In July 2014, my friend Sami and I decided to enter the Unleashed Open Data competition run as part of the wider GovHack competition. They wanted to call it GovHack in South Australia but the word “hack” is too scary for government employees. After working in government for three years I can believe it.
For the sake of this post, I’ll switch between GovHack and Unleashed.
We heard about the competition before we had an idea. GovHack is all about using government data made available by different departments at both a state and federal level and turning that into usable products and services for commercial and community gain.
We both knew that we wanted to be a part of this but had no idea what we would make. One night I was looking through the data sets and had an idea.
What if we got public wifi points and matched them with nearby cafes, restaurants and bars, rank venues by strength of wifi and users could then check-in and find other users nearby for co-working, collaboration or just finding a good place to spend a day working.
I wanted a site like this because one of my favourite past-times is heading out on a Sunday, finding a coffee shop and just writing some code, reading a book or writing for a few hours.
I find it relaxing and would love the opportunity to crowd-source our collective knowledge to find better venues and meet other people interested in the same things.
The hackathon went well and we were given the opportunity to meet helpful people like John Edwards, who facilitated Adelaide getting free wifi throughout the CBD. There are so many other people that we met who provided much needed food, coffee and laughs over the weekend. The entire GovHack team put on an amazing show.
GovHack has a few prizes at the event, state and national levels. If we wanted to enter and win these prizes we needed to film a short video talking about the technology, commercial and long term feasibility of the project.
These were things we’d thought of but had not really thought about. We knew that this is something that we wanted and had assumed that it was something other people would use. The video was due on the Sunday, right before the awards and we got to work writing a script, booking a room and thinking of a story for how to represent The Coworking Society.
Our video was fun to make and gave us the opportunity to show off what we wanted to build without having to build the entire app over the weekend.
At the end of the hackathon, Sami won a Samsung tablet for the Spirit of Unleashed Award. She had put in a valiant effort keeping the Twitter stream moving all weekend.
A few weeks later was the awards ceremony for South Australia, which also awarded the teams that won national awards.
The Coworking Society came away with three awards. Best Entrepreneurial Idea by a Youth Team, Majoran Mega Co-Working Prize and runner-up for Best University Team. We got some fancy certificates and 3D printed trophies.
What helped TCS get to where it currently is was winning the Majoran Mega Co-Working Prize. This award gave us seeding into the Mega program run by The Majoran, a co-working space in Adelaide.
Mega is a 3 month pre-accelerator program, where we would be given coaching, mentorship, weekly topics, presentations and ultimately the chance to pitch in front of an audience at the Allan Scott Auditorium at UniSA.
Mega was a great experience. We had a lot of fun with our weekly meetups and discussing ideas with the other teams. The mentors and presentations given to us each week helped us move the idea of The Coworking Society into a far more real form. The three months gave us time to think about what we wanted out of the product and where it could go in the future.
There were some bumpy moments throughout the program. At one point it began to feel like we were being pressured into finding a revenue model immediately.
Having come out of a hackathon there was never an intended revenue model and there still isn’t. The lure of profit and money was certainly there and we did attempt to come up with some ideas that do look hilarious in hindsight and I’m sure Sami has long term eye problems after rolling them so often while I tried to throw out ideas.
We certainly have ideas for revenue and where the product could go but right now I’m happy to be building a great product that people want to use.
While Sami and I were putting The Coworking Society through Mega we were also going through the Venture Dorm program run by the Flinders University New Venture Institute with a different idea and team. We were able to learn a lot there from the mentors and weekly presentations we took part in.
Venture Dorm finished up in October and our team Lend A Skilled Hand (LASH) ended up in the finals. This was exciting for LASH and gave me a great opportunity to practice my presentation skills and have an event to aim for.
The Venture Dorm pitches went well and LASH was able to come away with the Innovation Award from Microsoft’s Innovation Centre, an exciting prize to win! Tertiary to presenting LASH and winning a prize, an important skill that I was able to pick up was the ability to prepare for presentations.
Mega final pitch day was soon approaching while Sami and I split our time between Lend a Skilled Hand, The Coworking Society, preparing for presentations, writing a business plan and all the other corporate documentation that we needed to enter the Mega pitch day. All while trying to maintain a functional life.
The Mega pitch day came and I was feeling confident. The pitch went well, I knew what I had to say, my slides were good and overall the pitch was well received. We even won another prize! We were awarded a $5000 cash prize voted on by the other teams in the program.
We were done with pre-accelerators.
Sami and I had now completed two pre-accelerators and spent the year winning a stack of prizes. A good year for both of us, absolutely. We both had a running joke that when we were done with Mega and Venture Dorm we would actually be able to work on our ideas.
Mega, Venture Dorm, Startup Adelaide and the entire community of people we’ve met over the last 12 months have been great and very encouraging about The Coworking Society and our plans for the future. It’s time to get to work.
Over the last week, we’ve implemented some core features that completely change how our venue search works. We’re still far from having a clean, polished product but we have started the journey and it’s exciting to be providing a service to the digital nomad community and changing the future of work.
You can find The Coworking Society at http://thecoworkingsociety.com.