The Next Phase of Business Evolution: How Open Source is Launching Startups like SpareStub
The Next Phase of Business Evolution: How Open Source is Launching Startups like SpareStub
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Picture this: You’re at home on a Friday night, and you see that that favorite obscure band that you’ve been really into for a while now is playing a show downtown. You ask your friends if they want to go, but no one has heard of them, and no one wants to invest in a ticket to see a band they’re not sure if they will like.
Or, maybe you have two tickets to a show, and, amidst the flurry of your busy schedule, you forget to find someone to go with you. It’s last minute, and no one is free. Do you go alone and eat the money you spent on the extra ticket? Try your luck with Craigslist?
Or perhaps you got that ticket to the obscure show from some friend’s friend who messaged you on Facebook because they had an extra one. Of course you’ll go! How bad can it be? Pretty bad, it turns out, as you sit in dead silence at a concert with someone with whom you have absolutely nothing in common with.
These are the situations in which SpareStub wants to be at the forefront of your mind. The startup company based in New York, New York aims to revolutionize the way you attend concerts. SpareStub is a social network, bringing social people together who are in the 18-30 age group who want to go to events. Whether you’re buying or selling, going to an event with someone is contingent upon mutual agreement. This means that, prior to the event, you will message the other person, get to know them, and decide if you’d like to hang out with them. Prices will be self-policed; how much a seller wants for the ticket will be up to the seller alone with the understanding that, should they want to overcharge, it’ll be up to them to decide if they have the moxie to then hang out with that person who they screwed over all night.
SpareStub will be unique to the United States with four verticals that consist of:
- People who are new to town, whether because of college or because of work.
- Festival goers who have the feverish mindset of “buy now, plan later”
- General event goers, i.e. sporting events, shows, theaters
SpareStub, still in its development phases, belongs to a larger community of domestic startups that flock to cities like Silicon Valley, San Francisco, and New York City. The Economist ran an article earlier this year that compared the boom of startups to the Cambrian explosion. Similar to the evolutionary explosion that forever altered the course of history as mammals began to populate a world that, up until then, had been filled with simple creatures like sponges and single-celled organisms, the latest explosion takes place in the business realm:
About 540 [million] years ago something amazing happened on planet Earth: life forms began to multiply, leading to what is known as the “Cambrian explosion”. Until then sponges and other simple creatures had the planet largely to themselves, but within a few million years the animal kingdom became much more varied…something similar is now happening in the virtual realm: an entrepreneurial explosion. Digital startups are bubbling up in an astonishing variety of services and products, penetrating every nook and cranny of the economy.
What drew SpareStub founders Stephanie MacConnell and Nick Drane, CEO and CTO respectively, to the startup model was a sense of independent ownership.
“It’s about having something you can call your own, and I can’t say I’ve had that before,” Drane said.
“We both came out of college and worked for a billion dollar company, which is fine and it teaches you a lot, and it has its perks,” MacConnell said, “but there’s a whole difference between being low on the ladder and only being in charge of one area [in a larger corporation], and finding a hole in the market, and filling it with your own ideas and your own sweat equity and manpower.”
MacConnell and Drane met as coworkers at Epic, a Wisconsin-based company that focuses on integrated software applications for hospitals and medical groups. They were both on the same team within the company, MacConnell working as a project manager and Drane as an IT specialist.
“I majored in entrepreneurship in college, so that’s been a lifelong dream for me, to start a company and build something from the ground up,” MacConnell said. “I wanted to do it right out of college but didn’t really have the right idea with the right team. I went to work for Epic and got some project management experience under my belt, and then the time just kind of felt right. I left in April.”
Drane also left the company after over two years to seek out new job opportunities. Before settling down into a new career, MacConnell spent time exploring overseas. The adventure would serve as the starting point of SpareStub, as MacConnell discovered a gap in the ecosystem that needed to be filled. While exploring Europe, MacConnell purchased tickets to see one of her favorite bands on the week that she would return home. Busy traveling through Tuscany and Croatia, she forgot to find someone to go with her, and was stuck with a predicament.
“At the end of the day, you’re left with this extra ticket," she recalled. "I got to figure out just how hard it is if you’re left in that situation. There’s really not a good solution if you want to go to the show and go with someone else and make your money back…there was really no way to do that.”
Thus, her idea for a business was born, and she decided to team up with Drane and set up shop in New York. Drane and MacConnell are currently the only two in charge of development and the day-to-day work, and up to this point have invested their own money into the company rather than rely on investors. The result is that they are only responsible to themselves and their users.
But startups are never truly on their own; the Silicon Valley culture is evidence of that, with a networking system that runs deep through all the companies operating there, offering bountiful opportunities to market and test out new products.
The new age of innovation. Anna Vital's beautiful infographics can be found here.
Launching a tech startup business is easier today because it will reside within the larger connected community of young, ambitious individuals doing the exact same thing, many willing to share their knowledge and connect. In fact, The Economist found that two-thirds of the 2,000 individuals they surveyed, all within the 18-35 age group, saw entrepreneurship as a solid career option.The Economist expands upon this trend, saying:
This digital feeding frenzy has given rise to a global movement. Most big cities, from Berlin and London to Singapore and Amman, now have a sizeable startup colony (“ecosystem”). Between them they are home to hundreds of startup schools (“accelerators”) and thousands of co-working spaces where caffeinated folk in their 20s and 30s toil hunched over their laptops. All these ecosystems are highly interconnected, which explains why [I]nternet entrepreneurs are a global crowd. Like medieval journeymen, they travel from city to city, laptop, not hammer, in hand.
This communal experience of collaborating around the country, and the globe, with developers who are willing to share their ideas may be the key to longevity of the new Cambrian explosion, unlike the Dot-com bubble that burst before it. The Economist muses that:
One explanation for the Cambrian explosion of 540 [million] years ago is that at that time the basic building blocks of life had just been perfected, allowing more complex organisms to be assembled more rapidly. Similarly, the basic building blocks for digital services and products—the “technologies of startup production”, in the words of Josh Lerner of Harvard Business School—have become so evolved, cheap and ubiquitous that they can be easily combined and recombined.
The so-called building blocks The Economist cites are the free “snippets of code” online that sites like GitHub host. Such sites are an example of how well a community can work together in the name of innovation. These codes are the so-called “perfected” basic building blocks, ones that are tested and edited and used over and over, proving their worth over time through an online community of developers.
“One of the most interesting things about it being open source is that multiple people have a vested interest in the quality of the product,” Drane said. He stated that almost every API they have has been open source, and without open sources like those found online, launching the website would take much longer, and might not even be possible. And the use of open source isn't unique to SpareStub alone.
“That’s something that is true in almost every single mobile or web application that is being built today," he said. "If I go onto GitHub and I experience a problem with a code, I can go back and say, ‘Hey, I’m having trouble with this issue, and this has been my research process so far.' And then you get this beautiful collaborative process where a dozen people will chime in and give their input and offer their experiences and help you debug that problem. It’s a really cool community; that kind of communal experience is unique to open source.”
“It’s fostering this community of individuals improving their own projects, and in turn improving everyone else’s project at the same time,” MacConnell added. “I think that the increasing speed with which technology startups can get up and running is due in large part to the open source community.”
Rather than spend hours focusing on crafting the perfect code and working from scratch, open source has enabled startups to hit the ground running and spend the majority of their time on UI and UX.This, in Drane’s words, makes striking out on your own to create a website “very doable.”
“There was nothing about it from the technical implementation side that was overly complicated,” he said. “There were no obscure amounts of data, or enormous amount of scale. [Our app required] everything that a web application could already do.”
SpareStub's desktop application is set to be up and running fully next spring, with a tentative launch date in April. Their design will be "responsive," with an interface that will perform well across all platforms. As they develop, they will continue to tap into their community and networks by seeking out beta users and feedback in order to perfect their product.
In biological terms, the strongest and most adaptable survive in the face of change, typically through breeding to create hybrids with the best foundation of genes (in this case, code). With an ecosystem (network) thriving to keep its phylum fresh and up to pace with technological evolution, this evolutionary blip may be here to stay. Certainly, working smarter instead of harder through collaboration and open source is keeping SpareStub up to par.
“We’ve been seeing that the more funded and invested companies these days aren’t making new technology, you’re taking existing technology and doing cool things with it, and you’re enhancing the user experience using existing technology to do it,” MacConnell said. “You just really have to know your users and deliver a product that is tailored for the people who are using it.”
Eventually, the founders say, they want it to be as natural to users as checking any form of social media.
“In the beginning, it’ll be more teaching the audience, like someone has a spare ticket and they don’t want to pay the Stub Hub fees, so they’ll put it on SpareStub, or buyers don’t want to pay the crazy scalper prices, so they’re going to check SpareStub,” MacConnell said. “I think eventually it’ll work itself into the culture and work itself into the thought process of ‘what do I want to do?’”
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