With one more week to go in the Women 2.0 Labs program (summer 2010 edition), all teams are working furiously toward that final prototype for Women 2.0 Labs Final Demo Night. This week Anna blogs for us:
Anna Billstrom’s Story

About me — I’m a software developer, who has been a CRM consultant for 7 years, writer, blogger, and English major. My latest love is iPhone/iPad development, and specifically getting girls enthused about computers through game development. I’m in the FreezeFare start-up. What is FreezeFare?

Well, don’t you hate it when you’re planning a trip amongst five favorite friends to Ireland and the prices start to waffle while you’re still trying to figure out which loyalty miles to use or if you can stay in someone’s aunt’s house in Cork?

FreezeFare will lock in a fare for a day, or 7 days, for a fee. You can either buy the ticket or not, that’s your choice. But at least the fare will stay the same. The Irish situation came up Week 3 of Women 2.0 Labs, which led me to keenly feel the benefit of what we’re offering.

“On a pressured deadline with weekly releases (we pitch each Thursday) and day jobs, communication is pretty tough. One of the lessons I learned was to keep talking, even if things get rocky.”

I’m in the fourth week of Women 2.0 Labs and it’s quite a time commitment, but in an energizing, inspirational way. I was a last minute replacement for someone who dropped out — and I completely understand those that leave. It’s quite an intense experience. We meet almost daily, and some of us also chat frequently during the day. This isn’t specific to our team, but having worked at start-ups since I was a teenager, I’ve noticed that communication is always an issue — regardless of how large or small. Some of the best communicating teams I’ve been at were in tiny, 5-person pods at Microsoft. The worst? A 9-person startup pre-Dot-Com with all engineers, no managers!

“I really had no idea I would be learning so much and testing out a new way of approaching a business. In the product side of the team, we’re re-testing constantly our assumptions regarding what the customer wants, and using that to define development.”

The best discovery for me in this process has been reading about Customer Development. I think everyone in Women 2.0 Labs will agree that it’s very hard to get rid of your own assumptions or “gut feelings.” Early on in the process, perhaps week 2, we figured out that a way to find travelers was go to to the airport. So three of us trotted down to San Francisco International Airport and interviewed people waiting for their baggage. Initially we thought Arrivals was a good idea, but there are far too few people. In Baggage, “they came to us” over and over again, disgruntled by baggage fees and delays, and eager to complain to a willing ear. Near the end, I caught a retiree pair visiting their son and they told me about planning their trip. At the end, we joked that they’d really Silicon Valley experience, helping a start-up within 5 minutes of arriving.

My biggest “a-ha” moment occurred a few days ago, when I was starting on one of our server side apps. I methodically thought — and other team members did too — that we’d have to pivot all of our data off of the flight. But as an exercise I thought of the Customer Development model. Most if not all of our customers respond that they want “a deal.” Is “a deal” then a fare? Or a specific arrival time, flight number, or airline? We’re version testing that now in our prototype. Feel free to vote with your clicks!

Another personal lesson from this exercise, for me, is to be more confident about the technical lessons I’ve learned. And, open up my Rolodex more. To the first point, I get so fascinated with new technology, I forget the importance of the old lessons I’ve learned doing countless setups and building apps. To the second insight, if you’ve worked and lived (and grew up) in the Valley, you end up knowing quite a bit of people, who don’t mind the random favor once in a while (so far — ha!). The outpouring of help from friends — Andreas, Dave, Kathy — thanks! — has been very heartwarming.

I’m excited about helping Women 2.0 Labs in the future with some lightening fire rounds on how to develop a fast prototype, and SEO on the cheap. I’m also super impressed by the organizational ability of Women 2.0, and the dedication and time commitment of everyone in the team. The space at True Ventures at Pier 38 is ideal, and there’s this indescribable aura of energy and enthusiasm that can’t be matched.

We have one more week to go before the end of the program. I’m not sure where we’re headed with it, but it’s been a fun ride so far. Take our survey!