On a late summer Friday evening, Brian Gilham, a mild-mannered developer with a few local projects to his name, walks into Ryerson University for a web conference.
Two nights later, he emerges a changed man - transformed into an energy-drink-guzzling, app-wielding entrepreneur.
What happened inside was Startup Weekend, a two-day challenge to conceive and create new technologies and enter them in competition.
Gilham met four other local web guys on Saturday, worked through the night and came out with the first-place prize. His creation was Task Ave., an app that acts as a location-aware to-do list.
For instance, if you run out of limes, you enter it into your phone. The next time you're near a lime dealer, it alerts you to the fact that you need limes.
I'm impressed with the app - it's worth every penny of the $2.99 it goes for (buy it in the App Store here) - but I'm more impressed with the process.
In no time at all, Gilham and his Task Ave. cohorts hacked together a beautiful, useful app. Their process should serve as a blueprint for all local start-ups.
Gilham took me through it.
Conception: At Startup Weekend, Gilham met Matt Rintoul, who thought "it'd be cool to have a to-do list that knew where things were." The idea was as fleshed out as that, which means, to me anyway, this step is overrated. As long as there is a general direction, the details will fall into place. Run with it.
Team: Between them, the Task Ave. crew had the four crucial areas of building a start-up covered: an eye for design, knack for coding, thought for the user and, last but not least, some business acumen.
Building: This is where the energy drinks came in. Gilham and his crew stayed up the full 24 hours during the weekend to get a working prototype ready for the next night. It need not be this fast, but if you have the energy (drinks), why not?
Feedback: After all-nighting it to win the Startup Weekend prize, Gilham says the plan was to catch up on some Zs, get back to his day job and carefully consider the finer points of building a business from an app. Instead, he went out drinking.
But then it was right back into the frying pan for Demo Camp, another local tech event where the Task Ave. guys got a chance to demonstrate the app for some influential investors. There were no takers, which is not necessarily a bad thing, but they got some positive feedback from Fred Wilson, a New York City venture capitalist who's invested in winners like Twitter, Foursquare, Etsy and many others. Momentum continued to build.
Incorporation: Careful not to become the next Eduardo Saverin, or anyone else depicted in The Social Network, Task Ave. drew up some agreements and formally incorporated themselves - a necessary step to get into the Apple App Store.
Launch: Gilham describes the 11th hour before going public as the "last-minute pivot," when he and his mates pulled another sleepless night of coding to fine-tune the app to the specifications of users who'd seen it and had some suggestions. "A few of our assumptions were dead wrong," he admits. After a holiday break when the App Store shut down, Apple approved Task Ave. on January 4.
So from conception to launch, 102 days. "Don't worry about the idea, just get it out there," says Gilham. All start-ups should be so streamlined.