Launching Startups, Sexy Expansion, and a Yard Full of Cats

It’s hard to believe how quickly the last three months have flown by in the Iowa Startup Accelerator. November 3 was ISA Launch Day, and this year’s cohort did a tremendous job presenting and summarizing what they’ve been working on over the course of 94 days. I popped in to work on QuickScore the day before Launch Day, and I could tell the stress level was definitely elevated for the presenters.

In a way, I’m glad that I didn’t have to give a pitch for QuickScore, since our team wasn’t able to truly find a market for what we had built for our beta school district. It would have been fun getting up in front of the crowd and talking about our team’s journey – our adventure in corporate innovation. However, we really didn’t have anything to launch, so I would have felt as though I was wasting the crowd’s time presenting the product to them.

Of the six startups, five were able to launch something during their pitches. The team that did not launch a product had essentially built a feature of another company’s product and decided to go out with a bang as they shut down their startup. Let’s cover what each team presented during ISA Launch Day.

20161103_184802Girls with Ideas did a great job focusing their messaging to explain their product over the last 3 months. Of the six teams, they needed the least amount of product iteration. Most of their effort was focused on finishing what had already been started before the ISA and fine-tuning the messaging to connect their product with their empowerment message. They were also able to develop some other revenue streams that will help them to scale more quickly than they otherwise would have before the accelerator.

20161103_185928AssetRover presented next. They were one of three teams that had the least amount of iteration to do during the Iowa Startup Accelerator. Their pitch was probably one of the most improved pitches of the group over the course of the three months. Originally, they were targeting newer real estate investors that maybe had a couple of investment properties. During the customer discovery in the accelerator, they must have found that there wasn’t as big a market in this area as they would have liked. They are now focusing on more professional investment property companies and larger-scale commercial clients. When I listened to their pitch at Innovation Expo, I could tell they were starting to head in this direction, but they did a great job clarifying things at Launch Day.

20161103_191339Streamweaver was the only company that did not launch anything during the event. Unfortunately, as Keevin put it during the pitch, they had “built a feature of another company’s product.” He and Wes were really onto something – connecting e-sports talent to companies that wanted to advertise to e-sports spectators. Had they started developing this a year or two ago, they probably would have been bought out by Twitch rather than learning at TwitchCon that their exact idea was already being developed by a billion-dollar company. As a startup, you can’t really compete with that.

20161103_192959Soteria Bicycles presented next, and you could tell that they had put in a great amount of work during the accelerator on customer discovery. The pitches at the beginning of the program were pretty vague, because nothing had been built yet. They wanted to build a safer bicycle and focused primarily on the statistics of car-bicycle collisions in the first few pitches. The original product was mostly focused on lights and possibly wi-fi connectivity. Over the three months of the accelerator, customer discovery must have led them to iterating to a collision avoidance system, similar to modern cars that can stop or move the car out of the way of a crash. This is a great idea, and I’m looking forward to seeing how this is going to be implemented in the months ahead.

20161103_193900Hang was the one startup that I knew would have to pivot or severely iterate during the course of the Iowa Startup Accelerator. The original pitch they gave at the beginning of the accelerator focused more on the product and not on the problem of why people aren’t getting together more in real life. They had already built an app and were focused almost entirely on this – essentially, what not to do in an accelerator. I’m glad they performed enough customer discovery to understand what the problems were that people were facing in this area, and adjusted their app to serve more as a conduit for event promotion and ticket sales, rather than just serving as another group text app.

20161103_194830Written Apparel, along with Girls with Ideas, had the least amount of iteration to do during the Iowa Startup Accelerator. They went in designing luxury pencil skirts, and came out of the accelerator designing and selling pencil skirts. The accelerator gave them the time and the financial runway to build the business – the kind of runway bootstrapping a business just can’t give you. Of all the pitches, I thought Emily’s pitch was the best of the night, not just because of the short fashion show during the presentation, but because she had done an amazing job refining her presentation over the three months of the accelerator. She managed to distill down what it meant to wear her product line, not just that she wanted to follow in the footsteps of other designers that had focused on one original product as the beginning of a fashion empire.

Once the presentations concluded, I was able to connect with each of the presenters and talk with them about what’s coming next for each of the companies, now that they have launched (or shut down, in the case of Streamweaver.) For the most part, all of the companies are going to stick around the building to continue working for at least the next couple of months. It will be great to see them when I get up to Cedar Rapids a couple of times a month for 1 Million Cups and other events.

It was an amazing experience being able to work as part of the Iowa Startup Accelerator during this cohort. As I mentioned in a post at the beginning of the three months, being asked to be a part of an accelerator – especially your local accelerator – is not something to which you can say no. For all I know, it’s a once in a lifetime experience to be a part of something like this (certainly I hope it’s not, but you never know what lies in the future.) I wish I could have devoted more time to physically being at the accelerator and attending some of the events that the rest of the cohort did, but I’m glad that I was able to attend a small fraction of the events and seminars during the three-month period, especially the founder rally in Denver a month ago.

Perhaps someday, I’ll be able to take Sexy Life through an accelerator program. David and I have started to recruit people to expand Team Sexy Life again. We knew that we needed some diversity of opinion on the team, so we recruited a couple of women who we know to help with certain aspects of the company; one is a spreadsheet and financial master and the other is a social guru who we thought would be a great customer experience manager. We have met as an entire team twice now, and we’re starting to coalesce as a team quite well. It’s going to be interesting to see what kinds of boxes we develop before we end up launching the first round of shipments – hopefully that’s still around February.

20161018_150435While I’ve been busy with all of these projects, my yard has turned into somewhat of the village cat sanctuary over the course of the summer and fall – so much so that my neighbors have started to refer to me as “the cat whisperer.” I started leaving a little bit of food out for one of the farm cats from across the road a few months ago, because the poor thing looked cold and hungry. A few months later, I come home to find a mother cat and four kittens sunning themselves on my deck. She didn’t have the kittens on my deck, but she had migrated there along with her entire family.

Line of cats waiting for food

Waiting patiently for their turns to eat.

Since then, we have anywhere between two and eight cats show up over the course of each morning looking for some food, and most of them are looking for a scratch behind the ears. A couple of them have a tendency to sneak into my garage while I’m getting my daughters buckled into their car seats – I don’t realize this until they’ve been trapped in my garage all day and come running out when I open the garage door to pull my truck in.

Of the four kittens, my brothers took the two smallest and have given them a home at their apartment. The other two kittens and the mother cat still live on my deck – the kittens are scared of me and run underneath my grill, but the mother cat is super friendly. She gets along with my little dog, but not so much with my big dummy of an indoor cat. I’m looking at solutions to put on the deck for the winter to let the cats have a warm place to sleep. I have a feeling that this is a cat infestation waiting to happen…

At least we aren’t getting any mice or snakes in the house any more.

My next update will probably be after Startup Weekend Iowa City in a couple of weeks. As I’ve mentioned before, many Startup Weekends are starting to focus on themes. The theme for this year’s Startup Weekend Iowa City is Fashion and Technology. I have my ticket pre-ordered – I always sign up as a designer (as in Web design), but we’ll see the capacity in which I’m helping a team this time around. Will I be coding a Web site? Will I be performing customer discovery? Check out my next post in a couple of weeks for those answers. Until then!