Contemplating Pricing Models, Launch Strategy, and the Meaning of Life.
Week #4 at Techstars Boulder 2017 is in the books. We’re 1/3 of the way through the program already. It feels like we just got here, and simultaneously seems like we’ve been here much longer.
1. We are going to be filing a number of provisional patents soon. We’d love an intro to a trusted patent attorney or boutique who can help us think critically about our patent strategy.
2. We’re beginning to put together a list of potential enterprise partnerships – companies who would benefit from using CANDL hotspots for their employee base as they travel internationally (and domestically). If you have any recommendations or connections shoot me an email with your ideas.
1. First of all we’d like to thank ALL of the mentors and sponsors we’ve met over the past 4 weeks. Choosing a handful to meet with on a weekly basis was harder than we thought. It was difficult to not ask everyone to be a mentor. We did choose five individuals to be our lead mentors. These folks will meet with us primarily on a weekly basis for the remainder of the program. So with that said, the lead mentors for CANDL are:
- Jim Booth, COO Sphero (Executive Mentor, Hardware & Retail)
- Dave Mandell, CEO Pivotdesk (Pitch and Messaging)
- Dave Drach, VP Corporate Strategy Techstars (Corporate Partnerships)
- Mindy Nies, Chief Experience Officer (Brand, Messaging, CX/UX)
- Kelly Coyne, Principal at Pitch Marketing (Marketing & PR)
We are also talking with 8 other mentors on a regular basis on the areas of finance strategy, legal, technology, retail, our social mission, and channel strategy. I can’t thank Techstars enough for the “instant” high-power network they just helped us build.
2. Microsoft has agreed to be involved in our Alpha testing, and may sign on to our private (paid) Beta. We are exploring similar relationships with a few other companies.
3. Our first product to market will be the CANDL hotspot. The product and service we’re building will be faster, more secure, easier to use, and better suited for business travelers than anything else like it on the market. But our second product may be insanely disruptive. We’ve been contemplating some pretty radical ideas, and one of them really stands out as intriguing:
What if we didn’t need the hardware?
What I’ll say for now is that we need to do some testing and file some patents. But there may be a way to build what we’re doing with the CANDL hotspot as a software-only solution.
1. We’ve been struggling with the financial side of our relationship with one of our vendor/partners. They provide the API service that does the dynamic assignment of SIM cards. When we began working with them 6 months ago, the costs associated with using their API was “fractions of a penny per SIM per day”. Now that pricing is very different – in fact it’s prohibitively expensive and doesn’t scale well.
We didn’t want to build our our own dynamic assignment system, but when we grow to scale, we might have to. It’s something we can do, it’s just one more thing to do. I get the sense that we are going to have to have a hard conversation with their CEO in the near future. Luckily we have several alternatives if things don’t work out.
2. With so many meetings we’ve found that it’s pretty challenging to stay on top of our deep work – the stuff we dive into for hours at a time. For me, that’s financial modeling, investor materials, and go-to-market strategy. We’ve also fallen down on some of the less urgent but still important things (tax forms, some legal stuff, etc.). Next week I am challenging myself to follow through on the Kan-ban process and make sure I put every necessary task on the board. Moving sticky notes…
I mentioned last week that we needed to get out of the office and enjoy Boulder (and the surrounding mountains) a bit. We did that! On Saturday we hiked up several of the local mountains. The views are tremendous and these pictures don’t do them any justice.
With 13 companies in the Techstars Boulder 2017 cohort, the program associates (the awesome folks who help the companies with things like design, front-end web development, and photography) are working late almost every night. They are an amazing group of people and we have our eye on hiring one of them for ourselves after the program.
Techstars has a Give First mentality. It’s amazing to see what everyone in the office has to offer to one another and to the program itself. Oh – and we’ve picked up some good habits like flash workouts – one minute workouts randomly called out around the office.
We spent the majority of this week finalizing our relationships with our lead mentors and meeting with several sponsors and other related Techstars folks. Every single meeting we have had has added value to CANDL in one way or another – and the meetings we had this week were some of the highest caliber meetings in the program so far.
Next week we will begin transitioning from working “on” our business to working “in” our business again. For me that means a deeper focus on financial strategy and fundraising as well as beginning to lock down our intellectual property. For David that means getting us ready for our Alpha test phase coming up in several weeks. And for Nicole, that means incorporating the invaluable insight and help from our two marketing-oriented mentors (Mindy and Kelly) into a cohesive marketing strategy.
I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again. There is no way we could have accomplished what we’ve done in the past four weeks without Techstars. This program has already accelerated us by at least 6 months, and – more importantly – aimed in the right direction.
When we started Techstars just four weeks ago, we came here with more questions than answers. We knew we wanted to build a profitable business and we wanted to honor our social mission to help connect refugees, but we didn’t know how to integrate those things.
The crucible of Techstars has given us the space and time to really think critically about our business and the underlying technology we’re using. The mentors challenged our assumptions in ways we hadn’t considered. The daily interactions with the other founders, the program directors and the associates help us look at CANDL through more than 300 different lenses.
In four weeks, we’ve clarified our business model, honed our customer pitch, developed a ton of amazing intellectual property, build a crystal-clear product launch plan, sprinted to a working prototype, and even signed up Microsoft to be our Alpha testers. Not bad for a month’s worth of work.
I used to think the network and Demo Day were the things that made Techstars so special, and why 90% of Techstars companies are still going or have been acquired. But I know differently now.
What makes Techstars so great is they give us the tools, time, space, guidance, coaching and encouragement to build our companies the right way. It’s not so important that we use Techstars as a forcing function to hit specific milestones by Demo Day. What’s really important is absorbing as much of the teachings and the culture as we can during these 13 weeks, so that CANDL is successful for the next 13 years.
We’re 1/3 of the way through Techstars, and I’m already starting to think about how sad it will be to say goodbye to everyone.