Requests for Startups: Brian Scordato (Tacklebox, General Assembly)
Brian Scordato is the founder of Tacklebox Accelerator and Tacklebox Beta Shop, tools for early stage founders to evaluate, build, and launch the first version of their product. He writes here and teaches at General Assembly. Previously, Brian worked at JJDC (Johnson & Johnson’s internal venture group), and founded Find Your Lobster, a mobile dating app. He has an MBA from UNC and loves competing in triathlons. Go Heels.
What startup verticals interest you most right now?
A lot of verticals excite me. Taking liberties with the term “vertical,” one idea I love is simplification by curation — the “Wirecutter for x” model. Benedict Evans tweeted the other day that “all curation grows until it requires search. All search grows until it requires curation.” When I search Yelp/Foursquare to find a place for lunch or Netflix to find a new series my life gets more complicated rather than less. Search has grown across a bunch of verticals the past ~10 years and it’s time to start curating aggressively. Helping people with “discovery” is sexier and feels less risky than saying “here’s one option, you’ll love it,” but the latter is the more relevant use case 90% of the time, so pursuing the first is probably the riskier play.
I also love Slackbots. There’s going to be an app store-like gold rush as the Slackbot infrastructure materializes. We’ll have an opportunity to reboot classic apps treating Slack as the OS. Scale comes instantly within organizations, so everything from re-thinking LinkedIn for the freelancing / project-based generation to CRM’s will be fair game.
Last, as always, babies/pets/weddings/baldness. No one knows what they should cost and everyone spends money on them / talks / thinks about them constantly.
What are your biggest predictions for the year ahead?
Huge strides in VR. Not exactly a unique opinion, but after playing with some of the devices that will launch in 2016 it’s hard not to be a believer. Games will lead, but people will get creative with the tech quickly — education VR will have a big year.
Along with the verticals answer above, I think treating chat as an OS in general (not just Slack) will be huge. AI will seep into chat apps, and the core features of other apps will as well (seeing this with Uber already).
Content shakeout. There’s a lot of great free (ad-driven) content out there but that pricing model is wonky. Classpass for content with a bundle of providers (ex: NYT, Wash Post, WSJ, Economist) might make sense.
Are there any specific company ideas that you really want someone to build and would potentially fund?
Hiring has made big strides the past few years, but I think one huge gap is for people switching industries. Getting into a BD or PM role at a startup coming from a ~5 year career in finance/consulting/law is tough, but a lot of people want to do it. Each side is flying blind when the candidate hasn’t done the exact job they’re applying for. A platform that allows potential hires to work with the company they’re applying for before any hiring decision is made would be interesting to me.
The other piece is internal training. There is the internal Stack Overflow-type product (I know they offer this on a limited basis), as well as continual training. Investing in employees is something companies are starting to recognize the value of, but the methodology and metrics / measurement of success is unclear. Training before a hiring decision is made could also make sense.
If you could wave a magic wand and instantly have any imaginable solution to a problem you’re facing (personally or at work), what problem would you solve?
Three and a bonus:
1) Unlimited battery on iPhone / mac. Sad but true.
2) Biometrics with respect to personal diet, exercise, work, and meditation to maximize output — what I should do and when.
3) Blog editing as a service — quick turnaround from a professional writer/editor.
BONUS: Do something creative with scaffolding in NYC. I don’t know how to “solve” scaffolding, but it’s everywhere, looks awful, hides businesses, and is not going anywhere.
What are your key learnings you’d like to share as a past founder and current instructor at General Assembly?
Here are a few things I’ve learned watching lots of people try to start businesses:
1) You can’t fix market. You need to start with the customer funnel flipped upside down and seek out the customers that desperately need what you’re doing. If you can’t reach those people, if they don’t talk to each other, or if they can’t succinctly communicate and pass along your value, you’re in trouble. Early customer acquisition will be through word of mouth, so the above characteristics of a market segment are mandatory. This segment can be tiny, but it needs to be there.
2) You can’t do what everyone else is doing — if everyone else is getting customers through Facebook ads you can’t do that, you need a channel that makes sense, is differentiated, and is supported by your product.
3) You need a secret weapon — a reason why you’re the best and the only person that can start whatever you’re starting. Very hard.
4) Initially, you can get people to switch gyms. You probably can’t convince someone to start exercising (your successful initial users will do that).
Is there anything else you’d like to share?
Separate yourself from your startup idea. Too many founders take things personally, myself very much included. If you can’t find people that really want what you’re going to build, that’s not a reflection on you. It doesn’t make you a bad person or a bad entrepreneur. You just misread something about your customer, so go back to your assumptions and try to find a small group of customers that you can build something great for.
If you’re interested in Tacklebox or General Assembly, please don’t hesitate to reach out to Brian directly at email@example.com.
Requests for Startups is a newsletter of ideas that investors, companies, and influencers would like to fund.