Techstars + Target: Week 1

Already an adventure.

Geezy, where to start? It's hard to describe this whole thing. It still feels unreal. For now, think of it like going to a school where professors don't give you a grade, other students do everything they can to help you, and the teacher's aides have launched and sold companies.

But how did you get here?

That's a really interesting story. I think it's best described, on a high level, by quoting one of our clients,

You did the exact opposite of what every VC blog says you should do to land an investment.

It's kinda true. It started how most things start, by filling out an application. For reals, if you stumble on an application for some program that may apply to you, fill it out. Almost all the things that we've gotten ourselves into (National Retail Federation, Techstars, TEDxMileHigh) started by filling out an application.

Get them on the phone.

Or, more accurately, they'll get you on the phone. This is when the "close" really happens. Of course, filling out an application in a way that grabs attention is important, but it's when you have them on the phone that it really gets real.

Make sure whomever you put on the phone to represent you is jazzed up about what you're doing. That energy and excitement will translate and let's be honest, people love being excited.

Do not fake it 'till you make it.

In fact, don't ever be fake. We call it shadow games (a term shared with us by our good friend Casey) and they are the devil. One little lie begets another, and another, until you find yourself covering lies you don't even care about just so you aren't exposed.

The truth is, honest people appreciate honesty and oh boy, were we honest. When asked what our plan was for the next year, we answered,

We don't know...

When asked how our tech platform could help Target, we answered, 

We don't know...

Not what you'd expect, right? Your instinct would be to come up with an answer, tell them what they wanted to hear. But, we didn't know and we weren't going to play shadow games. But, guess what! They appreciated that.

What's interesting is we presented a totally new, fun opportunity for them. They now get to work with an extremely talented, driven, hard working team from the start. We weren't coming in with our own preconceived notions; we were going in ready to build a plan with them.

What is TargetHQ like?

We work in a subsection of HQ behind 3 security doors. No joke, I have to swipe my card 3 times to get to our space.

It's a shared workspace, so a bunch of desks in a big room. Each company is given its own little area. Becca and I have our little spot right next to the founder of Blueprint Registry Each of us get our own huge white board, stickies, markers, desks that have motors that raise them up so you can use them sitting or standing, and we are surrounded by 5 meeting rooms of different sizes.

But where do you live?

We have roomed with the amazingly talented co-founding sisters of just a few blocks north of TargetHQ. A walk from the apartment to HQ is about 10-12 minutes. 

So what happened the first week?

First, as you can imagine, there was a LOT of orientation. We got to meet all the other amazing founders, hear about their ideas, and eat a lot of catered food, which I hear will not continue going forward. =( We also had to give 3 versions of our elevator pitch to the class. Unfortunately for us, since we really didn't know what our focus was going to be for the program (and going forward), we didn't really have one prepared. So, I'd say I pretty much bombed it... in front of everyone.

But, this group is extremely supportive, so we made it a short brainstorming exercise. Everyone threw out ideas on how we could make it work. Then, Carlos, the CEO of INSPECTORIO, threw out an awesome idea, and from that, these elevator pitches were grown (I'm only sharing the 30 second for now):

In the future, when you walk into your favorite retailer, the entire staff will remember your name. They’ll ask you about your wedding or how your dog’s surgery went. 

 You’ll get a text message welcoming you with a link to play games and earn rewards. No more having to delete family photos to make space for a native app; it’ll all be driven off tech you already have.

 You won’t have to ask anyone questions because the furniture will have the answers. Some are accessible through clean, sexy, touch interfaces. Others, just simple LEDs that give you things like wait times.

 This high-touch experience won’t be limited to clients. Staff will use Internet-connected buttons to track in-store events that will be graphed to provide intelligence. Real-time systems will keep everyone up-to-date, connected, and engaged, and it’ll all run on their smartphones.

All these tools and more will empower retailers to customize the experience for you in the same way you’ve come to expect from online retailers.

This retailer of the future isn’t 10 years out, it isn’t 5 years out; it’s right now and it’s Spruce.

So, what's the plan then?

We ultimately had 2 directions we could go:

  1. Open our revolutionary platform and license it to other retailers
  2. Keep it proprietary and grow the brick-and-mortar

This was a really tough decision. It would decide the next few years of our lives. Every investor we had spoken with told us to either sell the shop to fund a software company or use the shop as a testing ground to prove out the software platform.

But, both Becca and I really love running the shop and think we can make it work. It's just really hard to do something when everyone around you is telling you it can't be done. But then, while in a workshop hosted by Alex Iskold, the managing director of TechstarsNYC, he said,

Just do whatever you want to do the most and if you change your mind down the road, Techstars will still be here.

It was that line that finally gave me the confidence to talk to Becca about growing the brick-and-mortar business. After a brief discussion, we agreed:

We are growing the brick-and-mortar

This decision almost brought me to tears. Even I didn't realize how heavily it was weighing on me. But, ultimately, we know that because it's what we most want to do, we're going to find a way to make it work.

What's next?

Well, to be honest, we still can't say. In the next 2 weeks, we're going to meeting over 150 mentors/investors in a session called Mentor Madness. We get 20 minutes to meet them all and decide if we're a match. It's kinda like mentor speed dating. The hope is that once we find our matches, we'll work with them to grow the organization into something that spans the continent (and eventually the world)!

Ok, that's all for now. I'm going to try and post once a week, so stay tuned for week 1 of Mentor Madness, coming up next.

Read Week 2 Here.

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  • This is awesome! Great to meet you today. Looking forward to the summer.

    Dan Wick
  • You guys are amazing and empowering.


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