Demo-Day 2014

Demo Day 2014

Instamour

[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”

[Presentations]

[Instamour]

  • 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

[PlatypusTv]

  • 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 (BrandYourself.com)]

  • 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

[Wyzerr]

  • 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

[Zursh]

  • 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.”
  • 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: bubbl.li … “
  • 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

DSC_1025

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.

 

5 Tips for Accelerating Your Startup

Life in a startup moves pretty fast, but sometimes progress seems to take forever.  How can you make more progress in less time? Here are five proven tips for enhancing productivity.

  1. Understand the Stage You’re In – There are distinct stages that tech startups go through. Each stage carries with it a dominant task. It is correct to devote most of your time to the dominant task appropriate for your stage. Other activities may be a waste of time, or even counterproductive. For example, during the Formation Stage, the dominant task is forming the founding team and deciding what kind of company you want to build. During the Product Development Stage, you’re primarily building and testing your Minimum Viable Product (MVP). The next stage is Customer Development where you’re rapidly iterating the product based on detailed interviews and interaction with engaged users. Once you’ve reached a degree of Product/Market Fit, you’re ready to Scale. It’s important to focus on the right tasks at each stage.
  2. Narrow Your Focus – Many early-stage companies dream of building a platform to solve a big problem. Before you can solve a big problem for the world, you have to solve a real problem for a real customer. That means getting specific. Without focus, you’ll spin your wheels. Getting specific with one real customer at a time helps you focus on solving a real problem. One tip here – a customer is someone who pays you. Many startups waste time with people who use their product without paying.
  3. Time Management – Some entrepreneurs get trapped feeling overwhelmed. Like a gerbil on a wheel, they feel like there’s not enough time in the day to get everything done. Here are some ways to avoid this counterproductive but all too common fate. Focus on real, paying customers. What else? First Things First - know the difference between the simply urgent and the important. Focus on the important.  Once you’ve identified your important tasks, delegate everything you can. You’ll be more productive if you’re not trying to juggle twenty different things. Learn to delegate so you have fewer things on your plate. Give your team tasks that are focused and important. Keep only what you can’t delegate.
  4. Engage the Community – Invest in relationships inside and outside your company. These relationships will support you in ways that are impossible to predict. Before you run out of direct resources to delegate to, ask for help from interns, mentors, and others in your community. It’s one way to build a relationship, as most people like to be asked for help. It’s also surprising what you’ll learn by expanding the number of people with whom you regularly work.
  5. Take Care of Yourself – It’s amazing how often we undermine our productivity by undermining our well-being. Exercise, get enough rest, eat real food, avoid alcohol, caffeine and other drugs. Sound trite? It’s not. When you’re under time-pressure and stress, you need to double-down on these basics. The fact that most people do the opposite could be to your competitive advantage…if you’re more disciplined than most. Here are some uncommon tips which can supercharge your productivity when used in addition to the basics. Breathe more deeply than “normal” whenever you can. Get up and stretch, take a walk, or do a few minutes of yoga several times during your day. Whenever you take a break, think of something that you appreciate and remember to cultivate a feeling of gratitude. These simple practices will not just enhance your happiness, they’ll actually make you more effective.

 

The One Metric That Matters

 

At StartFast we say that a startup can’t outspend its competitors, but it can out-focus them. It’s crucial for a startup to focus on improving one thing at a time, using analytics tools to objectively measure the impact of each improvement.

Early on, it’s easy to choose a focus.

  • Find a customer;
  • Make sure you’re solving a problem the customer cares about;
  • Build a minimum viable product and demonstrate that it solves the problem.

Later, figuring out how to get accurate metrics for your business’s performance is more nuanced and finding reliable ways to improve these metrics is more difficult.

To make the problem tractable, we divide and conquer by focusing on one metric at a time – “The One Metric That Matters.” This reductionist, analytical approach has power in business as it does in science. But it’s important not to lose sight of the big picture. What numbers really matter?

An eloquent answer to this from Josh Elman is that the only metric that matters is a measure of how many people are really using your product. Another good answer is to focus on the one thing that is most broken. Here’s a tight 90-minute course on the topic from Lean Analytics co-author Alistair Croll.

There is also a dark side to the analytics movement to be guarded against. In this video interview Ben Yoskovitz, the other co-author Lean Analytics says,

“You’re going to lie to yourself. You’re going to lie to other people, but temper that with some data so that you can figure out how to get to proving that the lie was true.”

In my humble opinion, this is just plain wrong. Submitted for your approval, I offer a radical alternative I like to call integrity.

Integrity:

1. the quality of being honest and having strong moral principles;
2. the state of being whole and undivided.

Integrity means doing what you say you’re going to do. Customers buy from companies with integrity; teams follow leaders with integrity; and investors invest in CEOs with integrity. No matter the company’s stage, no matter what problem we’re trying to solve, integrity is truly the one metric that matters most.

- Chuck Stormon

 

Peace in a New Tech Tribe – Rob Jameson (CEO – MassMosaic)

massmosaic


I’m a sociologist at heart. People in communities fascinate me. After years of observation, I can quickly see trends that enable the individuals to live and co-create effectively in the communities I visit. StartFast is no different.

I grew up in a working-class home. I never had the opportunity to study entrepreneurs or even self-employed people. Growing up (and even now), I have been told that success is working a 9-5 job for 30+ years that will one day provide a pension. Much of what drives me is the rejection of this model of happiness.

When arriving at StartFast one month ago, for the first time in my life I was surrounded by entrepreneurs who were excited to find uncharted solutions to large problems. There was no single methodology or goal they followed. This has brought me overwhelming joy and kinship that is only surpassed by my curiosity about this strange new tribe that has formed.

What have I witnessed since StartFast began? Well, the demands on our time from external forces have increased drastically – which often results on the need to re-attune and balance. We, in particular the CEOs, are challenged numerous times a day – intellectually, emotionally, collaboratively, and spiritually. The natural result is we’ve begun to form support clusters where we meet in groups and connect. My peer group of CEO’s share empathy, knowledge and resources freely during weekly “venting” sessions and pitch critiques.

This clustering is not unique to the CEOs. The CTO’s have their group, and the interns have theirs. We also cluster based on interest (like film-making), tactics (like growth hacking), and culture (like soccer fans). We mutually understand we are all leaders in our generation, and this commonality in our community bonds us tightly together during this short summer.

I have spoken with numerous people this last week about their feelings about the end of the program in August. It’s on everyone’s mind – even though we are not yet halfway into the program. The comradery that we experience together is more powerful than we had expected.

Some days mentors and customers jolt us. Other days our teams are in disarray. Each week we come together and share grievances in confidentiality, both to hear each other and be held communally in the complex set of emotions and thoughts we experience. We mirror each other’s pain and wisdom; we listen and are listened to.

Cheers to you all, my friends. It’s a magical path we’re on – one that could never fully be explained to someone outside our program. I look forward to us growing closer before we part ways at the end of this summer.


 

Rob Jameson – CEO, Mass Mosaic