Top 3 Reasons to Join StartFast

 

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In just a few days, StartFast will close the application process for 2016’s summer program. If you’re a founding member of a startup, here are a few reasons why you should get your application in before April 4th to be considered for selection:

Get Focused

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Imagine having 3 months to work with your team in a collaborative, fun environment that will allow you to hyper focus on what you need to get accomplished. Now, think about working toward the goal of pitching your company to a packed room full of investors, from across the US and around the world.

With that kind of motivation and dedication pushing you and your team forward, what’s possible?

Get Feedback

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StartFast boasts an extensive mentor network that spans several industries including healthcare, software, manufacturing, gaming, app development, and financial services, just to name a few. One of the reasons why StartFast is so unique is because our mentors are willing to give the necessary feedback and guidance you need to understand your market, fine tune your revenue model, and communicate with investors.

With one-on-one mentorship from super successful entrepreneurs, how much will your startup benefit?

Get Funded

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StartFast will provide your company with funding ($25,000) and enable you to tap into a vast number of financial resources. There are also opportunities to gain up to $75,000 in follow-on funds, and tap into the technical expertise of the StartFast network to help your company grow lean.

Between the financial boost and connections to hundreds of investors, how fast can your company accelerate?

Get Ready

Get ready for the opportunity to accelerate! Click here to apply. Have any questions? Ask Emily O’Neill at Emily@startfast.net.

Kip: Good Instincts + Data = Win

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Rachel Law, co-founder and CEO of Kip, has some encouraging words for entrepreneurs, as well as some tales of caution.

Rachel and fellow founder and current CTO Alyx Baldwin graduated from StartFast Venture Accelerator in 2014, back when they were known as Interface Foundry. The company was initially devoted to creating data bubbles based on the location of users, allowing information for shopping and other activities to be readily available at the touch of a button.

Today, rebranded as Kip, the company uses an AI chatbot that helps collect and coordinate group orders for team shopping. Just recently, Kip joined forces with Slack to enable fast and easy purchases for teams.

 

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Through their evolution as a company, Rachel and her team have overcome challenges and learned how to be resourceful. Below, Rachel shares her advice for startups:

Trust your instincts, but back them up with data.

Rachel and Alyx had a feeling that their platform needed to evolve. The team wanted to change direction with Kip’s core functionality, transforming it from a search tool to a chatbot — but their instincts were met with resistance from developers and mentors.

“People were unsure about the chatbot concept and wondered why we’d do it. They thought it was too old of an idea, like something from 1999,” Rachel said. “But you have to trust that you’re the one working on the product, and you have to be the person who knows your customers best – not your advisors, not your investors, not your friends.”

Forging ahead in a new direction, Rachel felt they were heading where “the future was hidden.” They gained a great deal of traction with their new chatbot, which justified the new model to them and proved their instincts to be correct.

While the co-founders’ devotion to following their new direction was met with success, Rachel was adamant that intuition needs be backed up by data.

“You have to do the research and make sure your instincts aren’t lying to you, otherwise it’s a very costly mistake,” she added.

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Be as cheap as possible, but not so cheap you hurt the company.

Rachel joked about Kip’s promise of  “lots of coffee and chocolate” to teammates on their website, and discussed the importance of providing employment perks while still being reasonable. As a young startup, there’s increased pressure to make the most out of limited resources – and employees.

“Hiring people is the most expensive thing you can do and will greatly affect your burn rate. Be slow to hire, but not too slow,” Rachel cautioned. “And hire well, as these people will affect the entire morale of the company.”

Rachel added that the CEO of a startup needs to remain the sales and business development lead, rather than hiring an employee to fill that role. She said that the“CEO’s main job is to bring in sales, and work together with CTO” to build the company.

To lower operating costs, Rachel said she believes in the power of bargaining. “When someone gives you a price, negotiate,” she encouraged.

However, there are a few critical areas where Rachel doesn’t believe in cutting corners.

“You never save money by being cheap to people. You can negotiate and bargain for things like office supplies and finding a cheaper work space and cutting down on perks like free pizza and beer, but you should pay employees fairly,” she said. “Negotiate for a good deal, but pay for things that matter. Your employees really matter. So don’t be cheap with them.”

After recounting a story about an issue Kip ran into early in the game, Rachel recommended that having a good lawyer is also worth the price, and signals that your company is credible.

“Get a good lawyer that is consistent,” she said. “One that you can truly trust, who can handle your needs, and is on your side. It’s worth it.”

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With the successful launch on Slack behind them, the Kip team is looking forward to expanding their service to office schedulers, managers, and operations personnel to embrace the easy bulk transactions the platform allows.

Looking back on their StartFast days, Rachel admits that she didn’t realize how much work it would be. “The startup world was really all new to us,” she said. “What we learned from StartFast was how to communicate, have a vision, and understand our metrics.”

Ready to accelerate your company? Find out more here. 

Mentors, Markets, and (Team)Mates: Electronic Gaming Federation’s StartFast Lessons

 

A self-described nerd turned entrepreneur, Tyler Schrodt took his intense passion for gaming and founded a growing business.  His company, Electronic Gaming Federation (EGF), aims to combine the “best aspects of the NCAA and ESPN to bring eSports programs to colleges around the world.”

As a 2015 graduate of StartFast Venture Accelerator, Tyler along with his company’s core team, Rockie Hunter, Andrew Cutter, and Josh Roberts, went from slowly gaining traction to accelerating in a new market space. Below, he shares some of the lessons he learned from the program, and a few words of wisdom for budding entrepreneurs.

Mentors

Tyler described his concept of mentorship to be “abstract” before he found his mentors through StartFast. Having successfully launched and sold a company previously, he was aware that having a mentor support network would be beneficial.

“We [Tyler and his previous business partner] knew we were supposed to have people to lean on when we were struggling,” he said. “But we were young and unconnected, and didn’t know how to reach out.”

Once Tyler and his EGF team joined StartFast, he explained that he started off with a long list of questions which allowed them to sift through the nuts and bolts of the company.  “We learned how to present ourselves and communicate the value add of our business,” he said. “That’s what helped us launch into this really cool network.”

Though the number of mentors available to coach entrepreneurs in the esports space is extremely small, the team found several through StartFast that they continue to work with, including Brian Corrigan of Odd Networks, and Steve Raines and Steve Kiernan of VCAMP.

Tyler added, “You may not get the exact answer from your mentors, but you’re led through a process that will help you find it.”

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Markets

The deep connections Tyler and his team made at StartFast allowed them to hyper focus on their desired markets and potential revenue streams.

Tyler had originally anticipated targeting their service to college students, who would then pay the company directly, but realized after a few weeks into the program that they actually needed to set their sights on college administrators.

“We had this broad spectrum of ideas when we started, and there were so many possibilities for us to explore,” Tyler said. “After we joined StartFast though, we understood what our true path was.”

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(Team)Mates

Noting that he doesn’t pretend he can do it all himself, Tyler described his core team dynamics as being extremely important for success.

“Remember to give enough time to focus on culture of company,” he replied, when asked what advice he’d give to budding entrepreneurs. “Business is built on people, and it’s sometimes easy to forget that when you have a million things you need do.”

After the team gained a better understanding of their market and potential revenues streams post-accelerator, EGF began employing their business model this past December. They’re set to close their first contracts this spring, and are looking forward to expanding in the US and beyond.

Want to accelerate your startup? Find out here.

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Tips for Exceeding Your Crowdfunding Goal

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Smartypans, a smart cooking pan that measures calories, recently raised over $30,000 on an IndieGoGo campaign.

A year ago, the brother and sister team who founded the company, Prachi and Rahul Baxi, were attending SXSW to demonstrate their technology. While their pan had been chosen as one of the top 8 technologies of 2015 for the interactive session of the festival, they worried that their product was merely a project.

“We had a very raw prototype, and were putting censors in and testing basic functionalities,” said Prachi, “but we didn’t feel we had the right one.” It was also during SXSW that Prachi and Rahul met StartFast Venture Accelerator‘s managing partners Nasir Ali and Chuck Stormon, and found out how the program could help them.

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Once the team joined StartFast that summer, they were able to craft a better prototype, drive marketing efforts through mentorship, and find funding sources. Equipped with a sleekly designed pan, and a solid marketing strategy following the accelerator, Prachi and Rahul launched a crowdfunding campaign.

Below are a few of their tips for how they exceeded their goal:

1. Find the Right Platform for Early Adopters. IndieGoGo wasn’t initially the go-to platform for Prachi and Rahul. “When we were going through StartFast, our goal was to get on Kickstarter,” Prachi said. “But the timing wasn’t right, and we really wanted to figure out where our potential customers were.”

After doing extensive research, the team came to the conclusion that IndieGoGo was the right platform for a few reasons. “IndieGoGO hosts a lot of smart devices and appliances with very active buyers, so we realized that’s where our early adopters would be,” Rahul shared. “We also discovered that they have a partnership with Target and Brookstone, which allowed for a clear pathway for us to get our product on shelves.”

After attending an event hosted by IndieGoGo, they became connected with the company’s team, and the pre-launch planning was kicked into high gear.

2. Build a Killer Pre-Launch Email List. The team knew that smart devices need a lot of marketing to get attention, and that marketing agencies were expensive and wouldn’t necessarily yield the results they needed.

Prachi and Rahul decided to take a different approach. They didn’t ask people for their email addresses, yet built an email list of more than 6,000 interested leads. So, how did they do it?

“We were presenting at dozens of events,” said Prachi. “And by not asking for emails, but showing our product, people who visited our site signed up because they were truly interested in what we had to offer.”

Prachi and Rahul estimated that they attended nearly 2-3 events per week, in addition to larger events like Consumer Electronic Shows and the Smart Kitchen Summit.

3. Command the Attention of Your Audience. Armed with a solid pre-launch list, the team turned their attention to how they would communicate effectively with their newly created audience. “We learned that just having an email list wasn’t enough. We had to put a lot of effort into making sure that our sign-ups actually opened our emails,” Rahul said.

With that knowledge, Rahul built an email template to ensure that their audience was paying attention, and that the emails weren’t getting filtered as spam or a just another marketing promotional. The personal connection with their early adopters led to higher conversion rates, and overall, a more successful campaign.

4. Expect the Unexpected. While the email list they had built produced great results, they couldn’t have predicted that they’d lose traction due to a technical issue that was out of their hands. The campaign was steadily gaining backers when the payment processing system for the campaign stopped working.

 “We lost a lot of backers because of the payment issue, so we started attending more events to find new users,” said Prachi. Their commitment to keep pushing forward to promote the campaign is what led to their success. The team encouraged that once a campaign is live, to not let it run itself, but to keep promoting, networking, and finding backers.

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In just a year’s time, SmartyPans went from promoting a raw prototype, to launching a crowd pleasing smart pan that continues to capture media attention. Now that the campaign has ended, the team is working on building partnerships with stores, and shipping orders to their early adopters.

To learn more about SmartyPans, visit www.smartypans.io  For more information on accelerating your company, visit www.startfast.net

 

A startup’s 10-point guide to using lawfirms

I met with my attorney, David Holstein, managing partner of Bousquet Holstein PLLC, yesterday. The meeting reminded my how important it is to have a good business lawyer, particularly as a startup. Bousquet Holstein offers StartFast portfolio companies mentorship sessions (pro bono advice) during the program, as well as a fixed-price menu of discounted legal services. This is a godsend for the cash-strapped startup relative to the normal lawfirm’s legal fee-per-hour regardless of outcome. David is a great attorney and has added immeasurable value over the years as I’ve started, funded, built and exited my various ventures. In reflecting on how well this relationship has worked over the years, I put together these 10 points which will let you, as a startup cofounder, get the most out of your relationship with your attorney.

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  1. Don’t wait. Get a good startup attorney before you create a mess. That means, before you agree to a structure with your cofounders. Starting a company without a good cofounders’ agreement can lead to some really frustrating times. Check this out. Generally messes just grow with time. It’s always easier to avoid a mess in the first place than to try to clean one up later.
  2. Selecting an attorney. Have an initial meeting with your prospective attorney. Ask questions and be specific. What background does the attorney have in the subject area of your startup? Do they specialize in business transactions? What is their relevant startup experience? As you discuss your startup, does the attorney lean in to learn more (indicating sincere interest), or fold his/her arms or check the time? How comfortable do you feel in their presence? Do you feel like adding them to your team?  Here, here, and here are some more good points to consider and questions to ask.
  3. Learn the basics yourself. Not to do it yourself, but rather so that you’re not asking the attorney to give you a tutorial. Is your startup making hundreds of dollars per hour for your time? Probably not yet. Well then read a book! If you’re getting started, read StartFast! If you’re raising money, read Venture Deals. Save yourself the embarrassment and expense of walking into your attorney’s office unprepared. Do your homework, have your specific questions ready and know what you’re asking the attorney to do for you.
  4. Billing. Most attorneys operate on the “billable hour” system. Clients sign an Engagement Letter, authorizing the attorney to charge clients hundreds of dollars per hour regardless of the outcome of the work.  Startup-friendly law firms offer a variety of payment options including capped, deferred, discounted and fixed fees. Some may be interested in taking a small equity stake in their clients in lieu of cash some or all of the legal bills. These firms hope that the startup will use them for lucrative venture financing deals or a merger, acquisition, intellectual property transaction, litigation, or IPO. Startup law is like venture capital – the rare wins pay for majority of clients that don’t pay off. Do they offer a fixed price menu for common transactions? Be clear up front on what you will and will not pay for, how much, and when you’ll pay. Most of these are open to some negotiation.
  5. Use published documents. There are several law firms that have open-sourced the documents that startups need for most basic legal transactions. Sites like TechStars, Y-CombinatorSeriesSeed.com, Cooley GO, WHLaunch, Founders’ Workbench, Start-Up Forms Library and others enable entrepreneurs to incorporate, secure early-stage financing, hire employees and compensate them with stock options. StartupCompanyLawyer.com answers many frequently asked questions. Use these resources to educate yourself, and then work with your attorney with the templates as a starting point.
  6. Don’t get hung up on big names. I’ve known several founders who did most of their own legal work because their lawfirm charged $700 per hour. They chose a big name firm because of the prestige (perhaps the ego-trip) of being represented by a firm on one of the startup short-lists. Is their legal work any better than a smaller firm? Are they providing introductions to clients, investors, or are they just your lawyer? Wouldn’t you be better off spending that money on getting more customers?
  7. I am a human. There are startups in the space that try to replace the attorney entirely.  Shake is a mobile platform for simple legal agreements like freelance consulting contracts. Clerky provides forms for incorporations, convertible notes and employee agreements and such. Docracy crowd-sources legal documents,while Rocket Lawyer provides documents with instructions plus the option to consult remotely with an attorney. I recommend using these sites much like other sources of published documents, as education and a starting point. There’s still no replacement for a live human lawyer who understands your business and has your back. Don’t be the legal equivalent of a patient who tells his doctor what he learned on the internet about the treatment needed.
  8. Deal Maker. Make your attorney a deal-maker, not a deal breaker. Attorneys get a bad rap. They’re always getting blamed for making a transaction take longer than it should. In reality, many times the root cause of the delay is that the clients get the lawyers working on a deal before they have a meeting of the minds on the terms. Consult your attorney to help you come to a deal with the other party – before you start papering over the transaction with documents. A non-binding Term Sheet can be useful to communicate what you intend with the other party. This in turn becomes the architecture for the legal contracts culminating the deal.
  9. Avoid Litigation. Many disagreements can be predicted. Attorneys are great resources at structuring agreements so that there is a way out without litigation (one party suing the other). Lawsuits cost time and money in quantities most startups can’t afford. A lawsuit will stall your financing, and is a common cause of death in startups. Avoidance of future regret – a great reason to work with a qualified attorney on every deal – especially with cofounders, investors, partners, and contractors.
  10. Specialists. You need a good business lawyer with startup experience. There are also times you’ll need specialists, like intellectual property lawyers, labor lawyers, litigators, and subject matter expert attorneys as well. If you’re a drone, medical device, or bitcoin company, you’ll need a lawyer with knowledge of the evolving regulations in your field. If you need venture capital introductions, you’ll need a firm that does a lot of venture deals. In you’re doing a merger, you may need a lawyer that does a lot of M&A. Don’t expect your generalist attorney to be the expert in every specialty. They should be able to refer you and promise not to double-bill hours looking over the other attorney’s work.

I hope that helps. Have a happy holiday and a brilliant New Year!

Operational Perfection – the 3rd Differentiator

Investors want to know what makes your business different. “What’s your ‘secret sauce’?” The reason is simple. Companies that can differentiate their offerings can create sustainable competitive advantage, and that gives them a larger share of any market and more profits than companies with “me too” services or products. There are three dimensions of differentiation: 1) technology/innovation; 2) customer intimacy; and 3) operational excellence. Today I’d like to focus on number 3.

I recently had a consumer experience with Untuckit.com, a startup founded in 2011 to make button-down shirts designed to be worn untucked. Since I’ve been rockin’ the venture-capital-chic untucked oxford shirt for a few years, this seemed like genius to me. http://rack.3.mshcdn.com/media/ZgkyMDEyLzEyLzA0Lzk3LzEwcGVvcGxlZGlzLmJrVS5qcGcKcAl0aHVtYgk5NTB4NTM0IwplCWpwZw/d810e145/3da/10-people-distracted-by-untucked-shirts-at-apple-event-76bf07617b.jpg

Here’s what went right (and wrong) with my customer experience:

  • Their ad found me online ++
  • Their page is well organized and I found what I wanted easily +++
  • The ordering process was painless +++
  • The product I ordered arrived on time +++
  • But…it didn’t fit —
  • They had a time limit on returns and initially only offered me store credit —
  • When I complained, I didn’t hear back or get my return label ——
  • When I complained again after a week, I promptly got a return label and a refund +++
  • They followed up and told me that they’d have my size in the future+++

That’s a lot of things they got right! This is pretty good performance and in any other century, would have been good enough. But today, as consumers, we’ve been trained by the likes of Amazon.com to expect not just Operational Excellence, but rather Operational Perfection. As entrepreneurs, why is operational perfection necessary? Let’s use the Untuckit example as an illustration.

Why is this important? First, when you’ve gone to the trouble and expense of delivering a product to a customer, only to have it returned and refunded, your company loses twice as much as if you’d never made the sale in the first place. Second, in today’s climate, consumer backlash (negative comments, posts and tweets) is rampant. It’s no longer true that “any publicity is good publicity”. A bad subreddit or tweet can really hurt your businesses conversion rates. But most importantly, to build your brand and momentum, you need as many rabidly loyal fans as you can get. Operational perfection is a reason for people recommend you to their friends and colleagues.

How can we achieve operational perfection? Each company is different, but in the case of my experience with Untuckit, we can break it down. I hope you can apply these lessons to your business.

  1. the product didn’t meet the customer’s expectation (in this case, the shirt didn’t fit). Untuckit already knew they had a problem in this area. Their website says, “Please note that our shirts do run on the smaller side so if you are right on the border please buy one size up. Please note these are standard sleeve lengths. Dress shirts sleeve lengths do not translate to casual shirt sleeve lengths. As an example if you wear a 32/33 dress shirt sleeve length then a medium will fit you. If any questions or confusion please email us.” Confused, yes. If you’ve got a paragraph like this anywhere in your ordering process, what do you think it will do to your conversion rates? I shouldn’t have to email you to get unconfused! This text gives me three options, none of them pretty for the business: 1) order the product (as I did) and return it at your cost; or 2) go shop somewhere I’m not confused (what the majority of people will do because the confused mind says, “No”; or 3) don’t order the product and either email you or don’t. None of these has a great outcome, except for the statistically random sample of people for whom the product happens to fit. I don’t know what percentage that is, but I know for certain that a few of hours making this part of order process less confusing will make the company’s metrics improve. There are lots of ways to make sure a shirt is going to fit if you give me enough information/images/examples (e.g. here or here).
  2. a time limit on returns and initially offering only store credit. Well, of course there has to be a returns policy, but if you immediately offer my choice of store credit or a refund (or just refund me immediately), you run the risk of surprising me in a good way. Delight the customer! Every startup needs a core of rabid fans.  If you delight customers, you’ll gather rabid fans much more quickly than if you don’t. On the other hand, if you get a return request, that means that you’ve got the customer’s money and from their point of view, you didn’t satisfy the purchase contract. So from their point of view, every second you try to hold on to their money, you’re a thief! I know that’s extreme, but I use it to illustrate the point.
  3. Neither the return label nor the answer to my second request for a refund arrived promptly. When I complained about it a week later, I got an immediate response, with a lame, “maybe it went in your Spam folder” added on. Well who’s fault is it? Must be mine, I guess. Nope. It’s always the vendor’s fault, as long as other online merchants are going to assume that the customer’s always right. How about a little follow-up? Check out Amazon’s return process. Oh…my…god…it’s perfection.

All in all, Untuckit did more things right than wrong. They’ve lost (for now anyway) the opportunity to make me a rabid fan, but they still have an opportunity to win my business in the future. Any they avoided a flaming tweet-storm! Think about how customers feel when dealing with your brand online. There are probably a lot of things you can do to improve. Take the time to do user studies and ask your customers for feedback. At the very least, find out what your Net Promoter Score is and figure out how to improve it. As you fumble towards operational perfection, you’ll earn the love of customers and your numbers will begin to take off.  That’s what investors will notice.

StartFast’s 9 Tips to Build Strong Investor Relationships with a Stellar Weekly Email

Entering StartupAn essential part of entrepreneurship is integrity, especially with your investors. Keep your investors up-to-date with your company by sending them weekly summaries of your business progress. StartFast Managing Director Chuck Stormon recently related the following tips in a seminar at the The Syracuse Tech Garden.

1) Include any requests at the top of the email. You don’t get what you don’t ask for, so if you need help fixing a problem, it’s completely acceptable to ask your investors for advice or suggestions.

2) Be consistent. Send your weekly email on the same day each week. Also, use the same heading for each email.

3) Your email is for only your investors. It likely contains confidential information that would be inappropriate to discuss with others.

4) BCC the recipients. You are not starting a chat forum, you’re sending a confidential email to multiple recipients, and their identities are confidential, too.

5) Mention three best highlights of the week. These can be positive sales results, new developments, improved service, etc.

6) Mention three lowlights of the week. This may be uncomfortable, but it maintains transparency with your investors. If there was a problem you solved, also mention that it was fixed. If the problem is unresolved, be honest about that.

7) Know what to keep to yourself. What things should you not be transparent with your investors about? Anything personal, like martial strife or emotional instability. Your investors are not your therapists.

8) Include metrics from the past week. Focus on a measurable metric. For most businesses, there’s one metric that really matters, and that’s the one you’re spending most of your time driving. Report that to your investors.  

9) Remind everyone that the email is confidential. You may think you don’t need to remind your investors of this every week, but it’s important for your recipients to see it in writing.

Remember, weekly emails are a great way to keep your investors in the loop. While the purpose of the email is primarily to keep in touch with your investors, it’s OK to include prospective investors and advisors as well. In addition to keeping these important players appraised, these emails help keep you accountable to your responsibilities and goals.

Comedians’ Best Advice for Entrepreneurial Success

Comedians are famous for entertaining us, but many times they are often the ones to offer the deepest insights about life. Clever and creative, these entertainers have many excellent observations about effort, failure, and success.

Jim Gaffigan“I love sleep. I need sleep. We all do, of course. There are those people that don’t need sleep. I think they’re called ‘successful.” Jim Gaffigan

Obviously, everyone needs sleep, but the ability to work late into the night is very important when you are starting a new company.

Dave Chappelle“I’m cool with failing so long as I know that there are people around me that love me unconditionally.” Dave Chapelle

 

Having close friends and family is crucial when beginning the daunting adventure of founding a company.

Tina Fey“You can’t be that kid standing at the top of the waterslide, overthinking it. You have to go down the chute.” Tina Fey

 

When starting a business, there will be moments when you have to make important decisions quickly.

Amy Schumer“The moments that make life worth living are when things are at their worst and you find a way to laugh.” Amy Schumer

Laughter, even during difficult times, can give the entrepreneur enough morale to push through to the end.

Richard Pryor“You work your butt off and somebody says you can’t have your record played because it offends them. Tyrants are made of such stuff.” Richard Pryor

Disappointment is a large part of the enterpriser’s life. The key to success is prevailing even through the hard parts.

Amy Poehler“Great people do things before they’re ready. They do things before they know they can do it.” Amy Poehler

When starting a company, you will be tempted to wait until you have a perfect product. The reality is, your product will never be perfect, although you can be sure you won’t improve if you don’t start selling.

Louis CK“The only road to good shows is bad ones. Just go start having a bad time, and if you don’t give up, you will get better.” Louis CK

Don’t expect to be perfect when you set out on your journey to founding a company. Trying will always make mistakes at first, but you’ll never succeed if you don’t try.

About the author: W King Iceberg is a StartFast associate, an author, and humor writer. 

 

The Makers are Thriving in Syracuse

The Maker Movement is helping StartFast grow. Our startups have been working tirelessly throughout the summer and the resident design and prototyping lab, the Le Moyne Maker Zone (LMZ), has been lending a helping hand, incorporating 3D printing into their prototyping and design processes. Some of the work done by the LMZ includes assistance in the prototyping process helping with maintenance and upgrading of HoverStat’s first drone. The maker space also came in handy when SmartyPans needed to 3D-print a couple of designs for their R&D.

CAD for HoverStat at StartFast

The LMZ also offers technical advice and consulting for StartFast, as well as crash courses in Computer-Aided-Design (CAD).

Beyond Le Moyne, Syracuse is home to several other maker spaces, including the Syracuse SALT makerspace, tailored to the artistic community. The SALT space in Downtown Syracuse is a haven for artists creating various technologies and materials that are normally not thought to go hand-in-hand with the arts. Syracuse University also has a maker space that will celebrate its first birthday this fall.

maker space, syracuseBeyond LMZ, Syracuse is a hub for other great technical services as well. Businesses like CADimensions have ample resources and technical skill to help with anything related to 3D printing, the maker missions seen at Le Moyne, Syracuse University, and the SALT Space are living testaments to the incredible ingenuity that lay dormant in the minds of so many that have yet to feel the spark of creativity and intrigue. Syracuse is building traction towards becoming one of the next great tech hubs in the nation. Stop by for a tour!

For tips and advice on how to start up your own maker space, contact the LMZ: makers@lemoyne.edu

 

 

 

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.

Crowdfunding
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.

innovation

Exclusivity
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.

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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.

RushTeraLogo2

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.

Team5Force

 

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.
Website: http://www.hoverstat.com
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.
Website: http://www.smartypans.io
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.
Website: http://www.mogeeapp.com
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.
Website: http://www.egfederation.com
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.
Website: http://bitready.io
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

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Rooms are instantly reconfigurable to create workspaces for the teams

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

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

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A perfect Fall day!

This is how we do it – StartFast 2013 company SpinCar.com 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 Amazon.com) 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 SpinCar.com

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, SpinCar.com 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!

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