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

Design is more important...

Design is more important than technology in most consumer applications.

Dave McClure perfectly captures one of the points of difference at The Brandery.

The Brandery is ranked a Top 10 seed accelerator

As seed accelerators pop up across the country, entrepreneurs have to figure out the best program for their needs.  Thanks to the work of the Kauffman Fellows Program, Tech Cocktail and the Kellogg School of Management, this task just got a bit easier.  These groups partnered together to release their ranking of the Top 15 seed accelerator / incubator programs in the country (see below chart).

We’re excited that The Brandery landed in the top 10, despite being less than a year old.  With the momentum going into our sophomore class in 2011, we think we’re be able to crack the top 5 next year!

A big thank you to everyone that has helped make The Brandery a reality as we put the Midwest and Cincinnati on the map as a great home to start-ups.

The Brandery opens applications for class of 2011

Applications are now live for the 2011 Brandery class. While the application deadline is June 1, 2011, we encourage you to apply as soon as possible in order to qualify for “early acceptance”.  If you have any questions about the program, please do not hesitate to reach out to us at info@brandery.org

Applications can be found at http://brandery.org/apply/

The Brandery Joins TechStars Network To Accelerate Startups

As a TechStars Network Member, Brandery Takes Part in White House Startup America Program

[CINCINNATI] – Jan. 31, 2011 – The Brandery is now a member of the TechStars Network, a newly launched White House-sponsored alliance of independently owned and operated startup accelerator programs from dozens of cities across the United States and around the world.

The TechStars Network is comprised of other startup accelerator programs similar to The Brandery that provide seed funding and mentorship to innovative entrepreneurs. The Brandery will collaborate with these organizations and learn best practices from the mentorship-driven model pioneered by TechStars, the leading startup accelerator program in the United States.

As a member of the TechStars Network, The Brandery will have access to a rich set of strategic resources including professional development and ongoing support to effectively lead and mentor innovative entrepreneurs in Cincinnati.

The TechStars Network is part of the Startup America initiative, launched today by President Obama. In partnership with the White House, the goal of the TechStars Network is to become an engine for job growth by ensuring that over the next four years, 5,000 experienced business leaders and investors will mentor and support 6,000 promising young entrepreneurs. The aim is to increase the success rate and sustainability of each program, and to ultimately create 25,000 new economy jobs by 2015.

“We are pleased to have The Brandery join the TechStars Network,” said David Cohen, founder and CEO of TechStars. “The TechStars Network signals and formalizes our support for credible mentorship-driven programs like The Brandery. We believe the proliferation of the mentorship-driven accelerator model is healthy for entrepreneurs. Through this network of independent organizations, we can help increase their impact dramatically and make entrepreneurial communities the real winners.”

Brandery co-founder David Knox said the network provides a terrific opportunity to expand the reach and resources of Cincinnati’s consumer-marketing-oriented accelerator.

“For our first class last summer, more than 70 companies applied from 15 states, and three of the six we accepted moved here from outside our region,” said Knox. “This network will offer visibility that will help us continue to provide Cincinnati with a net gain of entrepreneurs.”

Also, Knox said, “with TechStars Network’s rich set of strategic resources, we will build stronger companies faster.”

The application period for Brandery Class 2 begins April 1. More information will be available at www.brandery.org.

The Brandery joins a select group of invitation-only TechStars Network members in major cities across the United States and around the world. Today the network is open to all entrepreneurial thought leaders and organizations interested in building or enhancing mentorship-driven startup accelerator programs.

The Brandery graduates 6 new start-ups in Cincinnati

It is hard to believe that only 12 weeks ago, The Brandery was just getting started with our inaugural class of companies.   Fast forward to today and we will be graduating 6 amazing start-ups at our first Demo Day on Thursday, November 18th.   We have a sold-out crowd of 150 venture capitalists, investors and entrepreneurs joining us at the LPK Innovation Center for what should be a fun-filled and exciting morning.

The day will start off with a keynote by Ben Lerer, founder of Thrillist.com and Lerer Ventures.  We then move onto the pitches as our 6 Brandery graduates take the stage to share their stories.   Presenting on stage will be:

  • Giftiki: the online version of a greeting card with money enclosed, allowing users to conveniently give gifts digitally to friends and family.

  • Idea Rally: an open innovation web app which helps students voice their ideas for brands in a fun, game-like atmosphere

  • LifeBlinx: a Facebook Application that takes your selected status updates, classic comments and favorite photos from Facebook and organizes them into printed memory books.

  • TurboBOTZ: a service that makes it effortless for video gamers to manage the games they own as well as to buy, sell, or trade their used video games all within a single online environment.

  • VenturePax: a website and soon-to-be mobile application making it effortless for you to discover your local outdoors, fun to engage your friends and rewarding to track how active you are.

  • VenueAgent: a website that offers discounted event space to users, helping venues sell unbooked dates at their facility via online transactions.

If you aren’t able to join us in Cincinnati, we will be live streaming the event over at uStream starting around 9 AM EST.  We will also be taking the companies on a road show to be New York City (December 1st) and San Francisco (December 7th), so let us know if you’d want to meet any of them.