We’re releasing the public beta of LaunchGram. I wanted to take the time to write about how and why we’re here and not just to tell our story, but also to put it out there as a reference to anyone else currently trying his or her hand at a startup.
LaunchGram essentially started at Startup Weekend Columbus in October of 2011. I pitched the idea was that you and a bunch of neighbors could “demand” restaurants or stores open up shop near you given high enough demand. The idea was fun, we got second place, but the business model was flawed.
After realizing this about two weeks later, my team began to dissipate. So I needed to pivot and gather a new team. After I would get off work I was in full-time co-founder recruitment mode. I didn’t even have to think to know that I wanted Zach Boerger and Carrie Phillips on my team. I had known for a while I wanted to work with the two of them, but hadn’t ever had the opportunity.
To make a long story short, many beers later I convinced the both of them to sign on. Now with a developer, designer, and hustler on board, we were poised to make a serious run at building something people needed.
Our new angle was building a company that aggregated news and rumors about products that were launching soon. We called it Soonzy. It was fun, full of energy and we applied to a local accelerator called 10xelerator. If accepted, we would be in their second class ever, and would not have to give up any equity. It was a no-brainer.
We got called up last minute to make a demo video in less than twenty-four hours and we ended up getting in. It was an “Oh shit moment” for us. We had every intention of building this thing, but when we got into 10x, things got real very fast.
When the program started in January, we were knee deep in product. Wireframes, mockups, marketing plans, post-it notes, Diet Dr. Pepper cans, and whiteboard dust. Meanwhile, I was still pulling 40-50 hours at my job at Duet Health, and Zach and Carrie were still in school. Product progress was good, but there was a lack of focus. Something had to give.
I announced my resignation from Duet Health at the end of February and as Zach finished finals for the quarter, he decided to take a leave of absence from Ohio State. It didn’t take long for us to focus.
Just in time for SXSW and five days later a nine-day excursion to San Francisco, we had built an alpha product. We had trusted friends hop on and play around with it, and then proceeded to show it to everybody we met in Austin and San Francisco. I must have pitched our business an easy two hundred times, and I can’t emphasize enough how valuable this is.
If you are a young startup entrepreneur with a scrappy product, go speak to as many people as possible about it. Don’t waste their time, though; make sure you have concrete asks. Don’t ask operations people for advice on marketing, and be picky with who’s advice you take. With that in mind though, if you talk to two hundred people about your business, you’re going to find themes, common questions, and you’re going to be very prepared to face criticism head-on.
You’re going to have people tell you they don’t like your product. Alexis Ohanian told me above anything else, “Remember it doesn’t matter what anyone says; just build it.” I had one guy I really respect tell me, “you’re better than this idea” after a twelve-minute conversation. I still don’t know what to make of that. At the end of the day though, we just built it and we’re going to continue building it.
The entire founding team at LaunchGram has read The Lean Startup, we thought we were pretty familiar with the principles, but the number one piece of criticism we got was “why haven’t you launched yet?” or “what’s keeping you from launching?”
Shipping product is scary and at this point I’m going to stand by our decision to do a private alpha and launch with a public beta. Our private alpha allowed us to quietly learn that nobody could pronounce “Soonzy” accurately. I won’t list everything here, but our private alpha allowed us to learn a lot about what users want without really embarrassing ourselves. The product is still far from perfect, but not only are we excited about where it is today, we’re really amped about where it’s going in the next year.
We hope you’ll stick along with us to help us create the next chapter in the LaunchGram story.