Vitls – Startup Profile

vitls logo

Introduction

Vitls is a technology company that was founded by Werner Vorster and his wife Louise Vorster.  The two founders developed a next generation, body worn device that can measure telemetry based vital signs continuously and accurately.  This device is patented, small, unobtrusive, flexible and made out of a biocompatible material.  The founders utilized cloud-based algorithms that convert the clinically accurate data into actionable information for both parents and doctors to access from anywhere.

High-Level Description

According to Werner, Vitls is a technology company that is building revolutionary medical devices for homes and hospitals.  The benefit of Vitls is that now a child or patient’s vitals can be monitored continuously, reliably and undisturbed – from anywhere!

Idea Generation

Vitls was created to address a need.  The need was to have something that could continuously and accurately measure the founder’s son’s temperature remotely.  Werner’s son, Emjay suffered from something known as “febrile seizures.”  These febrile seizures were brought on by his temperature rising too fast or too high.  Werner and his wife initially monitored this issue by taking turns watching over Emjay at night.  They would spend nights in Emjay’s room in order to monitor his temperature intermittently so that they could react as soon as it spiked.  Constantly having to monitor their son put Werner and his wife under a lot of pressure.  On top of that, it caused Emjay a lot of discomfort.  At the time Werner was using an in-ear thermometer because nothing better was available.

Competition

The competition in this space is certainly growing.  Some top competitors at this time are Braun, Owlet, Feversmart and TempTraq.  The target market that Vitls is addressing consists of the parents of children 0-4 years old.  Currently, there are approximately 24 million in the United States and United Kingdom alone.

Entrepreneurial Challenges

Vitls faced several key challenges while starting up the company and developing the device.  Some of the key challenges consisted of:

  • Finding the right partners for hardware and software development.
  • Building a network of investor contacts.
  • Getting introduced to investors.
  • Getting funded (which Werner mentioned is a work in progress!).

Werner also mentioned that one of the easier things for Vitls was filing for patents and incorporating in the United States.

Conclusion

Vitls is a very interesting company and it will be interesting to see how things progress going forward. Funding is obviously going to be a big priority for Werner and his wife.  Vitls recently launched a Fundable campaign so be sure to check out their page – https://www.fundable.com/vitls-inc.  Also, please be sure to check out Vitls’ site at http://www.vitlsinc.com/ and follow them on Twitter @VitlsInc

Some other social media for the company can be accessed here as well: Facebook, AngelList, Crunchbase and LinkedIn.

*StartupConvos has no investment in this company

Happier House – Startup Profile

Introduction

Happier House is an online platform that allows homeowners to eliminate “the middleman” by providing wholesale prices on materials, and all-inclusive pricing on installation.  The company was founded by Izzy DiChiara and three other partners.  Happier House can be a useful tool for homeowners, by helping them save up to 30% on renovations, repairs, and remodeling projects.  The company is based in Dallas, Texas and has recently expanded the service to Miami.

The Product

happier house landing page

Our Conversation

About a week ago, I had the chance to speak with the founder of Happier House, Izzy DiChiara.  Throughout our conversation, Izzy discussed more about his business and some of the challenges that he has faced while working on it.

High-Level Description

According to Izzy, Happier House is a platform that provides homeowners with up to 30% savings for the home improvement process.  The platform does this by offering all-inclusive pricing for installation.  Also, wholesale prices on materials are offered and local contractors are vetted to do the work on projects.  Happier House has the labor cost included upfront — Saving homeowners time and money by using technology to manage their projects, eliminating the need for a typical “contractor” and their large overhead and salesmen commission fees.

Idea Generation

In 2008, Hurricane “Ike” hit. Izzy was called by his brother-in-law and was asked to help him with marketing efforts for his construction company.  Many people were affected by this tragedy.  Izzy decided to talk with homeowners to see how they were dealing with what happened.  After speaking with about 100 different people, Izzy “saw a void.”  People were not happy with the process that they had to go through to repair their homes.  A big issue with the process was that there was no price transparency.  A home owner showed Izzy cost estimates from several different companies (there were 8 quotes) and all of the quotes were different.  The homeowner was frustrated with the fact that out of 8 quotes, none were the same.  Izzy decided to create a platform that addressed the need for a better process.

Competition

According to Izzy, there are some similar concepts out there but none that offer true price transparency.  Izzy mentioned that Happier House is somewhat of a home concierge service.  All other competitors, essentially take a homeowner’s information and give it to contractors, which turns into the homeowner getting bombarded with emails, calls, and even text messages from various contractors.

Entrepreneurial Influence

Izzy has always had an entrepreneurial mindset.  In 1998, he bought a Mac computer and began creating logos for companies.  He has a strong background in branding.  Throughout his life he was always starting up companies with little capital.  On top of his branding and digital marketing background, he is also a self-taught “coder.”  He learned how to build websites for people by picking up a book on html and learning on the fly.

Name Generation

When the platform originally launched, it was called Roof Zero. The reason being was because at the time, the company only dealt with roofing.  Somewhere between 2013-2014, the company was renamed and became Happier House.  Happier House was a better name because it allowed the company to offer more services (addressing a larger market).

Entrepreneurial Challenges

Some of the challenges that Izzy and his team faced when creating the company were:

  • Developing the quoting algorithm
  • Spreading the word
  • Being recognized

Izzy and his team faced many common problems that entrepreneurs constantly face while trying to get their products or services off the ground and ready to launch.

Conclusion

Izzy is a great person to speak with.  His passion for his venture is clear as soon as you begin talking with him.  It will be interesting to see how Happier House grows over the next few years.  Best of luck to Izzy and his team on a successful launch.  Please be sure to check out Happier House’s site at http://happierhouse.com/ and follow them on Twitter @HappierHouse

*StartupConvos has no investment in this company

Online Courses Entrepreneurs Will LOVE

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I have always been a big fan of online courses (anytime there is a way to learn new skills, it’s great).  Websites like Coursera, Udemy, Codeacademy, etc. are great for learning some new skills or adding to skills you already have.  Online courses are great for anyone, but I decided to single out entrepreneurs in this post due to the large selection of entrepreneurial courses available.  Below is a list of some courses (via Coursera) entrepreneurs should seriously take a look at:

Entrepreneurship Specialization (University of Pennsylvania, Wharton School of Business)

  • A specialization on Coursera is a group of courses, rather than just one course. The entrepreneurship specialization covers topic such as Developing the Opportunity, Launching Your Start-Up, Growth Strategies, Financing and Probability, and a Capstone Project. Definitely a GREAT option for people looking to learn more about the entrepreneurial process.

How to Finance and Grow Your Startup – Without VC (University of London & London Business School)

  • I believe that every entrepreneur would be interested in learning more about this topic. Growing your startup without venture capital (also known as “boot-strapping”) is crucial for entrepreneurs because it allows them to keep more of their company and ultimately increases the chances of a higher valuation if all goes well.

Successful Negotiation:  Essential Strategies and Skills (University of Michigan)

  • Negotiation is crucial whether you are an entrepreneur or a consumer buying a car. This is yet another essential course that will help you develop an essential entrepreneurial and life skill.

How to Start Your Own Business Specialization (Michigan State University)

  • The setup of this specialization is slightly similar to the specialization offered by Wharton. In this specialization, students will learn about topics like:  Developing an Entrepreneurial Mindset, The Search for Great Ideas, Planning, Structure, Strategy, and a Capstone Project that deals with Action.  If I had to choose between this specialization and the Entrepreneurship Specialization offered by Wharton, I would definitely choose the Wharton one, but this is also a viable option.

Entrepreneurship:  Launching an Innovative Business Specialization (University of Maryland)

  • This is a very in-depth specialization, however there are not too many courses within it. The specialization starts off with covering The First Step in Entrepreneurship and continues on with discussing Idea to Marketplace and Startup Funding for Entrepreneurs.  Lastly, there is an entrepreneurship capstone.  Check this specialization out today!

The above courses and specializations do not have to be take in any particular order.  However, please be aware that many of these courses do have specific dates in which they run.  Start going on Coursera, Udemy, Codeacademy, etc. today and start developing key skills to become an excellent entrepreneur.

 

 

 

Movies & TV Shows Entrepreneurs SHOULD Watch

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Today, I thought it would be good just to write up a quick read that is in list form. Below are some movies and television shows that I highly recommended current or aspiring entrepreneurs watch (if and when they have any free time).  I am not a big fan of wasting time watching movies or television shows, but I always make an exception when I have the chance to watch any of these.

Movies

  • The Social Network (2010)
  • The Wolf of Wall Street (2013)
  • The Pursuit of Happyness (2006)
  • Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps (2010)
  • The Aviator (2004)

There is somewhat of a pattern with these movies.  1. They all feature famous actors: Jesse Eisenberg, Leonardo DiCaprio, Will Smith, Michael Douglass, etc.  2. They are all motivational.  3. The main characters face problems throughout the film.  4.  Despite the struggles, the main characters in the films find ways to overcome them (with the exception of Jordan Belfort in the Wolf of Wall Street).  After watching any of these movies, I typically become even more motivated than I was before and am re-charged and ready to get to work right away.  Check out any of these movies today (even if you have already seen them).  There is always room for more motivation in your life!

Television Shows

  • The Profit
  • Shark Tank
  • Restaurant Startup
  • Blue Collar Millionaires
  • Make Me A Millionaire Inventor

All of these shows are on CNBC.  This is not a subtle way of promoting CNBC; all of these shows are on CNBC yes, but that is because when it comes to business this channel trumps all others.  CNBC really made it a point years ago to have business-related programs playing all the time.  Many of these you have probably heard of, but I am sure there are a couple up there that you have not watched before.  The Profit is my absolute favorite show and features Marcus Lemonis, a savvy investor and entrepreneur that takes his own money and invests it in small businesses.  Marcus goes through the process of what a good business needs and frequently utilizes his 3 keys to success for any business:  People, Product, and Process.  Typically, Marcus will only invest in businesses that have at least good people and a good product.  The process is something he feels is fixable (in most cases).  Check out these television shows today!

TRU, Inc. – Startup Profile

truenergy logo

Introduction

Food-related companies are very interesting.  It seems like today there are constantly new food and beverage startups popping up around the world.  Recently, I came across TRU, Inc. – a beverage company that is giving athletes and many others a healthier energy shot option.  The company has had a successful Kickstarter campaign and has graduated from two successful, global food-based accelerators (Startup52 and Food-X) backed by SOSV (VC firm).  The company is currently located in Boston and was co-founded in 2015 by Jack McNamara and Robert Avakian.

The Product

truenergy logos

drink logo

Our Conversation

Earlier this week, I had the opportunity to discuss TRU, Inc. with one of its co-founders, Jack McNamara.  When StartupConvos was originally started, the plan was for it to be an early-stage startup blog that dealt with technology-related companies (since many startups are technology-based).  However, recently the blog has covered numerous food-related companies that are very interesting.  TRU, Inc. is included in that group of interesting food startups.

High-Level Description

According to Jack, TRU, Inc. is a company that athletes can trust.  The company’s main product is TRUenergy, which is “an energy shot infused with vitamins, electrolytes, and antioxidants, to help athletes perform better.”  This beverage is caffeinated with green tea and sweetened with honey.  The product plans to launch in October 2016 (so get ready everyone!).  Jack mentioned that when creating the product, they made sure to have vitamins around the 100% daily value mark, unlike many energy beverages that go way over that 100% daily value recommendation.

Idea Generation

Jack is a former pro hockey player.  After conversing and playing with many players, he noticed how many athletes were taking energy shots before games.  He found it crazy that some athletes who took so much pride in what they put in their bodies, were taking these energy beverages that weren’t the best for them.  Around this same time, Jack came across a teammate that would actually drink tea before games (at this time Jack was playing hockey around Denmark).  After seeing his teammate do this, Jack decided to create a product that people wanted and needed.

Competition

There are many competitors in the energy drink market.  According to Jack, TRUenergy differentiates itself from the competition.  Many competitors are similar to one another, but TRUenergy made it a priority to really differentiate itself from the pack.  This beverage separates itself by being a much healthier energy option for athletes and many others.  As mentioned, the beverage is for anyone, but Jack and company really place an emphasis on addressing a target market that consisted of people who care about what they are putting into their bodies.  The health and food industry is huge and TRU, Inc. believes that they can take a bite out of it!

Entrepreneurial Influence

Jack grew up as an athlete, which means he has always had a drive and strong desire to compete.  Growing up his love was sports, but he always had thoughts of starting his own business one day.  He grew up in a very competitive and athletic family.  Jack’s parents were both DI athletes and his three brothers all played DI hockey.  He also mentioned that he is grateful how supportive his parents have been during his entrepreneurial journey.  It is clear that Jack is one of those individuals out there that has always had an entrepreneurial mindset.

Name Generation

The name of the company was originally called Kickstick, according to Jack.  However, there was a trademark issue and changing the name of the company made sense.  The team took about a week trying to create a new name.  The company surveyed many people and thought having the word energy within the name made sense since they wanted people to know that it was an energy drink.  The company still wasn’t sold on the idea though and entered a meeting with a designer with a few possible choices.  The designer noticed one design with “TRUenergy” in it and the designer suggested that the company should stick with that name.  Thus, Jack and his team decided to call the company TRU, Inc. (but TRUenergy was essentially its brand name).

Entrepreneurial Challenges

There were several problems that TRU, Inc. faced.  Jack mentioned that some of the challenges consisted of:

  • Dealing with frustration – “Nothing is ever perfect”
  • Never really being done with anything – Entrepreneurship is a grind
  • Trying for perfection when nothing can be perfect
  • Knowing when to pivot
  • Lack of funds
  • Trying to compete with larger companies

Jack mentioned that many of the bad things about entrepreneurship are also the best things about being an entrepreneur.  TRU, Inc. faced many of the challenges that startups face when they are just getting started, but it sounds as though Jack and his team have dealt with these hurdles quite well thus far.

Conclusion

It is always interesting discussing startups and entrepreneurship with former athletes.  Not to take anything away from non-athletes, but with athletes passion can truly be felt miles away.  The minute Jack and I began talking I could tell how much he wants TRU, Inc. to succeed and in doing so he will be able to have a successful brand and be able to provide athletes and many others with a healthier energy shot option.  Be on the lookout for this product when it launches around June of this year.  Please be sure to check out TRU, Inc.’s site at http://drinktru.com/ and follow them on Twitter @drinktru

*StartupConvos has no investment in this company

 

 

Creativity and Follow-Through

Introduction

Ever wonder how you can become more creative?  Ever had an idea? If you answered yes to both of these questions, then it is possible for you to expand upon your creativity.  One of the perhaps most obvious ways to become more creative and come up with more ideas is through writing down ALL of your ideas.  Many of you might be saying to yourself, “Not all ideas I come up with are good though, do I still write them down?”  The answer is YES!  Writing down ideas helps you continuously come up with new ideas.  Some of those ideas might be duds, but the more you right them down, the chances increase of you jotting down a great idea someday (like most things it’s a numbers game).

Keep A Journal

About a year or two ago, I began writing down ALL of my ideas that I had every day.  Some days I would write down about 4 or 5 ideas and other days I might have written down no ideas.  The number of ideas that I would come up with in a given day certainly fluctuated (which is okay).  I keep all of my ideas in a journal and if for some reason I did not have the journal, I would jot down the idea on a scrap piece of paper, put it in my pocket and transfer the idea into the journal at a later time.  This is very important!  Use a journal or a notebook to keep all of your ideas in.  It is important to at least do this to record your “initial” ideas.  If for some reason you want to utilize your computer to start going into “in-depth” detail on your idea, then feel free to use whatever you would like at that point (Ex. computer, tablet, etc.).  The more that you write down your ideas on paper, the more that you will start to see how you will often begin thinking “outside-the-box.”  I really surprised myself with how many ideas I was coming up with when I continuously began writing them down.

Keeping With It

Like most things, it is important to note that you should “keep with it.”  Do not slack and not write down any ideas for days at a time (unless truly no ideas come to mind).  There was a time when I slacked writing down ideas for a few days and then a few days became a week or two.  At that point, you can almost feel yourself not being as creative as often as you probably would have been if you stuck with writing down your ideas.  Repetition is key!  If you want to have a nice free throw shot in basketball, what do you do?  You stand in front of a hoop and take shot after shot (repetition) until the shot is as close to perfection as possible (because nothing is truly perfect).  Once I began writing down ALL of my ideas again, I noticed my creativity began to rise once again (not sure if this is a proven scientific fact, but I believe so much that writing down ideas DOES increase creativity and idea volume).

Follow-Through

Once again, another basketball analogy; if you want to ensure the basket will go in the hoop how can you increase the probability that it will go in?  One of the acceptable answers is “you follow-through.”  Do not just write down all of your ideas and just leave them sitting in your notebook.  Be sure to take a look at these ideas (the duds and the intriguing ones) and sift through them a few times per week, month or year.  Place a star next to the ones that seem like they could become something.  If placing a star next to the good ideas is of no interest to you, then highlight them (do whatever you want to distinguish those ideas as the best ideas in your journal).  After you sift through many ideas, take a look at the good ideas and sift through them again at some point.  Pick 3-5 of the best ideas and start heavily looking into them.  If they resemble an idea that is already out there, then market research will probably be one of the next steps.  However, if after researching an idea it seems like your idea is very unique, it is probably time to start doing some validation (follow the lean startup method).

Conclusion

Ideas are great.  I personally believe that we need more ideas in the world.  If Steve Jobs, Elon Musk or Bill Gates did not come up with brilliant ideas and follow-through with them, where would the world be today?  I do not even want to think about that answer.  Start writing down your ideas today and increase your creativity and volume of ideas.

HangOut – App Profile

IntroductionHangOut logo

HangOut is an app that gives users a new way to find and share plans.  The app is currently available for free on the Apple app store.  HangOut was created in 2014 by four college students, Daniel (Danny) Guthrie, Mitchell Trulli, Hunter Knepshield, and Daniel Harrington.  The app is ideal for college students looking to see what events are happening on or off-campus.  HangOut falls under Mitchell and Danny’s holding company, Masterminds Holding Company LLC, in which two other companies fall under; EquityOwl and Market MI.

The App

HangOut combined pics

Our Conversation

It was interesting speaking with Mitchell, especially since I recently spoke with Ryan Shaw, co-founder of EquityOwl, where Mitchell is also a co-founder.  Typically, StartupConvos only interviews early-stage startups, but this app seemed interesting and after learning about EquityOwl, I thought it would be good to also learn about another one of Mitchell’s projects.  The thing that made this conversation really interesting is the fact that Mitchell is currently studying abroad in Barcelona, Spain (to date StartupConvos has only interviewed people that are currently within the United States).

High-Level Description

Mitchell described the app as a semi-anonymous serial planner that allows users to see what is going on in the area.  Users can post events to their area and other users can see events that are happening around them (5-15 miles away).  Currently, the app has been downloaded around 3,000 times.  HangOut is trying to disrupt club events and is utilized in Boston, Tampa and Barcelona right now.

Idea Generation

The idea came about when Mitchell started seeing a lot of cool events happening around him.  He determined that there really wasn’t an effective way to plan things out (event-wise).  The purpose of the idea was originally to just be an app that would allow people in Boston to see what’s going on in the area.

Competition

HangOut is one of the only location-based, social event apps on the market, according to Mitchell.  He did mention that WIGO (Who is Going Out) was a big competitor that had received successful funding, but the app shutdown recently.  When WIGO shutdown, Mitchell said that many people dubbed HangOut as “WIGO’s replacement.”  However, he mentioned that he feels HangOut does location-based social events better.  The app allows users to post parties, meetups, beach trips, etc. by using user-driven information.

Entrepreneurial Influence

Mitchell’s first entrepreneurial experience was in 3rd grade.  In 3rd grade, he ended up placing 2nd in ExploraVision – a science-based competition that deals with bringing ideas to reality.  Mitchell created a belt for blind people that would vibrate when they got too close to objects.  Along with this entrepreneurial experience, (as mentioned before) he also co-founded EquityOwl and Masterminds Holding Company LLC.  Entrepreneurship is nothing new to Mitchell (if it wasn’t obvious).

Name Generation

The name “HangOut” came about from sitting around tossing name ideas around.  The co-founders eventually decided to just call it HangOut and they could always change it later if they wanted to.  Mitchell, Daniel and the other co-founders ended up keeping the name instead of just using it as a placeholder like they originally thought they would.

Entrepreneurial Challenges

One of the biggest challenges HangOut faced was being labeled as WIGO’s replacement, according to Mitchell.  Another challenge with the app was including it as the first application within Mitchell’s holding company.  Some more challenges that the application faced according to Mitchell were the following:

  • Building small active user bases
  • Being careful not to expand too quickly
  • Focusing on small communities
  • Starting small and growing larger

Conclusion

HangOut is an interesting app and should become popular amongst college students and many others if executed properly.  On top of learning about this app, it was also very interesting to learn about yet another young entrepreneur.  Mitchell’s background is already quite impressive and I look forward to seeing what other ventures he creates over the next few years.  Students need to take a page out of Mitchell and Ryan’s (co-founder of EquityOwl) book and become student entrepreneurs.  Please be sure to check out HangOut’s site at http://www.officialhangout.co/ and follow them on Twitter @officialhangout. Also, you can follow them on Instagram @officialhangout

*StartupConvos has no investment in this company

 

The app can be downloaded on iTunes

EquityOwl – Startup Profile

Introduction

EquityOwl is a company that allows people to trade equity in their startup or idea, in exchange for professional services and talent.  The company was co-founded in 2015 by Mitchell Trulli, Ryan Shaw and Alan Blashaw.  The company deals with two classifications of people: people who have ideas they want to work on and people looking for ideas to work on.  According to the EquityOwl site, the goal of the platform “is to help entrepreneurs succeed.”

The Product

Our Conversation

Last week, I had the opportunity to speak with one of the co-founders of EquityOwl, Ryan Shaw.  Ryan is another young entrepreneur that StartupConvos has had the pleasure of speaking with about entrepreneurship and startups.  It was great to be able to discuss EquityOwl with Ryan and see what it is truly all about.

High-Level Description

According to Ryan, EquityOwl is a “service for people who have great business ideas, but not the capital to start up.”  The way the platform works is as follows:  the user posts an idea in return for equity and professionals on the platform can express their interest in the idea in exchange for equity compensation only.  It is a pretty interesting concept in my opinion.  The platform also has legal documents built into the site, which definitely helps the process move along more efficiently and swiftly.  Instead of having to go off the site to handle hiring, EquityOwl uses the built-in legal documents to allow users to hire directly off the site.  The site is a great way for freelancers to work on projects in exchange for equity.

Idea Generation

Mitchell Trulli, one of the co-founders of EquityOwl came up with the idea for the platform about two years ago.  The co-founders at the time (Mitchell and Ryan), kept trying to push forward new ideas, but had no way to bring them to life.  They didn’t have the experience or money at the time (they were in high school).  What did they do to address these issues?  The co-founders decided to look at their own problems and thus created a business that could solve them.  A business model was created that addressed exactly what they needed.

Competition

Ryan mentioned that there is some competition, but they are focused on compensation in the form of money.  Some well-known competitors are www.guru.com and www.freelancer.com. The two companies have a similar idea in regards to EquityOwl, however the two companies are more concerned with finding jobs for hire, instead of finding jobs for equity (like EquityOwl does).  Also, EquityOwl attracts high school and college students, as well as working professionals, whereas other competitors primarily attract working professionals only.  One of the unique advantages of EquityOwl, according to Ryan is that EquityOwl utilizes legal document templates within the platform.

Entrepreneurial Influence

Ryan believes that he has always had an entrepreneurial mindset.  Part of that comes from the fact that he has always had an interest in problems.  One of the things Ryan has always done was look for problems and see what solutions he could develop.  Ryan mentioned that after studying business more in college, he became even more interested in entrepreneurship.

Name Generation

Originally, the name of the company was SparkIdeas.  However, the co-founders wanted a branded logo and felt that EquityOwl would allow them to create a good one (and they also liked how it sounded).  The new name actually came from Alan Blashaw, who was brought on in October 2015 to be one of the partners.  Everyone liked the name because it incorporated the term “equity” within it.  Hearing the term EquityOwl let users and anyone else that was interested – understand that the platform revolved around equity, rather than money.  Ryan mentioned that re-branding the company EquityOwl was a major turning point from being just an idea to becoming a company.

Entrepreneurial Challenges

One of the biggest challenges for the co-founders was just getting started with the site.  Some of the initial challenges that they ran into consisted of:

  • Money to fund the site
  • Refining the idea
  • Developing who they were as a company
  • Separating themselves from the competition
  • Initial inexperience
  • Trying to develop individual skill sets while developing the company

Conclusion

It was great to speak with yet another young entrepreneur.  I really like the concept of EquityOwl and let’s face it, most of us out there have been in a situation where we would love to start a company, but don’t want to shell out the capital needed to hire the professionals that we need.  Thanks to EquityOwl, that is no longer the case.  Please be sure to check out EquityOwl’s site at http://www.equityowl.com/ and follow them on Twitter @JustEquityOwl

*StartupConvos has no investment in this company

Lean Thinking Makes Ideas Possible

Introduction

Recently, I began reading “The Lean Startup” by Eric Ries (which I recently mentioned in an article).  I am making progress with the book, but already I feel myself thinking differently.  In the book, Ries discusses the process of lean thinking and how it should be applied when developing a startup.  In order to make sense of this lean thinking methodology, one needs to understand first what a startup is based upon the definition Ries gives it in his book.  According to Ries, “A startup is a human institution designed to deliver a new product or service under conditions of extreme uncertainty.”  This definition really interested me, partly because it can even apply to large enterprises looking to develop a new product or service.

Applying Lean Thinking

After learning a little about lean thinking through reading this book, I became interested in learning even more about it by seeing what the internet had to offer.  I began searching to learn more about lean thinking and found some interesting examples and descriptions.  There was definitely some good information out there, but still nothing compared to what Ries discussed throughout his book.  There is a process that goes with lean thinking, but I guess a simplified way of looking at it could be:

  • Having an idea
  • Developing assumptions
  • Idea validation
  • Creating an MVP (Minimum-Viable-Product)
  • Testing the MVP
  • Adapting to meet the biggest needs of customers
  • Developing a final product

Some people may disagree and think that this simplified way of looking at lean thinking is incorrect, but visualizing lean thinking in this light has helped me to quickly understand what Ries was beginning to touch upon at the start of his book.  It truly makes sense to take an idea that you have and then develop some assumptions around it (since market research is really only an option if there is certainty surrounding an idea).  Then comes idea validation, which helps to see if 1. Your assumptions were correct or 2. Your assumptions were off and need to change.  Next, comes the creation of the MVP which is essentially a product or service that can be created in an almost “bare-bone minimum” capacity.  This product or service is meant to be changed several times to adapt to what customers are truly looking for.  A series of tests will surround the MVP and negative feedback is okay – as long as it is used to improve upon the product or service.  It is important when utilizing lean thinking to remember that this process is great because it can often save money and time – instead of just jumping into business with an idea that you personally think is good (idea validation is key).  One of the next steps in the process is to take a look at the needs of customers and develop a “final” product or service that you know they will use (final is a very open term here since it is likely that the product or service would have many more revisions over the course of time).

Examples of Lean Thinking (Lean Startup Model)

A good example of lean thinking is Facebook.  Mark Zuckerberg executed a perfect lean mindset when developing Facebook.  A timeline of the steps that he took could possibly look like this:

  • Zuckerberg noticed a need for online-social interaction amongst people and college campuses
  • He developed an MVP that was very simple and did not have too many features (aka “the profile page”)
  • Some people became early adopters of it (a few college campuses)
  • The platform was tested by many users and quickly became popular (it began going viral)
  • Zuckerberg and company continued to make adjusts to the site and continue to do so today to meet the needs of their user base

The example above is essentially a quick timeline of how I believe Facebook utilized a lean way of thinking when it came to developing the platform.  One of the biggest benefits of lean thinking is that there is often less risk versus just running with an idea with minimal or no validation.  Listen to your users or customers, as I mentioned before – validation is key!

Conclusion

It is clear that I still have a lot to learn when it comes to the lean startup (lean thinking) methodology, but I will say that the more that I discuss this mindset with people, the more I love it.  I think every entrepreneur or business should take a look at applying this mindset because of how powerful it can be.  Since I began utilizing a more lean way of thinking, my creativity has skyrocketed.  Ideas that I might have brushed off in the past began to become more of a reality if I were to use a lean approach.  Definitely pick up a copy of “The Lean Startup” by Eric Ries (if you haven’t already done so) and begin utilizing the lean mindset today!

New Grounds Food – Startup Profile

New grounds food logo

Introduction

New Grounds Food is a food company that is primarily known for its first product the “CoffeeBar.”  The CoffeeBar is a “100% organic, vegan, and gluten free energy bar infused with a full cup of fair trade coffee.  It is a very interesting product because let’s face it, sometimes we don’t have time to go to Dunkin Donuts or Starbucks, but with the CoffeeBar, we can grab one and off we go!  The company was co-founded in 2013 by (two freshmen in college – at the time) Johnny Fayad and Ali Kothari.  New Grounds Food is located in Boston, MA.

The Product

New Grounds Food product

Our Conversation

Earlier this week, I spoke with Johnny Fayad, co-founder of New Grounds Food.  Johnny and I discussed his startup, as well as some information about his entrepreneurial mindset and challenges.  Johnny is a young and very ambitious individual.  After listening to him speak about his company and about his entrepreneurial influences and challenges, it is clear that Johnny is as entrepreneurial as it gets – and that is GREAT!

High-Level Description

After doing some research on my own, I had a pretty good grasp of New Grounds Food before speaking with Johnny.  However, speaking with the founder of a company always helps when trying to understand what a company does on a high level.  According to Johnny, “New Grounds Food is a food company that currently has one main product, the CoffeeBar.”  The product is made up of simple ingredients – making it a healthy and delicious option for people looking to start their day off right.  The CoffeeBar is an all-natural, vegan, and gluten-free energy bar, which just so happens to be infused with an entire cup of fair-trade coffee.

Idea Generation

Johnny and Ali first came up with the idea for the CoffeeBar when they were running late to classes (which signaled a personal need for them).  The two of them wanted a cup of coffee, but didn’t have time to get one while rushing to class, so they decided to develop a product that would allow them to have a cup of coffee for energy on the way, in a portable, non-beverage form.  Johnny and Ali began creating the product in their dorm room.  The two even entered it into an idea validation contest at Northeastern and won some prize money.

Competition

According to Johnny, there are a few competitors when it comes to what they are doing with the CoffeeBar.  However, when it comes to energy bars, there are clearly many competitors within the space.  The main difference with the CoffeeBar is that “it is the original bar that delivers a cup of coffee per bar, with real, fair trade coffee.”  Johnny did mention that although there are coffee bars and drinks out there, “no one really delivers on New Grounds Food’s core competencies.”  New Grounds Food takes pride in not wanting their customers to be worried about what they are putting into their body.

Entrepreneurial Influence

Johnny never really thought about entrepreneurship when growing up.  During high school he used to create longboards because that was what he was into, but he still did not view himself as an entrepreneur at the time.  Then something began to change when he arrived at Northeastern.  While attending Northeastern, Johnny felt a spark towards entrepreneurship.

Name Generation

Originally, the name of the company was CoffeeBar.  Johnny and Ali eventually started thinking of a new name for the company – one that would be protected and allow them to create more products and not just the “CoffeeBar.”  After a lot of brainstorming, the two co-founders finally landed on New Grounds Food (although there was a possibility of naming the company Kaldi – which would have had a cool looking goat as a logo).  There was a story around the name Kaldi, but ultimately after thinking it over, New Grounds Food made the most sense.

Entrepreneurial Challenges

There were many challenges the two co-founders had to face when developing the product.  The process involved many steps and ultimately Johnny and Ali had to learn how to make the product, how to make it work, how to scale, etc.  Another large problem that New Grounds Food ran into was setting up manufacturing.  However, thanks to hard work and not being afraid to ask for help from professors and connections; the two were able to jump over the hurdles that were in their way and develop a great product and company.

Conclusion

Johnny is a young entrepreneur, which in my opinion is something we need to see more of today.  Students need to feel free to dive into ventures while they are in school.  Many students could learn from Johnny and Ali’s path and hopefully this article helps spark some entrepreneurial interest within them.  Please be sure to check out New Grounds Food’s site at http://newgroundsfood.com/ and follow them on Twitter @NewGroundsFood

*StartupConvos has no investment in this company