“The winner of 1,000 dollars and the opportunity to compete in the next round for 10,000 dollars, a year of college tuition, internships, and this year’s 1st place Innovate WithIN Region 5 Pitch competition finalists are…”
Tony, Tom, and I had been sitting in a room full of our competitors for a little over an hour, waiting to hear the results.
It was a long hour; dazed conversations and long staring contests with the wall had me reflecting on when we first started our project: CubeOps.
Q: What’s CubeOps?
A: CubeOps is a software company that lowers the barrier to entry for entrepreneurs in the IoT space.
Essentially, we make apps which help you bring your idea to life, and focus specifically on assisting people in the creation of new IoT products.
Q: What’s IoT?
A: IoT is the acronym for the Internet of Things. You can think of it as connecting what’s around you, to the internet or each other.
You’ve probably already seen it affect your life too. Ever used Amazon’s Echo? Have an Apple watch? What about when you get in your car; does your phone connect to the speakers using Bluetooth? That’s IoT.
Q: So wait, what do you do??
A: Imagine you have a revolutionary idea for a light bulb that you can turn on with your phone. You want to start a business with this idea, but first, you’ll need a prototype.
So, here’s the game plan: Fishers, Indiana recently opened up a new IoT lab for people just like you! With their resources for building prototypes, plus a quick trip to Home Depot, you’ll be able to make your “thing” in a few days – if not a few hours.
So you’ve got your lightbulb, and it’s got everything it needs to connect to the internet. Except, one problem, you have no idea how to do that, let alone build an interface on your phone so you can turn it on.
That’s where Ping, our flagship product, comes in.
Ping helps you connect your thing to the internet, build the app on your phone, and manage the whole software side.
So, our customers can focus on the stuff you can touch, while we take care of the stuff you can’t.
CUBEOPS – the idea
Hamilton Southeastern’s Innovation class is a motivating place; it’s not hard to always be trying your very best when you’re around people doing such phenomenal things. So, that’s where it started.
The second semester of the class is dedicated specifically to working on a ‘passion project,’ Over the summer, I had been working on a project (polevaultr.com) which had some success, but I knew I could do more.
I keep a notebook full of my ideas on me at all times, so that when I find something interesting, I won’t forget. Scanning through it one day, however, I read something different written down. All it said was ‘start with a problem.’
I must have read it in a book or saw it on a TED Talk somewhere; either way, I dismissed it because it seemed so obvious to start with the problem. Isn’t that what everyone does?
Turns out, nope! There is a pretty big ‘build it, and they will come’ mentality around entrepreneurship. It’s the reason so many startups go out of business in their first six months.
So, I kept thinking about it.
Start with the problem.
There’s a couple of questions I needed to answer first.
Who’s my market?
And what problem can I solve?
I think of those questions as the first step to any successful entrepreneurial venture. Because with those questions answered correctly, you will have the right people running to you to find their perfect solution.
Not only that but with the right market, they will tell you exactly what to build and be mad at you if you don’t do it.
So here are my answers:
I’ve always wanted to help people make cool things; that’s why I adore entrepreneurship. I also love tech because of how widely applicable it is, and its ability to change how we interact with the world.
The obvious answer to me was the internet of things. I had seen the explosion of the market, not only in my life, but all around Fishers, Indiana. I was an intern at Vibenomics (Fuzic) over the summer, and that’s exactly what they did! My favorite part about IoT is that the technology can be used in almost every industry. Vibenomics used IoT to send music and messaging into stores with their devices, and I use it every time I get in the car and music plays from my phone.
So I found my market; entrepreneurs starting IoT companies.
At this point, I had added Tom Simmions and Tony Young to my team. Tony was my tech and design guy, while Tom was my marketing and finance guy. Together, we’re pretty much unstoppable.
That’s when we entered the Innovate WIthIN pitch competition.
10,000 dollars, internships, and a year of college tuition waited for us at the end of round 3.
So, we found our target market; and named the company CubeOps. The cube was representative of the technology and the businesses creating them, while ops, is short for operations which is what we figured the problem would be centered around.
Obvious predicament though, we hadn’t answered that second important question.
What’s the problem?
But with our deadline closing in and scheduling issues (we are in school when most people are at work), we had to improvise our first round.
Our goal with the first round was to generate so much intrigue that the judges had to send us through based solely on their curiosity. Not a good strategy, but we did the best with what we had before the due date.
The video turned out well and looked lovely. We were able to get into Tony’s dad’s office at a wealth management firm after hours to shoot and throw our logo up on the screen behind us.
Even though the idea was weak at the time, we had some pretty good justification for choosing our market and felt that we could make it through and have enough time to knock their socks off at the regional competition.
Here’s a link to the video: https://youtu.be/Jjh5VWBaw4s
We counted down the days until we got the results, and when they came, we were over the moon. We made it in round two!
It hit me immediately how much work we had in front of us, and the celebration turned quickly into working as hard as possible for four weeks.
We showed the video to anyone that would watch, trying to get as much feedback as possible. That way we could get a feel for first impressions, plus some input on the idea.
The first thing we learned was that even though the idea of connecting devices to the internet or to each other is simple, it can get complicated quickly, and people get confused just as fast.
This proved to be our biggest hurdle when explaining our idea to people that weren’t our target market. Like our judges. Hindsight is 20/20.
Overall, the feedback from the video was positive, and we got a lot of good jobs and pats on the back, despite not having a real idea. That was one of the biggest lessons that we took away; always seek out critical feedback. You should be more worried when there is no criticism than when there is an overwhelming amount, because at least then you have a plan of action.
So, we went looking for it.
Enter Krystal Geyer; she was mine and Tom’s Ball State Entrepreneurship professor over the summer, and also one of our judges for the first round.
Krystal is one of those brutally honest (in a good way) types of people. The feedback she gives is actionable and something you can use as a launch pad.
She told us about how it’s a complicated topic, and we need to work on defining the product.
So that was our next step.
‘Don’t tell me, show me.’ is something we heard from Krystal a lot. By saying this, she’s talking about creating a Minimum Viable Product (MVP). It’s essentially a prototype of our idea (You can see how the puzzle is starting to come together).
We knew how to create an MVP with software, but we needed to understand the IoT space more before we decided on an idea. So we started emailing to get interviews, with some of the connections we’ve made at our internships.
When trying to set up these interviews is where we noticed that big hurdle I mentioned earlier, scheduling. Being in school, doing extracurriculars, working, and just being a pretty generally involved person can create some challenges matching up schedules, especially to a busy person in the IoT industry.
After not making a lot of progress with email; we decided to be proactive about it. On Presidents day, we ran over to Launch Fishers and grabbed the first person we knew; it was David Bowling the director of operations at LF.
He helped set us up with our first interview Flexware. When we met with them, it was mine and Tony’s first time at the IoT Lab, which is right where we wanted to be. We were right at the hub of IoT in Indiana, and we were talking to someone in charge of an IoT company (actually a small part of a larger company). But either way, we got a ton of insight on what we should focus on.
And here was our conclusion: right now, the companies at the IoT Lab are well funded with teams full of software and hardware developers.
Not our target market.
However, after the grand opening, I think the growth of small companies and entrepreneurs with a backpack and an idea will skyrocket in Fishers.
The Event and Conclusion
We had worked on refining this idea and our presentation based off of the feedback we were getting, along with our entrepreneurship book from the class with Krystal.
Tom, Tony, and I stayed up after midnight practicing the night before the event and woke up early to do more. All said and done; we had about 20 slides and 15ish minutes of presentation. And it was awesome; we had all of our bases covered and a killer pitch.
It was around 11:45 am when we left Fishers to drive to Lafayette for the competition which was super early since it started at 2 pm. But, we wanted to see the setup and talk to the people running it, in case there was anything we didn’t know or if something goes wrong.
Something always goes wrong. ‘Hope for the best and prepare for the worst’ has become a motto of mine.
We found out that we would be cut off and lose points at 5 minutes. Which is an obvious predicament because our presentation was 15 minutes long.
By the time it was our turn to present, we had gotten the whole thing condensed to five minutes. To be sure, we brought up a phone, so that we could watch the time.
We were over by 5ish seconds and lost the same amount of points we would have if we had done our full 15-minute presentation.
Frustrating but it happens.
Despite having to condense everything; the presentation got all of the critical information through. After, we had the opportunity to meet a lot of remarkable people, including a judge from one of the other regional competitions who loved the pitch, another judge who wanted to help us out if we ever needed to raise money, and a bunch of our competitors. Every one of our opponents was impressive in every respect, and I was glad to get a chance to meet them.
However, this was that hour I was talking about. The one where the only thing on my mind was the results, and what my plan was moving forward, no matter the outcome.
“the winner of 1,000 dollars and the opportunity to compete in the next round for 10,000 dollars, a year of college tuition, internships, and this year’s 1st place Innovate WithIN Region 5 Pitch competition finalists are”
*unnecessarily long pause*
I clapped. If anyone deserved to win, it was them. We had met before at the Noblesville Innovations meetups, and I know how hard and how long they had been working on this.
Still upset though. But, it didn’t change my plans.
CUBEOPS – the business
The loss was hard, but I’m confident in the idea. It has the potential to bring forward new ideas and companies that may have never existed otherwise.
That excites me.
Persevering through failures and overcoming adversity is an essential part of life and preparing for success in the future. It’s all about placing yourself in the right trajectory so that success becomes inevitable.
And that’s my plan. More to come…
CEO of CubeOps