Guest post by Jumpstart Foundry alumni Steven Buhrman, CEO & Founder of Wannado.
January of last year I had a vision. At first it was just a stream of ideas in my head. But then I started to believe in it. I believed enough to pack up everything I owned, move across the country, and start a company.
I think many entrepreneurs are believers by nature. We believe in ideas about things that don’t yet exist. We start companies to close the distance between what “is” and what our hyperactive imaginations tell us is possible.
The problem, I discovered, is that entrepreneurs are often wrong. Even when our vision has legs, we often lack the discipline, resources or sustained focus to hone our vision and convert it into reality.
Jumpstart Foundry helps solve this problem
My name is Steven Buhrman. I’m the CEO and founder of Wannado (formerly “Kahootzz”), a 2011 Jumpstart company. Wannado is a mobile platform that recommends local events based on your unique preferences. Think eHarmony but if you were somehow “dating your city”. Or Pandora but for all the everyday stuff you “wannado” but don’t always have time to search for. Makes sense, right?
Naturally, it makes perfect sense to me. I’ve been consumed by the idea since I saw the Promise Land back in January. But I also learned quickly that personal conviction and a few catchy metaphors aren’t enough to get a business off the ground. I needed some help.
Jumpstart helped my team and I accelerate through early stages of ideation, business model generation, prototyping, and customer development. The process was transformative, not only for our fledgling company, but also for me personally as a first time entrepreneur facing a trial-by-fire scenario.
Looking back on this 14 week experience, I’m extremely grateful. Because I see that so much of the progress we’ve made springs from the investment of others. Ironically, I’m perhaps most grateful for aspects of the program I most resisted early on. Like the bootcamp-style programming, and the early morning pitch sessions, which had a way of crushing my best efforts, perpetually demanding more from me.
This transformative (but often painful!) process began immediately. Day one, 7:00 a.m., my first pitch. Thinking of it now actually makes me cringe a little. What I lacked in substance, I compensated with high flying rhetoric. And the critique that followed was pretty damning: “I have no idea what he is talking about,” one person said. “Who are the customers? How does this make money? What’s the model?” another added. The conclusion in the room: I didn’t have a business – just a half-baked idea and a lot of unwarranted enthusiasm. I wasn’t prepared for this kind of rejection. My instinct was to defend myself. How could they not see the genius in what we were doing? After all, my team and our faithful interns all “got it”. My friends and family seemed to understand and “believe”. It took some time, but I eventually came to appreciate the scrutiny, as well as the singular purpose behind it: to make us stronger.
Sleep less, work harder…and smarter
In fact, there were a number of glaring weaknesses we needed to face. Our revenue model was overly complex and unrealistic. The structure and content of my pitch was convoluted and failed to address some of the obvious questions investors need answered. And the initial product design relied too heavily on technology we couldn’t yet support. The amount of work in front of us was unsettling. But it was ok. It just meant we needed to sleep less, work harder… and smarter.
Fortunately, the resources at our disposal were essentially inexhaustible. We were able to lean on the experience and counsel of our mentors, who stepped in and advised in critical areas of need. We also learned to take advantage of the collective genius available via the Jumpstart Rolodex, which gave us access to many of the region’s leading technologists, consultants and business leaders. This extraordinary support system allowed us to see every obstacle as surmountable. When challenges arose, we simply identified those who could help, zeroed-in on solutions, and carried on with our mission. What a gift.
Since graduating from Jumpstart, we’ve been fortunate to secure Series A financing and are now aggressively moving to launch a new and much improved product in the first quarter of 2012. We’ve still got a ways to go to. But our vision has deepened and clarified. Our team is stronger and more resolved. And I’m personally better prepared to lead my company in the coming months and years ahead.
Also of interest: Kahootzz eyes capital raise to fuel ‘opportunity engine’
Posted on February 10, 2012