The judges were Ryan Armbrust, director at ff Venture Capital; Mario Casabona, founder and CEO of TechLaunch; and Grace Ng, cofounder and creative director of Javelin, which runs Lean Startup Machine. The judges posed questions to all the teams, challenging them to consider their business ideas very carefully.
To win the event, entrepreneurs had to collect evidence that their product or service could find a viable market. This evidence, which the groups collected over the weekend, could include email sign-ups, letters of interest from companies, or actual revenues generated by their product or service.
The teams also had to document each step of the process, including their riskiest assumptions — the parts of their business plan that were least likely to hold true in practice.
The Stasher team enthusiastically described their weekend experience to the audience, and they talked about their product. “The problem is that kids don’t have access to their savings accounts, and they don’t have a way to collect this money and to store it directly. The solution was Stasher. Stasher is a cool mobile piggy bank for kids,” said Bianca Padilla, who cofounded Stasher with Jeremy Weisberg.
Padilla explained that Stasher would work by allowing parents to open a savings account for their children. Money could then be deposited into the account, but children would not actually be able to withdraw any cash. They could, however, enjoy seeing their savings build up. Padilla said this would promote healthy saving habits.
The Stasher team expected to market the idea to parents. Their original riskiest assumption was that children don’t want to be motivated to behave well. The team hoped that 40% of respondents would agree that it’s difficult to motivate their children to behave. But many of the parents interviewed simply expected good behavior from their children by default, according to Padilla. They weren’t interested in finding ways to motivate their kids.
However, the team learned that most of the parents interviewed gave their children allowances, prompting the Stasher group to market their idea to children, instead of to parents. At this point, the team’s riskiest assumption was that kids weren’t interested in saving money. They set the criterion for success at 25 signups, but ended up with over 40 signups from children, an indication that their business idea had a viable market.
Then the team decided to do a “channel pivot,” exploring new sales channels for their idea. This involved going to banks, schools, and businesses to see who would be interested in the project. The team asked businesses if they would be interested in using Stasher. This would involve putting aside a certain percentage of money spent by parents at the business. That percentage would then go into a savings account for the customers’ children. Ultimately, they found that eight out of the eight businesses queried said they’d be interested in using the service. The group collected business cards from the respondents to prove their success.
The Stasher team was then able to schedule two appointments with bankers and receive a letter of intent for a meeting at TD Bank. They also asked educators whether Stasher representatives would be able to go to schools, give a talk on financial responsibility, and promote their product at the same time. Once again, the respondents were interested.
Everybody on the winning team received free coworking at JuiceTank for three months, mentorship from the Lean Startup Machine team, semifinalist status in TechLaunch’s 2015 LaunchPad program, and a free consultation with the ff Venture Capital partners.
One of the Stasher team members, Phyllis Abdul-Raheem, expressed her gratitude and enthusiasm for the project. “I came to pitch my organic food business, but when I first met [Padilla and Weisberg] and they told me what their idea was, I said ‘I am in’ because this is amazing,” she told the audience. “I’m just so grateful, and I get to have the space for three months!” she added.
The second-place winners had presented Cupressed, a compressible, reusable travel mug designed to be stored and carried easily. The Cupressed team went to New York Penn Station, Menlo Park Mall and Rutgers University to interview prospective customers. The team originally thought that men and women would desire the mug equally, but found that women were more interested. They also discovered that prospective customers preferred the cup to be insulated and easy to clean. Their response was to create an insulating component that can easily be turned inside out and cleaned.
Other projects included:
- Love Just Because, led by Cynthia Gipson Lee, is a service that provides romantic ideas to keep relationships going.
- Construgo, a crowdfunding platform for entrepreneurs designed to attract investors by paying royalties, was led by Myles Jackson.
- eDiet Score, pitched by Qien Yang, was designed to help people calculate and cut down on their usage of electronic devices.
- Zuppa, which Alessandro Mannino originally pitched as an app to help businesses run contests, evolved into a tool to help people figure out who they should network with at events.
Lyke, led by Suma and Vishal Reddy, is a social media platform that allows users to see everything their friends like and recommend online.
- Gruberie, pitched by Sven Hermann, provides recommendations of dishes at restaurants based on users’ preferences.
- Airpet team leader David Lehman described the project as an Airbnb for pets, providing a “social market” for those seeking accommodations and care for their animals.
- Mapp App, an application intended to help people navigate stores and find items within their desired price range, was led by Jeffrey Malek.
- Startup Chatup, led by Aditi Ramesh, was described as “chat roulette” for entrepreneurs.
- Health Insurance Match, proposed by Jim O’Brien, was designed to help people find the right insurance plan for their needs.
Participants on every team finished the Lean Startup Machine event with a weekend’s worth of hands-on experience. Weisberg commented on the value of this experience, saying “We believed in our idea, but we had no idea coming into this how it would be received because we needed to validate it. And we thank all of you, and JuiceTank, and Lean Startup Machine for helping us do that.”