Founder Institute: Week 4 – What I’ve Learned So Far

The past 2 weeks have been a whirlwind for me both in and outside of FI, and as such I de-prioritized blogging until I had some time to catch my breath.  So here we are.  And because we had our Working Groups change-up last evening, it seems fitting to look back on the past month and think about some of what I’ve learned so far.

Pitching is hard

In my career, I’ve presented to tens of thousands as a public speaker, and feel I’ve honed the art of doing it well.  So why was this so difficult?  You would think that, knowing the subject intimately (it’s my idea!), I could pitch this with my eyes closed and standing on one foot.  Instead, I found myself practicing endlessly – on the train, in the car, while changing clothes, you name it.  Perhaps it was the awareness of how important it is that my audience, in this case two seasoned tech CEOs, were able to grasp the societal and financial significance of my idea in 3 minutes.  Yeah, that’s it.  Well last week I had my chance.  I stood there with my peers and mentors in the audience….and rocked it, scoring a 4.67 out of 5 (highest in the class)!  A colleague shared the good news with me, as I was too nervous and self-critical to look myself.  The mentors quickly expressed an understanding of my idea, noting how it could have solved pains they themselves had encountered.  And with comments that included a confirmation that it is “very fundable”, I really felt good about the work I’d put it up to that point.  I can’t think George Deeb and Jeff Weber enough for their encouragement and continued feedback on improvements.  Can I rest now?  Of course not!  That just sets the new “floor” of what is expected of me in class, and so the very next day my nose was back to the grindstone, working on honing my pitch deck.

Product naming sucks

No two ways about it.  The amount of time I’ve wasted spent trying come up with a name that is a)memorable/whimsical/easy-to-spell and b) available as a .com domain was definitely in the double digits. name_poll To all the cybersquatters out there, sitting on prime domain name real estate, waiting for some big payday, I pity you.  Really.  It would be one thing if you had a For Sale sign posted on the page, clearly stating the ransom you were holding out on, but no.  Usually just a page of spam-festered ads, like parking a new car a farmer’s barn.  Ugh.  I had a name that seemed to be fitting, but after an idea pivot, it lost some of it’s relevance.  And, there was some feedback that it wasn’t very consumer-friendly (geeks, sure).  So, after a few more hours with a thesaurus, I’ve settled on fotojelly.  And to the young woman in Sweden with the twitter handle….really?!  Come on!

Lawyer jokes are funny.  Until you need one.

As I become much more versed in the business side of a startup, it’s become very apparent to me that there’s a lot of legal *stuff* that’s gotta get handled.  Incorporation alone involves stock issuance, determining equity shares, founders, etc. And if/when you begin entertaining investors, well let’s just say I’ve watched enough movies to know it’s best that someone is getting paid to cover my rear end.  Fortunately, FI has team up with the local firm Much Shelist, who have not only graciously offered their offices for our meetings but has put together individual packets to help us on our journey.  It was fun watching everyone get their legal-sized envelopes yesterday with their company name emblazoned on the front, physical evidence that we are, in fact, “doing it”.  Yet even though this content took me a while to read through and understand, as a bootstrapper I’m still unsure whether I should save some money for development and use LegalZoom to draw up the incorporation papers.  That’s a decision I’ll make in the next week.

Never turn down a chance to be critiqued

By nature I’m hard on myself – I can always be doing things better, faster, cheaper, etc. Having access to a group of mentors that are experienced technology company founders has been tremendously valuable, and it seems that each week’s presentations from them just keep getting more insightful and relevant to where we are in our journey.  Last night to me seemed the most personal, with all three sharing their experiences related to legal issues and intellectual property.

While we don’t have class next week, it doesn’t mean we can be idle.  I have developers that have been sitting on their hands while I reassess where things are at, incorporation papers to complete, a revenue model to vet, and several opportunities to converse with mentors and gain insights from them.  Traveling home last evening around midnight, I was tired but still ecstatic about the progress made.  My biggest challenge these next 2 weeks is to get things done, with the goal of having a “minimally viable product” ready before the end of the year.