Mentor Advice for Startups

“Focus on building a business and not a business plan. Develop a product that interests customers and investors will follow.”

-Joe Medved, Chairman Emeritus of the New England Venture Network (NEVN)


Startup Interview: ChoreMonster

Choremonster is a suite of web and mobile applications that allow parents and kids to actually enjoy doing their daily chores.  By completing a chore, a child gains points, which they can save up for real life rewards, such as an Xbox, an hour of television or even a canoe trip.  Choremonster is reshaping how families think about their chores and responsibilities. By creating two individual apps, one for the parent and one for the child, Choremonster allows children to track their chores on their own and choose when and how they will complete them, teaching them better habits that will last a lifetime.  Chris Bergman, the founder of ChoreMonster, answered a few questions we had for him about the company and why he chose the Brandery.

What inspired you to start ChoreMonster?

“Paul loves to create monsters. As a kid, I hated doing chores. I wanted to create an application that adds value to families and gives parents a tool to utilize positive reinforcement over punishment. Paul and I love creating unique and engaging experiences. After a few quick conversations, Choremonster was born.”

Which presentation or mentor has contributed to ChoreMonster’s startup strategy development so far?

“There have been so many amazing people! The Brandery founders themselves, JB, Dave and Rob, have been a monumental help. Hearing Blake Mizeraney’s story of Heroku was very encouraging. As far as mentors, the advice of Thad Langford, Joe Dinunzio, Rob Heimann and Susanne Tosilini has been invaluable. 
Also, everyone at Cincytech, Mike, Justin, Carolyn, Bob, Raul, has been helpful beyond expectations.”

How did you find out about the Brandery?

“Hah! I was having lunch with JB Kropp one day, telling him about Choremonster. Kropp then dared me to apply for the Brandery and here I am.”

Why did you decide to come to the Brandery?

“It’s the opportunity of the lifetime and it’s in our backyard. The Brandery has already opened doors that I never thought possible. It was a chance to make some amazing things happen.”

What is the best piece of advice for starting your own company you have received?

“Even in literature and art, no man who bothers about originality will ever be original: whereas if you simply try to tell the truth (without caring twopence how often it has been told before) you will, nine times out of ten, become original without ever having noticed it.” – C.S. Lewis

Mentor Advice for Startups

Understand what your three top priorities are and have an unrelenting focus on those things. Chasing money, people, or features that either can’t be caught, or require considerable effort to catch, are a waste of time during your first year. Write down your top three priorities, read over them every single day, and say “no” to everything else.

Also, problems are solved while relaxing so take some time to do things you enjoy outside of your startup. It’s amazing how solutions will find you when you’re away from the business and challenge.

Kenny Tomlin, Founder & CEO of Rockfish Interactive

Startup Interview: Wellthy

Wellthy is a social competition for employees that makes getting healthy fun.  They turn corporate wellness, which traditionally has very low participation, into a fun and motivating social-game.  We sat down with James Dickerson, the founder of Wellthy, to learn a little more about his company and his experience at the Brandery.

What inspired you to start Wellthy?
“I’ve always had a passion for health.  My previous job opened up my eyes to the problems that having unhealthy employees can create, and I knew that there had to be a better way.”

Which presentation or mentor has contributed to Wellthy’s startup strategy development so far?
“It’s tough to say since there are so many great mentors and talks, but I really love to hear from the entrepreneurs who have done it before and have faced the challenges we face every day.  Geoff Allen from Ziplist gave a great presentation and mentors like Tarek Kamil as well as Logan Lahive from Lightbank have really helped us along the way.”

How did you find out about the Brandery?
"I’m from Cincinnati so I heard about it last year when the 1st class was going on.  I set my sights on it and said, ‘I want to be a part of that program.’ "

Why did you decide to come to the Brandery?
“It’s one of the top ten programs in the country and it’s right here in Cincinnati.  The mentors and connections are great.”

What is the best piece of advice for starting your own company you have received?
“You’re never going to get it 100% right, especially the first time.  What separates the winning entrepreneurs from the losers is the fact that some will never give up no matter what.”

Mentor Advice for Startups

“Get the founding team right.  Build the right team culture, and assume lots of iterations.”

 -Pete Blackshaw, Executive Vice-President of Nielsen Online Digital Strategic Services

Startup Interview: Receept

Kevin Pfefferle, age 30, created Receept as an alternative to collecting receipts.  Rather than routinely collecting paper receipts, Kevin makes it simple by combining web and mobile devices with the ability to store receipts from any device.  This will not only be helpful to the consumers, but also with customer bases for merchants by tracking brand loyalty.

This interview gives us a little more information about Kevin, his company, and how the Brandery has helped him.

What inspired you to start Receept?

“I would say it was a personal frustration.  You can see how the banking industry has made great electronic advancements, but there was a lack of advancement with paper receipts.   Keeping track of all of those receipts by holding them in your wallet or purse was just very frustrating, and I wanted to change that.”

Which presentation or mentor has contributed to Receept’s startup strategy development so far?

“The first I would say is Eric Bishop, who came from Procter & Gamble and now works for Rockfish.  He approached the idea for electronic receipts from a brand marketer’s perspective and made me think more about how Reecept can help measure and track brand loyalty.

Lucas Watson, who is also formerly from P&G and now works for Google, is another mentor who gave me great advice. He had really focused insight into what I was doing right and wrong, as well as where I should most focus my energy.  His perspective was really invaluable for the way I think about the future of Receept.

Finally, Dave (Knox, co-founder of the Brandery) has played a really huge role in connecting me with a wide variety of mentors and partners who have played integral roles in Receept’s current direction.”

How did find out about the Brandery?

“Well, I’m from Columbus, so I was pretty well aware of the startup world in Ohio.  When TechStars made their network announcement, I found that the Brandery was the closest to home.

I wanted to be a part of an accelerator that was considered high quality within the startup world, and it worked out perfectly that the Brandery was nearby. I have a daughter at home (in Columbus), so location was a very big factor in deciding on joining the Brandery because the commute would be fairly easy.  On top of that, I had heard several recommendations from well-respected individuals in the startup world to check out the Brandery.”

What is the best piece of advice for starting your own company you have received?

“‘Just do it.’  When I was working on Receept, it got to the point where it’s really time to stop talking about what I was going to do and just simply do it.”

Mentor Advice for Startups

“The definition of the alternatives is the supreme instrument of power.” – Elmer Eric Schattschneider

“Especially in the first year of existence, companies and founders need to remember that if they allow anyone or anything to define the alternatives (you can do a or b; you can make x or y; you can serve 1 or 2) then someone else has already won.

A startup is a mechanism searching for a sustainable business model. It’s experimental. Preconceived and/or otherwise applied parameters and definitions serve only to constrain startups. The most important companies are disruptive and see what others don’t."

- Nick Seguin, Manager of Entrepreneurship at the Ewing Marion Kauffman Foundation

Startup Interview: Spaciety

Andrew Dennis, age 28, and Eric Liu, age 29, came up with the idea for Spaciety in their hometown of Chicago a little over a year-and-a-half ago. Spaciety (SPA – ciety) is an online booking engine for the spa industry similar to OpenTable or Expedia. It provide spas with an avenue to offload their perishable assets, and consumers a convenient, transparent way to quickly book spa / salon services online.

Here’s a little more about Andrew’s and Eric’s story and their experience at the Brandery so far:

What inspired you to start Spaciety?

Andrew:  "A year and a half ago was my 3-year anniversary with my girlfriend. I’m an awesome guy and was scrambling to finish off the perfect gift. I wanted her day to start off with a massage. The first two spas that I called were booked all morning. The 3rd spa put me on hold. I hung up and searched online, but found nothing. I was so frustrated. It didn’t make sense that finding a massage was that difficult. I started mocking up Spaciety a week later."

Have you always wanted to start your own company?

Andrew:  "I knew that the startup community was something that I was interested in, but I wasn’t sure if I could make the leap. Eric was a really awesome inspiration and mentor for me early on. We worked for the same company, and he left first and started a few companies on his own."

Eric:  "I just knew I couldn’t work for the man forever. I wanted more lifestyle flexibility."

Which presentation(s) or mentor(s) at the Brandery has contributed most to Spaciety’s strategy development so far?

“Geoff Allen – Crazy awesome energy. No sugar coating. He has learned a ton of lessons in his long, successful career as an entrepreneur. He had very strong opinions and made it his priority to help us avoid making similar mistakes. More than anybody else – his experiences apply directly to us now. He’s been there. Done it. Succeeded. Failed. Succeeded a few more times. He provides really candid advice.

Sonny Jandial –  Sonny came to talk very early on in the program. We were just getting used to everything, but he was ready to jump straight in. Great insight into the startup community. Our biggest takeaway from Sonny was developing a sustainable competitive advantage.

Kenny Tomlin – He just sold Rockfish Interactive, a company that he started by himself. No big deal. Incredible guy. Great story – On Spaciety’s behalf, Kenny interviewed and hired our waitress on the spot while she was giving us our check at the end of the meal. She was smart, outgoing, and already had a vast understanding of OpenTable operations from the business side."

Joe Medved – The Venture Capitalist perspective was invaluable to hear in person. His opinions on deck presentation and financial assumptions/modeling have already been applied. Hilarious car ride with Joe after in which the RentShare guys almost ran out of gas.  I would have loved to see Joe push their Volvo around Cincinnati.

Bob Arnold – He’s an ex-P&G guy and current Kellogg guy. There is nothing like a 9am Saturday morning 3-hour brainstorming session to give you a screaming headache. It’s amazing how much brainpower he spent on finding, understanding, and capturing our target consumer."

How did you find out about the Brandery?

Andrew:  "The Brandery is starting to make a name for itself. I first heard about The Brandery from some guys in the Chicago startup community. After further research, I saw it was named a top-10 Accelerator and recently joined the TechStars Network."

Why did you decide to join the Brandery?

Eric:  "We were very excited about Cincinnati, and it seemed like a great opportunity. We needed help growing the company, and after talking to Dave Knox it became clear that what we needed and what the Brandery had to offer were one and the same:  branding and marketing expertise and growth strategy.

What is the best piece of advice for starting your own company you have received?

Eric:  "’Do it.’ From Jerome Vargis, a personal mentor of mine since I was a kid. He owns a chain of roller rinks in Chicago."

Andrew:  "Burn the boats."

Mentor Advice for Startups

“For the first year, really ask yourself, ‘If I build this company to a success, will it really matter?

Every business has a substantial risk of failure — and that is known up front. But what I learned from my first business was when I succeeded in selling the company after seven years, I realized I never would have gone into that business because the ultimate financial return did not match the risk profile.

‘If I succeed, have I built a nice bakery?  Or have I built the next great enduring company like Google, eBay, Facebook, etc.’  Just think about your end-goal definition of success before you kill yourself building it — make sure it will be worth it in the end."

- Geoff Allen, CEO and Founder of ZipList

New Space and a New Class

With the finishing touches being put on the new Brandery office located at 1411 Vine St. in Over-the-Rhine it seems only fitting that The Brandery class of 2011 was officially announced today.  We had a record year for applications, with companies applying from seven countries and 22 states.  In the end, we selected 9 companies who will part of an amazing group of entrepreneurs that will be starting their journey on August 1st.  Below is a bit more information on the startups and the entrepreneurs behind them.

Brandery 2011 Class

ChoreMonster, founded by Chris Bergman in Cincinnati, is a suite of web and mobile applications that allow parents to create chore “adventures” for their children, creating ownership of responsibilities in a unique and engaging way.

Keepio, founded by Dave Durand in Louisville, helps collectors, homeowners, and gadget enthusiasts to keep track of their personal belongings and interests, and then buy, sell or share their belongings within public or private marketplaces through a platform for peer-to-peer transactions.

Meruni, founded by Michael & Megan Wohlschlaeger in Shanghai, China, is a data aggregation and analytics platform which will enable both consumers and merchants to harness the power of O2O commerce.

Receept, founded by Kevin Pfefferle in Columbus, is building a platform for the web and mobile devices that will allow consumers to store, sort, search for and share receipts from any source, physical or digital. This will open up opportunities for customer-to-customer recommendations, profile existing customer bases for merchants and track loyalty for retail locations, brands and products.

RentShare, founded by Ian Halpern, Christopher Toppino, and Trevor Geise in New York City, is a social payment platform that makes it easy for renters to pay rent online, share expenses with roommates, and more.

Roadtrippers, founded by James Fisher, Tatiana Parent and Daniel Nielsen in Berlin, is a powerful, easy-to-use website and mobile app that allows users to plan amazing road trips by aggregating a wide range of travel data.

Spaciety (pronounced spa-SIGH-ih -tee), founded by Andrew Dennis and Eric Liu in Chicago, is Travelocity meets Open Table for spa/salon services, by consolidating spa services, locations, prices and appointment booking to one easily navigated website.

Wellthy, founded in Cincinnati by James Dickerson and Ryan Tinker, is the fun, social, and simple way for businesses to get more engaged in health and wellness.  Coworkers share healthy meals and activities, as well as enter in to health challenges with one another to earn points, badges, and rewards.

Read more : Brandery Class Kick Off and Brandery’s New Companies Have International Flavor