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A couple months ago I attended Startup Weekend San Diego. It was my first jump into any sort of face-to-face networking for tech startups, and  I could go off on a really long tangent on my (mostly positive) experience at Startup Weekend, but I’ll save that for a later post. What I am here to talk about today is the one startup concept (and particularly the founder) that stood out to me from that weekend.

To give a bit of super-summarized context as to what Startup weekend is, it is essentially a 48 hour crash course in building a business plan, product, and pitch for a startup idea. The culmination of the event occurs on the final evening, where the various startup teams pitch their ideas to a pannel of judges who then rank the top 3 and offer the winning team various opportunities from the events sponsors. I lightly participated in the event, mainly because I had work obligations in LA that weekend that forced me to be absent for nearly half the time, but also because I wanted to scope out the Startup Weekend curriculum and the people that attend before I throw my ideas/half finished projects into the ring. My original fear was that there is usually a fine line between awesome events and gimmicky seminars. The gimmicky ones lean more towards a weekend of ‘self-help’ workshops full of ‘unskilled’ people searching for skill, however Startup weekend had a lot of value, and I look forward to participating fully in the next one.

Anyway back to the point of this article! The winning team was a concept called To paraphrase: “ is the Twitter for audio. Instead of a ‘tweet’ the user posts a ‘shout’,  and instead of a direct message (private message) users can send a ‘whisper’.” Their execution was the best for the short time the teams had to develop the ideas, however it was all structural and demo-ed on Twitter Bootstrap (I don’t think the Judges understood that), bringing me to believe that they basically just showed a mostly empty static framework. To’s credit, no other team was able to produce anything much beyond a powerpoint presentation, however to put it shortly (and no offense to the team if they read this) I really disliked the idea for a number of reasons. Firstly there are tons of messaging apps that solve the problem they are trying to solve. I would rather use a mobile voice message app like WhatsApp, Voxer, Viber, or HeyTell to audio message my friends, rather than use a computer-based web application. It just doesn’t seem to fit a need. Maybe I’m wrong, but I just don’t see social voice messaging taking off anytime soon . . . Secondly ReaderUp should have won.

Between studying design and programming I read a lot of articles about the tech industry from feeds like Hacker News (among others). Many articles from VC’s regarding which startups they choose to fund usually come down to the founders. The Y Combinator is a great example, which would probably accept a team of great founders with no startup idea over a great startup concept with a lousy founding team. Makes sense, and this is why ReaderUp should have won. William Moss  (ReaderUp concept founder) gave one helluva pitch, and the judges should have rewarded the ReaderUp team with 1st place for that. Moss came across as an extremely well-rounded, charismatic, and driven founder. Someone that you would love to have on your team to guide the project and pitch or sell the product. It’s very rare these days that you come across someone that can inspire you with their ideas, and Moss was great at that. The ReaderUp concept was great too, I’ll let their own summary sell itself:

ReaderUp is an app that makes books a fun and rewarding activity for young readers (grade levels 4th through 12th).ReaderUp will make it super easy to,

  1. Pick books & set goals
  2. Read & earn points
  3. Redeem points for rewards

Readers may use traditional paper books or eReaders and then take the chapter quizzes in our app.
ReaderUp was founded as a socially responsible, for-profit business. Our first priority is making an amazing mobile experience that encourages youngsters to start reading more and explore books other than what’s required in the classroom. We want to bring balance back to their lives in a time when there are just too many distractions!ReaderUp also fosters parent/child bonding as it will help parents find books that their children might be interested in and also provide them with positive reinforcements as they read each chapter. ReaderUp will appeal to both intrinsic and extrinsic rewards while creating a healthy and safe competitive environment.

Our quizzing system rewards readers with points for answering questions from their favorite books. Our platform will support hundreds to thousands of books geared towards readers age 10-17.

Compete With Friends”]We make reading competitive as readers can go head-to-head with friends, family, or classmates to show off points, achievements, trophies and badges. Readers can also compete on local, state or national leaderboards with other readers in their grade level.

Readers unlock customized rewards like gift certificates, coupons, and stuff from their Amazon wishlist. Parents can also set non-monetary rewards like trips to the park, a day at the movies, or even an extra hour of TV time.

When I think about StartUp weekend, I  keep coming back to my frustrations that ReaderUp did not get the full spotlight that they deserved. One problem that plagued them was that the participants in StartUp weekend were 95% ‘idea’ people, and only a handful of developers. When the idea people were looking to form their team to make a prototype, only a couple teams were able to get a developer to help build the product out any farther than a moqup. is an example of a team that was able to nab someone with a bit of Twitter Bootstrap knowledge, and in my opinion that is one of the reasons they placed first.

While ReaderUp didnt win, they are still working on the idea. They launched an IndieGoGo campaign recently that you can check out to the left. If you are looking for a cool project to throw a few dollars at, ReaderUp surely wouldn’t be a waste of your donation.

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Riley scribbled this article down on: September 30, 2012
  • Mark Hilliard

    Nice recap of your experience of the Startup weekend. Gave me a good idea of what you took away from the time spent. When will you be pitching one of your ideas? Do you have some fellow programmers lined up yet?

  • carol williams

    Readerup is a fantastic idea and a great oppurtunity! The founder of Readerup really hit home with this one especially when you think of the beginning tool to grow and develope is READING. There are no excuses for anyone not to read it’s at your fingertips and to get rewarded for doing so! Great job William Moss!