You might be wondering if being in the incubator at Arizona Center for Innovation helped iTipArtists along.
The answer is yes, it did, immensely!
For anyone building a startup business for the first time, incubators are a great resource of knowledge and perspective. It is also healthy to get your business out of your home and into an office; and Arizona Center for Innovation let us do this at a great rate with a team of staff and mentors there to help a Startup…start up!
However, the lesson I learned from being in the incubator is to always do what is best for the success of your company and to resist treating the incubator mentors and staff as your boss(es).
In our particular incubator, as soon as we joined we were “thrown into the pool” of amazing opportunities to pitch our idea to investors, meeting with mentors, highlight our business at community events and apply for business grants. Our business attended every event in some form and submitted every single grant suggested to us. In general, this was immensely helpful as it made us work hard to get up to speed on what business terms meant and what we needed to work on. We learned a ton.
However, it left little time for Mary and I to do some of the nitty gritty legwork of setting our business up and product development. It was another sign to me that we needed to put more time into the business on a consistent basis as well as make the team bigger. A few times though, I believe we should have just put on the brakes with “incubator work” for a few days at a time and attended to a some issues that we left undone for far too long (see Lesson #6, My Legal Advice:).
I think that balancing participating in the suggested incubator events vs. developing your company is tricky. Every company comes into an incubator with vastly different needs and experience; every team member of your company also has different personal issues to deal with. So, sometimes due to the time you have available, you have to make a call: this week do we work on our pitch for the next event or do we work on developing our product (which will make our pitch stronger for the next event?) There is the option to say no to an event. I don’t think your company will get kicked out if once and awhile you have to bow out of an event.
A second, smaller, yet important lesson along the same lines has to do with mentors in general. I am discussing this here because the point is the same, a mentor is there to help you but they are not your boss.
We listened closely and seriously to our mentors. All had predictions as to how good our concept was according to our pitch, and later, based on our prototype. But after awhile, I took their predictions of how good the concept/prototype was with a bit of grain of salt.
iTipArtist’s customers were meant to be musicians, artists and performers and also the audience of these customers. Our mentors primarily had experience with buying art and not much interest in finding new musicians or connecting with them; this was just the demographic of our mentors. Therefore, our mentors were quite excited when it came to applying iTipArtists with connecting with new local visual artists, but not much interest in connecting with new local musicians. And of course, they did not have too much to say about how an artist or musician customer would like the product.
Therein lies the grain of salt. Business is such a vast subject that one person cannot possibly be an expert in every arena. As another balancing act, I learned that you must take copious notes when meeting with a mentor (you will need these notes for later, I guarantee it!), be grateful for the time they spend with you but critically decide what you think is truly useful to your business. Never blindly follow advice because you think someone has more experience than you. Accept the advice graciously and weigh it out carefully.