Portland Startup Weekend: ScoutAbout

This past Friday at Portland Startup Weekend I was faced with a choice about what to work on for the following couple days. There were a lot of great ideas and we were approached by a lot of eager hustlers. I chose to join with a positive attitude and, perhaps more practically, ready to utilize familiar Microsoft technologies to build our prototype. I chose ScoutAbout.

What is ScoutAbout?

Scoutabout, as originally conceived, is intended to be a web and mobile application that provides an innovative space for users to create their best day in any city of the world. It would enable users to create a day's itinerary as a shareable object across social media, unlocking the knowledge of local "scouts" willing to share their knowledge.

Naturally, products pivot and drift over the course of the weekend, so what we prototyped and what we presented differed in a number of ways. In the end, it was more like an airbnb, enabling anyone to be a travel agent. For this post, I'll just concentrate on the prototype, which is more like the former idea than the latter.

Resources & Constraints

Our basic prototype is the read-only desktop web experience. It was built by five developers from about noon on Saturday to about 3pm on Sunday (with a healthy 7 hours or less of sleep in-between). It features some marketing fluff: a landing page, basic blog integration, team page, and slideshow of our Windows Mobile wireframes, along with a fully functional prototype of browsing days, viewing their details, and also searching by city.

Despite enabling us to implement quite a lot of features, I do think five developers is perhaps overkill for a Startup Weekend. Likely a team experiences diminishing returns past two devs if they can't work on more than one distinct aspect of the product; however, the five developers seemed to represent 100% of the Microsoft web developers at the event and it enabled us to do a lot of work for real that might have otherwise been faked.

We built it using a host of Microsoft-based web technologies, including: ASP.Net MVC, C#, Code-First Entity Framework on top of SQL Server, MVC Scaffolding, JavaScript with jQuery, and Twitter Bootstrap. It was hosted on Windows Azure with collaboration on GitHub.

Walkthrough

The prototype is available (for the foreseeable future at least) at:

ScoutAbout.azurewebsite.net

The basic user experience when starting from the homepage unfolds in the following steps.

Landing Page

ScoutAbout Landing Page

The user greeted by a description of ScoutAbout and a message about its founder, True North. It's a lot of text to hit them with up-front, but it's a useful preface considering it's not a functional product at the moment. We produced a short video, that was ultimately slimmed down for the presentation, that I believe would be an excellent focus for a real landing page to introduce the product to users.

Best Days

ScoutAbout Best Days Page

The Best Days page is a master list of highly rated days within the system, daytime itineraries for getting around a city. The user simply clicks on an entry to go to its details page. After staring at the screen for a few hours, both Jon and I agreed that it would be better as a denser, more Pinterest-style, grid of pictures that have a more lightweight scheme for displaying meta-data.

Best Day Details

ScoutAbout Best Day Details Page

Finally, the Best Day details page displays the daytime itinerary for the day, describing it with a timeline and pictures, plus allowing users to share the day over social networks. In the real product, days would be a full 24-hours, and they would include varied data such as tips on the day and contact information for the attractions.

Conclusion

While only a simple read-only demo, the ScoutAbout prototype garnered largely positive feedback from the judges. I had a fun time making it with a great team. Perhaps if we had started on Friday night we could have added more interactive "Wow", but I still believe it's best to wait for at least some customer validation has taken place before starting so the product you're prototyping can be as close as possible to the product you're pitching.