I’m the co-founder of ThingShare, a peer to peer rental system where anyone can participate in the sharing economy by listing your things and then renting them out to strangers. It’s a form of Collaborative Consumption currently focused on the video gaming industry.
Since ThingShare is a new business which needs scale to succeed we’ve gone the route of pursuing funding for our idea. Part of that journey might take us to an accelerator. We’ve applied to a bunch and are still applying to more accelerators. TechStars is the biggest accelerator we’ve applied to and the one that we’d benefit the most from.
In preparation for applying to TechStars I did my research, and figured out that while some funds/accelerators give priority to the business model/idea, TechStars puts a large emphasis on the team. Essentially they believe in raising/supporting great entrepreneurs no matter what the current idea/business is that they’re working on.
We’ve applied to both Boston and now NYC TechStars. But I’ve learned something in the 4 weeks in-between each application. The lesson I learned came from the movie 21.
Lessons learned from “21″
In the [based on true facts] movie the main character Ben had denied himself the pleasures of this world to seek after one goal, getting into Harvard Medical, the only thing in Ben’s way is finances. He has all the perfect scores, has everything lined up, and even is accepted into Harvard Med, and now he’s competing in a full ride scholarship. The professor explains to him that Ben’s life and in turn Ben himself is boring. In Ben’s final essay he needs to “Jump off the page” and the professor needs to be dazzled.
Like Ben needed to explain to the professor why he was impressive, I needed to explain to TechStars how I and my teammate are incredible It’s like filling out a form on a dating website and needing to sound attractive, rich, etc. You shouldn’t lie. But you need to sexy up the stories a bit.
So what do I have that is impressive? What would make an indivitual going through hundreds or thousands of applications see our application and say, “Wow I want to meet these guys!” or “Holy cow, Bob did you read this application?” In short, How do I Jump off the page, or how do I dazzle the TechStars team?
On the surface these details don’t make me jump off the page, but they should.
- I’m from the midwest
- I’m outside the Valley Echo, and I have the midwestern work ethic.
- I live in the woods, 40 miles away from the nearest city and that city isn’t very large either.
- While city life provides connections, life in the country is significantly more healthy – and I raise as much of my own food as possible
- I went to a small unheard of college, got a degree in youth ministry
- All the successes I’ve had in IT/Business have come from bootstrapping and being self taught.
- I have a wife and four kids
- While some assume that makes me tied down and less fundable, having a family makes me connected with our target audience
- I’ve worked for various small and medium businesses that TechStars has never heard of, and do not directly apply to ThingShare
- I know how to run small teams well and to work hard with nothing given to me.
- I’m 32, that’s 4 years older than Mark Zuckerberg
- LinkedIn found that 40% of founders are in their 30′s, and 65% are 30 or older at their first startup.
- We convinced a billionaire to invest $25,000 in ThingShare
- While that seems low, everyone has to start somewhere, and a $25k convertible note is a form of validation.
But I’m not bitter, I’m just trying to show you how on the surface I don’t dazzle, I’m not the Stanford educated former Google employee who is connected to every VC in the valley, instead I’m an average hard working midwesterner dad/husband who is pitbull-like in my pursuit of an idea that I get behind.
But let me try it again, what follows are the parts of my story that do jump off the page. And are all true.
Jumping off of the Page
In this list I am not trying to brag or promote myself, but I put it here to let you be the judge. The ultimate question is at the end of the the list.
- I traveled around the world when I was 13, without my parents or family.
- I hand wrote html in vi on a Sun UNIX box in 1994 (aka started “coding” at age 14)
- An insurance company gave me $5,000 for a car that wouldn’t run.
- My wife and I were deported from Kazakhstan, and we returned a week later.
- As an english-only speaker I taught algebra to a woman who only spoke korean.
- I walked away from an incredible job to pursue the Startup world two years ago.
- I’ve sung in a funeral processional for a South African AIDS victim, in South Africa.
- I built a training application… in Microsoft Access, prior to Visual Basic.
- I turned a 2 week temporary job into a 9 month long engagement which I then left.
- My wife and I delivered our son at home. Alone. Unassisted. Unplanned.
- I built a Facebook page fan base of 60k in 2008.
- I’ve built a digital marketing agency that has billed a quarter million. Annually. Every Year.
- I chose to parent another man’s child cause he wasn’t willing to do it.
So, did I dazzle you? Did I Jump off of the Page?
I’ve been struggling lately. I’ve discovered that others are struggling with the same problem too, so I needed to write about it, for me, and for those whom I’ve discussed this with.
I’ve been reading, discussing, and learning the Lean Startup Methodology for the last 3 years now. When most people hear the concept of Lean Startup, they think bootstrap startup, ya know lean on funding. While this isn’t always true it’s suprisingly still prevelant thinking. Perhaps Eric Ries should have done an MVP of the movement’s name and received some user feedback on it before writing the book.
The basics of the lean startup philosophy are to get user feedback, do user testing, and discover if people are willing to use (and pay for) the product you are creating both before and throughout the creation process. It’s called lean not due to lack of funding but due to efficiencies inherent in the process. It’ll cost well over $60,000 to build anything of value (app or physical product). Most often ideators (co-founders) will donate their time to the development which brings down the hard costs, but does not effect the cost of those hours given. Lean Startup philosophy asks: What if you found out that people didn’t want this product after only spending $500 versus spending $60,000 (in time and money). That’s where the lean (efficient) comes in.
So the theory of Minimum Viable Product (MVP) is born. We all understand what Product means, and Minimum makes sense: what is the bare essentials that you can get away with?
But Viable. That is the issue.
I find that I use my inbox as my todo list. I know I know I know… It’s not the greatest use of the inbox. I mean the inbox was not designed to be a todo list and using an inbox as a todo list doesn’t work with either inbox zero or the GTD methods. But no matter how many other todo list mangers I try I keep returning to the inbox-as-todo-list method.
Yet I have this dilemma, a war wages inside. I like inbox zero, or at least inbox <5. I also have anywhere from 20-50 things on my todo list at any given time.
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Recently I celebrated with a few other contractors my first official year of being a freelance digital marketer. It’s been over a year and I’ve seen some crazy things happen. The largest one being that I intended to be a freelancer, and now I’m running a virtual digital agency. (Connex pays/represents 5 contractors, I happen to be the salesman, account manager and one of the contractors :)
I try to live my life with no regrets, and I do not regret leaving the best job I’ve ever had, however the road, the journey this first year has not proved to be easy. I’ve made many mistakes and my failures have become brighter, louder and more annoying to me.
So if you want some background on me quitting my job last year or the second company I started in the past year check those posts out, or the inspiration for this post, but if you want to know a fraction of the lessons I’ve learned in my first year read on.
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UPDATE: 9:30am Eastern (GMT -4): It appears that at least 15 minutes ago the connection through NTT was restored. It also appears that some users (Comcast) share a backbone or are the backbone for Dreamhost (don’t quote me, but the traceroutes in the comments appear to suggest this is true). This was an isolated incident. if you are landing here after June 2011 then this article is not about your situation. The issue appeared to lie with NTT and their connection to Comcast (or Dreamhost’s ISP). They finally are reporting the status. Total downtime? 4.5 hours (ish)
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This is a developing story… but too many people have been asking so I’m writing this to explain a few things.