Signs of a Maturing Ecosystem: AllCal Stumbles and Recovers at #DSW16

Once in a blue moon, a conference or festival will have a unifying phenomenon emerge from the event where practitioner and executive alike can, without any introduction, can strike up an instant conversation about a topic.

Throughout all of the hectic events surrounding Dallas Startup Week, there has been one conversation repeated at nearly every venue: “Isn’t that AllCal app terrible?”

“In 2007 at SxSW, very famously it was Twitter. In 2009 at SxSW, it was the location based social networks Gowalla and Foursquare,” said Roger Wilco CEO Mark Hopkins. “I was there for both of those events, and the shared AllCal narrative feels a bit like this.

AllCal, which was chosen to serve as the official calendar for all of Dallas Startup Week, got off to a rough start even before the event kicked off, as many users found it difficult to navigate the app to locate and track the sessions they wanted to attend.

Whether or not AllCal’s underlying technology worked became irrelevant due to serious problems with its UX, and this left many attendees looking for alternative schedules on other sites.

Hack the AllCal UX

Over the last few days, AllCal has received more than its fair share of criticism from the Dallas startup community, but rather than digging in its heels and rejecting user complaints, the company has said that it recognizes the need to fix these issues, and it will be taking a novel approach toward doing so.

“We’re so appreciative of all of the feedback,” AllCal co-founder Danielle Cocanougher said in an interview with Dallas startup community fixture Mason Pelt, who has been one of AllCal’s most vocal critics. “In the spirit of collaboration, because that’s what Dallas Startup week is all about, we’re going to run a ‘hack the AllCal UX’ contest.”

As part of this contest, AllCal will be taking resumes from Dallas UX experts, and five finalists will each be given a $1000 contract to work with AllCal and give recommendations on how to improve the app’s UX design. AllCal will then choose a grand winner, who will receive an additional $5000 and will have their suggestions implemented into the app.

Considering the amount of negativity that has been thrown AllCal’s way over the last week, the company could not be handling the situation better.

“We’ve been really feature-focused,” Cocanougher said, “and we know we have UX problems, and this is the absolute best way for us to figure out what are the top priorities. Everybody has just been so generous with their time and their feedback, and so we’re just really appreciative.”

She added, “I don’t know how you can be anything else other than appreciative because when else would you get this sort of opportunity?”

Dallas grows up

While it is unfortunate that AllCal had to learn about its UX problems the hard way, the experience proves that the Dallas startup community is maturing past its cheerleading phase, where all startups are encouraged no matter how misguided they might be.

Instead, Dallas has shown that it can be a more critical yet still supportive ecosystem, where constructive criticism and honest feedback are more important than patting each other on the back while trying not to step on any toes.

This same phenomena could be witnessed earlier this week at Launch DFW’s own Dallas New Tech event, where six local startups pitched their businesses and answered questions from the audience. A number of audience members threw out some tough yet insightful questions about business models, growth plans, and more, and it was clear that the community was not pulling any punches when it came to critiquing a startup’s core concept.

Encouraging one another to experiment and take risks in spite of naysayers is certainly an important part of nurturing a startup ecosystem, but proving that the community can not only give but also receive criticism is a vital step in proving the viability of Dallas as a hub of worthwhile startup activity.

Perhaps at next year’s Dallas Startup Week, we will be able to look back on AllCal’s experience as one of the defining moments of the local startup scene, as well as one of its greatest success stories.


Eric David