Shotput Reaches Startup Bus Finals at SXSW

March 18, 2011
Written by
John Sheehan
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Last week I hopped on a bus in Minneapolis that had left from Chicago earlier that day and was on its way to Austin, TX for South by Southwest Interactive. In addition to the Chicago bus, five others departed from all over the country as part of the second edition of Startup Bus. Startup Bus is what happens when you combine a Startup Weekend with a road trip. Teams get a couple days to launch a new startup from scratch with limited time and resources.

Upon arriving in Austin, a winner was selected from each bus to compete in the finals. One of the finalists was Shotput, an SMS newsletter product developed on the Chicago bus. The team consisted of Mike Jahn, Roshan Choxi, Blaine Fahey, and Hani Sharabash. We asked Hani to talk about Shotput and his experiences launching a new company at 70 MPH.

How did Shotput get started?

HS: We built the MVP for Shotput in two days, on a bus going from Chicago to SXSW in Austin, Texas. 37 other teams on 5 other buses from around the country were also building their own startups. It was all part of StartupBus, which is both a competition and a bonding experience.

On the bus, Mike told us a story about a party he went to, where the band leader held up a paper with his real phone number on it, asking his fans to call him. He figured there had to be a better way to stay in touch with fans. Mike and I joined up with Roshan and Blaine to round out the team.

Roshan and Blaine being the most experienced in Ruby on Rails, took the lead on development. In 48 hours Roshan built a solid RoR backend, and Blaine created an attractive front-end design. We didn’t have enough time to implement the e-mail portion, so we made it into SMS newsletters. For now.

We had over 100 subscribers in our first few days of existence. Currently we’re in the process of trying to make our first sale.

What technologies are you using?

HS: We built Shotput in Ruby on Rails. The front-end was all built in HAML/SASS. We built the platform in Ruby on Rails and hosted it on Heroku because it was easy to get running and quick to scale if we needed to. We also used hosted Redis from RedisToGo to run Resque workers for SMS blast messaging. Without Heroku’s platform services and Twilio’s SMS services, it would have been almost impossible to build this in a month much less 48 hours.

After a short bump finding a good Ruby library for Twilio, it was really easy getting our first text message out and a piece of cake to expand it to a list. We probably could have built a simplified GroupMe in 48 hours if the idea hadn’t been taken.

How did you get started developing with Twilio?

HS: My brother and I built and won a Facebook Hackathon competition with ThumbDJ, a service for texting in songs to Grooveshark, an online music player. Mike Jahn built, an easy way to remember your class schedule the first 2 weeks of your semester and BloNoSquare, a service where you can simply text a drink and it’ll tell you what bar serves that drink.

Hani also included this video they put together demonstrating how the service works in 60 seconds.

Congratulations to the Shotput team for making it to the finals and for getting off to a great start with their Startup Bus project. We’re very excited to see where they take things next!