Chris Shiflett on Brooklyn Beta Summer Camp

Chris Shiflett, co-founder of Analog, Mapalong, and the Brooklyn Beta conference, talks about a startup accelerator program for making "stuff that matters"

Brooklyn Beta people Chris Shiflett and Cameron Koczon have created Summer Camp, a program that invests $25,000 in your startup for a six per cent stake and gives you lots of help.

.net: What is Brooklyn Beta Summer Camp, and why did you create it?
Chris Shiflett: Summer Camp is a startup accelerator, which means it's an investment fund plus a lot of other stuff. It's a natural extension of what we're doing with the conference, which is to try to inspire people to make something they love and to help remove any barriers that stand in the way. Money is a big barrier.

There are many great designers and developers who don't fit the traditional startup mold. In fact, I know people starting companies who would never call them startups, even though that's what they are. They see investment and the sort of help we're offering as stuff that's only available to other people from somewhere else. Startup people. Just among my fellow Studiomates, examples include Tattly, A Book Apart and Dropmark.

Because of this, most people who apply to Summer Camp won't be choosing us over another startup accelerator; they'll be choosing us over working on something they're not passionate about. This is why we created it and why we think it's important.

.net: Do you think the mainstream startup culture can be a bit exclusive or off-putting for some people?
CS: I do, but I think it's unintentional. The startup community is very supportive and altruistic, but it's a victim of uniformity and stereotype. Those who don't fit the stereotype aren't going to feel like they belong.

.net: What kind of community culture are you trying to build?
CS: We like to describe the Brooklyn Beta community as the "work hard and be nice to people" crowd, and I think this pretty accurately describes the community that we hope to continue to build and be a part of. We love you.

.net: What sorts of projects are you looking for?
CS: We're looking for projects that aim to make a difference, but they don't have to be earth-shattering. This is why "make something you love" is our motto. You don't have to save the world, but you should try to change it.

If we can encourage more people to work on something they're passionate about, I think we'll be heading in the right direction.

.net: What kind of response have you had so far?
CS: Summer Camp has received a bit of attention, and it has even gained some attention from the startup community. Most people seem to really like the idea of what we're doing and are curious to see how it goes. So are we.

.net: And what about in terms of applicants? Have you had many exciting ideas come through the door yet?
CS: We're trying not to let ourselves get too excited about any one idea or team until we've had a chance to review them all, but the response so far is making that difficult.

.net: How would you say your project fits alongside others such as Y Combinator, WebFWD and so on?
CS: Some startup accelerators might view us as another competitor, but we don't really think of Summer Camp as another option for people who are already thinking of applying to something such as Y Combinator. I think we're going to encourage a different group of people to take a chance on something they believe in.

.net: Why have you decided you want designer-developer teams? Why is it so important to have those two?
CS: We believe better collaboration between designers and developers will create better products.

Making the case for developers is pretty straightforward. Without them, your product might not scale, or might break, or might have any number of other tangible problems. Making the case for designers is trickier. Without them, your product might not resonate with users and might not be used at all. These are more difficult problems to diagnose and the consequences aren't always obvious.

Being right about subjective things is more difficult, and therefore more important, than being right about objective things. We believe startups that treat both designers and developers as first-class citizens will have an important competitive advantage over startups that don't.

Our goal is to encourage more designers to be co-founders. Our focus is designer-developer startups, because we don't want our efforts to be misunderstood as being anti-developer in any way.

.net: You've said you aim to help people "build the next generation of web products and change the world". What are the big problems that the next generation of products needs to solve? Are there any key principles with which you'd like to see new web products aligning themselves?
CS: I think this one is answered best on the Summer Camp site, so I'm going to cheat a little bit and quote that:

"We are hoping to back big ideas looking to make a real impact. Don't just make something for your peers. Build something that fixes the insanity of modern education. Or helps people weather the upcoming financial crises and rise in unemployment. Or improves the health of people around the world. Or brings neighbors closer together. Or helps people run small businesses. Or strengthens the bonds of families. Or puts existing abusive, mammoth institutions out of business (pretty please)."

.net: You have an impressive team of advisors. How will they be helping your participants?
CS: Yeah, we're big fans of every single one of our advisors, and we couldn't be more grateful to them for believing in what we're doing.

We'll rely on feedback from our advisors to help decide which teams get funded. Once Summer Camp begins, advisors will offer their valuable advice, stories, introductions, and anything else that can help Summer Camp teams be successful.