Behind the Founder: James Dickerson // FileFuse

Behind the Founder: James Dickerson // FileFuse

Often, startup stories focus more on the product and company than they do the people that made them possible. We at The Startup Collaborative have found that our mission statement to allow everyone an unbiased investment thesis to building their own tech-centric company allows us to step aside and let the entrepreneurs be center stage. The Behind the Founder campaign is meant to do just that —  let the stories of those who call themselves TSC Fellows be told from their own perspective.

What’s your name?

James Dickerson

Where are you from?

LIncoln, NE

How did your upbringing influence you today?

My parents always said if I wanted something, then I needed to earn the money and buy it myself. So at 8 years old I started my first business and instilled a great work ethic that I carry to this day.

Whether you’ve met them or not, who is one REAL person that has influenced you?

Garth Glissman was my high school basketball coach, and I’ve never met anyone who’s worked harder. He always taught us to keep our priority straight, and whatever we do always do our best.

Who is one FICTIONAL character that has inspired your life/career and why?

Richard Hendricks from the show Silicon Valley is a very relatable character as I love the accurate portrayal of always having to battle to learn new skills, conquer new challenges and constantly pivoting. It’s a grueling fight, and the show’s creators do a great job representing that roller coaster from being on top of the world to panic attacks and self doubt.

From a sketch on a napkin to officially starting up, what triggered the inception of your company?

Needing a solution straight up. I was working with a great friend of mine based out of Nashville, and a client in Omaha. A project that should have taken 6 weeks max took 6 months to finish. We enjoyed working together but it was so inefficient that there was no way we could survive dealing with projects that took so long. So I started searching for a solution, and didn’t come up with a solution so I decided to create one.

Within The Startup Collaborative, what level was the most challenging for you, your company and why?

Level 4 was the most challenging for me personally because I came into it with the wrong mentality. I tried to write user stories for a preconceived platform, where I should have created users stories and then built a platform to fit those needs. It may not sound like a big difference, but believe me, it make all the difference.

Within The Startup Collaborative, what level has been the most rewarding for you, your company and why?

Level 2 was the best, because I knew personally I had dealt with certain pain points and issues, and I thought others were in the same boat, but actually talking with other audio engineers and hearing that they too were struggling with these issues helped cement that there was something to this idea.

Presently, what does a typical day look like for you and your company?

Starts at 7 am, looking over daily tasks, and usually digging into some backend work. Then usually 3-4 phone calls and several meetings throughout the day. Currently just working on making as many connections as possible.

What’s next for you and your company?

I’m actively searching for a technical cofounder and am narrowing in on several candidates. Hopefully, in the near future, there will be a new team member and development on the platform will begin.

See? Everyone Can Startup!

Behind the Founder: Paska Juma // Jamila

Behind the Founder: Paska Juma // Jamila

Often, startup stories focus more on the product and company than they do the people that made them possible. We at The Startup Collaborative have found that our mission statement to allow everyone an unbiased investment thesis to building their own tech-centric company allows us to step aside and let the entrepreneurs be center stage. The Behind the Founder campaign is meant to do just that —  let the stories of those who call themselves TSC Fellows be told from their own perspective.

What’s your name?

Paska Juma

Where are you from?

South Sudanese American

How did your upbringing influence you today?

Growing up my family did not have much at a point there were about 11 people living in a 3 bedroom apartment. Ranging from young to old. I began taking care of my siblings at age 9 since my mother worked long hours sometimes days trying to meet ends meet while living in California. This made me grow up very quickly but also learn to be quick on my feet. This is where I believe my entrepreneurial drive came from being able to make something out of nothing where there the fridge was empty or not I would make sure me and my siblings had dinner that night.

Whether you’ve met them or not, who is one REAL person that has influenced you?

Buzzama Saint John she’s worked at top companies like Apple, Uber and now the CMO Of Endeavor. She embodies walking in your purpose while still never letting go of your culture. She is a fierce, eloquent, loving and unstoppable Black woman. Everything I aspire to be and more.

Who is one FICTIONAL character that has inspired your life/career and why?

My fictional character would be Storm from X-Men because she can affect the atmosphere around her. I want to be able to change the entire environment around me.

From a sketch on a napkin to officially starting up, what triggered the inception of your company?

Before forming Jamila I was frustrated with the assortment of Beauty products that my local stores had to offer. I always knew I would want to start a business it was a matter of which concept. I was highly knowledgeable in the area of cosmetics and hair care so I ran with it.

How did the founding team meet?

I knew all of the members of my current squad before [starting up]. After sharing my vision just to get some feedback they fell in love with the idea 💡 and asked to help out any way that they could.

Within The Startup Collaborative, what level was the most challenging for you, your company and why?

There has not been a tough level yet, lots of work but nothing challenging.

Within The Startup Collaborative, what level has been the most rewarding for you, your company and why?

Customer interviews were the most rewarding. This pushed me to really test my hypothesis and get around wonderful people.

Presently, what does a typical day look like for you and your company?

We typically strategize for upcoming projects or events like the one we just went to in New York Curl Fest. We are constantly looking for the best vendors and manufacturers. We are growing our social media influence especially Instagram and keeping each other accountable.

What’s next for you and your company?

We are hard at work creating our first product a deep conditioner that will cater to African American hair and building out our platform that will allow for us to distribute to areas across the world.

See? Everyone Can Startup!

Behind the Founder: Jean Douchey // My Game Day Collections

Behind the Founder: Jean Douchey // My Game Day Collections

Often, startup stories focus more on the product and company than they do the people that made them possible. We at The Startup Collaborative have found that our mission statement to allow everyone an unbiased investment thesis to building their own tech-centric company allows us to step aside and let the entrepreneurs be center stage. The Behind the Founder campaign is meant to do just that —  let the stories of those who call themselves TSC Fellows be told from their own perspective.

What’s your name?

Jean Douchey

Where are you from?

Omaha, NE

How did your upbringing influence you today?

My parents instilled in us the values of hard work, humility, and especially that you should give to others who have less.

Whether you’ve met them or not, who is one REAL person that has influenced you?

So many to choose – Winston Churchill (never give up), Abraham Lincoln (values), Coach John Wooden (ethics), and more recently, Brene Brown – be humble, courageous and stay in the ring even when it is tough

Who is one FICTIONAL character that has inspired your life/career and why?

I Love Lucy because she had spunk and was hilarious- and always pushing the limits

From a sketch on a napkin to officially starting up, what triggered the inception of your company?

My own frustrations with trying to find gameday apparel that was stylish, comfortable and made for women who wanted more than just a regular t-shirt.

How did the founding team meet?

Carly Frazee is my niece and she is always interested in finding solutions to problems in the community and we share the same values.

Within The Startup Collaborative, what level was the most challenging for you, your company and why?

Marketing – Level 10! Marketing is my weakness and it doesn’t come naturally like the “business/operations” part of the business

Within The Startup Collaborative, what level has been the most rewarding for you, your company and why?

Learning about the Lean Start Up methodology – pilot, pivot or pursue!

Presently, what does a typical day look like for you and your company?

Constantly juggling the little and big things for a startup, and planning what to do next such as review designs from our designer in Wales, discuss issues with production in Mexico, giving high schools and universities info so they can approve the use of their logos, website changes, and the list goes on.

What’s next for you and your company?

We launch in September so we really need to pursue SEO work, email marketing campaigns, and getting approval for logos! And then we will review success metrics to determine if we need to pivot or continue to pursue our current plans!

See? Everyone Can Startup!

Meet Breeze: A New LeverageRx Product that’s Modernizing Disability Insurance

Meet Breeze: A New LeverageRx Product that’s Modernizing Disability Insurance

The insurance industry isn’t exactly known for innovation. But insurtech startups are looking to disrupt the status quo and change the narrative, including here in Omaha. Meet Breeze, the first fully online, fully automated long term disability insurance product.   Launched earlier this month by Colin Nabity and Cody Leach (the founders of online financial marketplace LeverageRx), Breeze is the first disability insurance product to feature a 100% online application process. Breeze has also partnered with Lincoln-based Assurity Life Insurance Company and MunichRE to implement automated underwriting technology. The result is a superior user experience unlike any other in the disability insurance industry today:  

  • Incredibly quick. Get a disability insurance quote in seconds, and coverage in about 15 minutes. Not bad for a process that used to take four to six weeks.
  • Super convenient. No paperwork means you can submit your application, enter your payment info, and sign your policy documents anytime, anywhere.
  • Very affordable. Individual long term plans start at $9 per month. In other words, you can protect your paycheck for the price of a lunch break at the taco truck.

  Better yet, Breeze applicants do not have to worry about dealing with pushy salespeople or pesky medical exams — a promising sign for an industry that has long struggled with complicated underwriting practices and overall consumer trust. All things considered, this Omaha startup looks every bit the part of an insurtech movement that is well on its way to eliminating the age-old nuisances that plague insurance.

Just How Amazing is Breeze?

NailedIt // Operationalizing Nail Salons, A Market Virtually Untouched

NailedIt // Operationalizing Nail Salons, A Market Virtually Untouched

Ly Phan is a Founder that isn’t afraid to make big moves when it comes to starting up. Originally from Vietnam and studying at the University of Nebraska Omaha, Ly has an undeniable entrepreneurial spirit. Her recent first-place finish at the annual Maverick Business Plan Competition allowed her to take the next steps towards turning NailedIt into a reality. With an oversized check in-hand and a reinforced sense that the nail salon industry could benefit from what she was working on, Ly joined up at The Startup Collaborative.

While we love technology-based solutions for markets looking to be disrupted, there is no reason to build that solution out unless the market is telling you to. Ly found that the nail salon industry didn’t just want this solution – they desperately needed it.

On the salon side, managing nail technicians without centralized management was inefficient due to multiple systems required. Managing appointments, payments, and notifications across multiple systems was tedious and archaic. The lack of communication protocols internally created lag for both employees and customers, but integrating new technology and the training processes towards how to use it efficiently aren’t always possible.

For the customer, when you get the perfect manicure with no wait time and a relaxing experience… it’s worth its weight in gold. Repeating that was the challenge.

NailedIt’s solution? A mobile & web app allowing salon owners to manage multiple systems from a centralized app, making remote management and a professional appearance available at a low-cost entry point. For the customers, the app provides transparency towards the entire salon-going experience. The opportunity to pre-book with your previous technician helps to build a relationship that is not unlike that of a typical hair salon.

Ly had customer validation, a strong messaging grid based on where the market was currently at, but needed to find a partner to bring this solution to life. Her partnership with Will Ford, CEO and Founder of G13 Studios, has poised NailedIt’s founding team to efficiently move toward their future with fantastic role coverage. The NailedIt team continues to impress with their quick acceleration through our investment-thesis, but it’s their dedication to providing the right technology for all involved that promises to bring a solution to an industry looking to evolve.

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?