Category Archives: 1871

TOP OF THE LIST

by Mark T Wayne

“Admirable!  Superlative!  Top of the list!  Gentlemen, you are indeed fortunate that I invited you here!”  I study the greedy faces of my two compatriots—the estimable Donatas Ludditis (good old Don) as well as the execrable Loop Lonagan and his stinking bull terrier, Clamps.  (Claims it’s a therapy dog.)  We are here as judges, along with a crowd of luminaries from Chicago’s startup community for the finals of the tenth annual POWER PITCH competition.  Today we will hear pitches from a host of exciting new companies.  Yes sir!  The enthusiasm is riveting.

Clamps

Don bows politely and speaks like a gentleman.  “Am glad I come,” he says in his charming Lithuanian accent.

Lonagan leers at me.  “Lemme at ‘em,” he says in his gutter lingo.

The IN2 Accelerator

I scan the ranks of judges and note representatives of the Business Plan Police lurking in the wings.  We want no trouble from them. But I must familiarize my guests with the program.  “This, gentlemen, is IN2—potentially the greatest startup accelerator of its kind in the world, with facilities available at a mere handful of elite universities”  I sweep my arm in an arc to indicate our magnificent surroundings. “Offices here and at the huge 1871 incubator.” 

Clamps releases one resounding bark—basso profundo—and lolls a broad tongue out over enormous teeth.  From a suitcoat pocket, Lonagan produces a hunk of meat.  He tosses it into the gaping maw—just as the teeth snap closed in hungry abandon.  This animal and its uncouth owner make up a last-minute replacement, foisted upon me by the editor.

On stage, Dr. Carl Heine announces the first competitor.  With a cane, I prod my guests and lower my voice to a whisper. “Don’t make me ashamed, you two derelicts.”  Don straightens his back and faces front with all due alacrity and respect.  Lonagan slouches like the slob he is.  The round begins:

IN2 Maker Space

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Flameless

Fifty percent of all residential fires are cooking related. This company uses sound waves—yes, sound waves—to extinguish fires automatically.  It is safe. It is neat.  It does not belch messy fluid or poisonous gas, as do other fire suppression methods.  We watch a video showing the system in action and the audience bustles with delight.   Amazing!

“Five minutes!”  The shout stops the speaker in mid-sentence.  That is the kind of strict discipline that warms my heart.  But even under the gun of limited time, their business plan is complete with financial projections, marketing plan, intellectual property, and go-to-market strategy.  Well coached, sir!  Very well coached!

Moises Goldman – Judge

Lonagan elbows Don and whispers:  “Deeze guys look kinda young, doncha think?”  The response to his juvenile utterance gets cut short when the next company is introduced:

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The Oil Magnet

This is a new technology for cleaning oil slicks.  They disburse magnetic nanoparticles into the spill, and then recover black gold with a magnetic boom.  A demonstration unit elicits gasps from the crowd—the team pulls off this whiz-bang presentation with thoroughness and aplomb.  I believe I’m sensing a rhythm to this event.

Demo

The foul Lonagan leans over to me and mutters with his rank breath and wet voice: “How old d’ya s’pose dem guys is?”

“Shush! You, sir, are making a mistake. Mark your judging sheet.” I thump the document with a finger. “The next company is already speaking.” I cannot abide ludicrous interruptions during business hours.

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Series

Ninety six billion dollars of crops are lost annually due to pests, standing water, and soil degradation.  This company uses drones and GPS to scan farm fields automatically, in both the visible and infrared spectrums.  They scrutinize images against a large computer database and detect damage down to the individual plant.  And they do it cheaply.  Their mentor is DuPont.

Don nudges my arm and leans close to my ear, speaking with hushed tones in his broken English:  “In old country, I not see anything like this.  Is just high school.  Am impressed!”

Judge

Apparently overhearing, Lonagan lets out a shout of desperation:   “Hey, yer sayin’ dis’s a high school?—a high school?” After this inane utterance, he buries his face in both hands and moans as if in deep pain.  “And youse guys dragged me outa bed!  On Saturday!”  His outburst elicits a perplexed expression from the speaker and rumblings of outrage from the judges and crowd.  Clamps leaps against his master and howls.  I am astonished—astonished I say—that the man only just noticed the fact that this is indeed a high school.  True, it does not look like one, but nobody can be that obtuse.

Judge

I am unable to restrain myself from delivering a rebuke, and do not spare any volume:  “Sir, your puerile reaction is entirely inappropriate to the situation!”  I fix my stare until the man squirms.

Clamps wags his tail as I continue:

“This, sir, is THE high school—IMSA—the Illinois Math and Science Academy—the statewide school for the highly gifted!  You may find other schools riddled with dropouts and illiterate stooges that quickly jettison whatever knowledge they accidentally absorb, but these students WANT to lead society! At this fine institution, 99.8% of the graduates go to college!  Many of the businesses you see here come to fruition and these students intern at actual startup companies around the city!” 

Mark T Wayne

As my gaze bores into his soul, the man appears badly stunned.  Dare I tell him that some of these teams are middle school students?  Those around us seem well satisfied with my lecture, but I cannot be certain that any real ideas penetrate Lonagan’s frontal lobe.  From under my shaggy brows, I pin my friend Don with a meaningful glance and tilt my head in the general direction of the foul perpetrator and his dog.

Don immediately comes to my rescue:  “Loop!  Is great place!  Not gangs here!  No drugs!  No fear!”

“Whatsa funna dat?”

Don keeps at him.  “Faculty 47% PhD!”

“Piled Higher ‘n’ Deeper.”

Clamps barks.

Dr. Heine spares us further histrionics by introducing the next pitch.

Judge

iCane

What grandpa is ever without his cane?  This company makes a smart cane with medical reminders, loud SOS alarm location tracking, geo fencing, pedometer, and Bluetooth.  It folds up and is easy to use.  My walking stick seems inadequate by comparison.  What an excellent idea!

Judges

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epilEXPERT

Fifty thousand people a year die from epileptic seizures. It’s a $27.8B market.  This company makes a device that detects the problem, alerts the caregiver’s phone, and keeps a trail of raw data.

Lonagan slurrs out a belligerent question:

“How y’gonna run a business ‘n’ finish yer education at da same time?”  The man has gone from judge to heckler and I find myself acutely embarrassed for him.  The team covered this point in its presentation.  Like most of these companies, it will license its technology—in my view, an elegant and fully reasonable solution.

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Rethink Numeracy

This is a new way to teach numbers to children with disabilities, and the team seems to have cracked the problem.  They’re already working with neuropsychology experts and marketing their methods through a reputable center for the care of children with Downs Syndrome.

Finals

Lonagan scratches his monstrous dog behind the ears and puts another question: “How y’gonna scale a thing like dat?” 

This slurred interrogatory barely precedes the flashing of a badge. “Business Plan Police.  Please come along quietly, sir.”  Lonagan immediately balls a fist and clouts the officer to the floor.

Clamps licks the stricken man’s face. The officer regains consciousness and blows his whistle.

From out of the crowd, three musclebound agents pile onto Lonagan and hustle him out of the room like a roll of carpet.  I catch a glimpse of his feet kicking and hear him spew a few choice and utterly foul invectives as he disappears out the door.  Clamps bounds after them, tail wagging vigorously.

The crowd hushes a moment, then shrugs off the incident and Don lets out a sigh.  “Is bad.  I wonder do we ever see Loop again.” 

I also feel somewhat perplexed about such a questionable privilege.  In any given year, the Business Plan Police arrest a number of startups—never to be seen again—but I have never known them to abduct a judge at a pitch competition.  I can now relax.  It makes me most grateful.

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Finals

Three high school teams will advance to the regionals.  (Lower grades compete and are rewarded, but they cannot advance.)  Last year, IMSA won the top three slots at the regional competition.  Here are the results of today’s event:

Jim Gerry – IMSA

1st Place –  $1500 – award sponsor: Charles Whittaker

  • OIL MAGNET – Marisa Patel-O’Conner, Eden Gorevoy & Sol Hwangbo (Juniors at IMSA)
  • iCANE – Umika Arora (7th grade at St. Catherine Laboure School)

2nd Place – $1000 – award sponsor: Deliciousness

  • FLAMELESS – Sivam Bhatt & Nikhil Madugula (Seniors at IMSA)
  • RETHINK NUMERACY – Akshaya Raghavan (Junior at IMSA)

3rd Place – $500 – Award sponsor: After the Peanut

  • epilEXPERT – Monika Narain (8th grade at Mead Jr High) & Jayant Kumar (7th grade at Grainger Middle School)

Alternate

  • SERIES – Andre Wiedenmann & Tommy Neidlein

Britta McKenna – IMSA

Other Companies (alphabetical)

  • 21 C2 – Maryam Mufti, Erika Ezife
  • ACTIV8 – Anusha Trivedi
  • AMENITY – Sonia Edassery, Milica Barac
  • COMMUTE – Natalie Sanchez
  • BRIDGE TUTORING – Armando Pizano, David Gonzalez, Cain Yepez & Stefany Boyas
  • ENABLE EQUITY – Rachel Mason, Shikha

Adhikari

  • GOGO RIDERS – Rishi Modi
  • IDEAL SUGAR – Maya Wlodarczyk
  • IDROGENY TECHNOLOGY – Sricharan Sanakkayala
  • IMMERSION – Neil John, Samuel Anozie, Samantha Alexis Lehman
  • INSPIRULINA – Meghan Hendrix, Kanika Leang, Harsha Nalam
  • INSTA-VILLAGE – Catelyn Rounds & Julian Kroschke
  • INTELLIFIT – Steven Andreev
  • INTELLI-TEST – Akash Basavaraju
  • PHOCUS – Matthew Selvaraj, Louise Lima, Vaishnavi Vanamala, Eric Errampalli, Arthur Lu
  • POCKET PASS – Ajay Jayaraman
  • PROMETHEA – Ayush Bhalavat, Ian Son
  • SAVE OUR STARVING SOULS – Shreya Parepally, Sofie Heidrich
  • SCHOOLBOARD – Samuel Anozie, Aryan Walia, Mary Ashley Tenedor
  • SHINDIG – Nikita Elkin
  • TAKE HOME – Aliah Shaira De Guzman, Michelle Sia, Aryan Walia
  • TRANSSPEED – Atharva Gawde
  • THINKING CAP – Nishant Bhamidipati, Ryan Talusan, Micah Casey-Fusco
  • VIRTUPEACE – Michael McKelvie, Max Knutson
  • UNITED 5 AEROSPACE – Levi Raskin, Duncan Osmund, Wyatt Funkhouser, Ethan Tse

Dr. Carl Heine – IMSA

IMSA IN2 Contact Info

Address – 1500 Sullivan Rd. Aurora, IL 60506

Website – https://www.imsa.edu/

Dr. Carl Heine – heine@imsa.edu

Britta McKenna – bmckenna@imsa.edu

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Photography – John Jonelis

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Chicago Venture Magazine is a publication of Nathaniel Press www.ChicagoVentureMagazine.com Comments and re-posts in full or in part are welcomed and encouraged if accompanied by attribution and a web link. This is not investment advice. We do not guarantee accuracy. Please perform your own due diligence. It’s not our fault if you lose money..Copyright © 2018 John Jonelis – All Rights Reserved
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CEOs THAT SELL

Why Startup CEOs Still Have to Make Sales Calls

by Howard Tullman

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It’s not your strength, or maybe not even what you enjoy doing. But being there to close the deal isn’t something you can simply hand off to the sales team.

At what point can a CEO turn sales over to professional salespeople?  Before that can happen, the company has to achieve two foundational milestones:

  • You need to know exactly what you’re selling—by doing it over and over again (and not as a one-off).
  • You need to know for certain that others can sell it consistently.

That only comes with the maturity of your product/service.  Until it reaches that point, stay in the field and keep selling.  Your product is still being developed on the fly and continually redesigned/reconfigured to better suit the real requirements and demands of customers.  The fact is, ultimately only you can make the critical design and development decisions and you’ll do a much better job of that if you are hearing it directly from the end users and not from a bunch of whiny salespeople.

I’m seeing more and more startup CEOs who discover way too soon that they don’t like the wear and tear, the travel, and the rejection that are all crucial parts of selling a new product or service.  So they retreat, thinking they can run their businesses while they’re sitting on their butts behind a desk back in the office. That’s not how this game works; that behavior is a formula for failure. You may not be an extrovert.  You may not even know the technology that underlies your business as well as half the other people in the company.  You are, however, the boss and today that fact alone means a lot, at least to the people who make the final purchasing decisions.

Remember—buyers are typically older than you, they grew up in strictly hierarchical systems where titles count, and they need to be made to feel important and respected if they’re gonna sign off on your deal. No offense to any of the members of your team, but customers don’t want to deal with the monkey—they need to see the organ grinder. That’s you. And they want you for all the obvious reasons:

  • People don’t really care how much you know until they know how much you care. Show up. It’s important.
  • Startup staffs are notoriously scattered and hurried—lacking focus and attention to detail. Customers want to know that you personally are connected, paying attention and directly engaged with their business, their concerns, and their problems.
  • Clients want to hear it from the horse’s mouth. Not second hand. They want commitments and assurances from you. Everybody knows that the sales guys will say anything and promise them the world.  They need assurance that you will stand behind your product or service and make good on your promises. The buck always stops with you.

Product Maturity

Once your product/service reaches those critical milestones, it’s time to kick yourself upstairs and focus on other things. I encourage CEOs who find they spend too much effort selling to optimize their time.  I suggest that they find competent sales managers and others who can tee up just the right meetings for them—not opening meetings which are a dime a dozen, but closing meetings where the deals get done.

Finding sales meat-eaters to fill managerial roles isn’t easy; they are the hardest hires for any startup, but it’s absolutely critical to have them onboard if you’re going to build a viable business.

When your startup is hiring talent, you need to avoid certain categories of salespeople. For example, stay away from what I call empire builders.  There’s a whole generation or two of sales management types whose experience comes only from large organizations.  I have found fairly consistently that they are the wrongest guys possible for a startup because they grew up in a system where they measured their value and their success by the sheer number of people they managed rather than the results that those folks delivered. Nothing kills a young business faster than bloat and bureaucracy and having too many sales people sitting on their hands and not selling is the worst kind of poison. So be careful what you wish for and who you hire for this critical job.

There’s no more challenging job than being the CEO. You are responsible for the health of each part of the organization and the trajectory of the entire venture.  Stay in the sales loop until your product/service matures.  Then focus on closing deals.  Customers need you to be there—to say what you’ll do, and do what you say.

 

 Howard Tullman is the CEO of Chicago-based 1871, where 500 digital startups are building their businesses every day. He is also the general managing partner of G2T3V and Chicago High Tech Investors, both early-stage venture funds; a member of Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s ChicagoNEXT Innovation Council and Governor Bruce Rauner’s Innovate Illinois Advisory Council. He is an adviser to many technology businesses and an adjunct professor at the Kellogg Graduate School of Management.

@tullman

This article is an excerpt of one that appeared recently in Inc.

Image Credits – Getty Images, MS Office, Howard Tullman

Chicago Venture Magazine is a publication of Nathaniel Press www.ChicagoVentureMagazine.com Comments and re-posts in full or in part are welcomed and encouraged if accompanied by attribution and a web link. This is not investment advice. We do not guarantee accuracy. Please perform your own due diligence. It’s not our fault if you lose money..Copyright © 2018 John Jonelis – All Rights Reserved
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GET YOUR OWN ‘BOTS

OR RISK BEING PUT OUT OF BUSINESS BY THEM

by Howard Tullman

Don’t fear the bots. They’ll free your company from unprofitable and tedious work. Yes, some jobs are going to be displaced. But the ones that are left and the new ones the bots will create will be more productive and way more interesting.

I realize that it’s a little frightening for many of us when we hear some of the intimidating statistics about headcount reductions in more and more industries that are being driven by the growing deployment of what we’re generically calling “bots.” But I don’t think bots are so bad for business. I realize that, while the major shifts are just beginning, we’re already talking about the displacement of thousands of analysts and adjusters in the insurance and finance industries as well as hundreds of highly-paid attorneys in sectors of the banking business. The sooner you figure out how to incorporate and deploy these little time- and money-savers, the better off you and your business will be. And that goes for businesses of all sizes.

Excepting some of the folks who will be replaced by these efficient and energetic little wonders, it will be a break for the better. Honest. No one in their right mind will miss any of the boring, repetitive and utterly useless tasks that are a painful part of too many of our jobs. If your tasks can be reduced to a set of instructions and rules that need to be repeatedly and flawlessly executed, we’ll soon enough find a program or a machine to do that work better, quicker and more accurately than you– and to do it 24/7 as well. No one argues with that part of the equation. We’d all love to be freed up from our chores and be doing exciting, creative and constructive work.

The rub comes in the rest of the story – the ratio and the scale of the jobs being eliminated as compared with the new jobs available to replace them. To quote Bruce Springsteen, in My Hometown, “Foreman says these jobs are going boys and they ain’t coming back.” Take a look at the hospitality business as a simple example. Airbnb is closing in on Marriott’s $42.7 billion market cap (it’s already worth about $10 billion more than Hilton), but the employee headcounts of these companies are in different universes. Marriott employs more than 225,000 people, Airbnb about 3,500– yes 3,500 employees. And I’m not just picking on Marriott. Hilton has about 170,000 team members. You can argue that some of those people are doing different and allegedly irreplaceable functions. But in the end, the real question is whether the customer/guest’s needs are being more than met. None of Marriott’s guests really cares about whatever it is that fills the day for those extra 400,000 workers. I’m not even sure that most of their managers know what makes up their day.

When you couple the substantial reductions in the workforce with the readily-demonstrated and clearly impressive gains in productivity and lower operating costs that we’re also seeing, it’s clear that there are major bumps in the road ahead and significant disruptions in the ways business has traditionally been done. This is especially true because the vast majority of these changes are neither complicated in regard to the technologies nor costly in terms of the required capital. Low-hanging fruit abounds. JP Morgan Chase reports eliminating more than 350,000 hours of legal document review time per year by employing bots and smart contracts.

When I use the term “bots,” I’m not talking about anything as challenging as truly intelligent agents or even anything autonomous. I’m talking about simple lines of code– and not that many– that can successfully execute instructions and directives or commands that are well-established and documented by humans. I hate to call any of this stuff artificial intelligence. At best it’s augmented and extended intelligence. The intelligence being extended is ours; the folks being augmented are us. We’re talking about systems and tools that will help us perform routine tasks with minimal supervision or ongoing direction, and essentially automatically, upon request. Every business still has some of these pockets of obvious inefficiency and it’s mainly ignorance of better options and inertia that keeps them from realizing immediate improvements and significant cost savings. Your business does too, and the sooner you do your own audit and analysis, the better off and more competitive you’ll be. (See Use a Mirror to Mind Your Own Business First)

There are opportunities everywhere, but the sweetest spots for almost any business seem to fall into four recurring buckets. Forget about chatbots and retweeters. Focus internally first where you can get the biggest bang for your buck and where you can ride on existing rails. The people providing support and resources in this emerging space are few and far between right now, but they tend to target these critical areas: HR, Finance, Operations and Sales. I know, you’re already saying, “well duh, that’s just about the whole business”, so trim it down to HR and Finance and start there. Eat the elephant one bite at a time.

One of the best providers is an 1871 alumni organization called Catalytic/www.catalytic.com/> whose tagline says it all: “Do more of what you love, and less of what you don’t.” They are smart enough to understand that they are in a “rinse and repeat” business so that each time they build a new process bot they create the ability to provide a version of that same solution to thousands of other businesses more efficiently, more rapidly, and less expensively. They talk about concrete client results delivered in days, not months or years.

And, to be successful, you need a plan that’s ongoing and iterative and that’s always targeting and attacking the dumbest things you are doing. In many cases, it’s an approach that follows the same basic steps: digitize and dump the paper; speed up the flow and the inter- and intra-departmental handoffs; automate as many steps in the process as possible; measure the results; and do it again. It needs to become a habit and a mantra of your business—always moving to raise the bottom and improve the average.

It’s interesting to watch the adoption cycle as well. It’s both competitive and contagious. The more you do; the more your people will want to do and, interestingly enough, you’ll have them bringing suggestions and ideas to you for next steps–forward integrations into other programs like Word and Excel, for example—instead of sitting on their hands and bitching about the bots.

The dashboards and the flow charts that you now have access to provide levels of actionable information and data that were never available before. Frankly, these are the exact tools that you need to move your business forward. Managing by exception rather than brute force is the only way to spread your scarce and costly resources around.

 

 

Howard Tullman is the father of Chicago’s 1871 incubator.

Read his bio on Wikipedia: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Howard_A._Tullman

Check out his websites at http://tullman.com/  and http://tullman.blogspot.com/

Or just type his name into your favorite search engine.

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This article previously appeared in Inc.

Image Credits – Getty Images, MS Office

Chicago Venture Magazine is a publication of Nathaniel Press www.ChicagoVentureMagazine.com Comments and re-posts in full or in part are welcomed and encouraged if accompanied by attribution and a web link. This is not investment advice. We do not guarantee accuracy. Please perform your own due diligence. It’s not our fault if you lose money.
.Copyright © 2017 John Jonelis – All Rights Reserved
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INVESTORS LOSING PATIENCE WITH PIVOTS

by Howard Tullman

There’s no polite or easy way to say this, but winter is on its way in the venture world. It’s getting tougher and tougher for startups caught in the lukewarm limbo between ideas and invoices to get their early backers to up their bets especially when it’s not clear that they’ve found a viable business model and/or a way to stop the bleeding sooner rather than later. Too many pivots with too little to show for the dollars down the drain and pretty soon no one wants to hear your, “someday soon,” story or your next grand plan.

dice

And if you’re not breaking even, no bank will look twice at your business or your balance sheet. This change isn’t restricted to the unicorpses in the Valley; it’s going on in every village where waves of wishful thinkers are starting to wonder what hit them.

My sense is that the smart investor conversations taking place today aren’t very often about the company going big for the gold or about the current investors doubling down so some startup can shoot for the stars. These increasingly cranky chats are less about excitement and enthusiasm and much more about ennui and possible exits. Because the two things that some early investors and every VC understands are sunk costs and opportunity costs.

While the entrepreneur is sweating survival, the investors are trying to decide whether their incremental dollars would be better spent on a new deal elsewhere. These are the days when easy money gets hard.

Those great gluten free sugar cookies (from the hip new bakery down the block that just shut its doors) are tasting more like ashes in their mouths and they’re asking themselves how they ended up sitting in a room with no doors feeling like some sucker after the circus left town.

The unhappy folks who are still sitting at the table (more likely associates now than the partners who got the ball rolling) aren’t talking about how much more money they can put to work; they’re trying to figure out how little additional cash they can put up to preserve what’s left of their position.

cash

Everyone is telling you that they’re really not inclined to do much of anything at all if you can’t drag some new money from outside players to the table to help set the price and get the next round started. Flat valuations in times like this are the new “up” rounds and there are down rounds galore.

This is a Plan B world at best and the down and dirty talk on the limo ride to LaGuardia almost always includes whether to also shoot the CEO while they’re in the process of trying to clean things up and save a little face. So if you’re the one on the bubble, forget Plan B, and get started on what I call Plan C. You need to get a head start on talking about the tough choices and critical changes that need to be made.

It’s about figuring out what immediate actions you can take that will make a difference before they turn the lights out. You can have results or excuses, not both. Focus on facts rather than futures if you want to be there when things turn around.

And forget about playing the blame game – no one cares.

Plan C is all about choices: contraction, consolidation, combination, conversion, and concessions. The last C is closing the doors and that’s not a sight that anyone wants to see. So find out which of the C’s makes the most sense for your startup.

contraction

Contraction

Just suck it up and admit it. You can’t be all things to all people and no one ever has been. Focus on what sets you apart and what represents the best prospect of a long term sustainable competitive advantage for your business and forget everything else. Don’t apologize, don’t try to explain, just buckle down and get the job done. The recent launch of UberEats in Chicago (as an “instant” meal delivery service) and its almost immediate abandonment of that commitment is a good example of knowing when to hold ’em and when to fold ’em. It doesn’t take a genius to figure out that it’s pretty stupid to open the umpteenth home meal delivery service in Grub Hub’s hometown.

Businesses that scale too soon and which are a mile wide and an inch deep are doomed for many reasons, but the clearest and most telling is that they can’t cost-effectively engage with, support, or connect to their customers because the customers are simply too few and too far between. It’s critical to nail it before you scale it and, if you’re grossly overextended, your business is going nowhere.

consolidation

Consolidation

Shut down the stupid San Francisco office sooner rather than later. You had no business being there in the first place and the fact that you doing no business there ought to speak for itself. San Francisco may be the most overheated and least representative market in America. Everyone there drinks the KoolAid for about 10 minutes and then moves on. Building a new business there is as slippery and unstable as trying to nail Jell-O to a tree.

New York should be next on the list. NYC isn’t a city – it’s 5 or 6 different marketplaces all mashed together – with a million people just waiting to eat your lunch. Your business expansion needs to be driven by actual demand, feasibility and real opportunities – not by some investor’s fantasies and/or fables about life in the Big Apple foisted on the public by the media and by people barely making it in Brooklyn.

combination

Combination

Take a careful look around and see who else in your space (or adjacent to it) is doing things right and see what the prospects of some kind of combination may be especially if your market itself continues to be more cluttered and competitive. We hear constantly that the shared/surplus economy or the “Now” economy continues to grow fueled by millions of millennials holding multiple jobs. But tracking the gig economy isn’t quite that easy. While the number of multiple job holders has in fact grown dramatically, the percentage of the number of people so employed as compared to the total number employed has been flat or down over the last decade.

We had a great example of a timely and smart combination recently in Chicago where Shiftgig and BookedOut got together and decided that there were all kinds of economies and opportunities in a merger as well as the sheer relief in knowing that they could stop trying to beat each other’s brains out in the market. They are both players in the increasingly crowded space which the Commerce Department is trying to define as “digital matching firms.

Shiftgig was bigger and better established, but BookedOut had a lot of momentum and was gaining important traction in the experiential marketing sector. Now instead of spending time building duplicative back ends and other redundant systems and offerings, they can bring a single story to the market in a cleaner, more efficient and less costly way. This is exactly the kind of story that all of their investors wanted to hear.

It’s not easy in any market to attract the technical talent, the motivated sales people, and the operations folks that you need to grow quickly and a well-planned and thoughtfully executed combination can demonstrably accelerate the process. You need to be careful to make sure that the companies’ visions are aligned and that the problems they’re addressing are similar and that the cultures of the businesses (and the leaders in particular) aren’t in conflict.

These things aren’t made or broken in the board room when the papers are signed, they rise or fail in the implementation and the execution. But in today’s world, it’s often a lot better and smarter han trying to go it alone.

conversion

Conversion

Sell some of your stuff to someone else. You may be great at lead generation and lousy at closing the sale once those prospects show up at your door. Or you may be a great sales organization that sucks at fulfillment and customer service. When you look at your skill sets and your customers, users, clients, etc. through a different lens—looking at them as potential assets to be converted or sold to some other enterprise, it helps you see more clearly exactly what kind of business you’re building. It may make the most sense to look at your company as a conduit or an intermediary and not as a one-stop shop trying to meet all the needs of the marketplace. You’ve got to play to your strengths and build on those if you’re planning to stick around.

concessions

Concessions

Maybe your pricing made sense in some early fever dream where you were the best and only player in the space, but now there are fast followers and clones everywhere you look and their offerings (at least on the surface) look a lot like yours. Once your customers start talking about price, you’re on a very slippery slope.

 

Conclusion

Here’s the bottom line. In the long run, you can’t save your way to success and it’s no fun to fire your friends or postpone your pet projects. But if you don’t survive during the difficult times, you and your business won’t be around to savor any success down the road. Do what needs to get done and do it now.

 

Big Gulp from Howard Tullman

About the Author

Howard Tullman is the father of 1871 and Matter—the huge Chicago incubators.

This article appeared previously in News From Heartland

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References

Shiftgig

BookedOut .

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Chicago Venture Magazine is a publication of Nathaniel Press www.ChicagoVentureMagazine.com Comments and re-posts in full or in part are welcomed and encouraged if accompanied by attribution and a web link. This is not investment advice. We do not guarantee accuracy. Please perform your own due diligence. It’s not our fault if you lose money.
.Copyright © 2017 John Jonelis – All Rights Reserved
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CHICAGO TECH’S NEXT CHAPTER

At Tempus, Ocient and Catalytic, Chicago’s most prominent entrepreneurs are moving on to their next big thing.

by Jim Dallky

Chicago tech is growing up.

One sign of a maturing tech ecosystem is the success of a city’s serial entrepreneurs, and recently we’ve seen some of Chicago’s most high profile founders and technologists move on to their next companies, and tackle big industries like the Internet of Things, cancer research, and artificial intelligence.

Uptake - ChicagoInno

Look no further than Groupon founders Brad Keywell and Eric Lefkofsky. Keywell brought Uptake1 out of stealth in 2015, and the fastgrowing IoT startup has already raised $45 million at a $1.1 billion valuation. Lefkofsky left his CEO role at Groupon last November and, as we first reported in July2, has since been working on Tempus3, a healthtech startup that’s “building the infrastructure to modernize cancer treatment.”

 

Ocient - homepage

Also in July, Cleversafe founder Chris Gladwin, who sold his data storage company to IBM in 2015 for $1.3 billion, unveiled4 his next startup Ocient5. Gladwin has yet to make Ocient’s product plans public, but the software company expects to “ultimately hire hundreds of local employees.”

 

pushbot - website

Sean Chou, the former CTO and employee No. 2 at Fieldglass—which sold to SAP for more than $1 billion—recently, launched Catalytic6, a startup building chatbots for businesses. The company’s platform, Pushbot, helps enterprises “build, run, and improve your processes.”

 

bright - website

You can also look at Jeff Judge, the founder of Signal (acquired by BrightTag in 2014) who’s now building business metrics platform, Bright.7

Kickstarter cofounder Charles Adler is giving entrepreneurs, creatives and makers a better place to work with the Center for Lost Arts8; Motorola veterans are spinning out to create new hardware startups like John Renaldi’s “invisible wearable” company Jio9; along with many, many other founders who are on to their next project and have committed to building in Chicago.

“Certainly, as a community, I think we are maturing,” said Illinois Technology Association CEO Fred Hoch. “It’s being driven a lot by those serial entrepreneurs that are coming back and doing their next thing.”

Hoch described how the city experienced an “excitement period” 3-4 years ago where a lot of startup activity was taking place but, “a lot of bullshit was being developed…things that don’t have a long-term revenue stream.” Chicago’s strength as a tech city is in B2B, Hoch said, and Chicago tech has started to get back who it is as a community. “What’s happened over the last 18 months is that we’ve come back to realize who we are,” he said. “[Entrepreneurs] are not thinking about dog-walking apps. They’re thinking about big things that affect businesses nationally and globally.”

1871 CEO Howard Tullman added that Chicago also has a handful of who he calls “benchers,” successful entrepreneurs who are taking some time off but will likely “be back in the action in a reasonably short time.” This list includes Fieldglass founder Jai Shekhawat, AKTA founder John Roa, and Roger Liew, the former CTO of Orbitz. Tullman also said that 1871 isn’t just full of first-time founders. There are dozens of serial entrepreneurs working out of the Chicago tech hub.

“People don’t understand that the 1871 members aren’t remotely all first timers,” Tullman said. “We have several dozen serial entrepreneurs working here and building their next businesses who are smart enough to avoid making sizeable infrastructure and other capital commitments until they determine whether the dogs will be eating their new dog food…we are definitely seeing a wave of more seasoned, more talented and more aggressive serial entrepreneurs—all working in Chicagoand, largely using their own resources to start the next group of great tech businesses right here.”

Of course, as Chicago’s tech community matures, it doesn’t come without growing pains. Some of the city’s most prominent startups have gone through layoffs in recent months, with Avant firing 60 employees and Raise trimming 15% by cutting 45 people. And the city is still well behind other markets like New York and Boston when it comes to total venture funding.

tempus - website

Tempus

 

But Chicago is proving to be a city where entrepreneurs are willing to double down after successful exits, and that’s good news for the future of Chicago tech.

“We’ve come a long way in the last 10 years,” Hoch said. “[Entrepreneurs] are choosing to stay and be a part of this community because it’s a strong community now.”

 

About the Author

Jim Dallke is the Associate Editor of ChicagoInno of Streetwise Media, where this article previously appeared.

This article appeared in News From Heartland

 

 

Links cited:

Graphics and logos from company websites and ChicagoInno

Chicago Venture Magazine is a publication of Nathaniel Press www.ChicagoVentureMagazine.com Comments and re-posts in full or in part are welcomed and encouraged if accompanied by attribution and a web link. This is not investment advice. We do not guarantee accuracy. Please perform your own due diligence. It’s not our fault if you lose money.
.Copyright © 2017 John Jonelis – All Rights Reserved
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CHICAGO—THE BEST INCUBATOR IN AMERICA?

by Denny O’Malley

Recently, Inc.com published an article about the best cities for early-stage companies. The premise: Chicago is the surprise winner.

Why would that be? San Francisco and New York are both beautiful, thriving cities that dramatically represent the diversity of American ideas. San Fran—younger, more venture-oriented, with beautiful natural vistas. New York—the classic, bustling private and public equity concrete jungle.

What do they have in common? It costs a kidney to pay rent for a closet. Continue reading

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INQUIRY AND INNOVATION

by John Jonelis

What happens when you invite the community into your high school and send your high school students into the community?

Amazing things! You create a THIRD SPACE in people’s lives.

[Britta McKenna is the Chief Innovation Officer at IMSA.]

Britta – “You have your home and you have your work and you have third spaces in your life where you feel comfortable and find a community. Robert Putnam believed in third spaces. He has a book called Bowling Alone 1. It used to be that bowling leagues were that third space. People at the bar. Cheers. We want IN2 to be that third space in people’s lives.”

“Look at the ceiling. Look at the lights. Do you see the pattern?

IN2 – Symbolism in Architecture

It’s that intersection of outside and inside. Community coming together to make this a real learning laboratory experience. We want to come in and work on real-world problems and opportunities.

“People can bring problems and opportunities to us and say, let’s figure out how we can work together. Like the State of Illinois with the hackathon we just did—finding solutions to childhood lead poisoning.

“Think about all the things kids are doing that are not helping. Here’s a great place. I hope IN2 can be a third space in people’s lives.”

[The grandness of the idea and the imaginative scope hit home, but ask Britta how IN2 will implement it.]

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Innovation

“We can’t stand still. Education—if it’s doing the same thing over and over and over—is not moving ahead—it’s falling behind.

“IN2 is the intersection of what we do at IMSA and the community. We’re partnering with Invest Aurora, the Woman’s Business Development Center, the Fox Valley Entrepreneurship Center—they are all resources to help what we’re doing here grow and scale.

Business Mentor

[Britta anticipates my next question and gets even more specific.]

“We’ve opened up a cohort of LINKubators 2 These are actual startup companies.  We have three working in the space as a pilot.  Our students intern with them and our network can help them grow.  Our MENTORS, our IDEA BARISTAS, our SUBJECT MATTER EXPERTS can all help them grow. 

“Next fall we hope to have ten LINKubator startups working in the IN2 space during the day when the kids are in class. We’re trying to see what we’re good at and get a rhythm to the space.

“So whether it’s somebody in the community with an idea or a problem—whether it’s students that want to accomplish something new—whether it’s mentors from the community coming here to help the next generation of learners—whether it’s subject matter experts helping a non-profit grow—we want IN2 to inspire students and community to go on and be entrepreneurs and develop their ideas.

“Our goal at IN2 is to blend in with IMSA and be that resource for students and community beyond the classroom. That’s what this is all about.”

Student Entrepreneur

Inquiry

“I think one of our signature programs is our STUDENT INQUIRY AND RESEARCH program or SIR. That really distinguishes us because we don’t have class on ‘I-DAYS.’ Those are inquiry days—that happens most every Wednesday. Traditional class shuts down. We have class Monday, Tuesday, Thursday, and Friday.

“‘I-DAYS are meant for independent exploration—inquiry or research. On ‘I-DAYS, student go down to 1871 and other locations to intern for startups. Now, with the new IN2 facility, our students can work with entrepreneurs right here as well. Either way, through the SIR program, they’re doing research with mentors and business teams.”

Sue Fricano & Tami Armstrong

[I’m joined by Sue Fricano—IN2 site coordinator, Tami Armstrong—Director of Public Affairs]

Sue – “MONDAY NIGHT LIVE is an event put on by Dr. Carl Heine each week. He brings in speakers and he develops programs for entrepreneurs.

Carl Heine

“He puts external students on his TALENT board—entrepreneurial students coming in to learn the different stages of building a business and different skills used in building businesses.”

Tami – “A lot of the students here are part of that as well as members of the community that come to learn more about entrepreneurship.”

Sue – “At IN2 we are trying to give them the expertise to go out and make the initial steps of developing.”

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[Betty Hart is the Innovation Center Program Manager.]

Betty – “We have girls in the STEM program, which is a mentoring peer-to-peer program for girls in 6th to 12th grade.  We have events such as IMSA DAY OF CYBER, which focuses on encouraging students to seek cyber security careers.” 

Betty Hart

Betty – “We have TEAM STEM CAFE, which is a network of local high school students who host quarterly events focused on STEM related topics. And we have THINK CAFE, which is a community initiative that invites organizations to come in and pitch a problem or an idea.”

Britta – “Our charges really are this: The first is to be a STEM teaching/learning laboratory for our best and brightest students across the state. Then we have the FUSION programs.3 These are after-school programs at schools, grade 4-8, all around the state. And we also have the charge of educating the educators. We bring the teachers in and give them professional development, which helps them in science and math.”

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Bring Back Socrates

[I pose a thorny question:  Why teach entrepreneurship at such an early age, rather than prepare the students for college or jobs?]

Tami – “What we’re doing is launching the students so when they leave here, they’re prepared. There’s a big demand for ideas and innovation. Innovation is valuable, and very coveted. We’re supplying that to the workforce.

“We’re also launching research. How can students advance the human condition and solve the world’s grandest challenges?

“That’s what comes from IN2—the ability to make very difficult innovations. When you can harness them, bring them to a place like this, and connect the students with business and industry, dream and idea become reality.”

[Suddenly I get it. I asked the wrong question and now realize the goal is really quite straightforward—to encourage students to think for themselves—to let them discover how to learn. IMSA does it the same way it was done almost 2,500 years ago—self-directed inquiry and innovation—the Socratic Method.]

Student Entrepreneur

Possibilities

Britta – “People think we’re just this gifted school for 650 sophomores, juniors, and seniors from around the state, but we’re not. And people think we’re a private school and we’re not—we’re public. We don’t want to be the best-kept secret in Illinois.”

“And we have a student team called IMSA ELEMENT that teaches the lean startup methodology. Build—measure—learn. Students developed a whole curriculum and teach it to each other. We’re entertaining possibilities.”

  • “We need to be open to ideas, be able to move quickly, and say YES.”
  • “And have FAST FAILS.”
  • “And move toward SUCCESS and ITERATE.”

“We’re not afraid to do that here. In a world where you’re dealing with high-caliber students who don’t fail often, failure is a difficult concept. But once they get the hang of it, they actually become quite good at fast fails.”

Entrepreneur with a solution

The 17%

Britta – “We’re not looking for the vast majority to really understand this space, because we can’t hold everybody. But about 17% in the world are innovators. That’s who we’re looking for—that 17%. Once we get a few of those, they bring their networks. Those are the early adopters, innovators, and they see things much earlier.”

Those are the people IN2 was built to serve.

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This is the final article in this series.

Go to Part 1 – THE NAME IS IN2

Go to Part 2 – POWER PITCH

 Go to next series – TOP OF THE LIST

 

References

  1. BOWLING ALONE – Robert Putnam
  2. IN2 Launches LINKubator for Fox Valley Startups
  3. IMSA FUSION

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IN2 Contact Info

Address – 1500 Sullivan Rd. Aurora, IL 60506

Website – https://www.imsa.edu/

Carl Heine – heine@imsa.edu

Britta McKenna – bmckenna@imsa.edu

Tami Armstrong – tarmstrong@imsa.edu

 

Chicago Venture Magazine is a publication of Nathaniel Press www.ChicagoVentureMagazine.com Comments and re-posts in full or in part are welcomed and encouraged if accompanied by attribution and a web link. This is not investment advice. We do not guarantee accuracy. It’s not our fault if you lose money.
.Copyright © 2017 John Jonelis – All Rights Reserved
.
.

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