On Thursday, August 13th - the SSC in association with Writology.com celebrated Boston College Ventures at WeWork South Station. Current SSC teams pitched their ideas to the crowd and Jere Doyle (Executive Director of Boston College's Entrepreneurship Initiative) announced the Edmund H. Shea, Jr. Center for Entrepreneurship. A special thank you to all of our supporters who made the SSC possible this summer. We truly appreciate your support!
Rory Crawford, CEO and co-founder of BevSpot (visit www.bevspot.com for more about the company) met with the SSC teams on Wednesday, August 12 at Jebbit to share his story. BevSpot provides restaurants and bars with an inventory management platform for alcohol. BevSpot is one of Dorm Room Fund's portfolio companies.
Crawford shared that, in his opinion, the goal of an early stage startup is to make progress everyday. While early stage founders should set aggressive goals and push themselves, each goal should be broken up into smaller, manageable chunks that can be accomplished.
Traction is created by doing something that shows you are moving quickly and demonstrates product market fit. It's unique to each company. Traction isn't necessarily 1,000,000 downloads for an app—it could be 400 survey responses about a feature. Coupled with a strong team and a big pie-in-the-sky vision, traction will help your company continually move forward.
That being said, startups are notoriously difficult to launch and Crawford reflected, "You need a big vision in order to make it [launching a company] worth it."
Crawford left SSC teams inspired and motivated to give their utmost dedication to their ventures. The SSC would like to sincerely thank Crawford for sharing his experience with the teams.
Chris Swenor, co-founder and CEO of East Coast Product, met with the SSC teams on August 11th at WeWork Fort Point to share his experience with the agile methodology. Dave McLaughlin, Boston City Lead for WeWork and SSC Exec Board Member, also joined in on the discussion.
Swenor delved into the ins and outs of the agile methodology, from sprints to managing the backlog and everything in between. He recommended Scrum and XP from the Trenches by Henrik Kniberg and Jeff Sutherland's Scrum: The Art of Doing Twice the Work in Half the Time.
In addition, Swenor shared the four key things he looks for when hiring technical talent:
- Passion - What does an individual do outside of work? Is he or she still working on development projects? Are they passionate about what they do?
- Culture - Does this individual complement your team?
- Intelligence - Is someone able to think through challenging problems critically?
- Skill Level - Skill level is (perhaps) surprisingly relegated to last because an individual can learn new skills if he/she has passion for the area of interest and intelligence.
The Soaring Startup Circle would like to sincerely thank Chris for spending time with the teams to discuss product management at WeWork!
The Soaring Startup Circle welcomes a different founder, CEO, or influential individual from the startup atmosphere every Wednesday. Matt Murphy, Owner of Boston Virtual Imaging and Organizer of Boston PHP Meetup, shared his founding story and helpful advice with the SSC on Wednesday, August 5th at WeWork South Station. Headquartered in Boston, Boston Virtual Imaging provides visual media to the New England Real Estate industry. Boston PHP Meetup is the largest education-focused Meetup in all of New England!
While sharing the beginnings of Boston Virtual Imaging, LLC, Murphy commented on hacker culture, "I consider a hacker to be a person that pushes forward on some level; [he/she] pushes the boundaries forward." Murphy's definition focused on innovation (not illegal hacker culture). Whether you're delving deeper into an existing area of interest or developing a new skill set, pushing yourself forward towards your goals is important. Murphy shared the following quote with the SSC:
An avid learner, Murphy listed the following two books as among his favorites.
The SSC sincerely thanks Matt Murphy for meeting with the SSC teams on multiple occasions to provide advice and share his wealth of experience and knowledge.
Each Wednesday, the Soaring Startup Circle welcomes a different founder, CEO, or influential individual from the startup atmosphere, giving the teams the opportunity to learn from people who have a wealth of knowledge to share. The SSC was lucky enough to have both Brent Grinna, CEO of Evertrue, and Jim Husson, Senior Vice President for University Advancement at Boston College, meet with the teams on Wednesday, July 29th at WeWork South Station. Evertrue pairs modern-day analytical data (from places like Zillow, Facebook, LinkedIn, and more) with the CRM systems used by educational institutions to help alumni offices identify prospective donors, keep current donors updated, and measure engagement.
Grinna began the session by sharing the founding story of Evertrue and the impact the company creates for the alumni development teams that use it. Husson followed and shared his perspective of the evolution of the university advancement field over time and how Evertrue's technology is helping higher education institutions become more effective at engaging their alumni.
Husson shrewdly remarked that successful individuals are as committed to the process of building a company as they are to the outcome. Creating a business requires mastery of many skill sets. If an individual is committed to the process, then they will become successful over time—even if not every venture works out. The commitment to learning and the knowledge they gain can be reapplied to every situation.
Grinna commented on the importance of framing sales pitches to customers around the problem and solution, rather than the product. He also spoke of the importance of your individual network and the value of having an advisory board. When teams brought up the topic of work-life balance, Grinna was quick to point out the value of knowing your personal workflow optimization as an entrepreneur. In an age when you can be connected to anyone and work at anytime from anywhere, it's easy to lose track of hours and feel burnt out. Entrepreneurs today must be disciplined enough to employ their own time management skills for themselves.
The complementary duo left the teams inspired to begin disrupting industries and hone their entrepreneurial skill set.
The SSC sincerely thanks both Brent Grinna and Jim Husson for taking time to share their unique perspectives about disruption in traditional industries.
Radici Travel shared an e-book the company created. The book, made for the McKay family, explores the Hafferkamp family's Scottish Heritage. In addition to factual ancestry data, the ebook provides relevant travel recommendations. To see the completed product, visit Radici Travel's website.
Duncan Walker, SSC Exec Board Member & Industry Analyst at Jebbit, hosted two tech workshops for teams last week at Jebbit. He invited Jebbit co-founder & current Head of iOS at Pretty Instant, Chase McAleese to join him for Thursday's meeting.
Tuesday's workshop introduced teams to the RAD model, as well as Javelin's Experiment Board.
Thursday's workshop introduced concepts about developing products and apps. Duncan and Chase walked teams through the basic process for building features, writing code, tools developers use, and how a user interface is built. After reviewing concepts about websites and apps like servers, APIs, languages, and frameworks, the SSC spent some time discussing the structure of development teams and the different roles of individual developers.
Jordan Fliegel, founder and President of CoachUp, met with a few of the SSC teams at Flour Bakery to provide guidance and even showed companies the CoachUp HQ.
Each Wednesday, the Soaring Startup Circle welcomes a different founder, CEO, or influential individual from the startup atmosphere, giving the teams the opportunity to learn from people who have a wealth of knowledge to share. On Wednesday, July 15th, Chase Garbarino, a graduate of Hamilton College, sat down with the SSC at Jebbit's office about his experiences and insights launching startups. Garbarino was a co-founder of Streetwise Media, the company responsible for BostInno among other regional tech hub related sites. American City Business Journals acquired Streetwise Media and Garbarino now spends his time building VentureApp—an app designed to help streamline the process of founding a company by pairing founders with essential services like legal, accounting, and insurance.
Chase Garbarino is a big fan of "taking what the defense gives you." He plays the game of entrepreneurship strategically—using data when possible to guide decisions.
Perhaps one of a startup's greatest sources of data is its audience. Speaking of traffic and conversions, Garbarino remarked, "Not all traffic is created equal." If you have a business model dependent on selling to local advertisers, 5,000 meaningful and regional visitors are more valuable than a host of random traffic drawn in from Google. Quality traffic is key and it's a lesson that all startups should learn. Quality traffic will mean different things to different startups depending on their business and revenue model.
Expanding on the lessons startup founders need to master, Garbarino spoke of what he believes to be the most difficult: determining what advice to ignore and what advice you should take into consideration. In today's world where nearly anyone will meet up for coffee to discuss a topic, feedback is plentiful and easy to come across. Figuring out what advice is helpful is not as easy. Garbarino approaches advice via the mindset that there are three metaphorical buckets of advice.
Bucket #1 contains negative feedback for the sake of being negative. Some people will always look down upon others trying to accomplish something. The negative advice isn't constructive criticism, but rather flat out critical.
Bucket #2 is critical advice and very helpful. It's most likely represents the smallest percentage of the advice you will receive.
Bucket #3 is unwavering support and affirmation that your product is great. You want to optimize for these staunch supporters, but at the same time recognize that there's always room for improvement (which is where you go back to Bucket #2).
In terms of finding people who can give you the advice you need, Garbarino recommended stepping outside your industry. Sometimes the best advisors know a lot about business, even though they aren't in your area of expertise, and can provide a refreshing perspective or new framework to approach challenges.
The Soaring Startup Circle would like to sincerely thank Chase Garbarino for spending time with the teams and answering their questions about starting a business.
NOT YOUR ANCESTORS' TRAVEL COMPANY
Radici Travel provides personalized travel recommendations based on your ancestry. Skip the generic trip centered around a tourist guidebook. Instead share some simple information like your name, birthday, and the place of residence of one of your ancestors and allow Radici Travel to do the rest. Using a network of top-tier historians, the company will create the trip of a lifetime for you—where you learn about the times of your ancestors' lives. Irish ancestry? Venture beyond the hub of Dublin and its tourist traps to have a pint at the old pub your ancestors would have visited.
MEET DAVID LOVERME & SCOTT HAFFERKAMP
David LoVerme BC MBA '15 is the CEO and Co-Founder of Radici Travel, one of the teams in the Soaring Startup's Class of 2015. Before completing his MBA, David earned his bachelors degree in history from Columbia University. He became interested in the startup scene while at Boston College. Radici Travel is the perfect blend of his passions—research, travel, entrepreneurship, and business.
Scott Hafferkamp is Co-Founder of Radici Travel. He earned his BA in American Studies at Wheaton College and his Master's in teaching history from Tufts University. Scott's favorite city to visit is Edinburgh, Scotland—he even studied abroad there!
Meet all of Radici Travel's historians here.
OPEN FOR BUSINESS
Allow Radici Travel to craft the customized trip of a lifetime for you! Visit them online to learn more.
Each Wednesday, the Soaring Startup Circle welcomes a different founder, CEO, or influential individual from the startup atmosphere, giving the teams the opportunity to learn from people who have a wealth of knowledge to share. On Wednesday, July 8th, Jim Alvarez sat down with the SSC at NBD Nano's office about his experiences and insights building a company from the ground up. In 1992, Jim founded Marketing Information & Technology, Inc. (MITI) and grew it to 100 employees without venture capital. MITI provided large-scale CRM systems to banks, insurance, and telecommunication companies. In 2001, Jim sold MITI to Choicepoint. Today you can find Jim investing in new companies when he's not fishing.
"At the end of the day, all you have are the people," stated Jim while answering teams' questions. In a world where companies must be flexible enough to pivot when necessary, people are the key to taking a business from idea stage to exit. Although some companies seemingly go from zero to $1B revenue overnight (or very, very quickly), most startups' trajectories follow the course of a marathon—not a sprint. Hard work and dedication is a cornerstone of any successful company. Self-discipline as a founding member is essential.
Peppering his answers to teams' inquiries with first-hand narratives, Jim shared his diverse array of experiences within entrepreneurship with the SSC. Jim was an early investor in SSC Executive Board Member Miguel Galvez's company, NBD Nano. His portfolio also includes CoachUP, Crowdly, Viral Gains, XL Hybrids, and haystagg.
He emphasized, however, that you have to do what works for your company and hit the ground running. While there are lessons to be learned from other startups' successes, it is action that moves a startup forward. Jim explained that founders and leaders create a culture of success. The metric for success differs from one company to the next. It is up to the individual leader to develop their own metric and take the company from point A to point B. The Soaring Startup Circle would like to sincerely thank Jim Alvarez for graciously answering teams' questions and providing advice.
F.O.R Media specializes in video production, photography, audio engineering, and design. Headquartered at the CIC's new Boston Location at 50 Milk Street, the company is run by three Boston College Class of 2014 members—Tom Dodge, Aaron Carrillo, and Gordon Titman.
On Tuesday, July 7, The dynamic trio hosted a workshop for the SSC teams on crafting their pitch to a specific audience. How a startup engages a subset of its customers is different than how a founding team communicates with potential investors. Teams worked individually on perfecting a pitch that would be appropriate for a target audience they are currently trying to communicate with at their current stage. Would a peripheral message be best? What is your tone? What is the most important message to get across? F.O.R Media addressed all these questions and more.
In addition, Eliza Wentworth from the CIC was present and showed the teams around the building's incredible spaces for innovation across a wide variety of disciplines. She explained the vision for the building and its place in Boston's entrepreneurship community and the SSC is excited to visit the space in the future to see the hub in action!
Thank you to F.O.R Media, Eliza Wentworth, and all at the CIC Boston who made this event possible. It was a great workshop that left the teams went with concrete takeaways that they can implement immediately.
Each Wednesday, the Soaring Startup Circle welcomes a different founder, CEO, or influential individual from the startup atmosphere, giving the teams the opportunity to learn from people who have a wealth of knowledge to share. On Wednesday, July 1, Jon Gilman, co-founder of Bellow, joined the SSC at WeWork South Station to talk about his experiences with building a company from the ground up.
Former Product Manager at TripAdvisor and Runkeeper, Jon Gilman is now launching his own company, Bellow. Not yet released to the public, Bellow aims to innovate the traditional phone call.
Gilman touched on the challenges of being an entrepreneur. Founding a company is hard work and not always the romanticized lifestyle popular culture purports. While you may be your own boss, you have a great amount of responsibility.
As a result of the difficulty, you need to truly care about the problem you are trying to solve. Gilman remarked, "You have to be able to run through walls for your idea."
Gilman explained how he and his co-founder addressed startups' omnipresent challenge: acquiring technical talent. Although Gilman did not have a technical background, he taught himself how to code to build the first MVP. Gilman showed the MVP to the team's future technical co-founder, who was impressed with the dedication the two initial co-founders demonstrated by building the app themselves. SSC team members took away the value of investing in their own technical knowledge, even if they don't consider themselves the "technical" backbone of their team.
The SSC teams asked Gilman a host of questions, learning from his experience and advice. The Soaring Startup Circle would like to sincerely thank Jon Gilman for taking the time to share his experience in the startup world with the teams.
Chad Pytel, CEO of thoughtbot, met with the Soaring Startup Circle on Thursday morning in Boston. Pytel shared the company’s founding story with teams and highlighted the approaches his team took that shaped thoughtbot into the industry leader it is today.
Pytel emphasized the value of focus and saying “no” to a lot of opportunities. He admitted, “In the moment, it [saying no] is counterintuitive. You want to say, ‘yes’ to every opportunity. You want to do everything, but you can be much more successful by being focused and saying ‘no.’” Focus in any young startup is crucial when feedback is coming from all directions and the number of potential courses of action seem endless.
Having a strong opinion about your company’s projected path is necessary to avoid stretching yourself too thin. Learn something new each day and allow yourself to change your opinion overtime. For example, a project you said “no” to previously is a project you can potentially say “yes” to in the future when it makes more sense for your company’s stage.
For Pytel an example of an opinion changing over time was where thoughtbot physically operated. Valuing a connected team, thoughtbot originally had a single Boston office for a number of years due to a conscious decision centered around community. Today, the company has ten offices throughout the world. Part of the decision making process towards expansion resulted from thoughtbot’s team feeling as though they were not having the impact they wanted to have on the world. To grow their impact on the world, the company opened small offices in cities. Small teams maintained a close knit group within each city, while simultaneously allowing individuals to feel as though they were part of something bigger.
The SSC teams participated in a robust question and answer session with Pytel, learning from his experience and advice. Topics ranged from development cycles and team dynamics to continually developing strong skill sets to team communication. The Soaring Startup Circle would like to sincerely thank Chad Pytel for graciously hosting us at thoughbot and sharing his experience with our teams.
Each Wednesday, the Soaring Startup Circle welcomes a different founder, CEO, or influential individual from the startup atmosphere, giving the teams the opportunity to learn from people who have a wealth of knowledge to share. On Wednesday, June 24th, Remy Carpinito, CEO of CampusTap, joined the SSC at WeWork South Station to talk about his experiences with building a company from the ground up.
Nestled onto the comfy chairs at WeWork South Station, the SSC teams listened to Remy Carpinito talk about his experience creating CampusTap. Walking the teams through his company's early days through the present day, Carpinito shared the ups and downs of building a startup.
He commented on the value to be found in accelerator programs. CampusTap participated in MassChallenge in 2014. Carpinito commented on the value to be found in accelerator programs where workshops and mentorship are plentiful. Every accelerator is different and he encouraged teams to consider what program is the best fit for them if they decide to pursue a program in the future.
As SSC teams shared their current challenges, Carpinito added his own candid advice. He hailed Trello as an amazing project management app. Setting clear expectations is key for teams to make sure they stay on top of their tasks. Commenting on how it is easy to get trapped in a cyclical loop when developing apps, Carpinito pushed releasing apps and websites sooner rather than later.
The SSC thanks Remy for taking time to meet with the teams and sharing a plethora of advice based on your experiences!
On Monday, the SSC teams headed to Mintz Levin for a legal workshop and reception. The Mintz Levin team generous with their time and covered a number of topics beneficial to the teams at their current stages. Incorporation, dividing equity, employment practices, and intellectual property considerations were among the subjects covered. Afterwards, teams enjoyed the spectacular views of Boston from the 41st floor as Mintz Levin treated the SSC to a host of delicious foods.
The SSC would like to thank Sahir Surmeli, Kristen Gerber, Gauri Punjabi, Michael McNamara, Cassie Bent, and the entire team at Mintz Levin for hosting the Soaring Startup Circle on Monday and their generous support for the program.
Each Wednesday, the Soaring Startup Circle welcomes a different founder, CEO, or influential individual from the startup atmosphere, giving the teams the opportunity to learn from people who have a wealth of knowledge to share. On Wednesday, June 17th, Nick Rellas BC '13, Co-Founder and CEO of Drizly, welcomed the SSC to the company's new office to talk about his experiences and insights building a company from the ground up.
A giant bear's red silhouette dominates the wall of Drizly's Boston office. The animal logo, new since March, alludes to the allure of the culture from the 50's, 60's, and 70's (the era when Ralph Lauren introduced its own animal logo—the polo horse—to America). The bear is also a playful jab at the company itself—The Drizly Grizzly. The logo's balance between fun and calculated positioning incidentally encapsulates Drizly itself.
Nick Rellas BC '13 is Co-Founder and CEO of Drizly, the on-demand alcohol delivery app that raised $13 million Series A in May. Surrounded by SSC teams, he launched into Drizly's early days. He was quick to point out that building a startup isn't as glamorous as people make it seem. In fact, it's hard, hands-on work.
As he explained the importance of focus in a venture, he said, "If you try to be everything to everyone, then you're nothing to no one." It's a lesson that comes with experience—no startup becomes successful without wishing they could go back and save themselves a few months where they ventured down a path that proved to be the wrong way. For Nick and his team, the lesson was learned as the company straddled between being an alcohol delivery service and an identity verification application.
Determining focus is difficult in practice. Rellas challenged teams, "If what you're doing today doesn't get you to your Objective Key Response, then full stop." With nine direct competitors in New York city alone, the Drizly team knows that ideas are commodities and execution is key. Within your own company, Rellas explained, "You have to ask, 'Is that the guy that is going to build the team?" It is clear that Rellas has full faith in his entire Drizly team in their ability to expand to new markets.
While a young startup's OKR will change as the company further develops or pivots, the learning process never ends. "Invest in yourself," Rellas stated. For the Drizly team, this entails learning about the liquor industry inside and out. Read, talk to others, and never stop learning. No team knows everything from the start or gets things right the first time. Ambition, coupled with unrelenting determination and development of key skillets, however, can help a team win on their execution in the future.
The SSC thanks Nick for hosting the teams at Drizly for a lively discussion about his own experience and the teams' questions from their first week and a half in the program.
Each Wednesday, the Soaring Startup Circle hosts a different founder, CEO, or influential individual from the startup atmosphere, giving the teams the opportunity to learn from people who have a wealth of knowledge and experiences to share. The SSC welcomed its first two co-founders, Alex LoVerde & Brett Beaulieu-Jones of Wymsee, to talk to this summer's teams at Jebbit.
Alex and Brett (both BC '11) shared the story of Wymsee and how the company's product, Sync on Set, became a tool used on a variety of television shows and movies. Hollywood's best creatives use Sync on Set. Clients range from The Wolf of Wall Street and Spy to Game of Thrones and Suits.
Sharing everything from their early-days' experience at TechStars in Boston to the tools (Slack & Trello) they use to stay in touch with their bicoastal team, the two disruptors of Hollywood provided the teams with a range of takeaways. The duo spoke of the value of having a meaningful board of advisors, how to handle and incorporate customer feedback into your product, and the importance of strategic growth.
The SSC thanks Alex & Brett for taking time to meet with the teams and for kicking off a summer of inspiring Wednesday night sessions with leaders across a myriad of industries.