LAUNCH Festival 2016!

Fear and loathing

Driving through Nevada at 5 A.M. going a buck twenty in a shaky, oil-starved rental Jeep, I came to the sudden realization that we were in a very very scary place.

No, I’m not talking about Elko, though Reno’s more dilapidated little brother is surely terrifying in its own right. No, this was a good type of fear; the type of fear that you only get when the stakes are high and the differences between failing and succeeding are so subtle that they could easily be overlooked. This was the petrifying turning point that often makes or breaks a company.

Our startup had just received a pretty substantial capital injection, and simply put, we had absolutely no idea how to spend the money effectively. Sure, we had some assumptions and some ideas of how to make the best use of our resources, but scaling a SAAS marketplace, or any type of company for that matter, is simply not something that you learn about in the traditional school system. To make matters worse, we just reached out to the domain holding company that owned Congo.com, and they valued the domain at an egregiously inflated $750k. We had endless questions and we needed the answers a week ago.

It’s eerily serendipitous that right when we reached this pivotal moment in our business, we were invited to participate in LAUNCH Scale through IBM’s SmartCamp initiative. LAUNCH Scale was billed as being the event to help entrepreneurs scale their businesses, so needless to say, we couldn’t wait to hear the experts tell us what to do (and equally important, what NOT to do).

Tyler willy

Now, most of the times when we go to these types of startup events, they unfortunately involve boatloads of ‘filler content’ with a handful of ‘golden nuggets’ sprinkled in here and there. The events typically become networking opportunities where you hear a speaker tell you a bunch of things that you already know, and the majority of value you gain comes from the conversations you have at coffee breaks and happy hours. To the team’s delight, filler was not in LAUNCH Scale’s vocabulary. LAUNCH speakers were required to fly out to San Francisco prior to the event, to practice their lectures, receive feedback, and potentially even be un-invited to give lectures by blogging tycoon, angel investor, and LAUNCH CEO, Jason Calacanis. The time allotted to each speaker was directly correlated to how much value that speaker provided. Truly, this is a format that all startup events should consider adopting, as it ensured that no startup’s finite and valuable time was wasted.

From the very first speaker (David Sacks of Yammer & Zenefits) through to the last (Emil Michael of Uber) our team was seriously impressed by the quality of advice that the speakers shared on both stages. This wasn’t just high-level business ideas that may or may not help a company moving forward, but instead crucial trade secrets from some of the most successful entrepreneurs in the world discussing nearly every startup’s number one concern: scaling. Not only did all of the talks provide vital content, but the entire event was curated specifically for companies ramping up for rapid growth. From hacks to grow dual-sided marketplaces, to how to hire effectively and maintain a company’s values throughout growth, LAUNCH Scale answered every question that we had, and more importantly, revealed important questions that we didn’t realize we needed to be asking.

The speakers were randomly split between two stages, so our team split into two groups to guarantee that we didn’t miss anything. Each time we reunited as a whole, it was like we were trying to teach each other a semester’s worth of newfound knowledge (actually now that I think about it, I never learned anything about scaling in all my semesters combined). And when it comes down to it, that is exactly what LAUNCH Scale provided - an expertly-curated set of speakers who offered several years worth of information condensed into just two days.

One thing became abundantly clear during this event: scaling is king. You could have the best product of all time, but until you are able to scale properly, you will not have a successful startup. You might have a successful business, but scalability is crucial if you’re seeking the rapid growth that makes startups infamous. Simply put, if you’re looking for ways to scale your company/become a successful startup, attending LAUNCH Scale should be at the top of your priority list.

Beyond the tangible value that LAUNCH Scale added through talks, networking events, and exhibitions, it provided massive amounts of more abstract value and credibility to our business as well. With LAUNCH’s philosophy of letting founders attend free as well as room and board expenses generously covered by IBM, we were able to take this timely opportunity to meet some incredible San Francisco venture capital firms and establish the relationships needed to secure institutional funding further down the road. While securing meetings with leading VC firms can be difficult, touting our involvement with the IBM SmartCamp at LAUNCH Scale gave us some much needed credibility.

Everything was going extremely well, but we still had the looming issue of the $750,000 domain. Luckily for us, the team at IBM SmartCamp went the extra mile to set up office hours and networking events where we were able to get some one-on-one time with some of their best and brightest to discuss our options. Through those meetings, we were able to brainstorm strategies to incorporate over the next year, insights into how we could improve our current business model, and the final answer to that pressing question… we needed to rebrand. It wasn’t the most exciting decision to make, and I’d be lying if I said we didn’t procrastinate. LAUNCH Scale and IBM SmartCamp not only instilled us with the knowledge necessary to navigate this decision, but forced us to stop making excuses and make a decision, possibly one of the most difficult decisions our founding team has ever faced.

Name contest

Filled with the afterglow of the last few days, we spent the entire 18 hour drive home strategizing for the future, discussing each team members’ key takeaways, and brainstorming ideas for a new name, which YOU can help with here.

We’d like to extend a huge thank you to: our IBM chaperone, Rich Maloy, the man behind the IBM Global competition, Jason Calacanis, the entire LAUNCH team for curating such an incredible event, and the entire IBM SmartCamp team, who did an incredible job ensuring we got the maximum value from the event.

Until next year, 
Willy O and the Got.Law Team 
Enter our $1,000 Renaming Contest HERE.

Revised: April 25, 2018, 10:14 p.m.
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