Building the Foundation - Ink Trail
Sometimes going back in time doesn’t have to be a bad thing.
Long before I became involved with the Sacramento tech and startup scene, before there was even a startup scene in this town, I was building the foundation for my own venture. In 2010 I was in a different environment filled with tattoo guns and artists trying to gain more exposure and retain clientele. At the time Instagram had just launched and was not the thriving and successful app it is today. While sitting around the tattoo shop boosting ideas, I took a pen to paper and began writing down a concept for a new website. With limited knowledge and resources on how to build my own website I set a goal to launch within two years and began reaching out to people who I thought could help me take the next step.
Earlier that week I had a nice chat with Jan Mendoza, whom I considered to be my mentor in business. She got me back on track with this personal project of mine that I thought of while browsing Craigstlist. That conversation left me motivated to move forward.
With the help of a creative consultation session from my buddy Casey “InkdUp” Lewis, we devised a new approach. I’m telling ya, never underestimate the business mind of a tattooed individual.
From there it was time to get in touch with my good friend and talented graphic designer, Leeonna, to draw up the logo to begin the trademark process.
My approach may have been a bit out of sequence but I was determined to get something accomplished. I admit I was frustrated with being just an idea person and not having any coding experience to actually build out my site. I resorted to asking co-workers if they knew the type of database I’d need to create. Few had the knowledge at that time. Thus my project sat in limbo for three years.
Startup Weekend Sacramento
In 2013 I was given the opportunity to participate in an event at the Hacker Lab called Startup Weekend. At this point in time I began exploring local hackathons in my area but had yet to actually participate in one. For those who are unfamiliar with Startup Weekend, this is how it goes down. Participants are invited to pitch their business/startup ideas then form a team comprised of business developers, software developers and creatives. Over the course of 54 hours the team must create a minimum viable product (aka an MVP) as well as a five minute presentation for a panel of judges. During the event participants have a chance to meet mentors with specialties in business, marketing and tech who help guide them along the development journey. It is by far one of the most exhilarating events I have ever been a part of!
I went in on Friday night with limited knowledge of the event and how it functions. I have a background in public speaking and musical theatre so I sort of put those skills together to craft my 60 second pitch. My keys to success at that time were to smile, dress the part and have my data in order. After the first round of pitches and voting it was determined that my idea came out on top that night. The second round lasted 30 seconds and required us to pitch again but this time the goal was to recruit a team.
Already feeling pleased with my progress, by the end of that evening I managed to recruit participants whose day jobs were with Amazon, Intel, freelance business consulting services, a college student and a high school art student. By this time it was already late on Friday so we decided to exchange contact information and hit the ground running on Saturday morning.
The next day our meals were catered thanks to the volunteer organizers from Startup Weekend. My team and I claimed our space in Hacker Lab’s conference room upstairs and began working. This was my first experience working with a team who pushed every single part of my brain to its limits. While my software developer was hammering away at our MVP, two of my partners were drilling me on the importance of our mission statement and business development. I’m accustomed to working with numbers and such during my day job but due to time constraints this process forced me to think on my toes. There were times when mentors would pop in to check on us and it reached a point where I had to delegate and trust that my team understood my vision and could meet with mentors who would best assist with whatever stage of development we were focusing on at the moment. I quickly learned I couldn’t be everywhere and everything to everyone at the same time. Meanwhile, my other teammates took to the streets to gather pertinent information from area tattoo shops for the purposes of customer validation. These ladies were troopers! Neither had prior experience in this arena and I was in awe of the way they tackled this task. Once it rolled past 9 pm the entire team was exhausted. I’m certain there were times that I wasn’t eating and drinking enough to sustain my energy. At the end of the day we had pivoted at least twice, changed the name of the company, gathered data, and already had a working prototype. Still, it felt like there was so much more to be done.
Come Sunday, my team and I focused on polishing my presentation and the MVP. I made a foolish mistake and relied on my business development teammate to present the numbers and therefore didn’t focus much on that during my rehearsal. Bad move. At the last minute he was unable to participate due to technicalities. Having to revise my timing and incorporate his numerical data into my presentation I needed to figure out how to sell my vision, the data and showcase the MVP in five minutes. The pressure was on. One of the team members was hounding me about something and I flipped out. Leaving my team to do tech check, I drifted away from Hacker Lab and found myself reciting my lines in a parking lot somewhere in midtown. Keep in mind, there aren’t any cash prizes on the line. This was pure pressure I put on myself to do well. Since my idea finished on top after the initial pitches on Friday night, I had set an expectation for myself to at least place in the top 3 at the end of this event. Once I returned to the Hacker Lab for presentations I felt a bit more confident in what I was presenting. The things I was sure of: my team gave it their all, they did their due diligence with the time given, now it was up to me to present our hard work. I smiled as I prepared to address a full room. Seeing familiar faces reassured me that things were going to be okay. At the end of the presentation I introduced the team and we walked back to our positions off to the side of the space.
To my surprise, my team and I did not place in the top 3 of this Startup Weekend event. The judges did not understand the concept of my idea and some even questioned if I had tattoos of my own which in turn caused them to doubt my experience with the industry. Despite the fact that the tattoo industry generates billions of dollars a year, the judges also did not think our plan to earn revenue would be enough for us to sustain as a company. Needless to say there would be a lot of work ahead for me to make this idea a reality.
My takeaways from the event:
Sacramento, at that time, was very conservative. The judges did not understand the tattoo industry and the possibilities involved with breaking into a niche market.
It was suggested I take my pitch to someplace like San Francisco where they are a bit more open-minded.
It was also suggested that I should pitch at an all-female event.
Dress the part! The mistake I made on Sunday during final presentations is that I went business conservative. I hid all my tattoos! I failed to portray the type of clientele I wanted to reach.
Know all parts of your business presentation. Don’t make the mistake of relying on another partner to cover what you, the founder, should already know.
I saved thousands of dollars! You may or may not know that it takes a lot of capital to start a business. By choosing to participate in this event I saved myself thousands of dollars in development and business administration fees on an idea that potentially could not have worked. I would have learned that the hard way if I didn’t sign up for Startup Weekend.
Take care of your health. There were times when my legs went numb and I got light-headed because I didn’t walk around or take a break to eat and drink something. Founders/Startup Weekend participants are useless to their team if they are not healthy.
Do not be discouraged. Take the feedback from the judges and turn that into constructive criticism. Their comments may be harsh and feel defeating but it isn’t the end of the world.
Have fun. Relax and remember to enjoy the experience.
Although the weekend was an emotional rollercoaster, all in all, I had a blast participating! It accelerated the work I could have done several years prior but didn’t know where to start. Having access to mentors really provided the guidance I was looking for as well. After that weekend I learned more about myself as a business person and what role I wanted to play in future companies whether it was my own or someone else’s. Not everyone is cut out to be a founder or CEO.
Activity After the Event
Since that time, my life got caught up in a slew of other tech events around Sacramento. I took my experience as a participant and helped organize the next Startup Weekend event whose focus was on encouraging women to pitch their ideas. Then for the next four years I helped grow the Sacramento game development community. Sacramento Magazine mentioned my project in their February 2016 issue. You can read more here.
I hope to pick this back up in the next year or so as the idea has repeatedly been nagging at me. You know when you get that feeling, something must be brewing. I hope to reconnect with a few individuals who will help me catapult this into a viable business. I believe the need is still there and with the right team we can make this happen!
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