Closeness to Customer // Part Two: Eliminating Zombies

Closeness to Customer // Part Two: Eliminating Zombies

This article first appeared in Silicon Prairie News in 2017.


It astounds me when a want-to-be entrepreneur spends the better portion of a meeting talking about their solution. When asked, “Who is your buyer?” they stumble and fumble through the response.

Shouldn’t this be one of the easiest questions asked of entrepreneurs?

Shouldn’t we understand the person, organization, pain point we’re selling to inside and out?

And, shouldn’t we be able to name more than one person or company?


Last fall, we took a step back, assessed the ecosystem’s true strength and sustainability of startups, ultimately determining a merger of support organizations was necessary. At the time, and in large part still today, the No. 1 problem we saw and continue to see is the lack of product-market fit. This issue has resulted in zombie companies that have hung on for years — literally years! — with small gains, if any, in user growth, customer revenue and other signs of life.

We have to solve this as an ecosystem.


Name Your Buyer

To combat this lack of customer targeting and segmentation, we included a critical outcome as part of our application phase: List 20 potential customers to validate your concept against.

Think of it as a starting point for what will become your CRM later. Think of it as lead development and sales nurturing. Think of it as de-risking your venture. This list – complete with names, titles, email addresses and phone numbers – is one of the most foundational elements of any newly hatched venture.

As an ecosystem, we urge everyone to start with two questions: What problem are you solving and who are your first 20 customer targets? Please, challenge aspiring entrepreneurs to think with their buyers/users/customers in mind first.


Scrutinize Your List, Mentors are not Scalable Customers

The list is complete. You have a much better idea of who will help you validate or invalidate the concept you’re pursuing. Before you press send on that email asking for a customer discovery interview, make sure everyone on your list actually fits your segment.

More often than not, entrepreneurs try to bulk their list with mentors or “smart people.” The reality is, especially in the concept phase, mentors don’t provide much value in validation unless they are also in your target customer segment. If everyone on your list matches with your defined customer segments, congratulations. If not, be ready to defend why those outliers are not within the defined segments.


This post is one of a three-part series on The Startup Collaborative’s strongly held first principle of closeness to customers.

Closeness to Customer // Part One: Innovation vs. Entrepreneurship

Closeness to Customer // Part One: Innovation vs. Entrepreneurship

Kyle Tut and Matt Ober of Pinata are incredibly close to their customer segment. Pinata, an IPFS API and toolkit, targets a niche customer with high data consumption and storage needs. This intense targeting of the customer will ultimately help the team take on major competitors in the market. They’ve celebration triple-digit user growth monthly since January. They are a rare example of innovation meeting entrepreneurship.


We are often asked, “what is the best predictor of success for an entrepreneur in The Startup Collaborative?”

We hear dozens of incredible innovators monthly who scheme and dream about what they can create. Yet only a rare few take that innovative idea and turn it into a viable company.

We have identified one data point that has proven predictive of future success: the ability to identify 20 potential customers.

That single outcome in our application phase eliminates 75 percent of the innovators we meet from the process. And it’s no surprise.


According to Jim Clifton, there’s a distinction between innovation and entrepreneurship.

He says, that a big mistake that leaders and well-meaning institutions make is they think innovation is the answer to everything. When in reality, innovation has no economic value until an entrepreneur commercializes it and creates a business model around it.

Simply put, Clifton says “Innovation has no value until a customer appears.”


We couldn’t agree more.


This post is one of a three-part series on The Startup Collaborative’s strongly held first principle of closeness to customers.

Find Your Customer

CHANT // Combining Fashion with Environmental Consciousness

CHANT // Combining Fashion with Environmental Consciousness

When you’ve worked as hard as entrepreneur Abby Gross, hitting the “Go Live” button on a website isn’t enough when you launch your company. On June 8, Abby will be throwing a live launch event surrounding her new company CHANT.

With higher restrictions on bags and purses for stadiums and concert venues, CHANT has successfully created a solution that follows event guidelines with more environmentally-friendly materials. Utilizing a material called TPU (Thermoplastic Polyurethane) Abby has found a way to reduce the environmental hazards of clear plastics that are unable to biodegrade like PVC (Poly Vinyl Chloride).

The co-star of the CHANT brand is the fashion-forward aesthetic of each bag, influenced by Abby’s experience in the fashion industry. Available via her website, launch event in Lincoln, and subsequent pop-ups that will be announced throughout 2019, thousands of concert-goers and sports fans will now have an arena approved bag that follows security guidelines, positively impacts the environment, and looks damn good doing it.

Batch Tracker // A Food Manufacturer’s CYA

Batch Tracker // A Food Manufacturer’s CYA

As end consumers, we are generally unaware of the care and concern that goes into making the food products we love. We just expect that food brands make great food, with quality ingredients that we’ll enjoy. It rarely crosses our minds that something could have gone wrong with the ingredients.

While it isn’t top of mind for us, it is front and center for food manufacturers and brands. So much so that many of the top food brands – General Mills, Kraft-Heinz, Pepsico, and Conagra – require the manufacturers they work with to track every ingredient’s origin in every batch. This ensures that whatever happened between the field and a shopping cart, is accounted for.

This requirement, which is very clear in everyone’s best interest, places a difficult burden on small manufacturers. Right now, many small manufacturers use a paper-heavy, very manual process to track all the ingredients and batches. Unfortunately, it exposes everyone to risk.

Gordon Summers and Nathan Watson saw this challenge and recognized a solution that reduces everyone’s risk.

Their creation, Inventory Batch Tracker (IBT),  is a mobile-friendly web application designed to easily track the processing of ingredients into finished goods and quickly produce traceability reports if needed.  It’s akin to an insurance policy for each small manufacturer and their partners.

Inventory Batch Tracker has been a quick mover within The Startup Collaborative. Launched earlier this year, IBT has had multiple early collaborators including food manufacturing, coffee roasting, hemp/CBD oil production, and pet food.

Nathan Watson, Co-Founder is proud of their solution. “We are excited to have something to help those small to medium-sized manufacturers that can’t otherwise afford the cost prohibitive solutions currently on the market. We feel we have exceptional role coverage and are poised for success.”


Have an Industry-Specific Problem Like This?

Space Worthy // Simplifying the Declutter Process

Space Worthy // Simplifying the Declutter Process

Our society is in a unique shift now when it comes to our belongings. Gone are the days of retaining something for the slightest of sentimental reasons. A trend that the team at Space Worthy has seen is that current and future generations are looking to simplify their lives and the belongings that surround them. Their streamlined process of “toss, donate or keep” is meant to declutter the process of decluttering.

Passing down heirlooms and the stories of why these items should have any significance are often lost during the transition. Space Worthy has created a service that puts an emphasis on keeping the items that family members find valuable while documenting the stories behind them.

The most exciting part? You can start using Space Worthy TODAY. Their beta is live and looking for early users!

It’s time we stop looking at these items as “stuff” or “junk” and start to uncover the importance and reasoning behind keeping them. Rather than finding corners of our homes and lives to tuck these heirlooms away, we should celebrate what is truly worth space with Space Worthy.

Looking to Simplify & Declutter?

Loophire // Reshaping the Hiring Process

Loophire // Reshaping the Hiring Process

In our current culture, it’s common for job-seekers to be expected on various job portal platforms. Through overwhelming customer validation and with an impressive BP 10 Builder Score, Chris Jones has found a way to change the way employees are able to present themselves online and communicate with potential employers.

Jones’s company Loophire, a grant recipient through our FinTech Fellow Initiative, is putting more control back into the hands of job seekers and changing the way we go about the more archaic routine of sending out dozens of resumes and simply waiting to hear back from employers. Through the Loophire online platform, users are able to create video cover letters, emphasize the years of experience rather than their own self-assessments and even integrate a personality matching process to ideal careers and companies. Once these personalized profiles are set up, the next step is to elevate the immediacy of communication between those who are hiring and the job seeker that has matched with them and shows an interest in joining their company.

So when can you expect to utilize this revolutionary platform? Loophire’s beta is expected to be released to a limited number of users and hiring professionals later this month, but we expect to be hearing some exciting updates from Loophire about an official launch early-to-mid summer.

The Real Risk is Not to Start Up.

Job Share Connect // Sometimes the Right Person is Two People

Job Share Connect // Sometimes the Right Person is Two People

The business world is seeing a unique cultural shift at the moment. The ability for employees to work what is deemed “non-traditional” hours is slowly becoming the norm, and most companies are incentivizing this ideal for the workforce. Being able to work remotely or with a more flexible schedule is showing massive improvements for productivity and overall job satisfaction.

One solution that many employers are utilizing? Job sharing! Being able to split a position with a partner allows each employee to have more options and flexibility when it comes to their lives. It also gives older employees an option to transition into retirement, while training their replacement. The ability to retain information and pass skills onto a successor has never been more attainable. 

Jina Picarella and Jessica Charlsen, co-founders of Job Share Connect, have built a platform utilizing their shared wealth of knowledge and immense customer validation, making job sharing a reality for our communities. Through Job Share Connect, employees are able to be matched with potential job share partners, and employers can follow-through with a comprehensive onboarding and coaching process.

With Job Share Connect, the power to take ownership of your professional and personal life is now back in your hands.

Interested in Job Sharing?

Certified Cell // Triggers Funding in Record Time

Certified Cell // Triggers Funding in Record Time

Congratulations to Certified Cell, led by Jason DeWater and Joshua Hample, on their rapid growth.

The team has set a new record, triggering TSC’s funding in less than 180 days since they started customer discovery in LEVEL 1. They launched their beta platform shortly before March and have already sold more than 100 devices.

Our preseed funding thesis is intentionally black-and-white. One fellow calls it “the defined path to investment dollars.” If a fellow meets certain growth thresholds, well defined in our methodology, they earn the capital.

Learn more about Certified Cell here

We’d be remiss if we didn’t express how thankful for Chris, Dan and Betsy Murphy’s investment into our initial preseed fund: the Murphy Vision Funds, in partnership with First Westroads. The Murphys are truly visionary impact investors making smarter bets in Nebraska startups.

Find Your Certified Used Phone Today

Scribe // Helping Users to be More Thoughtful

Scribe // Helping Users to be More Thoughtful

This Mother’s Day, you have no excuse to forget to send a card. Scribe, the tool that ensures you never miss an important occasion to show you care, was built by Ross Harding and Jesse Harding.


Scribe was inspired by their sister Natalie and their father Dave, who are now the official Scribe customer archetypes. This delightful direct-to-consumer brand allows you (whether you’re an ultra thoughtful Natalie or an ‘I can’t forget again,” Dave) to first select 3-5 people most important to you. From there, you add their important occasions like birthdays, Mother’s day, anniversaries or the like.


Voila! Scribe does the hard work for you. They’ll send you reminders and prompts to pick out the perfect card. Once you’ve done that, they mail the card to you so you can take it all across the finish line. Heck, they’ll even stamp and address it for you. All you need to do is write a little diddy and place it in the mailbox again.


Did we mention the cards are incredible? They’re all designed by local or independent artists. And, true to Harding brother form, Scribe cards tell the artist’s story inside each card making each brand interaction feel so personal and … well, fun!


End-to-end, the experience feels more like you’ve been delivered a witty and clever art gallery, that you happen to mail to your mom after you’re done.

To Join the Scribe Beta

Dream Catcher // Succession Planning at All Organizational Levels

Dream Catcher // Succession Planning at All Organizational Levels


Succession planning is one of the most painful processes for business owners and leaders. It has a powerful domino effect when done well but when ignored, which it often is, it can be paralyzing for a business.


Most leaders assume succession planning is regulated to the C-suite. It’s a dangerous assumption to make, especially when an organization loses a critical teammate or legacy employee. Process documentation becomes the least of an executive’s worries at that point. Restaffing and retraining are expensive and time-consuming.


The truth is that succession planning is a challenge that faces all levels of an organization. Dream Catcher helps business owners and executives increase capacity amongst their talent in order to transition (or propel)  the business through its various phases from startup to succession planning.


Founded by QLI exec Tinashe “Nash” Mahupete, Dream Catcher’s leadership coaching program helps close gaps in team members who better understand how to attain goals that match their aspirations as well as your company’s KPIs.


He’s working on the wireframes now and looking forward to launching later this year.

Want to Stay Updated on Dream Catcher?