Startup Bus: Trial by Mentors
At the end of Part One we were really boiling down to our MVP and getting ready to pitch. Here are the team members and roles.
Matthew Allen — Virtual Reality Story Builder
Bill Myers — Virtual Reality Storyteller
Andrea Young — Marketing and Research
Ian Schwarber — Public Relations and Business Development
Bob Sopko — Business Development and Data
Mentors or Friends
Our mentors on the bus were comprised of past Startup Bus busprenuers as well as local people who have created their own business, and one out of towner. Ray Lewis helped create Wastebits on Startup Bus and they’ve been in business for four years. Chris Laco also helped create Wastebits and works at Rackspace. Chris Bue created LBKD Corp which consults for startups doing financial work. Will Yaworsky does freelance web development. Gordon Schorr worked at Goodyear, works with University of Akron Research Foundation and is a founding member of ARCHAngel (Akron Regional Change Angel) Investment Network and many more titles.
I had never met these people before but they genuinely wanted every team to succeed. They asked hard questions and helped us problem solve. But most of all to me they were like friends. They were completely open to all of our questions and gave honest opinions. They did not hesitate when we had a question or wanted to pull them into a team discussion, no matter the time of day. They were always around and wanted to be involved.
Let’s Pitch It
When we finally arrived in Boulder our team pretty much had everything done. Now we were taking time to perfect the pitch and make sure the pitch deck worked. We were able to meet other teams and one had a very similar idea to ours but working in a different industry. Finally it was time for us to pitch and by all measures we nailed it. We had a working demo that impressed the judges, and eventually the crowd, and everyone was fascinated by our idea and business model. When we walked off stage we made sure to position ourselves so other people in the venue could come up to us and see our demo. Once again everyone was impressed and could see our vision. Everyone was pretty confident that we would move on to the next round; Our conductors, other teams, even people in the crowd.
After everyone pitched and some deliberation from the judges it was time to hear our fate. I found a spot near the stage to listen from and listened intently. Names were listed off, most of the teams I agreed were worthy of moving on, and then that was it. I didn’t hear our name.
For a second I stood there waiting as if they would say, “And finally, Spacecraft”. But nothing. I walked back to where the rest of the team was and just looked at them. I remember asking, “Is it just me or did they not call our name?”. The team was also in disbelief mostly unsure but for the most part agreed that we weren’t called. Personally I was pretty unphased. I know our product is good and that we have a good team. Ray summed it up best by saying “This is good. Now you all can rest, take the next few days off to regroup and then get back to focusing on the product. The hard part is over”.
While we were still gaining attention from the crowd we were able to talk to the CEO of Startup Bus who was also one of the judges in the first round. We wanted some incite into what may have caused us to not move on. What he said to our team was a mix of encouraging and a bit disheartening.
He said that when the judges opened up discussion they let him go first. Everyone had their own formula for scoring and his formula gave us the highest score out of every pitch. He opened with saying “Not only do I like Spacecraft, I think they should just be pushed to the final round”. The other judges did not agree. He feels this may have hurt us. He gave us a lot of encouragement to continue and even said he would visit us in Akron if we continue to build something in the next few months.
Over the next few hours and day we pieced parts of the story together from different perspectives. Overall we believe the general reason we did not move on was because of the Maker theme of the bus. We did not tangibly make something. Like we literally did not 3D print, solder, or laser cut anything, though we did make a 360 degree Virtual Reality training video, so this basically disqualified us in the other judges eyes.
We’re a lot like Wastebits. When the Wastebits team did Startupbus there was no theme. They were kicked out in the first round also. But they have been in business for four years since that happened. The reason is because they have a solution to a real problem and the people who are intimate with this problem see the value in their solution. We feel the same way about our team and Spacecraft. We’re solving a real problem of rebuilding education. Though we stuck with the Maker theme my original idea is to be applied to all disciplines of education.
Bill and I had a sit down meeting later that night after pitching with Ray and Gordon. We laid out everything we went through that day including the information we could piece together about the judging. They see our passion and want to help us. This meeting was to help guide us and find ourselves and what we really wanted to do moving forward. This meeting was long, took place in two parts of the hotel and happened even though we knew we weren’t pitching the next day. That’s the type of people that go on startupbus. They want to see you succeed especially, in our case, in the North East Ohio region because there is so much potential for growth.
The next day we all agreed to watch the finals and really take in what was going on and pitch our product to anyone that would listen. I personally pitched to at least twenty-five people. After rewording some things depending on the person’s background everyone believed in our product and gave us feedback. We watched other people pitch and overall took it in stride with various team meetings throughout the day. After the closing ceremony it was time to move to the AirBnB.
Like every business, getting to the AirBnB was a lot of logistical work. We ended up getting four cases of beer that was left over from a donation for the Food and Beverage themed bus. And used multiple Ubers to get everyone to the house. Upon walking in everyone was stoked. It was an awesome space and way cheaper than the hotel. Everyone was running around getting food, getting their luggage from the hotel and meeting other teams at the after party. My team met at a late after party that was put together by our bus. After a while I felt it was time to go to the AirBnB and try to rest up for the next day. I was wrong.
We went back and some of the housemates were in the house with some other busprenuers having a little party. I decided to stay up and people kept coming in. One of the busprenuers on my bus told me that they had gone around telling people there was a party at our house. This turned out to be a very eventful night. Everyone was ready to blow off steam and mingle and the AirBnB, the one that just a few weeks ago I was unsure if anyone would stay at, became the place to party. I’m pretty sure we had at least one ambassador from every bus come in but the house in general was full, upstairs and downstairs. Mentors and judges came and everyone wanted to relax and even continue talking about their business while playing drinking games. Work Hard, Play Hard.
The rest of the weekend carried on like this. Between hiking and sightseeing during the day to partying and talking about your business at night. It was like I was still on the bus. Awake until as early as 5:00 AM and sleeping just three or so hours until 8:00 AM every single day of those last three days. I met some really great people from other buses and really enjoyed spending time with them.
Rainbow On Stairs
After a very eventful week and amazing connections it was finally time to leave. I left early on Sunday and left the house up to the people still there. Luckily one of the housemates really stepped up and helped with damage control. They even gave me ginger water as I was sick while I was leaving. The bus ride to the airport and walking to my gate were almost a blur. I was thinking more about the people I met and the business than what I was actually doing. I was sick and tired and just going through the motions of getting back home. I remember going up the escalator and seeing a rainbow shimmer through the glass ceiling and onto the escalator steps where I was looking. This rainbow snapped me back to reality for a little bit as if to say “You’re moving in the right direction”.
Given the amazing support from my sponsors at the Burton D. Morgan Foundation and Knight Foundation for the scholarship, and LaunchNet at Kent State for the GoPro Rental, I would have to agree with that rainbow.
Coincidence Part 2: Airport Business
Upon arriving at my layover airport I walked as quick as I could to the gate. According to my ticket I only had about 40 minutes until my next flight and of course the gate would be on the complete opposite side of where I landed. As I rushed to the gate I saw a familiar face. It was Ian from my team who is the Resource Director at the EXL Center at Akron University. This was bizarre to me because Ian, Andrea, and Bob from our team were supposed to be in San Francisco. They left early Friday morning to attend the maker faire and meet with different people interested in our business. It turns out Ian was going home early because he couldn’t take not seeing his kid and wife anymore.
It was all a strange coincidence though for us to meet. He had booked his flight the day before to get back home. Which meant some how he got a flight from SFO to CLT, happened to be on the same from from CLT to CAK and to top it all off managed to get the seat right next to me. I don’t mean he had the seat next to me on the other side of the aisle. I mean we had the same row of two seats and sat right next to each other. Of course we talked business.
We Didn’t Fail, Were Validated
The biggest takeaway from this whole experience is how validated we were. I’m sure this sounds just as bad as saying “We don’t have any competitors” but honestly no one hated our idea. There was one person who didn’t fully believe in it but given enough persuasion we were able to get them to see our vision and even help us think of another outlet to create around this idea. I remember pitching this idea at a competition called Pitch U while I was still at Kent State in 2015, they even recorded my pitch so I would love a copy of that video if anyone has a contact for me. Even everyone there for the most part understood what I am trying to do.
Some of us on the team were not happy that we lost and who would be? But really we’re looking past that and navigating our way between real life and starting a company. We want to move forward with this idea and in the coming weeks and months we will be discussing as a team how to do that. If you want to be involved please reach out to us: email@example.com