Back to Basics: What A Sophomore Company Learned in An Incubator

To the other six start-ups in Jason Calacanis’s Incubator, we were an anamoly. Why would a ‘successful’ company like Red Tricycle, with over a million users and a couple million dollars in revenue, need an incubator? We already had a product, knew about growth hacking, and had pitched investors and successfully raised money.

Of course, the other companies were young and hungry, with visions of Sugarplum Unicorns dancing in their heads. They didn’t know about things like the “sophomore slump,” about pressure from your board, or how fast you needed to scale once you take venture capital.

So for us, earning a coveted spot in Jason’s brand new incubator was an opportunity go back to basics, to get hungry again and focus 100% on product innovation without the day-to-day distractions of employees, customers and investors. Here’s what we learned:

  1. Move Fast. There’s nothing like being dropped into a group of “fresh” (young & hungry) entrepreneurs to give you perspective on how much faster you need to move.
  2. Try New Things. When you’re running a day to day business, many of your decisions are based on what your existing customers want, which for us, is parents. But what about the other 79 M parents in the US? If we built Red Tricycle for them today, from scratch, what would that product and business look like?
  3. Design Matters. The game has changed since we raised our first seed round a few years ago. The MVP products that investors are seeing every day, all day are flat-out gorgeous. So design has gone from a “bonus” or something you invest in once you raise money, to “table stakes.” You’re not even in the game unless you have good design.
  4. Be Shameless in Asking for Feedback. If you’re lucky enough to be in front of industry titans like Josh Elman, Sam Shank or Nir Eyal (and you will if you get into the incubator) ask for as much feedback as possible about your product. Be a sponge. Don’t worry if you’re taking up too much of their time time. Jason will let you know when your time is up. First subtly with the rolling “wrap it up” hand gestures, and then with a bullhook when needed. But use every second you have to get feedback from really smart people.
  5. Storytelling Matters. When you’re out pitching investors “in real life” they are always polite and they will probably never give you honest feedback about your pitch. In the incubator, the audience (which was comprised of a slew of A-list investors) was much more candid about the presentation and the storytelling and your performance. Use this opportunity to tweak you pitch, try new things, redesign your deck.
  6. Competition Makes You Better. One thing about being in an incubator with only 6 other companies is, you knew exactly where you were in the pecking order every single week. Why? Because the guest speakers picked their top 2 companies every week. And Jason gives you his own feedback every week (and a rating half way through the incubator). After 4 weeks of being the only company never in the top 2, it was time to make to drastic changes.
  7. Move Faster. Even if you’re pushing new builds every week, reiterating on your pitch deck every day, on-boarding new client’s every hour, there’s someone who is hungrier and doing it faster than you. Keep moving and pick up the pace.

I’m happy to report, half way through the incubator, we zeroed in on a huge opportunity to solve the “last mile” problem for parents planning their weekend by enabling mobile discovery and purchases of personalized experiences. In the last six weeks of the incubator, we built the first marketplace that connects parents with awesome things do with their kids.

In the first 36 hours since we launched the marketplace, we’ve facilitated 142 transactions, including selling out 3 events, helping make life even easier for busy parents. We are now receiving strong signaling from the investment community (thanks in no small part to being able to launch on stage at the Launch Conference in front of 11k audience).

Overall, spending 12 weeks getting back to basics was exactly what we needed to get back to our A game.