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CLT Startup Weekend Day 2: Breaking norms all over the place

(From far left) Anuj Patel, Jeb Ware and Andrew Liu, members of the NormBreaker team, work Saturday to build the social-friendly mobile app entirely from scratch.
(From far left) Anuj Patel, Jeb Ware and Andrew Liu, members of the NormBreaker team, work Saturday to build the social-friendly mobile app entirely from scratch. jmcfadden@charlotteobserver.com

My eyes sting. My head is spinning. Standing upright is difficult. I’ve consumed three cups of coffee and a double shot of espresso.

And, it all feels good.

Welcome to my Saturday night, otherwise known as day two of the Charlotte Startup Weekend, a three-day crash-course in what it means to found a business.

I’ve embedded myself into the weekend, joining a team of really smart people (app developers, project managers, software designers, etc.) to create something really unique: NormBreaker, a mobile app that encourages users to connect with other people by violating social norms.

Breaking those norms might include: brushing your teeth in public; randomly bursting into song; sitting beside a stranger who clearly has no interest in your company; or starting a conga line in the 7th Street Public Market (which actually happened).

By Saturday evening, we had created a business model, deployed a prototype, conducted field research, built a brand, empowered our social media presence, designed an avatar, determined a revenue stream and started the beginning stages of a pitch presentation.

How did we do it? From 9 a.m. till about 10 p.m., we worked nonstop, only taking the occasional chow break to refuel.

We did these things, too:

▪ Research: The morning started with 30 minutes of straight market research – essentially our efforts to find out if anyone else had an app like ours out there, how they monetized it and how we can make ours better.

▪ Consult the experts: Jenifer Daniels, Davida Jackson, Denada Jackson, Brandi Williams and Maya Elious — local communications, public relations, marketing and branding entrepreneurs — set up a Pop Up Agency showroom, inviting business teams to draw on their expertise for ideas on how to build their brand quickly.

First, they loved our idea for our mascot, Norm the Fish. Then, they helped us craft Norm’s story as a way of explaining how our app works. They explained how we could incorporate that story across the entire brand. The help was invaluable. So much so, in fact, we went back a second time for help plotting a video.

▪ Market the concept: We cultivated a unique Twitter hashtag (#WhatWouldNormDo) and immediately began sending out random tweets challenging users to break social norms (examples include: “Ask your bartender for a shot of milk”; “Start a conversation with the person in the bathroom stall next to you”; and “Instead of just eating the orange, eat the peel.”

We hit the streets in the afternoon, posting sticky notes in public places (train station poles, garbage cans, sidewalks) that issued the same social norm-breaking challenges. A bonus: We wrote our Twitter handle on the notes. We generated 28 followers on Saturday alone.

Find us on Twitter @Norm_Breaker.

Oh, and did I mention we have a knockout logo, courtesy of our designer, Anuj Patel?

▪ Shoe-leather reporting: We decided we wanted to include a video in our presentation, and create a viable prototype. That meant we had to demo the concept.

We spoke with a food truck employee stationed near UNC Charlotte’s Center City campus where we worked, and a group of friends and a mother and daughter at the 7th Street Public Market. We shared our concept with them and requested they take our demos (basically giving them index cards prompting them to break a social norm). While some were reluctant, many said they would definitely download the app. They even offered valuable suggestions.

▪ Canvas our model: After editing our video, we put the bells and whistles on our business model (mind you, NONE of us had ever created a business model EVER). We spoke the lingo, using terms like “value propositions” and “distribution channel” to finesse our plans.

And, with our big pitch less than a day away, we had to prepare for every eventuality and question the judges would ask about: growth strategies, customer acquisition, key partners, key resources cost structure, customer segments and key resources, to name a few).

By 9 p.m., most of us were so worn out we started slurring words and daydreaming (not kidding). But it was all worth it. By 9 p.m., we had a finished product that looks good and is functional.

Next, we build our presentation and slide deck, and practice our pitch before making the big pitch to the judges. Check back on this blog, Storify and Twitter to see how we do.

Norm’s not alone

Here are the other businesses being formed this weekend:

Pantrea: A healthy meals planning service that creates menus for specific diets and helps avoid food waste.

Holo Baby: Pioneering a pair of glasses that allow expectant parents to see 3D holograms of their unborn baby.

REup: A crowdsourcing service to help with real-estate development.

SpeakUp: A collaborative tool to give presenters, lecturers or speakers real-time feedback on their presentations.

Dress Share: An online wardrobe-sharing service that, in the founder’s words, will cut down on complaints from women about having nothing to wear for a night out or any other occasion.

Book of Business: Online service pairing people selling their businesses with buyers that match your business goals and preferences.

ProductCupid: A veritable Match.com for finding the products you love.

FlatStats: Helps potential, would-be tenants learn more about the spots they plan to rent and the amount of energy they use.

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