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Social Media Camp 2008: the Half-Baked game

P1010459 beerbuzz.com logo

The most entertaining event in the Social Media Camp (July 30, 2008) was the Half-Baked game. In this game, people are randomly assigned into 6 teams. The goal of each team is to come up with a startup idea and present its business plan to the judges. This being a Social Media Camp, one of the requirements is that the social media aspect should be built into the business plan.

It was fascinating to see how aspiring internet entrepreneurs think. It left me shaking my head: so this is how internet bubbles form! These are the kind of minds that gave us stuff like Pets.com in 2000. But it would be unfair to reach sweeping conclusions based on what I saw. 20 minutes is hardly enough time to come up with a business plan that's both original and viable. It was only a game after all.

First, the audience comes up with 50 random words, and those words are written on the whiteboard. Each team needs to pick any two words that will make up their company's name. Then they have 20 minutes to come up with a tag line and a business plan. (Preferrably also a logo -- the room was full of people with computers, and I bet a lot of them, like me, had Photoshop).

Here are the words suggested by the audience. These were the judges' criteria for evaluating each business plan. Here are the startup concepts the teams came up with: Buzz Squad -- like GPS for drinking; Porn Sucks -- promoting positive porn to save sex workers; Beer Buzz -- good beer, good times; Time Pirates -- find a hidden treasure in your calendar; Green Ninjas -- it's easy buying green; Love Cookies -- customizable cookies.

Here is my blog post on other events that took place at the Social Media Camp.

Here is a sampling of the words suggested by the audience:

avenue, alcohol, automation, beer, buzz, chunky, circumspect, cloud, consolidation, contact, cookies, dazzle, dinosaur, eloquent, fetish, free, freedom, green, happy, healing, info, inspire, local, love, map, movie, ninja, organic, pirates, portable, portal, privacy, ring, star, pink pig, pimp, procrastination, slimy, squad, sucks, sustainable, time

The 6 teams picked these word combinations:

Buzz Squad, Porn Sucks, Beer Buzz, Time Pirates, Green Ninjas, Love Cookies

The judges were whurley, Giovanni Gallucci, and Mashable.com's Pete Cashmore. They evaluated each concept surprisingly seriously, even the ones that seemed quite hare-brained to me (that would be most of them, actually, including the one created by my own team. :-)) The judges pointed out ways in which those concepts were hard to implement, or too ambitious, or had little chance of reaching its intended audience, or were not original (again -- most of them), or too susceptible to knockoffs. It all went by so fast I wasn't able to take good notes of the judges' critique. But this is what I've got.

Pete Cashmore, whurley, and Giovanni Gallucci

Pete Cashmore, whurley, and Giovanni Gallucci -- the judges of the Half-Baked game. See more pictures from the Social Media Camp in my photo gallery.

Team 1: Buzz Squad

In Team 1's own words, BuzzSquad.com is like GPS for drinking. It mixes Google maps with social media element of Twitter, and brings you the news what's going on and how you would get there. Includes concerts, house parties, stuff at bars. You can query what's going on tonight, and it pulls up a little map of what's going on, where your friends are partying, etc.

Team 2: Porn Sucks

"Saving sex workers all over the world" may or may not have been the tagline of PornSucks.com. I wasn't too clear on what they were trying to accomplish, perhaps because I wasn't listening too closely: our team was in the final throes of putting together our own business plan.

It sounded like their goal was to raise money to save women who are trafficked into prostitution. But somehow pornography companies that promoted "positive porn" (whatever that might be) would play a part in this. Maybe they would give free subscriptions to their content to people who have raised a certain amount of money towards rescuing women from sex slavery? (If a concept "positive porn" plays a role in all this, then pornsucks.com may not be an appropriate name for the company.) One drawback of their plan the judges pointed out was that the women who are supposed to benefit the most from it are also the ones least likely to be online. Most human trafficking victims are in control of their pimps and not allowed to contact the outside world. Actually, I don't know if that in itself would be the biggest drawback. Those women don't have to know that people are raising money over the internet to help them. The money raising scheme would work without victims' awareness.

In any case, I found this concept to be more original than the rest.

Team 3: Beer Buzz

Team 3 was our team, so I had a detailed view of how our concept came into being. I mentioned offhand that of all 50 words, "fetish" was among a few that lends itself to a large number of possibilities. You combine it with pretty much any other word in the bunch, and the result can really spark some ideas in your mind, business or otherwise :-) Someone else in our team saw similar possibilities in "beer". And so the working title "beer fetish" was born. With the name like that the company would obviously be all about beer.

Surprisingly, the person who brought up beer wasn't Debbie (a.k.a @snax), even though she was the most knowledgeable about beer of us all. She joined our table later, and promptly got the brainstorming ball rolling.

One thing this site could do, Debbie said, was to enable people to track the brands of beers they tried and liked. "I went to Portland, and I had a really good beer, but I didn't record it or twitter it, because I was engaged in the conversation," she said. So she would like to have an application where she could put in her location and the name of beer (among other things?); the application could group beers by microbreweries, etc.

(Hmm, I thought, if she didn't have the time to write down or tweet the name of the beer, would she have time to enter it in an application?)

beerbuzz.com logo

BeerBuzz.com logo on the presentation screen. See more pictures from the Social Media Camp in my photo gallery.

From there we moved on to other possibilities of what our company could be.

-- an electronic "frequent drinker" card. For example, BB Rovers has a 101 club. Once you have a 101 beers, you're in their club, and you get 10% off on Saturday night. The problem is, if you lose the sheet where your beer score is being kept, you lose them forever. So a web-based tool that would keep track of all the beers you've drunk, would be good.

-- it could be like dishola.com for beer.

-- it could be a database of brewpub reviews. But in addition to brewpubs, the database would also contain all commercially available bottle beers, etc. So for example, you go to North By Northwest, and see it has a new beer that nobody has reviewed yet. So you enter it in the database and review it.

Susie (another person on our team) suggested our company could consolidate all beer news, happy hours, specials, etc.

Ray Hernandez envisioned us building a visual beer search engine. If you click on an image of a beer, it shows you the maker that makes it, and the stores and bars it's available at. Ray would find such an engine personally useful, because he likes pear cider and can't find it anywhere. So he would like to be able to enter his zip code and see where pear cider is available within driving distance.

Debbie also thought our website should have a page dedicated to craftbrewing and homebrewing. Perhaps it could run homebrewing competitions.

At this point Ricardo intervened with a name change suggestion, thereby eliminating my one and only contribution to the concept. He said that since this site would be all about people recommending people beer, the word "fetish" is too broad. Beer Buzz would be better. In a way, it's a pun. It's buzz about beer, and the buzz that beer gives you.

Ricardo Guerrero, Debbie, Ray Hernandez, and Susie

Ricardo Guerrero/@ggroovin, Debbie/@snax, Ray Hernandez, and Susie (Vestige Group Theater) present the BeerBuzz.com concept. See more pictures from the Social Media Camp in my photo gallery.

And so beerbuzz.com was born. Ricardo created a logo with Photoshop on my computer.

Even though we distilled (heh heh :-)) all these disjoint ideas down to a manageable set of features, the judges' criticism of our business concept was mainly that we were trying to do too much. There's a visual search engine, there are brewpub and beer reviews and ratings, etc. They warned us that even a half of those features would take much more effort to implement than we apparently think, so we can hardly hope to be the first to market. By the time we got our startup off the ground, somebody else would put out a smaller version of our concept out there, and would get most of our potential customers.

Team 4: Time Pirates dot AAARGH!

TimePirates.org (prounounced of course dot AAARGH!) introduced itself as a productivity site, and put together a really cute presentation. Their tagline was "We help people find a hidden treasure in their calendar." They explained their business plan as "We'll do affiliate commerce for planers, GTD (Getting Things Done) books, etc; we'll have our own products with our methodology; a corporate subscription; we'll do interviews with time management specialists, etc." They even mentioned pieces of 8, but I didn't quite catch how that was related to their concept.

From my perspective, their main drawback was that they didn't explain very well how their site will differ from other productivity sites out there. About their distinction from competition they only said "Lifehacker at this time is so passe it might as well be Lifeslacker; GTD is an acronym." But dissing the competition is not equivalent to differentiating themselves from it. Yet, the judges awarded them significant points for enthusiasm; a peppy presentation, punchy taglines and product names apparently went a long way with judges, because at that point Pete Cashmore from Mashable said "it's now down to pirates versus porn". I can't fault the judges: it's not like any of the business plans presented so far had any substance, so why not reward a cute presentation?

Team 5: Green Ninjas

Tagline: It's easy buying green. Somebody in the audience later suggested another tagline for them: "we make green hot, but not like global warming." :-)

GreenNinjas.com is a peer rating and review company for all things green. It's a site where people would submit various products that have to meet various criteria of greenness. Peer reviewers will themselves be rated based on the number of positive reviews they have, so they can work your way from 1-belt ninja to 5-belt ninja. It would be a Yelp.com type system so that the company would get the behavior it wants from its reviewers.

The presenter also added: "We would go to green communities and build widgets they need so they could make their communities better." Perhaps that means they would enable environment-oriented communities install widgets with GreenNinjas.com's rating/review functionality on their web sites?

Whurley asked them, is the company a for-profit or non-profit? They answered, for-profit, to which Whurley muttered something like, for-profit sounds a lot like greenwashing. Pete Cashmore, on the other hand, called it a solid and simple idea.

Team 6: Love Cookies

lovecookies.com does cookie delivery for loved ones who love cookies. It would have everything completely customizable, from the shape of the cookie to the recipe. For example, you'll be able to order cookies with a lot of protein for athletes, or sugar free for diabetics. There would be a list of cookie recipes, and forums where people could come and talk about their love of cookies.

I don't remember now what flaws the judges saw in this concept, but I think that like BeerBuzz.com, it would suffer from an attempt to do too much. I heard customization is a much harder business than people think it is. It may not be cost-effective to manufacture a million types of cookies to accommodate every permutation of ingredients a user might want.

I didn't stay around to learn who won, but I later heard it was Time Pirates.