Fast Thoughts

Growth Hacking through Peer-to-Peer Advertising

tree bulbAs the focus on gaining traction continues in the second third of our program, Managing Director Chuck Stormon led another workshop on growth hacking, this time with a focus on how to encourage your users to advertise your product to their friends. As a refresher, growth hacking is the art of rapidly finding new users and, like any art, requires creativity, effort, and a little luck.

Personal Touch
The first way to expand your user base is by directly working with the people who already use your product. Who better to spread the word about your product than the people who already love it? Engage your most dedicated users on a personal level: Invite them to a Google hangout, take them out for coffee or tea, or perhaps host a happy hour so all your innovator-promoters can discuss your product, give you valuable feedback, and be encouraged to spread the word to their friends. Since you have customers, you should demonstrate customer appreciation.

Another way to acquire users is to make use of crowdfunding sites like Kickstarter or IndieGoGo. This is an excellent way to gain visibility, and can bring money from unlikely places. Consider the example of GraFighters. Eric Cleckner and Dave Chenell, of the Syracuse Student Sandbox, developed a website where people could sketch a cartoon character and then match it in virtual battles against other fighting doodles. While they initially failed to reach their crowdfunding goal, they did catch the attention of a venture capital firm that invested the amount they needed in their idea. Even though their crowdfunding campaign failed, it grabbed the attention of a different source of funding. The lesson here? The harder you work, the luckier you get.

Email Campaigns
Anyone with an email account has been a target of an email campaign at one point or another. This type of advertising consists of a mass email sent to hundreds or thousands of potential customers. Chuck shared a campaign he ran for his company RushTera. A service called Zoho Campaigns allowed RushTera to to email 643 film festival attendees, of which 256 opened, sixteen clicked, and one accepted. Even though this was only one out of 643, this email chain accomplished exactly what it was intended to: acquire another customer.


Email campaigns and crowdfunding promotion can be improved by fostering an air of exclusivity for your product. By awarding a t-shirt or other swag to anyone who refers a certain amount of friends, you create an exciting challenge that attracts people with a competitive spirit. You can even offer a discount to both the customer who refers the product, and the person whom they referred it to.

An excellent example of a company which makes use of exclusivity in promotions is Fandalism, a social media site for musicians. The way it attracts users is very unique: In order to sign up, you need to post to a musician friend’s Facebook page complimenting their skills. Thus, even before someone signs up they are already spreading the product among their friends, and these requirements to join help add to an air of exclusivity around the product. This can be a risky approach, but certainly creates a viral loop.

No Silver Bullet
There is no one best way to get users, because every product and service appeals to a different set of customers. While some users will want to share your product with all of their friends, many will never refer anyone at all. Since having customers is essential to turning a great idea into an awesome business, don’t be afraid to try as many methods as you need to attract your next wave of users.



Images mattwalker69 and jarmoluk 

7 Must-Know Tips for Starting Any Company

Grant Kirkwood

Serial entrepreneur Grant Kirkwood has been founding and working on startups since 1997. Currently founder and CTO of Unitas Global, he has a love for new innovations, currently trying out a watch whose faceplate transforms into a bluetooth earpiece. “Both features suck equally,” he quipped. As a StartFast mentor, Grant flew from Los Angeles to visit the accelerator in person to meet with the companies and share his entrepreneurial journey.

Grant launched his first company in college thinking, like many entrepreneurs his age, that startups were a one-way ticket to private jets and free caviar. However, through the various ups and downs of the four different companies he’s founded, he learned what really makes a company successful, offering seven pearls of wisdom to us:

  1. Sales forgives all sins. When a startup is selling, making money, and building the customer base, it can survive many mistakes. If not…
  2. People are your most valuable asset. So hire them carefully and treat them well.
  3. If a prospective employee is just ‘good enough,’ don’t hire them. Unless they are ‘definitely a yes!’, they are a ‘no.’
  4. Fire quickly. No employer ever wished, ‘Gee, I wish I had waited longer to fire that person.’
  5. If you are not learning and growing, you are dying.
  6. Be direct and transparent with your investors, even when you don’t have good news for them. Investors expect setbacks, so respect them by being honest with them, and don’t dance around difficult conversations.
  7. Don’t spend money needlessly. It should go without saying, but it’s easy to fall into the trap of assuming that because you have money, you should spend it. The paradox is needing to spend money to grow. Knowing when to be frugal and when to go for it are marks of a great CEO.

Grant also suggested three books that he has found to be particularly helpful: “The Hard Thing About Hard Things” by Ben Horowitz, “Crossing the Chasm” by Geoffrey Moore, and “Good to Great” by Jim Collins.

It’s because of the dedication of mentors such as Grant Kirkwood that StartFast companies can grow so quickly. We’re very grateful to Grant and the advice he and other mentors have shared with us.

Here are some bonus tips from Grant:

StartFast Program Midpoint Sees Teams Gaining Traction

2015teamsWe’re almost at the halfway mark of this year’s program, which means the focus for our founders has shifted from meeting mentors to focusing on growth and traction. Managing Director Chuck Stormon shared how to find your first 1,000 (or 500,000) users, and the teams began presenting their growth hacking campaign strategies. Here are the latest updates from our startups at the midpoint:

  • EGF is gaining traction with their weekly tournament series and increased reach and awareness on Facebook and Twitter by nearly 1,000%. They also made key connections with colleges, validating they’re on the right path and that the sales cycle duration would be one tenth of what they’d anticipated. Know any college gamers? Get them involved in EGF’s Summer Series!
  •  SmartyPans put their prototype to the test to measure live temperature and weight data on a

    SmartyPans co-founders, CTO Rahul Baxi and CEO Prachi Baxi, fire up their prototype.

    stovetop. They created a heat map and observed temperature readings in different parts of the pan, determining that it has a 96% accuracy rate. The company was also invited to showcase their product at the Luxury Technology Show, sponsored by the Wall Street Journal in West Hollywood. This is your chance to pre-order yours a steeply discounted price.

  • Mogee received its first YouTube personality endorsement from FiercelyTasha, which was very successful. The company also released the Android version of its app. Download yours to surprise your friends with moving emojis.
  • BitReady completed their integration with payment processor SynapsePay. They also selected itBit as their primary exchange for buying and selling Bitcoin in preparation for their official launch this month. Don’t miss you chance to join the beta.
  • HoverStat CEO Leanne Eckelberg assembles HoverStat’s new drone

    HoverStat is excited to unveil their brand new website, built by StartFast’s talented Design Star, Yoon Jae (Jenny) Kim.  After exploring a number of potential markets, the company is focusing on the insurance industry and solar panel installers.

Watch our weekly wrap-up video below, and make sure you follow us on YouTube, Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn to keep up with their growth this summer, and save the date to see them pitch at Demo Day August 13th! 

How to Get Your First 1,000 (or 500,000) Users

With StartFast’s fifth week already rushing by, the 2015 cohort is solidly in Phase II: Traction and Growth. While the teams are still meeting with mentors occasionally, the majority of meetings are now led by a very special mentor: StartFast Managing Director Chuck Stormon.

Here are his strategies for growth hacking; or, how to get your first significant amount of customers – fast!

Know your audience

The most important about GrowthHacking is knowing who your customers are. There are five basic types of customers, characterized mainly by the order they sign up in, but also by their motivation for signing up. They are: Innovators, Early Adopters, Early Majority, Late Majority, and the Laggards.



Innovators are the semi-crazy adventurous types who like to try out unfinished products, solely for the thrill of being on the razor’s edge of technology. If your business was a volcano filled with sharks, they would cut through the admission line and dive in, just to tell you how hot the lava is. They don’t care that the metaphorical volcano hasn’t been debugged, but actively seek the newest inventions, offering feedback and encouragement.

Even more important are a special subset called innovator-promoters. Promoters can be found at any part of the technology adoption curve, but innovator-promoters are especially important, as they will be willing test your product and tell their friends about it. To find this group, consider running campaigns offering exclusive access or free swag, and be generous with your love and attention. They will give you feedback, support, encouragement, ideas, and suggestions. If they were a plant, they would be the sunlight of encouragement, the soil of stability, and the water of creativity.

After innovators, the next group to embrace new technology are the early adopters. Like innovators, they love being the first to try new products, but they want to see some clear benefit or value. When the general admission line to the launchpad opens up, they will be the first to fly to the moon, but only once they’re sure the spaceship is safe and that moon rocks pay good dividends. This group will be first major wave to adopt your newly polished service.

DCF 1.0

After the early adopters arrive the early majority, who will try things out only if the perceived benefit is much greater than what they currently use. This flood of people is where the first large stream of revenue comes from, so let us not disparage the early majority. Nor shall we look down on the late majority, who only latch onto your product after carefully scanning reviews for several quarters. Essentially, the late majority waits until all the cool kids are on board. Together, the early and late majority comprise the largest influx of customers, and they are the final reward for all your sleepless, coffee-fueled nights.

There is one last group to mention: The laggards. This group will adopt your product in about 20 years, when they finally realize that steam-powered technology is not sufficient to power their Windows 95 computer. They are the ones who called you on a rotary phone to ask why ‘the google’ is down, or why they are unable to burn a 45 record onto a floppy disc. Let us all take a moment of silence in respect for the laggards.

Reach your audience

Now that we’ve discussed the five phases of technology adoption, we should probably consider tactics for finding that most important group: the innovator-promoters. The buzz word here is ‘campaign,’ which refers to any attempt to get a response from a customer by moving them down the so-called ‘campaign funnel.’ The campaign funnel consists of six steps: awareness, acquisition, activation, retention, revenue, and referral.

  • Awareness: Getting people to realize you exist
  • Acquisition: Convincing your customers to download or pre-order
  • Activation: Persuading people to actually use your product
  • Retention: Getting customers to continue using your service, or ordering more
  • Revenue: Finally receiving money from your audience
  • Referral: A true sign of success – your customers are now telling friends how much they love your product

You can run campaigns for any stage of the campaign funnel. How do you run one? Excellent question! Here is an equally excellent answer:

The first step is find out where your target demographic hangs out on the internet. Using a website like Alexa, compile a list of websites your customers visit, and with what frequency. Once you have this list, advertise your campaign to them. Good campaigns might offer freebies or exclusive access to an early version of your product, or even create a sense of urgency with a limited time offer. If you’ve ever seen an infomercial you’re aware of what these campaigns look like in real life.

At the early stages in your startup, you should focus on traction. You might not have a viral product (yet), but investors want to know that you are going places. As more and more innovators examine your product, you can build, measure, learn, and iterate until you create the next viral loop.

StartFast companies move quickly! Watch our weekly wrap-up video below, and make sure you follow us on YouTubeTwitterFacebook  and LinkedIn to keep up with their growth.

*Images by Jurgen Appelo and Nate & Tilly Ritter 

Why Syracuse is a Great Place to Launch Your Business

Downtown Syracuse

It’s not by accident that StartFast was founded in Syracuse.  Do you know why the region is the place to start your next venture? Here are four good reasons:

1. Transitioning away from its industrial past, a new Syracuse has emerged: a dynamic hub for tech entrepreneurship. Take a look at the Startup Genome’s interactive startup map to get a feel for the diversity and breadth of the innovative ventures and resources here and in the region:

2. Looking for interns or fresh, innovative business associates? One of the biggest assets the region has to offer are the 500,000 students attending more than 100 acclaimed colleges and universities, three of which made Forbes’ list of the top 15 most entrepreneurial universities in the United States.

Madden School of Business at Le Moyne: An AACSB Accredited Business School boasting a tier one MBA program and StartFast’s gracious host this summer, Le Moyne offers a robust, pre-professional undergraduate education, including a strong entrepreneurship program. Inside the walls of its beautiful building, the Madden School offers ample resources, including coworking areas, a maker space with 3D printing, and an entrepreneur-in-residence who provides mentorship and guidance.

Syracuse University: In line with its ranking as the 14th most entrepreneurial university in the U.S., Syracuse University has invested heavily in supporting student-led ventures through initiatives like the Student Sandbox and the Couri Hatchery. The Syracuse Student Sandbox is an incubator launched in collaboration with and housed by the Tech Garden. The Sandbox offers students a safe environment to test out ideas and develop businesses by providing space and resources, including mentorship and legal consulting. It recently gained national recognition when Sandbox alumnus BrandYourself was featured on NBC’s Shark Tank.

Franklin Square

3. Driving this emerging entrepreneurial culture are a number of local organizations and networks that provide resources and connections to founders, mentors, and investors in the area. Here are just a few working to sustain the burgeoning tech industry’s momentum:

Upstate Venture Connect (UVC): By connecting entrepreneurs, industry professionals, investors, and mentors across Upstate New York, UVC (headed by StartFast’s very own Nasir Aliwho serves as co-founder and CEO), aims to develop a competitive, collaborative, and supportive tech culture in the region, similar to that found in areas like Boston and Silicon Valley. UVC organizes events for networking and professional development, and provides members with access to databases and connections to angel networks, industry professionals, and serial entrepreneurs for mentorship and investment opportunities.

Centerstate Corporation for Economic Opportunity: Citing $2.3 billion in regional investment over the past year, Centerstate CEO, the largest regional development institute in the area, has been instrumental in building the region’s entrepreneurial economy. Initiatives range from direct funding (Grants for Growth) to indirect support in the form of regional business forecasts, resources and networking events.

Seed Capital Fund of Central New York (SCF): Have an idea and looking for funding? This organization, also founded by StartFast’s Nasir Ali, provides competitive seed funding to regional entrepreneurial ventures.

The Tech Garden: Located in downtown Syracuse, the Tech Garden, an affiliate of Centerstate CEO, provides space, resources, programming, and mentorship to help local tech startups thrive. The Tech Garden offers access to an in-house software development team, seasoned mentors, venture capitalist networks, and bank funding sources. It also hosts a variety of programs open to aspiring entrepreneurs, such as The Germinator, a tech startup competition that offers mentorship and capital to winning contestants.

Currently,  24 companies across various industries call the Tech Garden home, including:

Spincar Logo

SpinCar, a StartFast alumnus, creates interactive 360º images of vehicles for sale with tagged, touchable hotspots that allow consumers to interact with cars virtually before visiting a dealership.


Founded by StartFast’s own Chuck Stormon, RushTera is a leading file storage and sharing service for multimedia producers, used by filmmakers, festivals, and studios worldwide.

Arboxy Logo

Arboxy Creative Group specializes in innovative, integrated marketing, design, and branding services to help businesses navigate the digital world.

Autumn colors

4. Aside from the awesome incentives and resources provided by these organizations, Syracuse is also just a great place to live. It boasts a hip, thriving downtown, the 7th largest mall in America, and easy access to nature and other recreational activities. As a mid-sized city, Syracuse avoids a lot of the issues that plague larger metropolises: housing in Syracuse is affordable, crime rates are low, and educational quality is high, leading to its ranking as the 4th best place to raise a family. It is strategically positioned between major Northeastern and Canadian cities, made accessible for market and leisure purposes by major highways and a recently expanded airport. While the winters may be a little harsh, spring, summer, and fall are absolutely beautiful.

Thinking of starting your next venture here, yet? Attend a local tech meetup, pitch your idea at 1 Million Cups, or get in touch with us here at StartFast!

StartFast Teams Rock First-Ever “Dolphin Tank” Pitch Competition

Le Moyne College and StartFast joined forces to create “Dolphin Tank,” a pitch competition based on ABC’s popular TV show, Shark Tank, and featuring startup founders and community leaders and members of the Madden School Advisory Board. The event’s name was inspired by Le Moyne’s dolphin mascot.

Six “Lead Dolphins” offered insights, feedback and connections to the teams. The panelists were:

Michael Madden, founding chairman of BlackEagle Partners, legendary Wall Street investor and namesake of the Madden School of Business

Christina Steenstra, managing partner of Eric Mower + Associates

Joe Sisko, founding partner of Locus

Deb Cady Molzer, vice president of student life at Le Moyne College

Russ Brownback, former investment banker and current commercial real estate investor

Jack Webb, former CEO of Alliance Bank

In the audience, a packed house of local business investors, StartFast mentors, Le Moyne alumni, and local community members came to support the entrepreneurs.

Leading up to Dolphin Tank, constant feedback and coaching were key for the teams’ to improvement, and they spent hours in preparation, perfecting their pitches. Late night run-throughs, pitch practice rehearsals, and video taping all helped the entrepreneurs prepare.

StartFast Managing Director Chuck Stormon and Madden School of Business Dean Jim Joseph opened with introductions of the Lead Dolphins and the structure of the event. StartFast interns then announced the five teams, who had 10 minutes each to impress the panel: Five minutes to pitch their idea, and five for Q&A. The panel engaged company founders with questions and comments.

After a few closing thoughts, everyone gathered for a networking cocktail party and appetizers including cheese and fruit plates and coconut chicken. The audience mingled with founders and continued to offer feedback and encouragement.

This was a fantastic opportunity for StartFast teams to pitch their ideas to these mentors, experts, and potential investors, especially, in only the second week in the accelerator program.

My First Week at StartFast

This is is a behind-the-scenes take on being a StartFast associate from Teja Kodali, a graduate student studying Technical Entrepreneurship and Management at University of Rochester.

When I was looking for internships, my friend and 2014 StartFast intern Shaival Desai told me about his great experience, one that he said he would remember for the rest of his life. Chuck and Nasir visited my university, and a short discussion and a phone interview later, I found out I was accepted into the program. Imagine my excitement! Interns from a variety of universities came down to Syracuse on April 22nd for StartFast for a Day, to watch 12 of the finalist companies compete for a slot in the accelerator program. Considering that there were over 2,000 applicants for the 2015 cohort, making it this far was a pretty monumental achievement. In the end, five teams were selected, all of which are working on some truly amazing technologies.

Everyone arrived last week, including a team (HoverStat) that drove up all the way from Austin, TX. The night before the program began, Nasir hosted a cookout where I bonded with fellow StartFasters over cheeseburgers and frisbee.

The program kicked off on Tuesday when Nasir and Chuck welcomed us and outlined the program plan over bagels and coffee. A scavenger hunt followed and our team won, largely thanks to Erin’s awesome photography skills and Will’s willingness to do pretty much anything to ensure the win.



Each team then met with Chuck and Nasir, while other teams and interns pitched themselves to each other. At the end of the day, teams and interns chose who they were most excited to work with. I learned I’d be working with three teams I was interested in. It’s been super busy since then, with the teams having multiple mentor meetings daily. I personally had a chance to sit in on a mentor meeting with SmartyPans, and it was a wonderful experience. Mentor James Turino broke down the product and the monetization strategy in a way that was entirely new to me. So far, I have been working mostly with HoverStat, helping them build website submission forms. Contributing code to real companies is an amazing opportunity since I’m relatively new to web development.

Everyone is eager to learn and extremely helpful. Eric, an associate working with Phronesis Techne on their Mogee app is honing his Android skills to help them build an app for Google Play. Will, who is working with BitReady, is trying to build a model to predict the price of bitcoin, and I was able to offer some insight on that; he in turn offered to help me with problems I encountered with Ruby on Rails.

Mark, co-founder and CTO of HoverStat, told us, “if something takes you more than 15 minutes, come to me and we can figure it out.” This goes hand-in-hand with Chuck and Nasir’s vision for the associate experience: Everyone is here to learn and everyone must aim to learn something new everyday. Already, my HTML and CSS skills have significantly improved and I also learned a bit of Ruby on Rails, apart from getting familiar with a ton of productivity and team management tools such as Jira, Asana, and Trello. Having other passionate and enthusiastic people to work with has helped create a cohesive, productive environment.

One thing I really like about the program so far is the fact that it is what you make of it. Associates have the freedom to choose who they want to work with and how they want to grow.

As Rockie Hunter, Art Director of the Electronic Gaming Federation pointed out, “It kind of feels like work, but also kind of feels like a vacation since we live in townhouses that resemble hotel rooms, our workplace is barely a few feet away, and what we’re doing doesn’t feel like work because we’re all passionate and excited about it.”

It hasn’t been all work, though. StartFast is in a beautiful setting, perfect for pick-up games of basketball, ping-pong, and going for a run. We even have weekly Forrest Yoga classes, taught by Gyata Stormon. Everyone enthusiastically took part in the first one, which proved to be a great stress-buster. Near the end of the week, we headed to Dave & Buster’s for dinner, drinks, and good old arcade games to celebrate Matylda’s birthday. What a fun way to end the week!

It has been a tiring but thoroughly enjoyable week, and I’m excited about what the coming weeks have in store. If the first week is any indication, this will be an inspiring summer.

Meet the 2015 StartFast Companies

We’re thrilled to announce the companies selected for this summer’s program! These finalists were selected from more than 2,000 startups screened during a five-month process. Congrats to these talented teams:

Hoverstat: Hoverstat provides drone-automated roof inspections to the insurance industry. When an insurance adjuster arrives at a house, all they must do is set down the drone and activate the app. The drone then uses an automated flight pattern, sending measurements and damage information to the app where the adjuster can add to the estimate before printing it out for the homeowner. Insurance companies will be able to provide faster, more accurate relief at a lower cost.
Founding Team: Leanne Eckelberg; Mark Sapp

SmartyPans: SmartyPans comprises of a smart cooking pan and a recipe app: They interact with each other via bluetooth. Unlike other recipe apps, SmartyPans is an intuitive system of cooking which removes the guess work out of the stove­ top cooking. The pan does the thinking for you so you get the perfect ingredients, precise cooking temperature and accurate nutritional information every time you cook. The app integrates with nutrition and fitness apps and devices, allowing you to streamline the flow of nutrition tracking right from the point of cooking.
Founding Team: Prachi Baxi; Rahul Baxi

Mogee: Mogee is an iPhone keyboard app enhancing messaging through images; making messenger-based communication more contextual, articulate, and fun. Mogee will become a marketplace for designers and advertisers to release their proprietary content. The vision is to create an image-based global language platform.
Founding Team: Shuai Payne; Michael Moore

Electronic Gaming Federation: The Electronic Gaming Federation is an electronic sports company working to establish an NCAA equivalent for competitive gaming including titles such as League of Legends, Dota 2, and Starcraft. The company also produces eSports media including live broadcasts of events, news, and eSports analysis.
Founding Team: Tyler Schrodt; Rockie Hunter; Josh Roberts; Ryan Vazquez; Kathleen Tigue

BitReady: BitReady is a platform that simplifies Bitcoin to bring it to the masses. Users can deposit local currency into their accounts which they can then spend as Bitcoin, bypassing the need to understand the technology behind Bitcoin in order to use it. The service manages the process of buying and spending Bitcoin for the user so our customers can focus on making purchases, not managing their finances. We offer users protection from losses resulting from market volatility and exchange rate variation.
Founding Team: Patrick Kelly; Michael Young

Make sure you follow us on Twitter, LinkedIn, Facebook and YouTube to keep up with their growth this summer and mark your calendar to see them pitch at Demo Day August 13th.

Top 5 areas StartFast wants to invest in now

It’s recruiting season for StartFast right now. Applications are rolling in and we’re interviewing candidates. We’ve got one company on the “short list” already. We’ve also already hired our Design-Star and have several great Hack-Star candidates. In this post, I’m going to share what areas I’d most like to invest StartFast’s resources in and why. If your company fits the bill, please apply now!

  1. Health and healthcare informatics – there are more people in the world over sixty than under fifteen for the first time. There’s a huge number of health-obsessed individuals looking for the next wearable, app, or SaaS that can help them be healthier. There’s an explosion of enterprise needs at the same time. This market is on fire!
  2. AI and robotics – Google has bought a whole bunch of AI and robotics companies. Why? Because these technologies are mature enough, for the first time, to be amazing boosts to productivity of all kinds. It’s a wide-open opportunity and exits will be relatively easy for the startups that create something truly useful.
  3. Internet of everything and everywhere – connected devices and places (e.g. Data Bubbles). Need I say more? The wavefront is visible on the horizon and it’s a tsunami of opportunity that will raise all boats as it razes the players/markets that don’t innovate quickly enough in this area.
  4. Innovative uses of blockchain and related technologies – Blockchain is to banking, insurance, and commerce what the internet was to media – disruptive. Disintermediation on a massive scale. We’ve seen it before. Get ready for more change, massive change and huge fortunes created by the successful innovators.
  5. Platforms involving video, virtual and augmented reality – the video explosion is well-underway (e.g. Netflix is the largest bandwidth user on the Internet), but many don’t realize that it’s still accelerating. We appear to still be at the beginning of an enormous trend driving commerce. Augmented reality is how mobile video gets to be ubiquitous.

We are living in the Golden Age. There has never been a time when it was so easy to start something, innovate and make a living doing it. I imagine that entrepreneurs 25 years from how will be jealous of how awesome it would have been to be an entrepreneur in 2015. It’s a wide-open frontier! You can pick almost any idea, make a mobile app for it, throw in a little AI, and put it on the cloud. Or add a couple new sensors and you’ve created a new device category. Expectations and barriers are low and capital is readily available. In a generation, I predict that no one will believe how easy it was to succeed as an entrepreneur in 2015. THIS (right now)  is the best time to invent something, to start something on the internet,  in the whole history of the world. There are more opportunities, more market openings, lower barriers, risk/reward ratios, better returns, greater upside, than ever before. Right now, this instant. The coolest companies and products have not been invented yet.

StartFast backs passionate entrepreneurs, surrounds them with mentors and other resources and enables them to make a year’s worth of progress in 3 months.

Welcome to our new home

Last month we officially moved into the totally renovated Mitchell Hall which houses the Madden School of Business at Le Moyne College. The move was the culmination of two years of discussions and the deal was sealed when we realized that Jim Joseph, Madden’s new Dean, had a transformative vision for the school and its future alumni. Entrepreneurship is a central element of that vision and so is the desire to create new ways for students to learn what is essentially a hands-on skill.  An exciting year lies ahead!

Check out our new digs…

The front entrance

The front entrance

The front entrance

The main lobby


Rooms are instantly reconfigurable to create workspaces for the teams


Lots of public space inside a secure wifi bubble. And there is a kitchen, too!


Breakout rooms for mentor meetings, skype sessions, and team huddles.


A perfect Fall day!

This is how we do it – StartFast 2013 company takes off!

When founders Devin Daly and Michael Quigley approached me to join StartFast with their company Glyphr, frankly I was skeptical. While I did like the really cool demo they showed me of a three dimensional shoe spinning on an iPad, I felt that they had a technology looking for a market. At the time, they were focused on fashion retailing. It was too early to know, but I did have a sense that Devin and Mike would figure out how to make a successful business out of it no matter what. Once admitted to StartFast, they quickly gained some traction with tablet magazine publishers and pivoted in that direction, with a name change to SwipeToSpin. Mike and Devin are quintessential entrepreneurs, winning not only deals with Popular Science and Bloomberg Pursuits, but also a partnership with the publishing platform that looked scalable.

On the basis of that traction and the hard work they put in during the StartFast program, StartFast decided to lead their Seed Preferred financing round, syndicated with other investors a significant cash infusion into the company. Devin and Mike were key to this process, identifying and pitching investors, with StartFast playing a supportive role as the lead investor. The investors were a combination of StartFast limited partners and two New York City angels/venture capitalists. With this funding in place, SwipeToSpin recruited publishing industry luminary Mark Edmiston to serve on its Board of Directors.

Despite concerted efforts, the tablet publishing business was slow to grow. As an experiment, Devin tried selling SwipeToSpin to a car dealer and found that the sale was relatively easy. He told the Board that he wanted to try a few more experiments in that direction. Meanwhile, I organized a meeting for Devin at online show retailer Zappo’s (now part of at the headquarters in Las Vegas. We also connected with StartFast mentor John Max Miller whose experience in the auto dealer software market is extensive. To make a long story short, car dealers continued to buy while others were only talking. So Devin and Mike made a second pivot to focus on the automotive market, and have changed the name again to

Shortly thereafter, Stonehenge Capital offered to join the Seed Preferred round, writing a large check, making the total a nicely over-subscribed round.  Now fully funded, moved rapidly to expand direct sales and channels. Their call center in the Syracuse Tech Garden is growing rapidly under the leadership of their VP Sales who relocated from Atlanta to take the opportunity.  The company as a whole is currently growing exponentially, with hundreds of dealer locations using their software. There is a healthy partnership between the company and its investors, all of them providing added value.

The future is very bright indeed for SpinCar. Later this week they’ll be in San Francisco for the National Association of Dealers (NADA) conference. Go SpinCar, go!

StartFast supports talented and passionate entrepreneurs, invests in their companies, introduces them to key mentors and other investors and continues to guide them toward success. Apply now!

Demo-Day 2014

Demo Day 2014


[Opening Remarks]

  • This is it!
  • Chuck Stormon: Welcomes the guests in the room and introduces StartFast’s Alum from last year.
  • Chuck thanks sponsors such as Le Moyne College, Centerstate CEO, Seed Capital, etc.
  • Mentors rise up to receive praise from the crowd
  • Tony, from Manning & Napier takes the stage:
  • “This day,…would not have been possible if it wasn’t for Chuck Stormon and Nasir Ali”
  • “…Finding the next gem…”
  • “…Make a little investment magic happen today…”
  • Nasir Ali takes the stage:
  • The furnace accelerator is a new accelerator in town
  • Leslie Jump takes the stage:
  • “Startups have changed…”
  • “The lean startup movement…this is all about building something, learning what’s going on with your customer…”
  • “It’s a process. You need to be there for the long run”
  • “Today you can build a million dollar company from you sofa”
  • “So I want you to listen today…get involve with a startup company…write a check”



  • Jason Sherman takes the stage:
  • “Online Dating Sucks!”
  • “So about a year ago, I said to myself, someone has to fix this”
  • “We came to startfast with only 10k users… I am proud to announce that as of today we have 100k users”
  • “Together we are on a mission to end bad dates forever!”
  • Jason leaves the stage


  • Sean B. takes the stage and introduces PlatypusTv
  • Nomi Foster takes the stage
  • “Three major user view… Old is new…, Premiere…., Interactors…”
  • 70B, this year alone, was spent on TV ads
  • Nomi  leaves the stage

[Keynotes – Patrick Ambron (]

  • Patrick Ambron takes the stage and introduces BrandYourself
  • “If you can’t explain your business in 1 Minute, it is too complicated”
  • “Stand-out best at one thing, than mediocre at 100 things”
  • “Enjoy the ups, remember the downs”
  • “Hire the best: Pitch them just like an investor”
  • “Treat your employees the way you want them to treat your customers and their work”
  • “Know how you’re different, make sure everyone else knows too”
  • Patrick Ambron leaves the stage


  • Ben Bragdon takes the stage and introduces Wyzerr
  • Ben leaves the stage
  • Natasia takes the stage
  • “Initially target retailers with millennial customers”
  • Natasia leaves the stage


  • Jay from Manning & Napier takes the stage and introduces Zursh
  • Jay leaves the stage
  • Simon takes the stage
  • “Please see me afterwards so that I can tell you how we can use every last dollar to reach 20M transactions by 2016. Thank you”
  • Simon leaves the stage

[Keynotes – ]

  • Crowd stands to stretch
  • “Image and authenticity”
  • “I come here I see this energy, it’s authentic! Thank you for having me!”
  • Speaker leaves the stage.

[Mass Mosaic]

  • Speaker takes the stage to introduce Mass Mosaic
  • Speaker leaves the stage
  • “we may not realize what we have until someone values it”
  • Rob Jameson takes the stage
  • “The economy is evolving, and Mass Mosaic is what’s it’s evolving into.”
  • “The secret to how this works is simple. We don’t just rely on buying and selling (by pierce).”
  • Rob Jameson leaves the stage

[Interface Foundry]

  • Elisa Miller-Out takes the stage to introduce Interface Foundry
  • Elisa Miller-Out leaves the stage
  • Rachel Law takes the stage
  • “Everyone, take out your mobile devices and enter this url: … “
  • Rachel Law leaves the stage

[Closing Remarks]

  • Nasir Ali shows his gratitude by thanking Families, friends, investors, mentors, and Interns.

This concludes StartFast’s 2014 Demo-Day.

The HEAT is ON!

“I have not had this much fun all summer!”
— Angel investor and exited entrepreneur Bob Theis (after hearing the StartFast teams pitch to SCF investors last Thursday).
We are eight days out from Demo Day and the teams are all stepping up their game.
  • Instamour has gone from zero to nearly 50,000 desktop users since launching their website platform July 11. Total users are now over 60,000 (including mobile) and on track to go past 80,000 by demo day. They have interest from a number of investors in the Philadelphia area and are getting ready to initiate a convertible debt round.
  • Interface Foundry has added more paying customers that want databubbles for their tech conferences in NYC. They have also automated the process so that databubbles can automatically be created when someone sets up an event on facebook, meetup, etc. On track to their goal of 1 million databubbles and 1 million users by year end.  They pitched last week in NYC against the very well known and well funded Lyft ridesharing app and are also likely to demo at NYC Tech Meetup (the largest meetup in the world) following StartFast demo day.
  • Wyzerr continues to refine their product and has a lot of inbound customer interest from retail establishments (setting up surveys for DestinyUSA, Dave and Busters, and Syracuse Downtown Committee). They just presented to some Texas-based investors over Skype who made their money in retail and were immediately asked how much they were looking to raise.
  • MassMosaic has launched their platform and begun process of marketing and onboarding users. A NYC VC reached out to us expressing interest and we had a preliminary meeting last week.  The VC is interested and has funded others in this space, but would like to revisit possibility of funding when MM starts processing transactions.
  • Zursh has started processing research requests ranging from $500 to $5,000 in price. They have also identified pools of existing money that could be diverted by investment research firms like Manning & Napier to their platfrom.
  • Platypus TV has launched their android app and the iphone version should be available in the Apple Store by end of this week. They are testing their marketing strategies with early adopters.

There are 8 days left and we can only guess what our motivated teams will do to gather more attention and excitement for Demo Day! Come and see for yourself!

Carmelo Anthony Starts Melo7 Tech Partners: How do Athletes and Entrepreneurs Coincide?

Throughout the years, many people in the sports world have also pursued interests in startups, investing, and venture capital, both before and after retirement. However, over the course of the past few weeks, the news of the creation Melo7 Tech Partners, Carmelo Anthony’s new venture capital firm, refreshed an interest in understanding how sports and entrepreneurship coincide.

Photo Credit: AP

Photo Credit: AP

It seems like an unlikely pairing of jocks and nerds. A big time athlete is not supposed to know anything about novel technologies and the risks of the investment game. Nonetheless, there are certainly qualities that overlap.

Athletes know firsthand about the hard work and dedication that it takes to reach the distinguished level of professional sports. It takes years of preparation in the gym with a ball in-hand. It takes tireless perfection of minuscule details. It is both a physical and mental challenge. Lastly, of course, it is all at a great risk of injury that can end a career in an instant. When things work out, the hard work pays off with fame and fortune.

This process is reasonably similar to what it takes to get involved in the startup world. Financial growth does not appear to be the sole motivator for athletes to get involved in entrepreneurship. It seems to be the thrill of the game.

There are countless examples of athletes getting involved in entrepreneurial ventures. Livestrong was famously founded by Lance Armstong. Former NBA-star David Robinson co-founded Admiral Capital Fund, which allocates a percentage of earnings to help in low-income communities. NBA-veteran Steve Nash explored similar interests after partnering with Consigliere, a New-York based marketing consultancy and venture capital firm.

Perhaps some motivation for professional athletes comes from close contact with the entrepreneurs and venture capitalists that own and manage various sports franchises. Names like Mark Cuban and Dan Gilbert are some prime examples of this trend. The influence and excitement of entrepreneurship surely has to be rubbing off.

Current New York Knicks Superstar Carmelo Anthony, often referred to as “Syracuse’s favorite son” after playing collegiate basketball at Syracuse University, has continued to pave the intersection of athletes and venture capitalists with his most recent endeavor. The firm he co-founded will aim to invest in early-stage digital media companies, many of which will be based in New York. Melo has lifetime connection to New York State through his childhood, college life, and professional career. A big name like Carmelo Anthony will only support the ongoing efforts of promoting entrepreneurship and startups in Syracuse, and New York in general.

The excitement behind startups and the ever-expanding business opportunities will continue to draw stars from the courts, fields, and tracks of professional athletics in coming years to become role models and icons in startup and investing culture.

Interface Foundry Faces off Against Lyft in NYC


Photo credits: AlleyNYC

What does it feel like to be a 3-month old startup pitching against a globally recognized brand?  As a packed crowd at AlleyNYC found out this Wednesday, it feels GREAT!

Rachel Law and JR Baldwin were friends and masters students at Parson’s School of design when they had an idea with the potential to revolutionize the way information is organized and accessed by people.  Instead of downloading hundreds of specialized apps or searching for and bookmarking thousands of URLs, they imagined all the information on the internet self-organizing and making itself visible to people with the touch of a single button on their mobile devices.  Earlier this year, Interface Foundry was born with the ambitious goal of organizing the world’s information in “databubbles” which are tied to location and time.  Even better, when someone is in a databubble, the information presented is prioritized and organized based on the user’s individual preferences.

Photo credits: AlleyNYC

The AlleyNYC crowd oohed and aahed as Rachel showed them how easy it is to create your own databubble for any location and any event using the company’s Content Management System.  They were then blown away when Rachel announced that IF is now automating the process with a goal of creating a million data bubbles across the world by end of 2014.

Data bubbles are the future of the internet and they are being invented at StartFast this summer!  To learn more, visit Interface Foundry and join us in cheering for Rachel and JR at StartFast Demo Day this August 14.


Corporate Boards, Governance, and the Illusion of Control

I read last week’s New York Times article, “Obama and the Myth of Presidential Control” with interest. In it, Brendan Nyhan points out the fallacy in our common public perception that US Presidents control events that occur while they’re in office. A similar “illusion of control” traps many entrepreneurs into counter-productive actions based on unfounded worries about control of their company.  Counter-productive actions I’ve seen entrepreneurs take to preserve their illusion of control include:

  1. Over-negotiating your prospective investors’ rights,
  2. Sub-optimizing your Board in favor of having more management team representation on it,
  3. Refusing appropriate capital infusions into your company,
  4. Putting red-flag terms into employment or founder’s agreements.

Read Venture Deals for the standard investors’ rights and what is and is not worth negotiating. Read Start-up Boards to understand the best way to structure your Board of Directors. Of course, no book (or blog!) can replace good judgement and discernment. First and foremost, your Board should add value to your company. Your management team already works for the company, so by definition, management team members don’t add any additional value by being on your Board. Startup boards begin stacked with management, but shouldn’t stay that way.

Most (not all) worries about control are over-blown or completely unfounded. Your concern may be,

“Will I lose my C-level job at the company I founded?”

You can control your destiny on this point only by performing well. As a shareholder in your company, you should not want yourself running the business if you’re not producing results. Even if you’re not able to see it that way, be aware that every other investor in the business does, and no amount of maneuvering can change that. In fact, almost all maneuvers make your fears more likely to happen. Focus on performance. Period.

The other common concern is

“Will my Common Stock become less valuable than the investor’s Preferred Stock?”

It might, but that’s also highly dependent upon your performance and that of your team. At the end of the day, major differences in value between Common and Preferred result from the deal you negotiated when you raised the financing and your performance at growing the company. If all goes well, Preferred Stock converts into Common Stock. If things don’t go according to plans, your company will probably have to raise more money, possibly at less desirable terms.  Once you’ve closed with an investor, focus entirely on maximizing growth without running out of cash. That’s what you can do to alleviate your fears constructively. Remember that every Board member has an equal fiduciary responsibility to every class of shareholder of your company. Fiddling with Board construction (or anything else for that matter!) out of fear is never advisable. Most things that don’t help your company grow are at best a waste of time and energy.

There is one notable exception – a form of control that is both positive and completely necessary for your success – Governance. Shareholders elect the Board of Directors and one of the Board’s principle duties is to provide Corporate Governance.

Corporate governance background concept“Governance mechanisms include monitoring the actions, policies and decisions of corporations and their agents. Corporate governance practices are affected by attempts to align the interests of stakeholders.” – Wikipedia

Appropriate governance must be provided by Directors that are independent of the management team. Investors and/or at large Board members with appropriate expertise and experience provide this benefit. Proper governance keeps you out of jail and out of lawsuits. When done correctly, governance helps you keep your job and preserve the value of your stock.

Make sure you have Board members helping you with Governance, focus on performance (making your company growth as fast as possible), and never run out of cash. If you can do these three things, you can let go of fear. The rest will take care of itself!


Instamour users are In Love

By Acheampong Johnson

instamour_stickerJason Sherman, founder and CEO of Instamour, doesn’t believe in wasting a single second when it comes to work. Sherman, along with his trusted team of researchers and developers, has worked tirelessly to acquire as many users as possible to help them stand out come StartFast’s Demo Day on August 14, 2014 – a mere three weeks from now.

Instamour made a commitment – to reach 50,000 users by Demo Day – and they have no intent to fail. Jason and co. have found a method that has helped them triple their user base, from 10,000 users when they came into StartFast, up to a total of 40,000 users in their last count. This number has not only growing rapidly every day, but their users are fulfilling every marketing VP dream by enthusiastically spreading the word through their own networks.

Instamour was able to ramp up its user acquisition by running “20 micro experiments using various combinations of age, location, interests, gender, ethnicity, and other factors to figure out who was most prone to create an account on our website or install our app” says Sherman in his latest interview.

The big question on everyone’s mind is “What are you doing differently?”

Well, according to Sherman, “The most interesting fact we found after running these campaigns is that 97% of the users were signing up using our Facebook login, so we started running Facebook Ads, targeting the same types of users that were signing up on our platform.” Users are also pretty excited about creating videos and commenting on their “amours” profiles. The new commenting feature was introduced only last week, and already 10% of the users have posted a comment on another users’s profile. Now Instamour is looking to expand into large cities where they have a strong userbase – New York, Philli, LA, and San Francisco in the US, and Buenos Aires, Argentina, and Lisbon, Portugal internationally. In large, crowded cities it is essential to create a large, balanced user community to succeed in matchmaking, and Instamour is up for the challenge. Sherman is estimating user acquisition cost at $0.56 for US and $0.21 for international users. With a budget of $200,000 Instamour is looking to expand their user base exponentially to reach 350,000 users.

With Instamour’s growing community and their enthusiasm, it’s safe to say this company is on the path to success.

What do investors want?

I’m an anomaly. I’m an entrepreneur, an angel investor and an institutional investor (venture capitalist) all at the same time. I’ve been an entrepreneur for 30 years, and angel investor for 7 years and a venture fund manager for 3 years. As an entrepreneur, I’ve raised about $45 million from top venture capitalists. As an angel, I’ve invested in 31 startups and as a venture capital fund manager, I’ve screened thousands of companies and invested in 19 deals. Perhaps that puts me in an advantaged position to write a blog about what investors want.

Reading about the frustrations of some entrepreneurs, one might think that “what do investors want?” is a question for the ages. I beg to differ. In my experience, the answer can be summed up in five points. If investors aren’t pursuing you, it’s probably because you’re failing to do your best on one or more of these.

Point one: Investors are individuals of great diversity. Any generic answer to “what investors want” is going to be of very little value. Get to know the individual investor and their fund. They are very open about what they’re looking for. Are you in an industry in which they invest? Are you at the right stage of development for them? Do you have the potential they’re looking for? If the answer to any of these questions is, “No” then you’re wasting each other’s time.

Point two: Are you the kind of entrepreneur investors want to bet on? The investor puts their trust in you. They place their reputation, not just money, into your hands. Do you have real integrity? Are your values in alignment with the investors’? Are you really really smart? Have you done it before (taken a startup through to completion)? How’s your work-ethic? Have you demonstrated passion for your current company by persevering through adversity? Are you fully committed? Do you recruit teammates that have these traits?

Point three: Relationship. Investors want to get to know you before entrusting you with their reputation and their money. This is even more true for angel investors, but also pertains to VC’s, who know that it might be a decade before they exit the investment. So expect them to want to get to know you well before embarking upon a decade-long journey with you.

Point four: Are you easy to do business with? Don’t negotiate things that don’t matter. Be accessible and return communications promptly. Be on time to meetings and arrive well-prepared. It’s surprising how many entrepreneurs think it’s OK to reschedule a meeting at the last minute. It’s not. That’s just disrespectful. Don’t make excuses; clean up your act.

Point five: We’re all human and therefore limited and flawed, investors and entrepreneurs alike. Do you learn from your mistakes? The alternative is to be destined to repeat them. Can you accept coaching thoughtfully, easily? Or do you demand that you make every mistake yourself? Investors want to help you succeed. They’ll do everything they can to help the business.

The next time you visit Las Vegas and wonder where the money comes from to build all those fancy hotels, remember that casinos are filled mostly with optimists and very few mathematicians. An optimist will read this blog and say, “Yes, that’s me. I have everything going for me that an investor wants.” A mathematician will only say that if investors are beating down his door with offers. If that’s not happening for you, then you owe it to yourself to take a harder look at yourself and start improving.


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