Lessons from the 2018 Fordham Foundry Pitch Challenge

Dan and Paul hold the winning check, April 8th, 2018.

Summary:

  • R3 Printing won the 2018 Fordham University Pitch Challenge.
  • The 3 core philosophies of developing strong founder fluency, the maintenance of focus, and dedication to rapid iteration were integral to our success.

The Achievement.

On April 8th, R3 Printing won the 2nd Annual Fordham University Pitch Challenge.

Hosted by the Fordham Foundry, the 2018 Pitch Challenge saw 26 companies competing for a total pool of $20,000 in prize money, generously provided by BNP Paribas and Focus Ventures.

After 3 rounds of elimination, R3 Printing took top prize, winning 1st place and $10,000 in prize money.

The Climb.

In 2017, we sat in the audience of the McNally Amphitheater and watched as early stage startups presented the companies they were building.

Long before the final round, it was clear that several of these startups were significantly farther down the path than R3 Printing and that — for us to really develop as a company — we had to address multiple shortcomings.

That day, we made the decision that R3 Printing would be competing in the 2018 Foundry Pitch Challenge. In order to be competitive, it was clear that we would have to cultivate substantial skills and company knowledge that would serve us in the development of our startup as a whole.

53 weeks, countless coffee meetings, dozens of pitch decks, and thousands of development hours of later, we found ourselves on stage competing with Fordham’s top student and alumni talent for the ultimate prize.

Our eventual success in the journey from stands to stage over the course of one year can largely be attributed to the embodiment of three core concepts as R3 Printing’s guiding philosophies.

These three guiding philosophies are:

  1. The Development of Strong Founder Fluency.
  2. The Art of Maintaining of Focus.
  3. The Dedication to Rapid Iteration.

1. The Development of Strong Founder Fluency.

For R3 Printing, conversations about founder fluency often start and end with the 30 Questions. Alex Iskold’s 30 Questions blog post has done more to shape our startup and guide our understanding of R3 Printing than any other roadmap.

On its face, the 30 Questions is a list of the 30 most common questions that investors ask founders about their startups. More consequentially, the 30 Questions provide the most concise roadmap that we’ve found in the journey towards becoming fully fluent in one’s startup.

2. The Art of Maintaining of Focus.

We’ve found that focus is necessary for the execution of any sufficiently complex endeavor.

For us, focus is not the process of mindlessly putting hours into a system and hoping it will work itself out. We define focus as the deliberate practice and cultivation of habits whereby regular strategic check-ins are conducted and — after having figured out how our team will execute over a specifically delineated amount of time —we ruthlessly execute.

At R3 Printing, this process manifests itself into roughly two parts which we refer to as Heads up and Heads Down.

Heads Up — Strategic Check-In.

How is our execution going? Is what we are working on moving the ball forward while being correlate with our Primary Objective or our Mission? Assuming success, what’s next?

Many startup founders lose sight of what — in most cases — should be the Primary Objective of any startup: the acquiring, building, and growing of a customer base through the development of a product that meets customer needs and the creation of a business apparatus that can expand correlate to these goals.

The Primary Objective is distinctly different from a startup’s stated Mission, which is usually a concise explanation of a high-level strategic goal the startup is trying to accomplish.

For example, R3 Printing’s Mission is the development of additive manufacturing hardware that solves the key pain points faced by humans using 3D Printers today.

It is important to continuously revisit whether the strategic initiatives being presently undertaken are done so correlate to A) advancing the startup’s Primary Objective and B) moving towards the successful development of a product that accomplishes the company’s Mission.

When one or both are not being addressed by a specific initiative, it’s important to figure out if said initiative is really necessary to the long-term success of the startup. Getting unfocused — working on initiatives that don’t advance these two points — robs startups of crucial hours that they cannot spare and often endangers the long-term viability of the business as a whole.

Heads down- Ruthless Execution.

We define “ruthless execution” as the ability to sit down and work with a singular focus. For us, this looks like 70 to 90 hours per week of working without distraction. Cell phones off, no social media in Chrome tabs, no distractions. A non-negotiable 8 hours of sleep nightly.

Getting here was not an overnight process. It did take time for us to un-learn ingrained bad habits. It required the cultivation of a deep sense of discipline. It required the eventual on-boarding of necessary mind-clearing habits — yoga, meditation, prayer, etc. — whereby we can identify the moment we have become off-task, take a 15 minute break to reset and re-center our minds, and then return to hours of singularly focused execution.

Our cultivation of deep focus resulted in an unexpected outcome. What initially started as a push towards a single goal that felt like grinding eventually became an innate pull towards mastery. We become obsessed with the perfection of our art: the creation of game-changing 3D printing hardware. On the product side, this means daily striving for the creation of product that is most optimized for customer needs. On the strategy side, this is embodied in the pursuit of creating a business model that allows for the fastest path to revenue generation and laying the groundwork for near-future scaling.

3. The Dedication to Rapid Iteration.

The startup ecosystem is littered with people who have prodigal talent and who — through genetics, education, or some combination of both — have been blessed with an abundance of intelligence and wisdom. While these people make a big splash, in our experience the average person who finds real success in tech is what we would characterize as a “regular smart person ” who is obsessed with the problem they are trying to solve, spends an unreasonable amount of hours focused on tackling the problem, and who moves rapidly through the iterative process of exploring possible solutions.

Over the course of years, these three characteristics translate to:

  1. A deep understanding of and fluency with the problem.
  2. The discovery of unique insights into what actions are necessary for successfully solving the problem.
  3. The attainment of a long list of solutions that were tried and didn’t work.

The agile startup methodology has been written about extensively but cannot be understated. Iterating rapidly, learning what doesn’t work, and figuring out what works is crucial. The rapidly iterative process of trial and error contributes profoundly to problem understanding and — often more so than traditional researching — reveals the most effective solutions to complex problems.

What’s Next.

We are incredibly appreciative of both Fordham University and the Fordham Foundry for hosting the 2018 Pitch Challenge and their support for both us as a company and the New York tech ecosystem as a whole.

We are looking forward to again sitting in the audience next year and watching students and alumni compete.