An AlphaLab State of Mind
By Jim Jen
A common question we are asked as we meet with teams interested in applying to AlphaLab is whether the “stage” of company is right for AlphaLab. We have previously tried to address this and believe that AlphaLab can help a company accelerate its learning through its different stages — whether taking idea to customer-validated product, acquiring initial customers or testing repeatable customer acquisition processes.
At recent talks about AlphaLab, I have shared our philosophy, our belief in founding teams, and tried to convey that AlphaLab is about openly challenging/testing your ideas iteratively in a collaborative environment with your fellow companies. In fact, rather than targeting a particular “stage” of company, we’re really targeting a “state of mind” with the founding team. (An acknowledgement to a fantastic video of a Vanderbilt student seizing an opportunity to play “New York State of Mind” with Billy Joel.)
We have accepted companies with just a vision/concept and we’ve accepted companies that entered AlphaLab with a working product, customers and in a few cases, funding. In each case, we felt there was a compelling market opportunity and an exceptional team that had the capabilities and desire to rapidly iterate and grow their company with the support of the AlphaLab program. Here are some examples:
- Jim Ruiz, founder of CDL Warrior, came into AlphaLab with over 20+ years experience in the trucking industry and a strong vision for how mobile devices could change the industry. While in AlphaLab, he talked in depth with truck drivers and fleet owners to hone in on unique problems that weren’t being solved and how different customers viewed existing “solutions.” These conversations gave him greater insight into the differences between customer segments and helped him define and develop a differentiated mobile application and fleet trucking software that was quickly adopted by initial customers.
- NoWait had done in-depth customer research when it joined AlphaLab and focused its early efforts on building a beta version of their waitlist management/text messaging tool for a set of restaurants here in Pittsburgh. They spent a lot of time working closely with these restaurants, observing its usage in the restaurants (all weekend!) and iterating on the software to make it a trusted tool for restaurant operations. When they finished AlphaLab, NoWait had proven its value across its 10 beta restaurants, seating over 1000 parties using the app. Today, the company has seated over 80 million diners across thousands of restaurants and recently completed a $10M Series B investment round led by Drive Capital.
- Jazz (formerly the Resumator), founded by Don Charlton, is another high profile AlphaLab alumni company. It has taken a product that its initial customers loved and has built out a SaaS HR platform that solves the recruiting/hiring needs of thousands of customers today. When Don entered AlphaLab, he had a working product and launched it on the 2nd day of the program. During the rest of the program, he focused on ensuring that the initial customers were loving the product, getting great value from it while developing and testing the company’s customer acquisition plans and pricing. The Resumator has grown to 70 employees across its offices in Pittsburgh and San Francisco, counts many high profile companies as its customers and recently completed a $15M investment round led by Volition Capital from Boston.
- Finally, AthleteTrax, had a working product, early customers/revenues and initial seed funding when it entered AlphaLab last summer. The company still had questions about its initial target market, college athletic departments, including market size and sales cycle, and needed to demonstrate active usage from its customers. During AlphaLab, the company tested customer acquisition strategies through different channels and with adjacent markets and discovered that they were gaining greater traction (and less friction) with recreational sports programs. AthleteTrax pivoted to focus on this larger market and has rapidly grown its team and user base in the past year.
We hope these examples give you a sense of the different “stages” of companies that have been successful within AlphaLab. (Now if you haven’t seen it, you should really check out that Billy Joel video!)