Q&A with Tim of CivicRise!

As we finish off Week 4 of the Innovators Program, I had the pleasure of chatting with Tim from CivicRise, one of this year’s Raleigh participants. Tim Scales and Toby McNulty are working on a solution that will make civic engagement easier and more effective for advocacy organizers, their supporters and the public at large.

Recently, Tim was feeling like he wanted to be more involved civically. He couldn’t find a trusted resource that gave him good guidelines for what to do and when to do it especially since timing is so crucial for making impactful change. The recent election and current political landscape got him thinking that he really wanted to move from sharing articles on Facebook to taking action that is meaningful and effective in the real world and feel like a part of the movement.

Toby and Tim have been friends for over 5 years, and Tim had been knockin’ around the idea for some time when he approached Toby, someone who’s worked in the technical field for years to ask him if what he wanted to build is even technically feasible. Over dinner, Toby asked him a ton of really tough questions, so immediately Tim thought CivicRise was sunk, thought he hated the idea – but by the end of the conversation, Toby said, “I really can’t find any problems with this, can I build it with you?”

“Uh Yes? Of course?”, Tim responded.

Enter CivicRise.

CivicRise is a smartphone app where users can subscribe to the groups who’s mission they support like the Sierra Club or the ACLU and receive calls to actions from these organizations to help progress the

ir cause – like “we need 100 people to call this senator about this bill!” , or “we need volunteers for this event!”, or “send an email regarding this issue you’re passionate about!” You can share your engagement, track the progress of the organizations you support, and provide assistance that is effective and rewarding. For the advocacy organizing groups and their customers, CivicRise is much more – it allows them to design, launch and measure efficacy of each supporter and overall campaigns like never before, enabling them to continually improve and learn from each campaign. CivicRise is a for-profit company with a SaaS business model with a large opportunity for growth, currently serving seven trial customers and 350+ users.

Check out my interview below with Tim to learn more about CivicRise, the process of entrepreneurship, and how to get in some extra cardio on phone calls! Visit their website to learn more!


Magdalyn: Why did you decide to apply for the Innovators Program?

Tim: I am very passionate about this idea and excited to work on it, but I am new to entrepreneurship and lack some of the structure around how to build a company. If I tried to do this on my own, I would just be making all the mistakes. The Innovators Program provides structure and expert guidance, and can greatly accelerate what we’re working on to build something exciting.

M: Awesome! What are you most looking forward to in this program?

T: So if you’re working along and you run into a problem, instead of going to Google and trying to just figure it out, I can have a conversation with someone who is way smarter than me on these things, someone who has worked extensively in these areas. They can just point me in the right direction, and this saves me so much time and effort and vastly increases our chances of success.

M: What skills or backgrounds do you each bring to your team?

T: My cofounder Toby is a software developer with a successful web app development shop, and so he has all this great technical ability. I talk to customers and say yes to them, and then go to Toby and say, “Can we do this?” and he says “Ooookay!”

M: Thank goodness for tech-y cofounders! What was the “ah-ha” moment that led to starting your company?

Short answer, the 2016 election.

M: Same. What problem are you trying to solve?

T: Civic engagement feels intimidating. It can feel like it’s something other people do but not me because I don’t really know enough. With CivicRise, we try to help you past that feeling of “maybe not me” by telling our users, “here is how you can do it, and look how easy we have made it.”

M:  When you are not working tirelessly to launch a company, how do you spend your time?

I’m currently training for a triathlon, so lots of swimming and biking and running and jumping.

M: I’m tired just hearing about it! Any big takeaways from the first few weeks of the Innovators Program?

T: What has been most useful to me is providing some structure around how to talk to customers about CivicRise. I’ve stopped taking random notes on sheets of paper that I lose – instead I’m creating a more scientific process with the help of the Innovators Program to really understand the customer’s need and address it more directly in a way that is going to build a foundation for growth moving forward.

I went from doing interview that were like, “Here’s this cool thing! Don’t you think it’s cool too?” And everyone would say, “Yes!” And I would think, “This is amazing!”  But now, I ask hard, real questions where people can disagree, which is so much more valuable. Yes, it’s way harder and feels more awkward, but it’s a much better investment of time.

M: Totally helps you get to a more effective product. So how do you stay energized for the long workdays of entrepreneurship? Fun rituals?

T: I try to switch off 100% when I’m not working and spend quality time with my wife and friends and family so when I get back to work, I feel refreshed and ready to take on a new challenge. I also like to do jumping jacks while I’m on the phone sometimes. If I feel like someone is going to talk a while, that’s when I fit my jumping jacks in. It makes me sound really excited and energized.


If you’re interested in getting your cause on the CivicRise platform or want to become more involved in your community using the app, sign up here! Thanks Tim for sharing your thoughts and progress with us, looking forward to using CivicRise in the future and seeing you at the next march!

Check back soon for more interviews with this year’s participants!

Cheers! -Magdalyn

 

Busting Design Thinking Myths

Hello dear readers!

As we wrap up our second week of the Innovators Program, our participants are entrenched in the world of design thinking. For those new to the concept, design thinking is defined as: 

A methodology used by designers to solve complex problems, and find desirable solutions for clients. A design mindset is not problem-focused, it’s solution focused and action oriented towards creating a preferred future.

A lot of people hear “design thinking” and run for the hills. They cry:

“I’m not a designer!”  |   “This stuff doesn’t apply to me or my industry!”  |  “My brain isn’t wired that way!” |  “Shouldn’t it be ‘business’ thinking?!”

I hear ya! It’s a foreign concept to many to approach business problems and industry pain points from a “design” standpoint, but let’s address these one by one.

“I’m not a designer!”

NBD! You don’t have to be a professional designer to implement design thinking – all that means is that you’re approaching the problem the way designers do, starting from the bottom up and developing creative solutions to ideate and test for the best possible outcome. 

 “This stuff doesn’t apply to me or my industry!”

Uh, yes it does. Do you want to have innovative solutions to your industry-specific problems? Approaching them from a design thinking mindset takes you outside of your norms and develops new, different, and innovative ideas that are novel to a situation. In the same way that no two companies are exactly alike, businesses can’t operate on the same principles and expect to differentiate themselves from the competition.

“My brain isn’t wired that way!”

Yes, design thinking requires fast pivots and moves quickly from idea to idea. It can feel defeating after a few iterations of imperfect solutions, but that just means you are one step closer to an truly innovation idea. Entrenched businesses are resistant to risk and change, but by exploring many different avenues and solutions, you can lead innovation in your industry. Same way no two businesses are alike, you can’t expect to do the same thing the same way your competitors are and offer a unique solution to your customers.

 “Shouldn’t it be ‘business’ thinking?!”

Design thinking is fundamentally different from other ways of meeting challenges in that it is human-centered. This human-centered nature means that you should try to understand how the product will effect a range of people, but Of COURSE always have your best business practices in mind. It is not an abandonment of good business standards and ignoring data, analysis, and rationality. It was created to foster innovation and keep your businesses moving forward.

No excuses! Go forth and innovate!

Cheers, Magdalyn

The day has arrived!

INNOVATORS PROGRAM RALEIGH ANNOUNCES THREE EXTERNAL STARTUPS SELECTED FOR 2017 ACCELERATOR COHORT

(Raleigh, NC) The Innovators Program Inc. and its sponsors, Citrix and Red Hat, Inc. and HQ Raleigh, are excited to announce the three selected teams for the 2017 Raleigh program. Out of dozens of applications from across the globe, these three early-stage, high-growth teams will participate in a rigorous 12-week accelerator program alongside internal teams from Citrix that lays the foundation for talented and motivated startup founders and internal innovators to develop the skill set and mindset to build high-growth technology businesses.

Kicking off today with the support of our community partner HQ Raleigh, our teams participate in bi-weekly workshops, mentorship and one-on-one sessions where the Innovators Program provides concrete, tactical strategy through action-based items to generate real growth. Each team entering the accelerator receives an equity-free $10K grant with the possibility of an additional $10K if the team makes good progress in the course of the program. The program focuses on the best practices of design thinking and lean startup methods to validate our team’s ideas with the goal of leaving the program with their first customers. At the end of the 12 weeks, teams present their pitch at Demo Day to a network of investors, innovation leaders, and the thriving startup community of Raleigh.

The Innovator Program’s unique curriculum groups both external and internal teams to leverage the strengths of their respective backgrounds. By introducing entrepreneurial thinking to large-scale enterprises and the expertise of successful corporations to early-stage startups, innovation is fostered across the board. The program also enables organizations to make the change from going “all in” on one idea to a more “sophisticated, angel investor-like” approach by rapidly innovating a few high-potential business ideas for three months, and deciding whether to invest based on market traction and opportunity.

This year’s program marks the fourth cohort in Raleigh, producing many startups that have been acquired or are still driving innovation in their respective markets. Graduates from last year’s Raleigh program are Glance.ai, Nebula, ShineBig, Vision LTC, and Malartu.

“The Raleigh Innovators Program helped our company focus on what matters for our customers. As two recent college graduates, we didn’t have a luxury of experience or connections to the recruiting industry. The program helped us iterate quickly, focus on what stuck and continue to bootstrap our venture. Lots of founders get distracted with raising capital, and the programs mentorship enabled us to stay cash conscious and iterate quickly. Today we have a profitable 100% founder owned company and we couldn’t have done it without the programs help,” says Kameron Kales, co- founder, Glance.ai, and 2016 Innovators Program alumni.

This year’s program starts July 17 with a kick-off bootcamp hosted at HQ Raleigh’s newly announced Glenwood Avenue location at Centerline Digital. Team members will have the opportunity to engage in the startup community through HQ’s multiple locations around Raleigh for the duration of the program. We are excited for our newest group to join the active community of Innovators Program partners and continue the tradition of innovative excellence.

MEET THE EXTERNAL TEAMS:

AllStacks quantifies software team productivity to make engineering managers more effective in managing their teams.

www.allstacks.com

VitalFlo, Inc is redefining the standard of care for asthma by leveraging lung-health data to provide population-level insights to healthcare provider networks

www.vitalflohealth.com

CivicRise is developing technology that mobilize effective, sustained and measurable civic engagement.

 www.civicrise.io


Stay tuned for more as our program kicks off in the next few weeks and get a deeper look at our teams. For more information, please contact us via our website: http://innovatorsprogram.co/.

 

IMPORTANT PROGRAM UPDATE

Hello innovators!

WE’VE GOT 2 BIG ANNOUNCEMENTS Y’ALL!

1. Due to multiple requests, we have decided to EXTEND THE APPLICATION DEADLINE until Wednesday, June 28! We have had lots of great interest in the program and want to give everyone a chance to apply. So get those last-minute applications in, y’all!


2. Though we can’t *officially* announce an exciting new partnership, we are excited to share that we have opened potentially 2 NEW SPOTS for the 2017 Raleigh program. These spots are reserved for companies focused on healthcare and medical tech, so if you or anyone you know would be a good fit, make sure to apply and share!

Participants will be announced soon, so stay tuned as kickoff approaches! 

Apply Now!   |  Learn more

Best,

Magdalyn

2 days left to apply!

Hi there !

Only 2 DAYS LEFT to apply for the 2017 Raleigh Innovators Program! We are so excited for the opportunities ahead for our participants, so we’d like to showcase some of our alumni’s meteoric success! 

EMPLOYUS

2014 IP Alum EmployUs allows well-connected professionals to earn money helping their friends get hired. Companies list their jobs on our iOS application with referral bonuses averaging $3,000 and connectors refer well-qualified candidates. raised $750K last year and launched the newest version of their app to raving reviews. They currently serve over 100 clients in 15 countries across the world!

Learn more about EmployUs

SAVII CARE

2014 IP Alum Savii Care is a easy to use, integrated & cross-platform for home care management. went through the Innovators Program and has been on the move ever since! 

Learn more about Savii Care

SeaChange Technologies

2015 Alum SeaChange Technologies works to provide a sustainable solutions to energy and water needs though developing energy-efficient, environmentally friendly water purification and desalination systems. Since completing the program, they have won SXSWEco Award & an NC IDEA grant. 

Learn more about SeaChange Technologies

More exciting alumni stories to come – be the next Innovators Program success story! Apply by THIS FRIDAY 6/23!

– Magdalyn

5 reasons why the Innovators Program is better than the Hacker Hostel

Hello dear reader! 

As we all know, Silicon Valley is the home of the hottest incubator around, the Hacker Hostel run by Erlick Bachman of the un-famous Aviato. While the HH has produced some big wins (and even bigger busts), we think that the Innovators Program is a great solution for motivated entrepreneurs who want to vigorously pursue their startup.

Here’s 5 reason why we think the Innovators Program is a better fit for you than the Hacker Hostel:

1.  Workshops that produce concrete, tactical actions for your startup

As great as it is sitting around a table day after day with your buddies hacking away, it’s very helpful to have hands-on help when it comes to launching your startup. At the Innovators Program, we work hard to provide real-life action-based strategy and empower our founders to persevere through #startuplife. It’s easy to talk about but hard to implement without good guidance and motivation. Through bi-weekly workshops, office hours, monthly executive council meetings, and alumni dinners, we help you get the job done right.

2.  Equity-free funding

No more equity grabs – our participants maintain 100% ownership of their company. Unlike *SOME* accelerators or incubators, we give our program participants $10K in no-strings-attached, equity-free funding to help you bring your idea to fruition. 

As HH members know well, hosting your web applications can be crazy expensive, so our participants get $120K credit with Amazon Web Services to store, compute, migrate, database, analyze and mobilize your data.

3.  A strong network of alumni and mentors

With the support of our partners Citrix and RedHat, we provide access to expert help and one-on-one mentorship throughout the 12 week program as well as lifetime membership to the Innovators Program network. Our program has great relationships with top VC’s both locally and nationally, and we help foster partnerships through our introductions.

We also *promise* to not highjack any investor meetings.

4. Location, location, location!

While Silicon Valley is the Mecca for startups, Raleigh was recently named the top spot outside of SV for tech startups, thanks to local innovation, access to capital, and a pipeline of talent from UNC, Duke, and NC State.

Our participants get a 15 month membership to HQ Raleigh, a thriving community of entrepreneurs and change-makers located in the heart of Raleigh’s bustling Warehouse District. HQ has great vibes and is the perfect place to immerse yourself in startup life.

5.  No having to live together

Your Fage yogurt is safe.


If you think the Innovators Program is right for you, be sure to apply today!  Thanks for reading!

Apply Now!

Cheers,

– Magdalyn

Innovators Program Raleigh Now Accepting Applications

The Innovators Program Inc. and its sponsors, Citrix and Red Hat, Inc., announced that they are accepting applications for the 2017 Innovators Program in Raleigh. The three-month accelerator program lays the foundation for talented and motivated startup founders and internal innovators to develop the skill set and mindset to build high-growth technology businesses.

Early applications are due by June 14th, final applications must be submitted by June 23rd, and the program kicks off on July 17th.

Learn more >>    |    Apply now >>

The cohort-driven, mentor-assisted program is open to three external startups, and three internal teams. All of the selected teams will gain best-practice expertise, coaching, and mentorship to help develop their startup ideas, build and market customer-centric products in high growth markets, and prepare to raise their first round of funding.

Innovators Program – Raleigh 2016 participants: Glance.io co-founders Chris Comerie and Kameron Kales, and the program team, Alex Kehaya, Liz Tracy and Nick O’Connor at the Kick off at Cherokee Investment Partners in downtown Raleigh.

The Innovators Program Inc. is a partnership between HQ Raleigh, a workspace and community for high-impact startups, and Nick O’Connor, an Angel Investor based in Silicon Valley, and founder / head of program success at Venture Toolkit, a services company that designs and operates innovation programs for Fortune 500 companies. Nick was also the designer and operator of previous Innovators Programs run by the Citrix Startup Accelerator in Raleigh, Silicon Valley, Santa Barbara, and Bangalore, India. Since 2014, the program has included 22 internal innovation teams from both Red Hat and Citrix, as well as 37 startups, 10 of which have received $500,000 or more in seed funding.

This unique program allows companies like Citrix and Red Hat to engage their local startup ecosystem in ways that are both startup-friendly and impactful, with a program designed to provide a “high signal to noise” for the startups on their ability to get market traction. So far, this approach has produced four seed-funded local startups, one startup acquired by Citrix, a number of cash-flow-positive, bootstrapped startups, and a vibrant community of external and internal innovators.

The program also enables organizations to make the change from going “all in” on one idea to a more “sophisticated, angel investor-like” approach by rapidly innovating a few high-potential business ideas for three months, and deciding whether to invest based on market traction and opportunity.

Selected participants will learn and apply core principles used by successful technology startups to gain traction and develop their brand, business model, and growth strategy during the program. Each participating startup will receive one-on-one mentorship, weekly workshops, and a $10,000 grant. At the end of the program, the program will award additional grants of $10,000 per startup based on successful completion and commitment to the program. Internal teams will pitch internally to their organization for funding.

Innovators Program Raleigh alumni that subsequently received seed funding include health-tech startups Savii Care and Medicom, Ag-tech startup Smart Farm, and HR recruiting startup EmployUs.

Graduates from last year’s Raleigh program are Glance.ai, Nebula, ShineBig, Vision LTC, and Malartu.

Early applications are due by June 14th, final applications must be submitted by June 23rd, and the program kicks off on July 17th. Learn more or apply at: innovatorsprogram.co.

 

Learn more >>    |    Apply now >>

 


Adolfo Rodriguez, Vice President, ShareFile Platform and Workflows, Citrix

“At Citrix, we are deeply committed to creating and cultivating an innovative environment for our employees. In many ways, this is not just an investment in our people as we help them to continue extending their skillset and experience, but also in our solutions and, ultimately, our customers. The Innovator’s Program provides a terrific opportunity for us to practice lean thinking and entrepreneurial mechanisms in creating incredible new technologies that align to our company’s mission. It allows us to explore ways to leverage fresh, new thinking to deliver capabilities that better address our customers’ needs.

Over the past three years, we have had 9 internal teams enter the program here in Raleigh and 20 teams globally. The majority of these projects are now either in the hands of customers or on schedule to be. The insights our teams gained through their participation was invaluable, enabling us to focus on evolving critical contributions to our customers’ success. In addition, our employees have leveraged the budding start-up community in downtown Raleigh, allowing us to better participate in the thriving culture.

As we enter the 2017 season, another three Citrix teams will enter the program. The impact will be tremendous.”


 DeLisa Alexander, executive vice president and chief people officer, Red Hat

“At Red Hat, we’re passionate about doing our part to spur innovation and entrepreneurship — both internally and in the growing startup ecosystem in Raleigh. The projects our Red Hat teams worked on last year continue to bring value to our organization. We’re excited to collaborate with Citrix and HQ Raleigh to bring this program to life for the fourth year.” 


Malcolm Benitz, Co- founder and CEO at Medicom and 2015 Innovators Program alumni

“The frameworks and the mentorship in the Raleigh Innovators Program really helped us learn what it takes to develop our idea into a high growth business. In 2016, we processed 500 million images for our customers and moved our growing team into a larger office space in downtown Raleigh and the growth has continued into 2017.”


 Kameron Kales, co- founder, Glance.ai, and 2016 Innovators Program alumni

“The Raleigh innovators program helped our company focus on what matters for our customers. As two recent college graduates, we didn’t have a luxury of experience or connections to the recruiting industry. The program helped us iterate quickly, focus on what stuck and continue to bootstrap our venture. Lots of founders get distracted with raising capital, and the programs mentorship enabled us to stay cash conscious and iterate quickly. Today we have a profitable 100% founder owned company and we couldn’t have done it without the programs help.”

 

Red Hat and the Shadowman logo are trademarks or registered trademarks of Red Hat, Inc. or its subsidiaries in the United States and other countries.

Why building community is essential to startup accelerators

Liz Tracy is the Director of HQ Raleigh, a growing entrepreneurial workspace in downtown Raleigh. She is also the Lead Facilitator for the Raleigh Innovators Program, meeting with and coaching the ten teams each week. In her recent guest blog, Liz weighs in on why community is essential to the success of a startup accelerator program.

I have had the privilege to play a role in cultivating the startup community for the past four years in the Triangle. Building a trusted network of people that can support one another through the triumphs and difficulties of startup life has always been an important element of a vibrant startup eco-system, but now more than ever I see the importance this community plays.

Our local startup community is comprised of a diversity of backgrounds, thoughts and opinions and it is this diversity that makes our community a dynamic one. With the flurry of emotions left over from the election, there is now an even greater importance for leadership from businesses, specifically when it comes to building an inclusive community that respects everyone.

For an accelerator program, the support of mentors, peers and coaches is the backbone and the real recipe for success.

Entrepreneurs know better than anyone how to overcome difficulties, look to the future and push through, but having a support system along the way makes it easier to get up and keep trying.

We’re now in our third year at the Raleigh Innovator’s Program, which means we have more alumni and deeper networks for our cohort to access. We tap into these alumni to speak on panels, help coach the kick-off bootcamp and to be sounding boards to the companies throughout the intense 12 week process. This year, in an effort to give the teams more time to connect outside of the classroom, we held a series of themed dinners that focused on team building and founder stories. They featured alumni who were able to share their experiences and since they had been through the program, they were able to talk from the perspective of how far they had come.

Another cool thing about growing the Innovators Program as an on-going community is that graduates can be beta testers for the current companies in the program.

Getting initial customers and receiving valuable feedback is essential to our customer focused model of teaching, and having a group of willing participants is incredibly helpful.

Finally, having the Executive Council, a group of leaders from Red Hat, Citrix, the investment community, and HQ Raleigh, gives the companies access to a new network of executives who can open doors and make introductions that might normally be much more difficult to access.

Every successful person knows that his or her achievements depend on a community of people working together.

The sense of community and support we have put into place at the Innovator’s Program is one of those critical foundational pieces that will help our young companies move more quickly along the path to success.

How Innclusive generated 50,000 pre-signups in just 5 months

Ready to grow your startup — and fast? Read this interview with Rohan Gilkes by Innovators Program mentor, Alex Kehaya

Rohan Gilkes is easily one of the nicest and most positive entrepreneurs I’ve had the chance to interact with. In my recent interview, Rohan shared the amazing and powerful story behind his latest venture, Innclusive. In his words:

“Innclusive came out of a need where I encountered discriminatory hosts on AirBnB and thought I could build a platform that would take some of the bias for discrimination in these products.” 

For Rohan, Innclusive is about building products and services that allow everyone to participate in the new sharing economy. What started with a focus on fighting discrimination on AirBnB has grown into a movement to give people of all walks of life access to the opportunities to build community and earn a living through ride sharing, home sharing, and the gig economy.

My focus with this interview series is to share specific examples of how successful entrepreneurs have driven growth for their companies. Before we dive into his growth story, I thought it necessary to point out how important his company is for our future. I consider Innclusive a social venture that has the potential to literally create a more inclusive and understanding environment between all those on the platform. In the US, now more than ever we need to be building companies and movements that push us to be more inclusive and open.

For his work to build a more Innclusive sharing economy and as an entrepreneur, Rohan has been featured in many major publications and most recently was invited to the White House.

Enter Rohan:

What’s your background or personal story?

The last 5-6 years I’ve been building businesses (here’s one, and another). I started out as an accountant and a about 6 years ago I started reading on blogs and online about how to execute on ideas.

I’ve learned and gotten a lot better at acquiring customers. And all those things that lead to making money online. In my career, I’ve been successful in hiring myself out of the job in multiple businesses. My last project Wet Shave Club and Innclusive were spawned out of my own experience.

Tell us about your current business.

The home sharing market AirBnB is only 10% of the hotel and hospitality market. The rest of it goes to hotels and established businesses. This is from a study done by PWC. The market for companies like Innclusive and AirBnB is forecast to grow from 10% to 50% of the market in the next 7 years. There is clearly a lot of room for competition and growth. Today, AirBnB and other companies in the space aren’t meeting the needs of people like me.

Almost all of my startups were built based on something I needed. There wasn’t anything that connected with me the way I wanted so I built it for myself. Innclusive came out of a need where I encountered discriminatory hosts on AirBnB and thought I could build a platform that would remove some of the bias for discrimination of these products.

Here’s a case study on discrimination seen through AirBnB. Here’s one about Lyft/Uber.

For us, It’s not about where you sleep when you go on vacation, it’s about how you are able to plan your trip, or call a Lyft or be a participant in this new economy. Are you able to be apart of the future?

Before we get started talking about growth strategy there are two steps that I think every entrepreneur should focus on when trying to build a successful online business.

There are only really two things you need to do to build a successful online business.

  1. You have to have a website that is setup to convert. Meaning that the branding connects with your customers, the colors are what they’d expect, things look secure and that you’re honest, and the copy matches what people will expect. If you miss that step you make your life ten times harder. We spent some time in the beginning to make sure our branding connects.
  1. Send as much traffic as possible to that website.

What traction channel are you an expert in?

Influencer Marketing is where I always start with each of my businesses.

First we asked ourselves, Who are the people who have an audience around travel? We found that there are tons of bloggers, tons of Youtubers, and Instagrammers. Often times they understand the market better than we do so we can learn a lot by listening to them. They’ve been living in the market and they have all the industry knowledge and they can help us with messaging and so on.

When you decide to go after influencers you need to ask yourself “Where do these people exist”?

For example, if you’re looking at beauty products then you need to focus on YouTube. If you’re in furniture you’ll need to focus on Pinterest.

We started out by searching for top 10 bloggers and even if that person is too expensive or not a good fit, we build a relationship with them and they’ll recommend us to someone else. A lot of times we end up working with the medium size audiences and then work our way up. Medium sized audiences are typically cheaper and will be more willing to work with you when you’re smaller.

How did you get your first 100 customers/users?

Funny enough, we just passed 100 customers (we’re still in beta). For us we’ve been lucky to get a lot of PR. We’ve worked really hard but there’s definitely been luck. There has been a bigger story about discrimination on various platforms so it has been easier for us to pitch our story.

We used that press to capture emails and we captured about 50,000 emails in 5 months and when we launch we’ll send an email to them and they’ll use our service in good numbers.

Another really successful strategy we used was to run referral contests with some of the influencers we found. (Here’s what a referral contest site looks like.)

The most successful referral contest we did was a YouTube giveaway for $1000 free travel on Innclusive including $500 in air travel. We actually did this a couple of times and the first one we did generated 8,000 signups!

Get free access to Action Pages and grow your email list today!

Each time we would do it we could predict how many signups we could get based on the size of the audience and the type of influencer.

What steps/advice would you give to other entrepreneurs to achieve success in this channel?

The thing that comes to mind is how we run these contests. For every single product that is worth selling online there is a community that is obsessed with that product or service. We go and find those communities and inject ourselves into those conversations.

We introduce ourselves as an Admin to the group, so that when we are ready to launch a viral contest people already trust us and are more likely to share it and participate.

For more ideas for launching a successful viral contest read here.

What’s the hardest part of “growth” in your opinion?

I think that part of it is finding product-market fit is the hardest part. I want to say that is the hardest part. We build products and services that already exist and we feel like we can put a small change or speak to a smaller demographic. This helps us miss some of the product market fit process and focus more on customer acquisition and branding..

Starting with the name was our first step for validating our business. We didn’t need to validate our product but we needed to validate our branding. We went to travel communities online and we said we need to come up with a name. We said we’d give a $500 dollar airfare voucher to the person who got it right.

The community came up with our name and voted. It was a 3 to 1 vote for Innclusive.

I feel there are some opportunities to bring your perfect customer into the decision making with every product you build. If you do this, you’ll be able to figure out growth.

What’s one question you never get asked in interviews but wish you’d been asked?

One question that I wish I was asked more is what motivates you to be out here building different companies?

I really think we’re living in the most perfect time in the history of the world for entrepreneurs. There has never been a better time.

With a WordPress theme and a lot of hustle you can sell almost anything online. I feel that we owe it to ourselves to take this opportunity and go after some of our dreams. I want to live a life where I can make my own decisions. I’m able to come to a point where I can be where I want in the world and do what I want. I can help out family and friends, I can do things that impact the world in some way.

I talk to a lot of entrepreneurs through our Facebook group and I really hope that someone who’s listening to this or reading the article and you have an idea of something you want to do. Here’s the best piece of advice I have for you:

Get into an action oriented mindset and do that thing you’ve wanted to do, do it TODAY. Ask yourself,  How can I get started today? I feel like if people can get into that mindset you can do anything.

If people get anything from this interview it’s get into a mindset of taking MASSIVE ACTION!

Meet Shinebig, the North Carolina startup disrupting the $2.1 billion survey market

We’re just a few weeks away from the Innovators Program 3rd Annual Raleigh Demo Day on December 12th. As we gear up for all ten companies to take the stage, we’re spotlighting Shinebig, the final external startup in our Q&A series. Shinebig is focused on grabbing a share of the $2.1 billion survey market by narrowly focusing on delivering simple media-based survey experiences that match audience expectations set by social media.  With Shinebig, organizations can perform market research, crowdsource content, AND connect with audiences at the same time. The startup is led by co-founders Kelly Giles and Tola Oguntoyinbo, both graduates of the School of Media and Journalism at UNC Chapel Hill.  

IP: What made you want to participate in the Innovators Program?
KG: The opportunity to be around other smart, motivated entrepreneurs. The people and environment really push you to make progress.

IP: Do you remember where you were or what you were doing when you came up with the idea for Shinebig?
TO: I was working on few ideas at the same time that took advantage of browser-based webcam technologies.  After experimenting for a while, the Shinebig concept eventually won the feasibility contest.  

IP: What problem are you solving with Shinebig? Where do you see the biggest value in what you are building?
KG: At its core, Shinebig is about connecting organizations and their audiences. Specifically, we see an opportunity to help conferences and events pick up some of the money that they are leaving on the table. Our product is designed to help our customers establish meaningful year-round communications with attendees that will keep them engaged, help to generate content and insights, and attract sponsors.

IP: How did you two start working together?
KG: We are both graduates of the UNC J-School but didn’t know each other there. A mutual friend and J-School alum introduced us about six months ago. We met for coffee, and here we are.

IP: What do you feel each are other’s strengths as team members?
KG: Tola is equal parts creative visionary and skilled programmer.  
TO: Kelly excels at both business and product development.  

IP: What is the most rewarding part of launching and growing your startup?
KG: There is nothing like creating something from nothing. It’s amazing to see something that started as a kernel of an idea take shape. You’re really willing something into reality.

IP: What mentors have you worked with so far in the program? Any takeaways that you’ve already started applying?
KG: We were really lucky to start out with working with Tom Snyder from RIOT. He gave us tons of great ideas about how to ask interesting questions that benefit both audiences and the brands asking them. Nick and Alex have really pushed us to think of ways to generate quick wins. They push us to get out of our heads and validate quickly.

IP: Have you learned anything from your fellow participants?
KG: We are always blown away during presentations. All the teams are awesome, but the Glance team in particular has shared some great insights about simplicity and usability. The Red Hat crews are all fantastic presenters.  And we’re also petitioning the Malartu folks to start holding start-up bootcamps – their product has some real potential.  

IP: What’s your current focus at Shinebig and where do you hope to go next?
KG: Our current focus is market validation. We’re testing a few different areas and getting traction. Based on these results, we’d like to hone in on one and really go about creating a fantastic user experience. We are definitely in the “do things that don’t scale” phase and plan to be there for a little while.

IP: What’s an ideal workday like for you? And how about an ideal day off?
KG: An ideal workday — meeting with customers, learning how they’re using Shinebig and what we can do to add more value. An ideal day off is doing something outside enjoying this amazing NC fall weather.

IP: Favorite movie quote?
TO: “You’re gonna need a bigger boat.” 

Learn more about Shinebig here, and make sure to catch their pitch during Demo Day on December 12th. You can register to attend here, or stay tuned for access to the livestream!