Samantha Diamond, co-founder of CultureConnect.
On Friday, seven entrepreneurs arrive in New Orleans for our Fall Launch program. Curious about what they’ll be up to? Samantha Diamond, co-founder of CultureConnect and graduate of Summer ’13 Launch, shares her experience here.
When I boarded a New Orleans-bound flight from New York in July, I did not know what to expect. 4.0’s focus on early stage ventures is a truly unique offering in a crowded accelerator industry traditionally serving more mature startups.
My startup – CultureConnect – experienced a significant pivot only weeks before the Launch program. Here are seven programmatic highlights of how 4.0 helped us work through the changes and ultimately launch our company:
The Scoping Session
Imagine a brain trust entirely focused on you and your business whose only agenda is to help you succeed. The 4.0 team and a few 4.0 entrepreneurs generously lending their time facilitated this first order of business. While we established our goals for the program, we mainly answered basic questions about our business. Sometimes the simplest questions are the hardest to answer. That’s OK. Areas of uncertainty informed our next steps. I remember walking out of the room feeling slightly beaten up, but completely exhilarated. Something akin to muscle soreness after an intense workout.
On our third day, 4.0 hosted an event forcing everyone to test or sell prototypes with potential customers. The ‘just ship it’ mantra feels uncomfortable when your business is so early. It means you want to do well by your customers. But, to deliver something genuinely useful, test as soon and often as possible. Do you really know what your customers want if you aren’t spending time with them? With the 4.0 team’s gentle prodding, we cobbled together a demo of our product and managed to sign two pilot partners, without compromising our integrity.
Ask an entrepreneur about pitching and you will probably hear some grumbling: What does this have to do with customer and product development? What a distraction! A great five minute pitch requires understanding fundamentals of your business and an ability to be compelling, clear and concise. Storyboarding, or breaking down concepts into beats and writing them on index cards helped us cut the extraneous, fill the gaps, and ensure flow. Over time, it becomes easier: a reliance on memorized scripts gives way to a more relaxed conversation; stiff body language smooths out; and shaky voices intonate naturally. It took pitching twice a week until the end of the Launch program before this really happened for us.
Each week, an entrepreneur-in-residence (EIR) mentored the Launch teams. Overgrad’s Ryan Hoch was a year out from founding, far enough along to provide #realness, while not so far that he was nostalgic about early stage struggles. He sat in on our daily check-ins and shared his tools for managing the sales cycle.
Kyle Judah, founder of recently acquired RecoVend and Program Director of MIT’s Entrepreneurship Center was a perfect cocktail of wide-ranging strategic insight, tactical suggestions and entrepreneurial cheerleading. He also joined us for drinks, sometimes the best environment to work through the big questions.
Khalid Smith, founder of Lessoncast and StartupWeekend-EDU brought a critical business eye to our ventures drawing from a decade of business experience at Procter & Gamble. Business analysis even at an early stage is essential to realize and sustain mission driven ventures.
The Launch program was facilitated by chief mentor Brian Bordainick, a former TFA fellow and now the full-time CEO of Dinner Lab. His willingness to share details rather than theories on both business and life management drawn from his own successes, setbacks and leaps of faith pushed all of us forward.
Each week we were assigned a book (e.g. Hearts, Smarts, Guts and Luck) to later discuss with a guest speaker (e.g. Robbie Vitrano of Naked Pizza, IdeaVillage, and Trumpet successes). It was wonderful to speak with field leaders who we might have normally interacted with under more formal circumstances. This allowed for a richer – and sometimes more personal – conversation.
Entrepreneur Organization (EO) sessions is weekly group therapy for founders. During a memorable first session, we shared what we viewed as private struggles only to learn that others faced similar obstacles:
How do I financially sustain myself when I am pre-revenue and pre-investment? How do I make time for my significant other? I need to pivot, but I don’t want to run the new business.
Community is critical for entrepreneurship. Community building is central to 4.0’s mission, and they deliver.
The Other Launch Fellows
4.0 assembled a cohort diverse in personality and pursuits, yet united in passion, sincerity, and impressive histories. While we had mentors, facilitators, presenters, books, and meetings, it was the other Launch fellows together in the trenches that made problems less difficult and triumphs more satisfying. Thank you, Cameron Middleton, Hassan Hassan, Amy Vreeland, Stephen Gilman, and my co-founder and comrade, Monika Smyczek.
Samantha Diamond is co-founder of CultureConnect. CultureConnect helps museums and cultural institutions access mobile technology through an affordable, easy to use platform. Museums are better able deliver their content to schools and connect more effectively with educators and students. For more information, please contact: email@example.com.