The objective of any accelerator program is to turn startups that need work into fundable entities. Clifton-based TechLaunch, the accelerator founded with the help of the New Jersey Economic Development Authority, is no exception.
Many of the TechLaunch founders made serious changes to their businesses during the 16 weeks in which they were involved with the LaunchPad2 program. Two changed their name and branding, so that Private.ly became Inbox and RelationshipManager became ProspectPredict. Several refined their go-to-market strategies. Many refined their products. Prototypes were developed. A couple improved their websites enormously and others brought their first product to market.
NJTechWeekly.com asked the founders, How did your company change from the first day to the last? We present their answers below in alphabetical order (the company whose name begins with a number is first).
30 Second Showcase, the startup that takes a mobile-first approach to portfolio making for creative professionals, (and one of two LaunchPad2 startups with a female cofounder, Kristenelle Coronado, Creative in Chief) was able to release beautiful apps during the TechLaunch program. Those apps let designers, photographers and others show off creative portfolios on the small mobile screen.
As CEO James Kaiser told us, “We came into the program with little more than an idea, and today we have a product in market with users. While the product is still in its infancy, it is out there and generating real feedback. We also have a better understanding of the big picture for our company.”
BeautyStat was perhaps the most mature company to be accepted into the accelerator class. It had been in business several years and was looking for a way to move to the next level.
Said CEO and founder Ron Robinson, “When we entered the program, we already had a product in market (a beauty blog) and were post-revenue. But we came out of the program with a new website that is a true beauty retail destination that can better serve both our users and retail partners.”
Caktus traveled from Finland to participate in TechLaunch, and NJTechWeekly.com found out at Demo Day that the team will have to return to that country because of U.S. visa issues. The company’s product focuses on hydration. A flexible sensor (called The + Hug) that fits on any water bottle is coupled with an app that can track drinking frequency and then push notifications to users who wish to be coached in optimal hydration.
Said CEO Panu Keski-Pukkila, “We pivoted our product just before the program started and did not do other major changes on that front during the summer. Our brand and personality did evolve over the summer and still keep doing so. I think that the biggest overall change has been in our professional self-confidence; the team members have been surprising even themselves on a constant basis. Now we feel very confident pushing this forward on full steam and going out there to continue building our product, acquiring customers and of course raising funding.”
Hazarai already had a website, an online social shopping destination for the “geek culture” community. Rather than becoming strictly an e-commerce platform, the company wanted to provide fans, collectors and sellers of comic books, action figures, video games and other geek items the ability to buy from, sell to and share, discover and talk with fellow enthusiasts on one site.
Founder Ian Griggs told us, “Our company changed a lot from the first day until now! Everything from our branding to our product to our business strategy changed for the better in some way or another. We came in knowing what we thought we wanted to do, figured out that we needed to make some changes, worked with great mentors to rework things and then executed on them. We think our users will definitely feel that the experience we’re offering post-TechLaunch is far superior to the one we were offering before the program.”
Inbox went to TechLaunch after winning Startup Weekend Madison, where the product was called PrivateChat, and evolved afterward into Private.ly. So the first thing NJTechWeekly.com noticed was a branding and product name change to Inbox. The company has created a beautiful messaging app for today’s users. It can delete messages you have already sent from your phone and recipients’ phones and with a shake will redact messages so no one can read them over your shoulder.
CEO Maher Janajri said, “First, as founders, we’ve matured, enduring late nights and heated debates, all in the name of building a superb user experience. That was lesson No. 1: customer first and everyone else second. Second, we’ve gained a lot of confidence in our product as a result of iterative feedback from customers throughout our development process. Lastly, with the boost in confidence, our overall vision of the business has expanded immensely as well.”
NJTechWeekly.com didn’t hear Invidio’s initial pitch because the company joined the accelerator after the LaunchPad class was introduced to the public, but Joe Scola and team hit the ground running. The startup’s app lets viewers purchase the products they see in movies, on TV shows and in music videos in real time as they view them on the screen.
Said Scola, “Aside from the overall refinement and polishing, the largest change has been our go-to-market strategy. We came into the TechLaunch program with [a] 100 percent focus on building enterprise relationships, which remains the longterm goal, but we’ve reshaped the way we’ll get there. We’ve since developed a consumer-facing Web application that will allow us to reach consumers directly and gather important data points, which will support us in the enterprise sales cycle.”
NJTechWeekly.com has been following the business-to-business (B2B) startup Relationship Analytics Corp. for a while. The company went through a branding change and is now called ProspectPredict, whose tagline is “Prospecting made smarter.” The product brings the power of predictive analytics to sales professionals at an affordable cost. CEO Harry Abrahamsen told us that besides making branding changes, the company was able to focus and define its product offering.
SeekChange one of two LaunchPad2 companies with a female cofounder (Nicole Letelier, chief connections officer). It has developed a personal coaching software platform via a mobile app and a Web browser. The app provides “emotional fitness workouts” to target a range of issues including optimism, compassion and procrastination. Letelier said that from day one to now, “the future is a lot more specific. We are much more confident and comfortable with our future growth predictions.”
ShareWatts offers a unique solution to the problem of running out of cellphone power. The company has coupled hardware that allows the transfer of battery charge between mobile devices with a social app that lets users discover where additional charge might be found. Asked how the company had changed from the first day of the program to the last, founder Sameer Pai said, “The company pivoted with respect to its business strategy and in terms of the products that it aimed to develop. In the end, we developed a more focused strategy and a more targeted product.”