henry, Elena, Panzer and everyone else that participated.

This is a story that our family will tell for generations to come. Thanks for your personal help and guidance. I hope we can continue communicating as the site continues to develop and more features and functions are added. I will be meeting with comframe sometime this week as well. Thanks for making that connection. Also, when you all get ready to do the next Birmingham Startup, please let us know how we can help. We might not be able to write code, but we can get a story in the paper or on TV. That will save you some time.

Thanks again,

James and Marie

It was OUR pleasure, James and Marie!! The startup weekends may be over, but we’re not done with you just yet. Birmingham has got a great startup community all around you to encourage CrossConneXion and cheer your success.

Startup vs. Weekend

12 November 2007

And so the debate continues… two recent articles following this past weekend talk about Andrew Hyde’s StartupWeekend’s focus on community building:

“… these events are clearly wonderful for creating community. Note that I am not saying “for creating useful startups” – it’s highly unlikely any of these will get funded, let alone reach a liquidity event. But participants are clearly charged up after the sessions, and the overall feedback is positive.” Michael Arrington of TechCrunch


“… it should come as no surprise (and Mike is very right) that it’s not primarily about building sustainable companies. Instead, think of it as building sustainable communities.” David Cohen of TechStars

and in Andrew’s own words

“The weekend is about building community, that is the first and biggest goal (and always will be). The connections made during the weekends are where you will really see the value of Startup Weekend. Partnerships and relationships forged out of these weekends will lead to greater business development in the future.”

SAY WHAT?  If it’s all about “community” then why take 5% equity?  In fact, Birmingham *already* has a very strong technology community.  For instance, TechBirmingham‘s TechMixers regularly draw 600+ attendees.  Our community has a wonderful startup ecosystem that supports efforts like the Birmingham Startup weekends.  My hats off to Andrew and his startup gypsies who are packing the house with ‘out of towners’ at each of his Startup Weekends.  But, what happens to the community when they leave town?  IF it’s about community, why not let local organizers build on and adapt the concept (as we’ve done) a little to fit into their local system?  When the 2nd Startup Weekend’s organizers tried (in Toronto) they were summarily slapped down for trying.  Now it’s as if they never had one, if not for the counter-blog’s recollection of the effort.

Instead, in Birmingham we set out to create a bona fide company.  I’ve blogged a couple of times about the rationale behind the organizers and participants not taking equity from the founders.  Even though the sleep depravation hasn’t subsided and I’m still consuming Advil in far greater doses than the bottle recommends, I believe that everyone who played with us in the past 2 weekends feels that it was worth their time to volunteer for such a momentous undertaking!

So, I ask the following rhetorical question… Is this all about creating a true STARTUP or is it all about having a great, invigorating, and challenging WEEKEND?  In Birmingham, we had both!!


11 November 2007

We’ve officially launched the new CrossConneXion.com site.  Register via the link in the upper right corner of the homepage.


CrossConneXion LAUNCHES

We are oh so close… things are working but we’re working out the kinks.

The founders were interviewed tonight by Alabama Public Television for the documentary in the “main street” of Innovation Depot… it’s Sunday night of the 2nd weekend and we’re in here cranking out code and tidying up things on the new site. They are literally sitting in the spotlight. :^)

Some of the implementation team have come and gone. Some promise to come back once their kids (there are only two 20-somethings in the group) are situated at home. Two have dragged their wifes here for awhile to garner ‘free passes’. The oddest thing about it right now is that we have 3 JAVA guys hacking “dot net nuke”. I’m just watching and breaking things periodically on the test server.

Oh what fun we are having!

BTW, anyone know where the Advil is?!?

CrossConneXion Store

It may be delirium setting in from the pace (and progress) of building a software company in one weekend, but I woke up this morning thinking about something important.

We made a fundamental decision to discount a Startup Weekend precept… no equity would be allocated in advance for OUR startup weekend projects.  Our thinking is that it’s easy to come hang out with 70 random people for a weekend of your time and play house.  It’s much harder to actually remain engaged through thick and thin, much harder to balance the workload and not have freeloaders, and much harder to avoid feature creep because you’ve got the extra resources (which NEVER really happens in a startup).

Micah Baldwin piped in on Code for Equity… Or Not with the following:

“Personally, there has to be some sort of thank you for the weekend, and a couple hundred shares in a company that may not ever go anywhere seems a way to do it. Its almost like having a stock certificate from a dot com, worthless but potentially interesting.” commented by Micah Baldwin

I’m not into allocating my time for something “worthless”.  It’s disappointing that anyone would.  Unless, of course, the purpose is to just participate in some grand experience.

Micah opined further, elsewhere:

“… there were several people in Boulder that participated for the full weekend that I wish didnt, and several that I wished participated more. Im sure there were people at the Boulder event (I got 4 complaints! I dare anyone to beat that record!) that wished I didnt get equity.

If its going to be an event, then it should be just an event. It should not matter whether you get equity or not. And who judges your worth? Andrew? He would shoot himself if he had to do that. Who becomes the equity police?” blogged on Learn to Duck

From where I sit, I look across to our founding team and see an entrepreneur that would have (1) continued to prayerfully consider getting started on his idea, or (2) paid a vendor far too much money to create a website that didn’t have the business issues properly vetted.  It would have been only one of many “MySpace for Christians”. Instead, Mr. Sutton has defined a web site that should surpass anything similar.  And, because of the hard work by only a handful (a total of about 30 participants flowing through the 2nd weekend with a core of about 10 — which sounds like a *real* startup, eh?) of hardworking volunteers, this company will actually be capable of a launch!

I’m much more satisfied by watching something great happen because of several dozen hours of VOLUNTEERED hard work than being “paid” in “worthless” stock for a piece of software that is forever stuck in beta!