Founder Institute: Week 2 – Saying Goodbyes, Moving Forward

We’ve only completed 2 weeks of Founder Institute, but we’re down 2 founders.  One was asked to leave, ostensibly due to not being teachable, and another left because of changes in their career interests.  The last few days I’ve thought about both circumstances, as I knew them both and really hoped to see them graduate and establish successful startups alongside me.  Describing the person who was let go as strong-willed is not meant as criticism nor praise – we all have traits that can help us or harm us.  While I appreciated their directness and energy, it’s understandable to me how others could be put off by it.  And, when that person is in a position of authority, it’s wise to know when to let things go.  They didn’t, and so FI did.  The other person, in my opinion, shouldn’t have bothered.  The circumstances that caused them to drop out where present before they joined.  Somewhat selfishly, I was disappointed they didn’t let their teammates know first, a cardinal sin in FI, and one that could actually put me in a negative light as President.

Despite all of this, first week jitters were out of the way, and there seemed to be an air about the group this week of anticipation and mutual encouragement.  For my group, the Special Assignment we’d been given last week, along with a Skype conference on Sunday seemed to create a collegial bond amongst us. And, while the gloves didn’t come off entirely in critiquing each other’s ideas, I’d say they were at least leather and not silk.  I and a teammate had the opportunity to be on the Pitch Hotseat, making us the only team to have had everyone complete the process.  Unfortunately, I failed miserably in conveying my idea concisely, and assumed the problem/pain was self evident.  Tied for the lowest score on the team, I sat back down really upset with myself.  Despite years of public speaking to CxOs as well as crowds of thousands, I stood before the 3 mentors/judges…and drew a blank.  Just goes to show that you can’t practice enough – I thought I was prepared, having literally written my pitch and practiced it several times.  But clearly not enough.  So, I took their advice with a dutiful “thank you”, and that was that.

One of the comments that struck me though was that “…I don’t know if the world really needs another photo sharing app..”  Ouch.  To be fair, the mentor who made the comment does not focus in the consumer market.  Still, he himself is a consumer, and as such, didn’t ‘get it’.  Again, I need to tell a better story about the pain/problem being addressed.  I know that when I do this ad hoc, eyes light up (“yeah!  I need that.” and “you’re right, why hasn’t someone done this already”) and I do a fist pump in my head.  But I still was concerned about what (if any) competing products are out there in the market.  So, I did some research, and was pleasantly surprised to find 2.  Both are similar in the fact that they address the difficulty with which photos are shared amongst groups, but they also kinda circle around the ideal solution rather than hitting it on squarely on the head.  It’s as if they don’t want to box themselves in from the Instagram/Tumblr audience or something.  The great news is both seem to be well-funded, with top-name VCs and angels investing in their success.  Learning this put some wind back into my sail, realizing that if I can polish my pitch, convince investors that the market is big enough for a 3rd player, and demonstrate how Mobpiqs better addresses the core problem, there is a windows of opportunity.  But it is just a window, and it won’t stay open forever.

Which means it’s time to dust off the pre-alpha and make that pivot.  The partnerships that the Founder Institute has are tremendously valuable; I wouldn’t be surprised if I’ve been the most voracious in availing myself of them.  Within a span of 3 days I’ve made plans to migrate our infrastructure to SingleHop and enrolled in Microsoft’s BizSpark program.  Together, they are providing the servers, databases, applications and development tools we need to build a very good MVP (“minimally viable product”) and position ourselves to move forward at a quick pace beyond that.

So now I’m left with 2 resourcing tasks.  One, to work out agreements with my current developers.  I’ve been extremely fortunate in finding individuals who have not only the technical chops but also are just good people to work with.  They are worth every penny they are paid; I’m hopeful we can find a way to keep their participation while working towards an angel investment, as I’m running under a very (very) tight budget now.  Two, is bringing on another developer, someone who worked for me years ago, and who I consider a developer rockstar.  To end next week with them both on board would be tremendous.  It’s important then that I complete my incorporation fairly soon, as equity will most likely be the determining factor to help offset some (all?) of the compensation for the near term.  It’s a dreadful quandry, figuring out how to get the best talent, knowing that you have limited capital to work with, as it requires them to really believe in you as well as the idea, you now?

The speakers we had this week spoke on the topic of Research, something that at first seemed a little dry, but hearing their personal stories made it resonate.  And, I’d recently begun reading more about Lean Startups, a movement started by Eric Reis.  Wow.  Between the mentors and the various video interviews and blogs I read on LS, I really believe that the next steps for Mobpiqs is to dust off the “alpha” and explain to those who are supporting it the pivot we are taking.  By giving them the opportunity to walk this with us, not only will the accountable spur us to do great work, it will give us the immediate, candid feedback we need in order to stay on the path most likely to meet their needs as consumers.  This should align with the needs of the broader community as well.

Whew.  And that, my readers, is where we are now.  With the assignments we have coming up, everyone should be solidly focused on a single idea very shortly, and then finalizing their incorporation.  I’d like to believe that we won’t see more leave, but we’ve been told to expect that ~50% won’t complete for various reasons.  So I’m not taking any chances, doing everything I can to make sure that I earn my position in FI every day, and am setting Mobpiqs up for success.