Why you’re okay if you don’t fit the profile

Incubators have a dirty little secret: they’re not for everybody. When Paul Graham developed the incubator model he was laser-focused on companies with the potential to scale to billion-dollar valuations, fast. This, Graham saw, was the only way to attract big venture capitalist (VC) investments to seed-stage companies. Are companies that don’t meet this criteria crap? Yes, according to Graham’s criteria. And these criteria exclude 99 per cent of companies.

But the world is changing for the better. Startups and investors are able to interact in ways that never could have existed before thanks to new social media tools. That’s great news for the 99 per cent club. There’s an opportunity for you to be a part of that change, which I’ll outline at the end of this post.

To understand why it’s important, let’s look at David Blackmore’s experience starting Tootyr.

Pronounced “tutor” – Tootyr is a marketplace for tutoring services. The idea germinated between 2009 and 2012 when Blackmore led a federal research project to develop new models of service delivery to address NEETs, people not in employment, education or training. After working with 500 participants for three years, Blackmore realized there was no turning back the changes going on in education and the workplace. He thought there might be way to solve this problem.

Instead of the “get ‘em in, get ‘em up, get ‘em out” frenzy of incubators, Blackmore says he took his time and plodded along. Through Meetup he found a huge array of founder networks, and chose Startup Grind Toronto. There, Blackmore met some founders and learned from them.

Members of the community encouraged Blackmore to test his idea. “I remember convincing Dave to get up and talk about his idea at a practice-your-pitch social,” says Michael Cayley, who was director of Startup Grind Toronto at the time. “Dave got some pretty positive feedback.”

Step off the treadmill.
Step off the treadmill.

Once again, Blackmore departed from the incubator playbook. Blackmore “should” have recruited a hacker and a designer to crank out an MVP in 90 days. Instead, over the next several years Blackmore pieced his MVP together from off-the-shelf plugins, launched a modest website and waited to see what would happen. Rather than deploy to all tutoring markets at once, Blackmore focused on a single market, music. He knew that market because in the 1990s he ran a successful private music school. Promotion is a mix of word of mouth and intensive social media.

Despite these failures to follow the playbook, the website has attracted over 10,000 subscribers to date.

Encouraged by these successes, Blackmore is ramping up the team and scaling up the range of markets served. Blackmore has already raised capital earlier on in the development of Tootyr and is getting ready for another round.

For this round Blackmore is grabbing expertise from the global community to complement the local ecosystem of advisors. Blackmore is using a web-based tool developed by Cdling Capital Services to recruit advisors from as far afield as Calgary and Tampa. One of the advisors, Joy Randall, has raised over 200 million dollars for startups. Randall was on the executive team through two IPOs, and has a lot of experience both as an angel and as an intermediary between startups and angels.

This is exciting stuff. It gives local founders a diversity and depth of experience and perspective at the earliest stages, when it has the biggest positive impact.

Think you could help? Click this link to become part of the advisory group.

Next Tuesday there’s an opportunity to sit in on a live demonstration of Tootyr – for details click this link.

Geoff Foulds
Geoff Foulds
What fascinates me are the edges. And nowhere are the edges edgier… the stakes higher… than startups. There are plenty of sources of friction, compression and tension among founders and financiers, engineers and marketeers. How do you mesh all the edges so they transmit power even when loads are heavy? That’s what I write about.

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