‘I Tried to Play the Shark — It Didn’t Work’
Starting a Kickstarter campaign and the prestigious Techstars accelerator program at the same time taught these entrepreneurs that you don’t need to put up a flashy front to be successful in tech.
This profile is part of Processing Power, a series about how tech creators are taking their Kickstarter projects to the next level.
Andrea Baldereschi was his own first boss, and he was a tough one. In 2016 he and his friend Andrea Bulgarelli created Remidi, a musical instrument glove that turns finger taps and flicks of the wrist into custom sounds.
Baldereschi and Bulgarelli were eager to do everything they could to advance their product. They traveled across America for investor pitches; they joined Techstars, a startup accelerator with a lower acceptance rate than Harvard; they launched a Kickstarter campaign. And they did it all at the same time, “which is quite crazy,” says Baldereschi.
The punishing schedule was too much, and ultimately Remidi folded. But dipping into the ethos of both venture capital and crowdfunding at the same time taught Baldereschi and Bulgarelli where they fit — and didn’t fit — in each world. And now they’re bringing that perspective to a new company.
The Techstars accelerator program puts entrepreneurs through the paces of rigorous planning, strategy, mentorship, and financial preparation — and has helped companies like ClassPass, Sphero, and Contently find success. “Techstars is about the mathematical, financial, rational side of making a business and understanding how it can be profitable in the long term,” says Baldereschi.
“Communicating with investors is very rational, not so emotional. The Kickstarter ethos is more about the creativity side of it and helping people understand why you believe in it.”
“We came through as ourselves on Kickstarter because we were talking to people and writing our updates and really putting our faces on it,” says Baldereschi. “We ended up delivering our product a year late, but out of almost 800 people, I think just two asked for their money back. Why? Because they had seen our faces, over and over, telling them what was going on. They saw that we’re humans, not just a company. We’re guys with a dream, and they really connected with that. Kickstarter forces you to communicate like that, or encourages it.”
This was an important lesson for Baldereschi at the time, and he wishes he’d embraced creative communication throughout his pitches a little sooner.
“Remidi was my first experience after university,” he says. “I had never had a full-time job before; I had never worked in the U.S., either. All of a sudden I was talking to high-level people and I was always asking myself how I could impress them.”
Even as he was learning to communicate with authenticity on his Kickstarter page, in his investor pitches he fell into Silicon Valley stereotypes. It wasn’t great for his business.
“I had these models I was trying to take inspiration from, and I tried to play the shark — it didn’t work. I’m not like that, and I realized it a bit late. I think I would have been more successful if I had talked about what I believe and my vision and what I want to do.”
Investors saw through his act, and he couldn’t raise the money he needed to keep the company going. He kept pursuing fake-it-till-you-make-it success, showing up at the 2017 Consumer Electronics Show to promote a business he knew was on the brink of failure. Their electronic components provider had given them some booth space, where they brought a new set of prototypes that were frustratingly faulty. Between on-the-fly troubleshooting, they performed the same pitch all day, believing it a bit less every time. They didn’t feel excited about the next chapter of their story. “The mood wasn’t really 100 percent.”
Baldereschi and Bulgarelli decided to put the business on pause. Bulgarelli was soon offered another job as an engineer, but he turned it down; he wanted to keep working in small startups. The rebuffed hiring manager introduced him to Carlo Ratti, an Italian design celebrity, architect, engineer, and MIT professor who was working on a new project: a puck-shaped drawing robot that turns a home’s walls into an interactive canvas. Bulgarelli soon invited Baldereschi to join the team at Scribit, and the pair set to work proving they’d learned from previous mistakes.
They launched another Kickstarter campaign, and raised over $1.6 million. The financial savvy they’d gained at Techstars informed their careful manufacturing plans and meticulous delivery schedule; the communication experience they got from their first Kickstarter campaign informed the clear, human story they developed for the project — and for their next appearance at the Consumer Electronics Show. Instead of faking success or pretending to be sharks, Baldereschi and Bulgarelli’s plan for the 2019 trade show is all about showing up prepared and being themselves.
“We’re working with a product that empowers human creativity, which is something our work always comes back to, and it’s what we want to talk about. We like to stay in that crossroad of art and tech. And we like to hear stories. I don’t love hearing about all the product details and what it does. I like to hear the story of who’s behind it, where the idea comes from, and how a product can make people happier by allowing them to experience the feeling of creating something.”
— Katheryn Thayer