Why Rookie Founders Should Enter Business Plan and Developer Competitions
I got the good news this week that I won the SlideShare Credit Crisis Competition which I entered last month with a few of my coworkers. We are now the proud new owners of a brand new iPod Touch, which we are going to use to test some of our company’s cool mobile applications.
While this victory was more of an amusement than anything else, the $300,000 me and my company won from Google a couple months ago was anything but trivial, and doing contests has been one of the best decisions I’ve made as a rookie startup CEO. If you are like I was (clueless, poor, and no track record), do it. Win or lose, and regardless of any potential monetary prize, a contest could be what gets your startup off the ground.
I started my company in 2007; I was clueless and had a crappy team. I outsourced to India and failed. I spun my wheels for the good part of a year.
At an event mixer, I met Dilpreet, a software engineer turned Haas MBA student, who started helping me with the competition. I also met Jesse Gibbs who helped us with our marketing.
After about 2 weeks, Dilpreet decided he was more useful as a tech guy than as an MBA, and we started work on an entry for the Android Developer Challenge.
Because Android was a hot new thing, and also because I now had a seasoned engineer with 10 years of experience onboard, I was also able to find 2 awesome mobile coders (Phuong and Luis) to work for free.
Somewhere around this time Berkeley let us into their startup incubator. Who knows if it would have happened if I hadn’t gotten a better team together?
We made it to the finals of both business plan competitions, and even though we didn’t win the top prize we got awesome feedback and used it to completely change the main thrust of the company. We even changed our name from LReady into Life360.
Dilpreet got excited enough to quit his cushy six figure day-job and hopped on full-time as my belated cofounder.
Shortly thereafter, we made it to the finals of the Android Challenge and got a $25K grant. This also got us some mentions in big tech blogs like TechCrunch. We used this buzz to get more really good people to work for us for free.
Around that time we applied to O’Reilly AlphaTech Ventures Startup Camp. OATV is small, and one of the partners, Mark Jacobsen had also judged us at the bplan competitions. I’m sure meeting Mark before helped a lot (he saw our pitch, whereas everyone else only had a summary).
A bit later we won $275,000 from Google for getting a first prize in the Android competition. Now all of a sudden we had validation and proof of execution. Finally…a track record!
We followed up with Dave, and he invited us to Startup2Startup. We met some superstars there and it was cool that some of them had actually heard of us. We also found a great coder who hopped onboard to manage our developer API.
We also saw this blogpost on Dave’s site publicizing the Credit Crisis contest. And that’s how we won our iPod.