Our team spends the vast majority of our time working on apps for our clients. We help them refine their ideas and then design and develop the best ideas. Every now and then, though, we get the chance to work on our own idea.
Wires is one of those opportunities. We believe Wires is going to revolutionize the way people express and explore their app ideas by making it simple and natural for people to communicate the vision they have for their app. We’re starting by developing it for iOS, and then we will be expanding features to a desktop version for professional use by teams like ourselves. We’ve even set it up as its own company, separate from MotionMobs, so it can flourish as a startup should.
On Friday, Robert and I pitched Wires to a panel of five judges in the final round of Alabama Launchpad startup competition. Alabama Launchpad has been a four-month process with lots of learning and refining along the way. We have no doubts that we’ve strategized a far better business plan for Wires than we would have achieved in four months on our own.
We know our experience could help many others going through the same process of building a startup, so here are our biggest takeaways from the journey.
Lesson 1: Your biggest competitors may not be obvious.
It wasn’t until we had completed the first public pitch in January that we realized who we should be considering competitors. In truth, your startup or your app should be solving a problem faced by many people. Those people must be currently solving the problem in some roundabout way, and you need to know how they’re doing it. In the case of Wires, we needed to be looking at the apps that people were using to jot down an app idea, even though the apps weren’t made for that. We had mistakenly been thinking the mobile version of Wires was going to make wireframes on mobile and have to take on Balsamiq, when in reality, we were making an Evernote-style niche product for note taking. Our desktop version is where the more detailed tools will exist.
Lesson 2: Listen to all feedback, but don’t just blindly implement all feedback.
One of the best parts of Alabama Launchpad was the countless rounds of feedback we got from judges and mentors on our business plan and pitch. Many respected business leaders in Birmingham were willing to listen to our ideas and help us make them better. It happened more than once, though, that we would receive two pieces of feedback that completely contradicted each other. In those cases, it’s important to look at the part of the plan or pitch that is receiving the feedback and recognize that it must need improvement. Also know that you won’t agree with every piece of feedback – and that’s okay. Take it in the moment and say thank you.
Lesson 3: Be thankful for the tough questions.
It’s not enjoyable when a mentor or a judge stumps you with a seemingly-impossible question about your product or your business. It’s tempting to wave it off as a silly question that no one else will ever ask, but honestly, if one person asked, a second person will ask, too. You must figure out how to answer every single question posed to you. They’re all priceless indicators about what parts of your pitch are unclear or on shaky ground. Learn how to think on your feet so you can answer anything.
Lesson 4: It’s all about communication.
We actually finished the competition with the exact same product we started with, but we massively changed the way we described it. To give you an idea, we began by explaining Wires as low-fidelity wireframes created on your iPhone as a business-to-consumer (B2C) product and a desktop collaboration app for making low-fidelity wireframes as a second product, targeted at businesses (B2B). That was a flop. No one bought into it because we couldn’t clearly divide app ideas into B2C and B2B ideas. Ideas don’t fit those categories. By the time we finished Launchpad, we had one product with three tiers for easy access for a wide variety of users: free on mobile for casual innovators, $4.99 on mobile for serious innovators, and $5 per user per month on desktop for creative teams. It was a huge improvement over our previous model, and the judges even told us it was.
Lesson 5: Take a break.
Some of the biggest revisions of how we presented Wires and the business plan to support it happened after we had stepped away from it for a little while. When you get in so deep in trying to launch a startup that you forget to come up for air, your business suffers. Clear your head, and come back to look at things with a fresh perspective. I don’t mean 15 minutes. We actually shifted gears entirely back to client work for a couple weeks. If you have the luxury of putting your startup on hold for a brief stretch like that, do it. You’ll return energized and excited.
Lesson 6: Don’t stop looking to the future.
While all five finalists received funding, no one was funded 100 percent. That means that everyone still has line items in their budgets that don’t yet have funding. No single pitch competition or accelerator will be the answer to all of your startup needs. While we were competing in Launchpad, we were actively applying to other pitch competitions to continue seeking equity-free prizes as well as investors. Before knowing the outcome of Launchpad, we had already been accepted to pitch at DIG SOUTH’s Wild Pitch: Accelerators on May 1. We also were applying to 36|86’s regional pitch event in Atlanta. Keep your head up and look down the road. You’ll always need to have your next steps ready.
Lesson 7: Have fun.
Okay, you probably already knew this one, but seriously, have a blast chasing your dreams. You’re launching a startup because you’re passionate about it, right? You’ll never succeed with a startup that you don’t care about. If you love it and believe in it, it will show. That helps build your credibility. Giving our pitch on Friday was such an adrenaline rush for me. I was nervous, but I was having fun. At the end of the day, regardless of how much capital you’ve raised or how many users you’ve secured, it’s the love you have for your startup that will make you show up for work the next day.
Go for it, make t shirts. They’re startup-y.