Elephants Dancing, a New Name, and a Lost Kitten

We’ve hit the midpoint of the summer, and it’s arrived much faster than I thought it would. Only a few weeks left before my older daughter starts kindergarten and resumes dance class, and my younger daughter starts her first dance class. I’ve finished my entrepreneurial conference travels for the season, and I’m finally home enough to get some things done that have been waiting patiently for the first six months of the year. In a way, it’s nice to be off the road for the next couple of months. My trip to Lincoln for the Inside/Outside Innovation Summit was a nice way to round everything out.

I drove the five hours to Lincoln on Sunday the 18th, so I could make the most of the three days that I would be there. The organizers of the convention weren’t terribly clear on when the programming would start, so I’d booked my hotel for Sunday night through Wednesday morning – I figured the convention would actually kick off on Monday morning, rather than with a cocktail party in the evening. It did give me an opportunity to check out the neighborhood around the hotel on Monday, with a visit to Fuse Coworking, just a couple of blocks from the hotel.

I ran into Keevin, who had gone through the Iowa Startup Accelerator in 2016 while I was there working on QuickScore. He’s part of the team that runs the NMotion Accelerator, which is based out of that coworking space. He introduced me to a couple of teams working out of Fuse that morning and directed me toward the coffee – an important part of coworking. I shared a table with the community manager and got a fair bit of work done on several projects, including Sexy Life, Cider Finder, and my own freelance projects. I grabbed lunch at a burger place nearby and some ice cream on the way back, both recommendations of Fuse’s community manager. In a way, I’m glad that the festivities didn’t really start until Monday evening, because I was able to make some progress on the backlog of work I had piling up.

Between the workday and the party, I picked a New Orleans-themed place between Fuse and the hotel to have some dinner and a pre-party beverage. The kickoff party was at this rooftop bar right across the street from the hotel and adjacent to the arena where the convention was being held. The area was all pretty new – it looks like they reclaimed a railyard between where the Lincoln train depot was and the new station is now located (which I usually pass right through at night going between Mount Pleasant and Denver on my yearly trip out west.) The few of us from Iowa held down a table for the duration of the party, and we ended up closing the place down a bit after midnight. It was a great networking opportunity – one of many over the course of the three days.

A few hours and a bit of sleep later, it was time for the main event. The arena opened at 8 in the morning for networking and lots of coffee, and the first presentation began at 9. Over the course of the two days of presentations, I thought there was a nice balance between corporate-focused and startup-focused speakers. Most of the presentations Tuesday morning seemed to focus on corporate disruption by startups, with one presentation that I really enjoyed discussing “how to dance with elephants,” meaning how to interact and make inroads with large corporations. Cider Finder may never need to “dance with an elephant,” but I could envision scenarios where Sexy Life may need to somehow interface with large corporate entities, either through some sort of partnership or as a connection in our supply chain.

At the mid-morning break, I went outside to talk with the rest of Team Cider Finder. We have a team conference call every other Tuesday, and the call fell during the convention. The folks that developed the old railyard into a new neighborhood had not really invested in a lot of trees or other shade, so I had to search out a place where I wouldn’t be cooking in direct sunlight while I talked on the phone. Not only was it incredibly sunny during my trip, but temperatures hovered between 90 and 100 degrees the entire time I was in Lincoln. I managed to find a bench in the shade to dial into the call. Our progress has been slow, but steady. We’re starting to build the database of ciders to seed the app, and we’re considering sending in applications to a couple other accelerators a bit closer than Colorado, just to see what kind of feedback we receive. Regardless of whether we get into an accelerator, we plan to develop something to sell to cider makers. However, a seed investment would sure make things move a lot faster.

Lunch allowed for another networking session and a transition into the startup showcase. I’m still bummed that Sexy Life wasn’t able to get a booth, but I think I made more of an impact wandering around the showcase and spreading information about what we are doing. I don’t think that I would have been able to talk to as many people had I been in one place the entire time, so I consider it a blessing in disguise. Also, the booth really only would have worked had the rest of Team Sexy Life come along to the convention. By the time I’d made it around the entire arena, I was nearly out of business cards and Sexy Life handouts – pretty successful, since I’d brought our entire supply of handouts and somewhere around 100 business cards.

I caught a couple more presentations, including one on tips and tricks to using LinkedIn. I’ve always found LinkedIn to be a bit useless – a Web site that you need to be on, but no real utility to it unless you need to find a job. There are a bunch of features on there that I didn’t know about, including a section to advertise your freelance gigs. I’m not sure why they don’t promote that more and tap into the ever-growing segment of the working population doing freelance gigs. Most of the other things covered pertained to corporate recruiting, which may come in handy if one of my startups ever grows large enough to require searching out talent, and therefore shelling out some money for a professional account. However, the main reason I don’t like LinkedIn is the constant feeling that they are nickel-and-diming people for one thing or another. Being purchased by Microsoft doesn’t help that feeling.

There was a happy hour and another chance to network at the end of the programming on Tuesday. I tried to make my way around the room and connect with more people who I hadn’t yet met during the lunch and the showcase earlier in the day. As people were starting to leave for the evening, the bunch of us from Iowa decided to get together for dinner later that evening. We had dinner and beverages, and then retired for the evening. I thought that it was an incredibly successful day, full of new connections and plenty of new information to sort through.

Wednesday was focused more on the presentations than on networking. The showcase was still open, but it seemed as though the crowd was somewhat diminished on the final day of the conference. There were great presentations on innovations in banking, legal ramifications of partnerships between corporations and startups, and how one company was working to find a way to better recruit Millennials into the workplace. One of the final presentations of the day was given by the founder of BuluBox, who had pivoted from focusing on building a subscription box service to fulfilling orders for other services – takes a lot less preparation that coming up with new ideas and provides a service that we at Sexy Life will need to consider when we have enough subscriptions.

The pitch competition rounded out the convention on Wednesday afternoon. There were 10 participants, almost all from the Midwest, competing for $100,000. HowFactory and LienWaivers.io were the participants from Iowa, and I think they both did an amazing job. However, the winner of the $100,000 prize was CompanyCam, a provider of cloud-based image storage for contractors and other construction trades. The founder of CompanyCam definitely gave one of the top three presentations of the ten and deserved the prize.

The remaining crowd went over to Fuse Coworking for a post-convention party, but I had to get on the road. I’m looking forward to next year, and with the traction that both Sexy Life and Cider Finder should have by that point, I should be able to at least participate in the startup showcase, if not the pitch competition. Only 6 of the 10 pitch competitors were pre-selected by the convention organizers; the other 4 came from the showcase. It’s just a matter of getting one or both of the companies into the showcase next year.

Team Sexy Life got together the Saturday after the summit for another work day, in order to finish out some of the work we need to do before launching the subscription page on the Web site. One of the major things was to pick a new name for the company – we’ve noticed that Sexy Life is starting to hit some porn filters at offices, which would be devastating for the company. So, we were toying around with four alternative names, which David and I have been surveying with other entrepreneurs. I took the informal name survey to the Inside/Outside Summit, and actually came back with a clear winner. We will be switching over to the new name by August 1, and I already have much of the promotional stuff ready to go.

We’re really excited to launch the new name and start taking subscriptions in the next month. On top of that, we’re heading to Des Moines as a team to fill out the incorporation paperwork toward the end of July, after the conclusion of the JPEC Summer Accelerator. David is teaching at the student accelerator, so we’re working around that and his other obligations. We’ve planned a trip the day after the final pitches for that program, which aren’t that far in the future. I was able to sit in on some of the pitches last week, and the teams are definitely in different places. A couple of the teams really seem to have a handle on what they are doing, and I could see those teams actually bring their products and services to market quickly after the conclusion of the program. Other teams have a long way to go; one team hasn’t put together a physical prototype yet, relying solely on computer simulations for their product. The product is designed to be used by kids, and if I know anything about kids, they can destroy things in ways nobody – not even a computer simulation – has ever dreamed. I’ll be sitting in on the next couple of weeks of presentations and attending the final presentations near the end of the month. We’ll see how things turn out for the teams by then.

Startup Weekend Iowa City is still moving along. I finally received an e-mail from the Startup Weekend Regional Manager about our application, and I’m planning a phone call with him this week to get everything in order. Our committee has met twice now, and we have another meeting set up for this coming Sunday. We’re still more than 3 months out from the event, and we’re definitely in good shape. Hopefully we will be able to get a facilitator suggestion out of the meeting with the Regional Manager, so that all of our local folks will be able to participate in the event. Also, once we have the Web site up and running with ticket information, I’m going to start contacting people throughout the state to get the event on their calendars and funnel people toward Iowa City in the middle of October. It’s going to be a lot of fun!

Out here in the Oasis, we also have a new addition to the tribe. One of my neighbors found a little black and white kitten crying under her car’s engine. She picked him up and he started purring immediately. He’s not one of the outdoor kittens that have been scurrying around my yard the last couple of weeks, so we’re thinking that some terrible person just dumped him out here sometime in the last couple of weeks. He’s pretty skinny, but he’s a sweetheart. My kids fell in love with him instantly and my current cat and dog seem to like him, so it looks like we’re going to have two cats inside now. I don’t think he would have survived outside much longer, and I’m glad that I was home when my neighbor found him.

July is going to be a busy month, even without being on the road. Things are starting to fall into place for the beginning of the school year – only 7 weeks away at this point. I’m trying to get the kids outside and enjoying the weather as much as I can before cold weather forces everyone inside. The girls have been enjoying some time with their grandparents and uncles over the summer, and I’m happy that the kids are distracted. Fall will be here before we know it, so let’s keep chugging along!