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Posts from the ‘Projects’ Category

Too Much Structure Can Kill Creativity

September 30, 2013

Chris Schmitt

When I think about the best collaborations I’ve been involved in with TeamCamp, the collaborations where we ideated, prototyped and produced something, were by far the best.

The richest collaboration was definitely on a web service we developed called Twegather. The idea was born from a problem that we personally experienced, and it allowed our diverse group apply our skills. We rapidly prototyped a service, from a quick and dirty MVP, to a full fledged service. We pivoted through three UI designs, and constantly innovated to make the service easier to use. Ultimately, we closed the service down because we really couldn’t see a way to monetize the service and we all got busy with other things. But it was an incredibly fun and rich learning experience and I never regretted a minute of it.

On the other side of the coin was the 3 months we spent trying to find a niche market. In this case, we followed a set process to test ideas and determine of there was a sufficient market to turn the idea into a business. We rushed the ideation stage and hurried to get to the point where we could test the idea through Google Adwords. Despite meeting weekly, we never did come up with anything and while we learned a lot, it felt more like drudgery than fun.

I think what killed our enthusiasm was quite frankly the focus on finding a way to make money online, rather than serve an untapped customer need. Searching for a niche market isn’t always about doing something you love; it’s more likely about solving a grinding problem, something that people are will to pay for, but not necessarily something that you’d be excited to wake up for every morning. All of the niches we stumbled across seemed mundane; it was simply hard to get excited about it.

For me, it isn’t just about making money. If that were the case, then there’s far easier and less risky ways to do that. I already have a great job at a great company. I love web developing because you can create neat and innovative things. Some of those things might not be practical, but who cares if your doing it for the enjoyment? I think the other TeamCampers on the team probably felt the same way.

A main theme of the Creativity, Innovation and Change course is getting to know yourself. Personal reflection tools like CENTER add a character development dimension to the course that is an important first step towards unlocking your creative potential CENTER is an acronym, that stands for Character, Entrepreneurship, owNership, Tenacity, Excellence, and Relationship. For me, my CENTER is:

  • Character: I love learning about new ways to do things and trying them out;
  • Entrepreneurship: I’m unhappy with the status quo (especially when it’s not working) and I like to change things up (even if sometimes if sometimes it doesn’t work);
  • owNership: When I choose to do something, I learn everything I can about it to do it really well, be it cycling across Canada, learning to program in Rails or R, or oil painting;
  • Tenacity: I tend to get discouraged easily, so I need to put negativity and setbacks behind me and just keep going. Intelligent Fast Failure is helping me to overcome my fear of failure. In fact, it’s kind of find it fun to try things that have a slim chance of succeeding just to see what happens;
  • Excellence: I plan to keep learning and creating and staying healthy for as long as I am able;
  • Relationships: My family is my wife and my kids who mean everything to me; my community is the Ottawa startup community who are always enthusiastic, supportive and creative.

Before you try something new, it’s important to understand yourself and what motivates you. It’s easy to get distracted from that and occasionally follow the wrong path.

Learning from these experiences I now know that for TeamCamp to be successful we need to:

  1. Brainstorm and constantly come up with many, many more ideas;
  2. Follow-through on the ones that have a high interest level for yourself and are aligned with our collective CENTER;
  3. Build it! Don’t worry about whether it’s going to make money. Rather, focus on making people happy through what you create (the money will come);
  4. Lead or join a team that has similar values to yourself.

– Chris


Confessions of a Attention Deficit Developer

December 30, 2012

Chris Schmitt

PulseSensor HeartbeatThis holiday has been typical for me: big goals, big dreams, little time and lack of focus, but having a great time along the way.

It started with a heat beat sensor project I wanted to work on. Equipped with a pulse sensor for Arduino and a Beaglebone I’ve set out to create my very own heart rate monitor. I know what you’re thinking: a Beaglebone is not the same as an Arduino. But how hard can it be to convert a simple project designed for the Arduino to work on a Beaglebone? Very hard, it seems.

Before I explain, your probably wondering why I bought a Beaglebone instead of an Arduino, and why I like to make my life so hard. Well, a Beaglebone is cooler. It has all the analog/digital inputs that an Arduino has, but hey, it’s a full blown Linux server to boot. It think there’s something really awesome about having a self contained server that can be accessed through the Internet from anywhere. Plus on the Beaglebone you can code in Ruby, Node, C, Python – you name it. However, none of the code written for the Arduino works out-of-the-box on a Beaglebone. But for me it’s a great way (i.e. the “hard way”) to learn something.

With my “simple” project in mind I set out to learn everything I need to know to build it:

  • Learn about the Beaglebone – the platform and hardware is different than the Arduino
  • Learn Node.js (and Javascript too since I’m a little rusty) – Node.js makes for a fast and efficient server great for embedded platforms 
  • Learn Processing – Processing is used to graphically display your heart beat
  • Learn about (to communicate between the Beaglebone server and Processing) – this is to communicate in realtime between the Beaglebone server and a web browser
  • Throw in a little electronics, and I’m on my way

So here I am jumping from one learning activity from another: Reading the Beaglebone manual, then I’m downloading processing, next thing I know I’ve bought Processing for Beginners, and then over to Codecademy to work on my Javascript, plus a little Node.js coding on the Cloud9 IDE, now I’m writing a blog post. And that’s what I mean by “attention deficit developer”.

What am I going to do with a heart rate monitor anyway? I’m not quite sure. I could be the start of a massive opensource medical instrumentation company. Or perhaps just a hacker project.

It doesn’t matter really because I’m having a riot.

By the way, if you have any questions, suggestions or ideas please let me know.

Evaluating Niches

April 14, 2011

Chris Schmitt


Find your niche

You think you’ve got a great idea for a web application: how do you determine if there’s a sufficiently sized market for your product to make it worth your while? How do you make sure that the market segment you’re pursuing isn’t so big that you’ll either be crushed by the competition or run out of money before you make a buck? You spend time evaluating your niche, that’s how!

Last week’s TeamCamp introduced the concept of the Micropreneurship.  A “micropreneur” is a technical entrepreneur intent on stay solo that has learned how develop and market one or more profitable products. We talked about @robwalling‘s approach outlined in his book “Start Small, Stay Small” and we all agreed this was a great approach for TeamCampers.

Next week we’ll start to apply one of the principles outlined in this approach: finding a niche. For Micropreneurs niches are the name of the game. Finding the right nice to pursue will result in less investment in time and money to build a product, lower marketing costs, less competition and higher profits.

This will be a working session to explore together how to apply the approach to some of the great ideas we have twirling around in our heads.

When: Thursday, April 21st at 6PM

Where: The Code Factory, 246 Queen St., 2nd floor (ring the buzzer to take the elevator to the 2nd floor)

RVSP: here

Note: As we will be discussing ideas anyone attending this event needs to review and agree to the TeamCamp Participation Agreement

– Chris

TeamCamp Meeting May 6th, 2010

May 5, 2010

Chris Schmitt

If we learned anything from Ian Capstick’s talk at TeamCamp last week  (and we learned a lot) it was this:  to clearly communicate the value of your service or idea you need to have:

  • A Strategy
  • Objectives
  • Tactics, and
  • Goals

Without these things you won’t know where you’re going, why your going there, how your going to get there, or when you’ve arrived.

While it sounds like common sense, having a plan is often neglected, especially by technology-focused teams. In Ian’s words “you need to have a planning meeting where no one speaks technology:  i.e. no ‘one’s and zeros’ allowed”.

This weeks TeamCamp meeting will be focused on planning for the Twegather project.

We’ve made terrific progress on Twegather and things are really starting to heat up.  Now we need a plan – a “road map” if you will – to take the Twegather concept and turn it into the big opportunity that we believe it represents.

I’m pleased to announce that Vicki Schmitt will be leading this discussion. We’re thrilled that Vicki has selected Twegather as her new venture project for the Queens Executive MBA program. Vicki has tremendous business, project management, IT and financial experience. She will help us to develop the road map that we will use to guide the development Twegather with a market-based focus.

Anyone is welcome to join in this discussion.

Where: The Code Factory, 246 Queen Street, 2nd floor (ring the buzzer)

When: Thursday, May 6th at 6:00pm

If you’re new to TeamCamp please review and accept the TeamCamp Participation Agreement

… and don’t forget about The Code Factory’s “cookie jar”.

Win $50 for Trying the New Twegather Site

February 27, 2010

Chris Schmitt

Twegather keeps getting better

On January 26th we hosted a Project Night at The Code Factory to get input from the Ottawa Community on the new Twegather service. We had a great turnout, had a lot of fun and received great suggestions on how to improve Twegather. Over the last few weeks we’ve been busy designing, coding and obtaining feedback on some of these changes.  We’ve now released three major improvements to Twegather:

  1. A completely new home page that’s so easy to use that you can create events in less than 30 seconds – no signup or registration required!
  2. Google calendar integration (to help you remember all those events you signed up for)
  3. Now non-Twitter users can reply that they’re coming to your event

What about the $50?

I’m so excited about our new Twegather interface that I’ve decided to give one lucky Twitterer a $50 gift certificate for Boston Pizza just for using Twegather! Here’s how you can win:

  • You must live in the greater Ottawa area
  • Organize your meetup or event using Twegather and tweet about it (it has to be a real meetup or event folks, not made-up stuff)
  • I’ll give you 5 points for every meetup you create, and 1 point for every meetup you reply yes or maybe to from Twitter
  • The Twitter user who has collected the most points by next Tuesday, March 30th, at 12:01AM wins
  • I’ll post the winner on this blog on March 31st
  • Sorry, Twegather Team, we’re not eligible 😦

How do you create an event or meetup using the new homepage?

It’s really simple:

1. Go to the Twegather home page and create your event

2. Click on the “Tweet this event” icon

3. Tweet about your event from your favourite twitter client. Tweet about your event often up until the day of your event to make sure your friends know about it. Always make sure you mention your event’s url in your tweets.

And of course Twegather “Power Users” can still create events directly from Twitter.

How do I register for an event?

To attend an event, click on the “Tweet Yes” badge from the event page and then reply to @twegather and include the event hashtag, the url, and indicate whether you plan to come or not. Any of your friends that find out about your event that are not on Twitter can use the “Reply here” button.

So go create some meetups using Twegather and get out there and meet people. Your $50 Boston Pizza gift certificate awaits you!

Most importantly, thank you Ottawa startup community for your continued support and great ideas!

– Chris

PS – We’re far from done improving our service, so please don’t be shy: send us you comments, suggestions and ideas using the Feedback button on the left side of the Twegather website. Or if you prefer, email us at support[at]twegather[dot]com.

The Journey – A tale of Twegather – From Alpha to Beta

November 1, 2009


First a recap of our journey thus far:
June 18th – The Brainstorm: Twegather – a Twitter-centric impromptu event organizer (i.e Tweet: We-Gather)
Summer 2009 – Project nights – Developing and testing a minimum viable product (MVP)
September 3rd First Major Milestone – Alpha Demo: fully functioning prototype

Now our progress since the last post:

October 19th – LiVE @ DemoCamp
Chris and the team presented an awesome show at DemoCampOttawa12. I really wish I could have been there but had a conflicting commitment and couldn’t attend in person. However, I did manage to tweet into the demo live and Chris (@chrisjschmitt) was kind enough to cut and paste my tweet into his blog post review. DemoCamp was great on a number of fronts; it generated some buzz around Twegather, helped to recruit some beta users, showcased the great stuff we are doing at TeamCamp and probably most important @map_maker agreed to join the team as community manager. All in all a very successful outing.


Apollo 11 lifts off

This is just too cool. Twegather is now a live app with real users, real events and real problems. I LOVE problems because “in every problem are the seeds of opportunity”. I think Chris has assembled a great team and their accomplishments are quite significant when you consider this is a part time, volunteer based project with $0 budget but plenty of passion.

Where from here?
Improve the app and make it bullet proof in terms of quality, simple/intuitive in terms of user interface and functionality. Be responsive to user feedback, adapt, evolve and improve. Engage and manage the user base with our most awesome community manager. Develop a “Kick Ass Product”. Keep thinking about monetization strategies and how to implement them. Always be looking and listening for opportunities.

Chris has chatted with a number of smart folks and we have decided to delay overhead until absolutely necessary to keep costs down and options open. In terms of the business plan, when you are riding a rocket and moving fast it is difficult to keep one up to date and relevant. I prefer to think of the web app business development process as; “Agile Business” that needs to be quick, nimble and adaptable based on realizing opportunities as they become available.

Keep that seat belt buckled … this promises to be an exciting ride!

– Teamcamper Ian

PS – The Twegather team is looking for early beta users – I you’re interested in helping to define the service sign up here.

The Journey – A tale of Twegather – From Brainstorm to Alpha

September 1, 2009


June 18th – The Brainstorm
Fifteen people were present the night Twegather was born.  Chris Schmitt our session lead tasked the group with coming up with a twitter based event management system. Four teams of four or five people spread out amongst the various rooms of TheCodeFactory to brainstorm ideas. After 30 minutes the group reconvened and we presented our ideas to everyone. Twegather was born … an event management system that harnesses the strengths and capabilities of twitter in a unique and original way.

Summer 2009 – Project nights
Summer is always a more challenging time to get stuff done, at least in the sleepy little town of Ottawa. In spite of that we had a number project night to keep the momentum at roughly two week intervals. A core project team emerged and we would meet to discuss the various; technical, business and monetization aspects of Twegather. We have made some significant progress and now an alpha version is looming large.

MileStoneFirst Major Milestone – Alpha Demo
Our next full meeting of Team Camp is scheduled for the first Thursday of the month September 3rd. The intent is to provide a working demo of our alpha version for Twegather. There will be an open discussion among team campers at our next meeting as we seek input on the path forward.

Where from here?
The expectation is that our next major milestones will be limited user trials, the beta version of Twegather and incorporation.  As we move forward the challenges of company formation loom larger. We have made our first crack at a term sheet, discussed briefly corporate structure, compensation, started to work on a minimum viable business plan, discussed roles/responsibilities and started to think about the inevitable need to incorporate.

A journey of a thousand miles starts with the first step. The Twegather project has made significant progress and that we are well beyond that first step and in fact have reached our first milestone. As we approach the dog days of summer and Team Camp starts to meet regularly it will be great to see our first organic project come to fruition. As Twegather blazes the trail on our first project journey it will provide a path for subsequent Team Camp projects to follow.
Looking forward to the next chapter in the Team Camp Journey; from Alpha to Beta.

Team Camper Ian

PS – Thinking about attending the next TeamCamp meeting on Sept. 3rd?  Select one of the following (using Twegather of course!): Reply Yes › Reply Maybe › Reply No › (and don’t forget the cookie jar!)

Twegather Project Night

July 7, 2009

Chris Schmitt

A few of us will be getting together next Tuesday, July 14th to work on the Twegather project.  DM or reply to @twegather using the hastag #TwegatherProjJuly14 and indicate Yes|No|Maybe in your tweet.

We’ll be meeting at The Code Factory at 6PM.

@chrisjschmitt (Organizer)
@pascallaliberte (Grabbing a bite then heading to @TheCodeFactory)
@christaggart (yes, i will be there. might be a little late)
@jcbatista (Yes … Let’s see if this works ;))
@bengl (tonight… i’d like to see where it’s going)


@igorsales (Had an appointment Tuesday night that I can’t miss.)