Let me start by saying that JRNL isn’t my first startup and it won’t be my last. I love entrepreneurship and I have the utmost respect for any true entrepreneur, no matter how good (or bad) I think their idea might be. To me, being an entrepreneur means being a visionary and driven. It also means sacrifice, humility and hard lessons on the fly. You’ll never experience a greater learning opportunity in business than being an entrepreneur. I hope what I will share on this blog over time will serve as valuable insight to anyone looking to start a business. So… on with it already.
Today marks the end of the 5th week of the 12-13 week BoomStartup Accelerator. I want to share my experiences at Boom, why I chose to put JRNL through an Accelerator and what I think about some of the other Cohorts in my 2016 class.
JRNL is a Vegas-based tech company and we’re representing well. Typically in an accelerator, cohort companies move to the city where the accelerator is located and fully engage in the program every day. BoomStartup is in Salt Lake City and while it’s not cross country, travel still feels like a little bit of a hassle even if Uber and Lyft have made it less painful. The benefit of committing 100% to an Accelerator is a mentor-driven approach built upon knowledge and experience of successful entrepreneurs that prepares cohort companies for investment. Yes, sometimes the mentors are also the investors, but I’ve found that isn’t typical.
Since JRNL was in full swing, the decision to join BoomStartup was difficult because of the 12-week commitment and our existing development schedule. We were making moves and some pretty big updates. I spent weeks going through the pros and cons and did my best to educate myself about the process and identify the worst possible scenario. In the end, I came to the conclusion that the worst possible scenario was actually losing the opportunity to build relationships with some of the best entrepreneurs and investors in a top-rated accelerator.
I’ll admit I exhaled after the first day. I immediately saw the value of BoomStartup and felt reassured of my decision. I could feel the energy at the Impact Hub in Salt Lake City and it was great to be surrounded by other companies scrapping and clawing to get better.
Sometimes, as an entrepreneur or startup it’s easy to feel like you’re alone trying to conquer the world and nobody can possibly understand what you’re going through. In an accelerator everyone is trying to make it. There’s a bond that forms amongst cohorts that makes you better. It just happens and it’s a benefit that’s not typically mentioned, but it exists and it helps every company drive towards the finish line. Even as a company commuting from Vegas weekly, we’ve been fully engaged and performed well during Mentor Dating and the relationships we’ve developed with other cohorts has been a benefit and improved our company.
If you’ve ever been a part of Speed Dating or heard about it or seen Hitch, you have some idea of what Mentor Dating is like. At BoomStartup, you walk from meeting to meeting getting 15 minutes to pitch your idea to a mentor hoping they like you and your business. All the while, you’re trying to discern what they think and if they can be of any help beyond a path to money.
If you’re lucky, you meet a mentor that has an instant connection and the stars align and all is right with the world. It’s very much like teenage love, nothing feels stronger. Maybe you spend the last 10 minutes of the meeting talking about how the two of you will work together and conquer the world.
If you’re unlucky, you meet someone that checks out of your meeting within two minutes of arriving. Maybe they don’t like your business. Maybe they can’t see how they can help you. Maybe they’ve invested in a competitor. Maybe they only work with certain types of companies (e.g. B2B, B2C, BioTech, EdTech, etc.) or maybe, just maybe, they are sizing you up. As my good friend Jason Finfrock likes to say, “You don’t play poker with your cards facing out.” What does this feel like? If you’ve ever been on a blind date with zero chemistry you know what I’m talking about.
Either lucky or unlucky, I don’t get too excited about positive or negative feedback. Even Jesus couldn’t please everyone. Instead, I get amped up about OPPORTUNITY, especially if I can see the path to success that is presented before me.
For me, Mentor Dating was a blast. More than 65 mentors listened to all of our pitches and gave feedback, good and bad. I valued the insight and appreciated all the feedback because I knew it would make JRNL stronger. I don’t know how it was for the other Cohorts, but the impression I got was good. The mentors that I really connected with were thought leaders. They could positively impact my business and help make a difference immediately. I don’t know what that’s worth dollar-wise, but to me it made the commitment to BoomStartup feel like a bargain. After all, I’m a big believer in surrounding yourself with people smarter than you whenever you get a chance.
Why Mentors Are Needed
I’m not sure why Alexandre Dumas’ Count of Monte Cristo has always appealed to me. I think it’s because I like the idea that someone could rise up from nothing and use education to outsmart the competition and advance themselves to greatness. While the book is different from the movie, Abbé Faria is a “mad priest” digging his way to freedom and ultimately teaches Edmond reading, mathematics, science, languages, philosophy, history, sword fighting, and economics. And while I acknowledge that it’s absurd to compare being an entrepreneur to being wrongly imprisoned (but some entrepreneurs would say it’s more similar than you might think), I do see parallels in the relationship between Edmond and Abbé Faria and Mentors and Cohorts.
There are a ton of great ideas in this year’s BoomStartup Cohort, but many of these ideas are still trying to become a business. The Founders need to be taught how to analyze their business, identify their customer, articulate their value proposition, learn how to pitch their business clearly and concisely, and learn how to market and sell their business. And that’s just the tip of the iceberg. BoomStartup helps with most of this, but the one-on-one time you get with mentors often solves other issues that weren’t obvious before.
In addition to the education, real-world perspective makes each cohort stronger. Most entrepreneurs I’ve met over the last 20 years have only been told how great their ideas are. Their Mom didn’t question their TAM, SAM or SOM, let alone take the time to do a competitive analysis, ask about traction, or challenge them on how the heck they’re going to make money. Mentors and investors have no problems cutting your legs out from under you. Quite frankly, more entrepreneurs need this and they should thank people for giving them tough love. It will likely save them a ton of money and, more importantly, lost time.
You might be wondering, “But Nick, these cohorts were hand selected by a top accelerator. Haven’t they done all of this?” Heck no. Accelerators like BoomStartup do their best to vet a company, but they can’t possibly predict the skeletons lurking in the closet. In some cases it might be worth taking a flyer on a great idea and hope to smooth out the rough edges in the business or the Founder. Just because your company gets accepted into an Accelerator doesn’t mean you’ve made it and you’re getting funded. You may have to open a can of un-suck to fix your company in 12 weeks. That’s where the Mentors and the managing partners of the Accelerator earn their keep. Sumner Douglas is great about working with each cohort and has taken the time to analyze our business and identify ways to make it better. Even better, he’s honest with a touch of tough love if you need it.
Companies I like
First, let me say that my choices below do not mean I dislike the other 4 cohorts in BoomStartup this year. In fact, I’m learning more about Core Learning Exchange this week and I like their founders a lot. That said, below are the companies that I immediately gravitated towards.
Tired of guessing what your utility bills are going to be? Vutiliti promises to make tracking your utility usage easy. There’s potentially great social impact and the business model is solid. Throw in good Founders and unique solution to a universal problem and you’ve got a winner. There’s no guarantee for success, but I like their chances. They’ve had a ton of interest and they seem to be tripping over investors as they walk around the Impact Hub. That’s a good problem. 🙂
If your business relies on the success of your sales team, then you need Salesbridge. It’s an easy and effective solution to optimizing sales cycles. Salesbridge has great tools to help managers identify how their sales team is doing, but it also has great end-user tools that will make a good sales person better. My favorite feature? Salesbridge works with your existing email and calendar. No new software to learn. Their scheduling calendar tool is pretty sweet, too. Oh, and Founders Joe Lowry and Trevor Paskett are two of the best guys you’ll ever meet.
When I first heard about this company, I thought, “LoJack for expensive equipment.” In reality, it’s more than that. RoviTracker helps companies like Chevron track and maintain equipment over large geographic areas. It appeals to me because one of my family members who is very successful in her own right once talked to me about the cost of maintaining and tracking her paving company’s equipment. RoviTracker is a SaaS-based company, which most investors love. I think there are other verticals that they’ll eventually tackle. I like their team and they’re solving a pretty big problem.
Matt Garner is one of those Founders you hope to find as an investor. He’s extremely smart with a wide range of experience and he’s driven. He’s built and sold companies before and he understands the importance of running his business lean. I’ve really enjoyed getting to know Matt and his company and they’re doing something pretty cool. Matt is helping independent grocers stay competitive in this world where technology sometimes separates the “haves” from the “have-nots”. ShopHero delivers groceries to your front door at a competitive price. What I also love about their businesses is their name gives them flexibility to move into other delivery segments if the opportunity presents itself. ShopHero is expanding quickly. Hopefully they’ll be in your city soon.
Moving on to Demo Day
JRNL is killing it. We’re also tripping over investors. We’ve set our goal for our Seed Round and we could easily finish it by the end of May. I need to be strategic closing out this round because the right investors could make all the difference a year from now. I’ll be sure to share our successes as the year goes on.
Thanks, as always, for your support of JRNL. I can’t wait to share what’s coming down the pipeline in 2016.