Last night at Roc Brewing we had the kickoff mixer for this year’s HTRLaunchPad. It combined a kind of speed dating opportunity for our team to get face to face with the software teams applying to the program. It also offered more interaction with prospective mentors (more on that soon), a brief presentation about TEN, The Entrepreneur’s Network, great beers and Marty’s Meats, a food truck entrepreneur who bravely sold us all kinds of delicious meaty goods out in the cold rain.
I spoke with around 17 teams. The other teachers and advisory board members, Mike R, Todd, Richard, Sasha and Alex also did the same so there was a lot of interaction. We estimate about sixty eighty people showed up. The response to our request for applications has been overwhelming and getting face to face with many was a great experience. So much dynamism. For those of us who have been around this scene in Rochester for a long time, the consensus was that people and ideas are much more open and sophisticated these days. Quite an amazing evening!
That’s a key commitment our entrepreneurs make when they join the LaunchPad program. And it is the key to succeeding. The concept is simple: Before you assume your idea is good you go outside, talk to as many prospective customers as possible, and use their input to define and improve your business model. And you are expected to report on your progress, with specifics, each week in the class. It’s hard work.
But that hard work is far more likely to result in success than simply guessing that the world wants your widget just the way you envisioned it. And over the course of the program you’re going to have talked to hundreds of people. That means that if you stick with it you’re going to have your pitch down and your product refined to the point where it is marketable. And you’re very likely to find mentors, early adopters, and even paying customers, in the process.
It’s important to stress that there is no selling during the LaunchPad. You describe and listen, refine and show. You learn about the product, the market, the revenue models, the channels for distribution, the costs and a lot more. It is going to be intense but we think it is going to be incredibly rewarding too.
The Launchpad program is built on a couple of basics: An idea as a starting point and a team of two or more founders to work on that idea. We know that it is not unusual to have one or the other. A team in search of an idea and an idea in search of a team. It’s a given that savvy investors invest in people more than ideas. The HTRLauchPad team knows that we’re likely to be playing matchmakers as it is a requirement of our program that you enter as a team rather than an individual. If we meet two people without founding partners we may try to match you up- if there is an idea you can get excited about.
Paul Graham, founder of Y-Combinator, has a great post on finding ideas called How To Get Startup Ideas. It is aimed at helping great teams find that great idea:
“The way to get startup ideas is not to try to think of startup ideas. It’s to look for problems, preferably problems you have yourself.
The very best startup ideas tend to have three things in common: they’re something the founders themselves want, that they themselves can build, and that few others realize are worth doing. Microsoft, Apple, Yahoo, Google, and Facebook all began this way.
Why is it so important to work on a problem you have? Among other things, it ensures the problem really exists. It sounds obvious to say you should only work on problems that exist. And yet by far the most common mistake startups make is to solve problems no one has…”
David Cohen of Techstars, the number one startup accelerator in the world (their description), pioneered the mentor concept for working with startups. As part of the HTRLaunchPad program we are recruiting mentors to work with the startup founders taking the course. If you are interested in helping, please click the Mentor tab above to learn more. In the meantime, here’s David’s manifesto for prospective mentors: