Sometimes everything just falls into place. We have been talking about entrepreneurship for most of our case, but today I finally started to understand it. Blake Dube is a brilliant individual and the CEO of his own startup, Aeronic. He told the story of how he failed to get an internship after his sophomore year and decided to do research with one of the professors. Through this experience he worked with gas storage, among other things, and applied it to an area that he had personal connections with. He worked with some other students and the professor to develop an idea and brand to create oxygen takes that are significantly smaller than the current options. They have a medical version and decided to create a consumer non-prescribed version under the name Everyday Air. What I immediately picked up on was the difference in marketing between the two products. He explained the various reasons for this and stated that the two products must be treated almost as two completely different companies. Through his explanation of the marketing they are doing with Everyday Air, and also our discussion on the failed GaGa brand earlier this morning, I have confirmed that it is a fascinating field to me. I find Blake to be an inspiration because the idea he came up with is absolutely genius and is so helpful to the people who need it and because he has been very successful so far in creating the business despite possessing an engineering degree.
The opportunities for a college student with an idea are remarkable. There are many challenges, competitions, resources, and advisors that are only available while you are still paying tuition. Blake explained that he let his GPA fall somewhat to pursue the startup while they were still on the table. After all, “now is the time to fail.” The Aeronic team participated in the Randall Family Big Idea Competition and won the grand prize of twenty-five thousand dollars with which they could work on prototypes. It was the first outside validation they had received for the idea. After many other competitions and programs known as accelerators, one of which took the team to New York to learn how to be a business, it came time for Blake to graduate. Despite having a job offer on the table, he decided that he would give himself to Aeronic and Everyday Air. After all, “now is the time to fail.”
I don’t think he will though. I think Aeronic is a success story in the making.
This afternoon was the first big event. Each of us made a product and had to pitch it to our classmates. Blake took some time to give us advice on how to give a pitch. This was huge, because he was the pitch-giver for his startup and had more experience than all of us combined. One of the first points he advised was to have sparse slides as the presenter should be the one doing the talking. I appreciated this, as my presentations throughout high school were oft times barren compared to my peers. His biggest advice was that a pitch is all about the story. He said that it was important not to be married to your script and that you should be able to adapt on the fly, but that you should also be prepared to field anything.
I decided to take this principle to heart.
The earliest stages of planning all centered on finding an idea to pitch to the others. My initial concept was a form of digital time capsule or lockbox, followed shortly by the concept of a photography destination app. I was not particularly happy with either of these ideas, so I decided to spend a few more days thinking. Eventually, though, I realized that not only did the photo app keep resurfacing in my mind, it was becoming more defined. This sudden recognition convinced me to dedicate myself to planning out ViewFinder. This morning I was filled with a sense that I was massively underprepared. I was constantly editing my script and my slides to make them convey a message I could not begin to formulate in my head, much less in my hands. After Blake’s lesson, we all went to lunch and made our final preparations. I kept replaying the advice, “don’t be married to your script” in my head as I looked at the words that felt empty. Much like in the idea phase, I closed my eyes and thought about what to do and the app took distinction. I realized that the preparation I was doing was like the clever facts Blake had told us about, “Tell a friend and throw it away.” I knew my product and I knew my script was not my product, so I made the decision to delete it and prepare myself to answer the questions I knew would be asked.
I like to think that I am a good public speaker. There are times that it feels like I can just flip a switch in my head and turn into a different person as I walk up in front of people. When my turn came to present, I donned my sports coat and closed my eyes for half a second. When they reopened, I was ready to go. With a sparse PowerPoint and no script, I was able to convey everything that I needed to. The questions were largely what I had predicted, so answering them went smoother than I would have thought possible this morning. When the time came to vote on the pitches to see which would move to the next round, I split my votes between Jess and Micah, who both had great products that greatly improved on the current equivalents. However, I had garnered enough support from my classmates for ViewFinder to make it into the top three. The story hit its mark.
My concept came from my developing passion for photography. It is designed in a way to promote traveling around the world to scenic destinations and to explore what I love. Despite the strong personal ties to it, I can no longer call ViewFinder my idea. It belongs to my team, with whom I look forward to exploring the possibilities and intricacies ahead.
Today did a lot to convince me that I need to reevaluate the supposed impossibility of launching a startup. Aeronics has inspired me to a lot more thinking about what I want to do, and the project today helped validate the feeling that I have more to learn and discover about myself.