Tell us about your business/concept.
Aaron: The idea that we came into the INKUBATOR with was based on localized marketplaces, specifically like Craigslist or Facebook Marketplace, that are just super sketchy. The idea was that there’s a lot of people who weren’t using these marketplaces for many reasons, the biggest being safety: people didn’t want to meet sketchy strangers and that sort of thing. Then there’s transportation needs, scheduling conflicts; everyone’s used to having things come to them these days, we’re just blessed with that opportunity. But that was the idea, you don’t have to have these scheduling conflicts, or that you don’t want to meet in a place you don’t know. So we came into this with the idea of making our own marketplace but the twist was we offered crowdsourced delivery, which sort of follows the Uber model: you can actually opt to have someone deliver it to you from point A to point B and you never have to meet the person, the money’s all exchanged online through secure services like Paypal, so there’s a lot less risk of getting burnt, which happens a lot in these marketplaces. That actually happened to you, Austin, with that Nintendo Switch.
Austin: I bought a Nintendo Switch on LetGo because I thought I was going to find a good deal and I met up with the dude and he said, “yeah it’s fine, you don’t need to test it”, and I trusted him because I assumed he’d be a decent human being, but I took it home and both of the controllers were broken on it. I tried contacting him and saying, “hey, I thought we had a deal, you’re being dishonest” and he ghosted me. Luckily it was still under warranty and I could send it to Nintendo to get it replaced, but stuff like way worse happens all the time-- there’s no sense of legitimacy between the buyers and sellers and they can’t be held accountable afterward. So that’s what we liked about this idea of having these profiles where people could leave reviews, all of their transactions are transparent, and you can’t take advantage of people.
Aaron: Much like Austin assumed this person would be as good-hearted as he is, we came into the INKUBATOR with the assumptions that this was a stellar business idea.
What attracted you to the INKUBATOR? Why is it a good fit for you/your idea?
Aaron: There were the not-so-subtle plugs in all of our classes: Zac weasels his way into every class, and when Rodney [D’Souza] was here in his classes we did a sort of light version of it, just testing the assumptions we were making and going through that process of going back to the drawing board after we test our assumptions. It naturally made its way to now having this business idea that we worked on a little bit and we said, “hey, we’ve been hearing about this INKUBATOR and if for nothing else it’d be a good experience and it would get us together over the summer to get us to work on it and not just go to Coney Island or whatever people doing during the summer.”
Austin: And in addition, when Aaron and I were talking about what we wanted to do the thing we were the most attracted to was the opportunity for networking. Zac lines up an incredible lineup of all these entrepreneurs in the city; we were able to meet Dave Willbrand and other people who have so many connections, such as the OCEAN accelerator, and if anything it’s just a great way for them to get to know your face and that you’re active in entrepreneurship in Cincinnati. Then for future ventures, you have a much larger network.
Aaron: Cincinnati is kind of unique in that regard because we have the advantage of being a close-knit startup community of people who absolutely should not be helping us out but who give us all the time of day that we need. It’s great. The INKUBATOR was huge in getting us into those networks and showing us the resources we have, which we might not have found without INKUBATOR. That was a huge attraction for us.
How did the INKUBATOR help you bring your idea to life?
Aaron: Big time the connections. I think even if there was nothing to it but just cold handshakes with people, even the people we met on Demo Day, that one interaction is enough to springboard into all sorts of different things. The connections are definitely huge, and also just the mentorship from Zac and Rodney and Jeff, being able to bounce ideas off of them was really helpful.
Austin: I would also say the structure of it: because it’s in your free time and it’s not a class you’re getting credit for, you take a lot more ownership over the work you’re doing. Zac gave us assignments that we really took upon ourselves, especially when it came to validating our idea and seeing if there is an actual market fit. We would set up Craigslist ads and see if we could actually do a fake prototype of this and because it was in our own free time we realized how much more difficult that is, and it’s something that we’re still exploring now but it really forced us to think of this in a practical application and not just on a piece of paper.
What is the most important lesson you learned during this process?
Aaron: I would say the most important thing that I learned was to test every assumption that you make because we like to take things we think we know for granted. One example I like to use is the idea that old ladies would hate to use Craigslist because they wouldn’t want to go meet people, but no, it turns out old ladies are the ones using Craigslist because they’re flipping things from auctions; we had this assumption of “we’re going to target old ladies”, but they’re totally fine right now. Basically, you can take nothing for granted, you have to go and actually test what you think you know. Every single time we went out and tested something it turned into a pivot of some kind. That’s absolutely huge in defining a solid business in a startup, sort of working backward, testing everything as you go. It really solidifies a solid business.
Austin: I think I align with that 100%, another way to say that is you want to force yourself to fail as soon as possible, especially when we are talking about funding. There’s no reason to put fuel in your tank, in an analogy where you’re flying to the moon, if you’re not even aimed at the moon properly. You force yourself to fail to find the proper trajectory before investing more time and resources.
Aaron: They even warned us in the first day, “if you’re super married to the idea you have right now, you probably won’t last”. That idea in the first couple weeks won’t last, unless you’re super lucky. I think every single person pivoted at some point.
How has the INKUBATOR changed your outlook on entrepreneurship?
Aaron: It was a complete 180: you have the idea that you make a super cool business idea and then you ask some people, “hey, do you think this is a cool idea?”, but it’s almost the total opposite of that. It’s testing things and then making sense of it instead of trying to build a castle out of randomness, you have to find what pieces fit. It increased my appreciation of the process much more and made it sort of click for me.
Austin: It’s very backward from how Aaron and I typically approach things as engineers. We just try to find the coolest fix right away without actually identifying if that’s a problem. This has forced us to turn around and see if there’s an actual problem that exists for consumers and what their problems and needs are and if they’re willing to pay for it. We need to validate that before we even present our idea, which is really difficult. We’re really antsy and we love showing everyone what we have, but it forces us to look at it backward. In general, you view everything as a hypothesis; everything is temporary and it’s all up to change and it’s never solidified. Even if it’s a successful business it could change at any time.
Aaron: If this could help to paint a before and after picture, our first week in Rodney’s class we got a problem and then had a whole app planned, the design and its features and functions and the way it’s going to make money and they had to pull the reins hard on us like, “woah, slow down, where did you come up with all of this, why are you making a solution you know nothing about?”.
Austin: It was the problem we knew nothing about.
Aaron: We literally reversed that problem [with INKUBATOR], we don’t define a solution before we define a problem. It’s completely turned our way of thinking around and it was a necessary change for the both of us.
How has INKUBATOR impacted your life?
Austin: It’s opened up so many connections into the entrepreneurial world, and I think because we’ve been able to interact with so many other passionate people in an area outside of school it allows us to be more invested and open to more opportunities, like going to business pitches and going to events that our professors are talking about because we’ve seen the value it provides.
Aaron: It’s that step from being a hypothesis to being something that’s real and getting out there and getting to have a face in the entrepreneurship community in Cincinnati. I know we could walk into Centrifuse right now and be like “hey what’s up” and they’d ask how we’re doing and show us around. It definitely took everything to the next step and made everything real. It launched us from the idea phase into actually doing stuff.Austin: Like what Aaron said about being recognized by people you’ve networked with, that itself is a life lesson to take out of this, when you’re meeting new people you have to make a resounding impression right away and just connect with them on a genuine level, not even trying to sell them on anything, because once you’ve sold your friendship with them they’ll be willing to help you with anything down the road, even if it’s a totally different business.