Positioning Your Startup for Market Traction with David Goetz

On Tuesday, July 16, 10:00 a.m., ID Members are invited to hear entrepreneur and serial founder David Goetz talk about Positioning Your Startup for Market Traction. Goetz’s informational and interactive talk will help answer questions about branding your startup so you will take away how to:

  • Understand the eight positions of positioning power
  • Position your brand in your category
  • Develop the messaging architecture for your startup
  • Connect your brand positioning with creative

    About the presenter: Dave Goetz is president of CZ Strategy, a strategic marketing agency that he founded in 2000. He is the author of three books, including one on messaging strategy and another on fly fishing. He also founded RealityRN, a social community for new nurses; Big Snowy Media, a publishing imprint; and “2 Guys and a River,” a fly fishing podcast.

    When you go:

Place: Innovation DuPage
Date: Tuesday, July 16
Time: 10:00 a.m. – 12:00 p.m.
RSVP ID@innovationdupage.org

Michael Medema Mentor Workshop: Flip-flops and Fast Facts

For a man who has started seven companies (with four successful exits) and is currently running three companies simultaneously, Michael Medema seemed pretty chill. Medema sat down in t-shirt and flip flops to chat with ID members about his experiences scaling startups. His resume includes company sale prices valued at a cumulative $54 million.

His current company, Keono, a digital marketing company which he started in 2011, claims revenue of $18.5 million and has been listed on INC. 50 four years in a row as a “Best Workplace in the U.S.”, among other accolades he said. Medema is a serial entrepreneur with chops. As an ID mentor, he’s willing and able to help others, so ID members were listening closely.

Stay Debt Free
In a staccato delivery style, all business and fast facts, Medema advised ID members to avoid debt if at all possible. He said organic growth is the best growth and the way to achieve organic growth is through personal selling. He said it’s okay to start small, and not to spend a lot of money on marketing at first. For super small companies, if there’s a little money—like $500-$1000 per month to spend–founders are better off hiring sales reps, even 1099 sales reps, to follow up on leads and close deals.

Hook a big client, do something great for them and then leverage that success on to the next. He said to be realistic with financials and remember “Cash and data are king. Debt is crippling.”

Focus on One Thing
No one can be all things to all people. As an example, Medema said his particular strength is on building great companies and teams—fast—and then getting out. “I’m not the CEO to take a company to the next level. My sweet spot is from scratch up to $25 million.” He said to focus on doing one thing great and figuring out how to scale fast.

focus on doing one thing great and figure out how to scale fast.

Get a Great Team
While you’re lasering in on the thing you do best, he advised company leaders to hire slow/fire fast to cultivate a capable team, a powerful network and a high-functioning company culture. Founders have to do everything alone at first. But when it’s time to hire, he said to try to pay on results as much as possible (see paragraph three). Use consultants and 1099 them. Find and hire interns to help. They’re willing and able to work to gain experience. (Hint: the ID partner colleges and universities are full of them!)

Be Ready to Change
“If you’re not changing, you’re dying. I change quickly. I’m always looking over my shoulder,” Medema asserted. The people in the team change, the customers change, the product changes and the markets certainly change. Founders need to be prepared for that. Founders also must “Constantly share their vision, direction and plans with clients, vendors, team members, investors and so on. Keep the vision strong and continue to ask questions and challenge the norm,” he said.

Use the Network
Medema was impressed with the level of talent and vision in the room. He recommended that business founders and owners at Innovation DuPage take the headphones off and work together. ID members could share knowledge and resources and even combine resources to hire needed talent, if possible.

He said, “Most of the companies all have similar issues so leverage the group and discuss key issues together (i.e. prospecting, hiring, etc.). Although the companies are unique and in different stages, sharing ideas would be greatly beneficial. I’ve learned a ton from business partners, friends and other business owners, so network more so you too can learn the ropes.”

This rope is one every ID member will want to swing on! ID Member Symone Lewis, founder and CEO of Barelastics, said “This was amazing and worth every minute.” Stay tuned for the next mentor workshop on Tuesday, July 16, from 10:00 a.m. to noon with Dave Goetz.

 

 

Justin Mayer of Encube

How Serendipity Led to Encube’s Founding

Justin Mayer, a cofounder and chief marketing officer of Encube, was working in product management for a manufacturer when he realized there was a gap in IT project management platforms in the marketplace that opened an opportunity for a new solution.

After developing his own prototype for a solution, Mayer met with venture capital firm Symphony Alpha Ventures. Symphony Alpha was already working with another company tackling a similar problem in the Agile development space and connected them with Mayer. Mayer, Symphony Alpha and two Atlanta-based developers—who called their collaboration Encube—met to explore the possibilities of working together.

They found alignment in their goals and values as well as complementary skill sets: They needed each other to achieve success.

They found alignment in their goals and values as well as complementary skill sets: They needed each other to achieve success. From that serendipitous meeting, a reformation of Encube resulted with Justin taking the lead on marketing, sales and business development.

Encube and AI = Solutions

Together, the trio knew that managing the user stories, tasks and subtasks of a software development team can be a daunting task. Also, they were aware that a lack of unbiased data regarding each developer’s specific technological skills and knowledge resulted in a gap that hindered the management of an ideal software development team. And, while there are many project management tools on the market, these systemic gaps prevent organizations from leveraging the data of the vast amount of project tasks they’ve already completed, limiting their ability to make the most efficient use of their available talent pool.

The Atlanta team had been working on a need for a quicker, more efficient and cost-effective way to manage IT tasks among teams, especially among Agile software development teams.
Encube’s founders also knew how to put artificial intelligence to work in project management. With the goal of revolutionizing an industry, these efforts are at the core of the launch of Encube’s technology. By incorporating the use of a proprietary artificial intelligence engine, Mayer and his team created a tool that can dynamically mine data to create an evidence-based body of knowledge to help large project managers maximize their talent pool and complete more projects, more efficiently.

Making Task-Oriented Decisions
As well as making task-oriented decisions based on experience and knowledge, Encube can also calculate the appropriate replacement of a developer and help estimate the number of IT projects that can be handled at one time before more staff is needed. Encube provides the answers at a users’ fingertips.

Encube’s artificial intelligence saves time and money by referring to evidence-based knowledge demonstrated by its generated resource graph, another Encube breakthrough. The resource graph creates a better way of workforce planning by suggesting the proper expertise for specific tasks that maximizes the efficiency of an IT team. Encube strives to take the tedium out of managing IT teams.

How ID Played a Role
Mayer saw a need for office space and a network of knowledge and resources to help him grow the business. He turned to Innovation DuPage. Innovation DuPage has provided Encube with the resources and an ecosystem that enables Mayer and his growing team to more quickly expand its business. Innovation DuPage is a space where Mayer thrives and collaborates with other entrepreneurs. The story of Encube is still unfolding as the trial version is now online and accepting customers. The future looks promising. Venture capital is in place. A new website effectively communicates the benefits and clearly defines the market. Stay tuned as we report on Encube’s success and provide updates in the months ahead.

By Jack Dore

ID Grand Opening in Video and Photos

The Grand Opening event video documents an incredible day where an estimated 300+ people participated in activities complete with a ribbon cutting featuring local dignitaries and an open house where the entire community was invited to meet and interact with some of ID’s members.

Members Gray Matters Games, GOtivation and Gindo’s offered samples, demos and
taste samples. Not to be outdone by companies starting with G, collaborators Warphole and Quze engaged with hundreds of participants. All of ID’s members are startup and small businesses looking to
get to that next step with collaboration, networking and business education opportunities
provided by ID.

Check out the Flickr photo album for fun photos documenting the day.

Read the articles that commemorated Innovation DuPage’s grand opening:

If you are interested in learning more about Innovation DuPage, call 630-942-3340 or stop in for a tour.

Thank you to everyone who came!

ID’s Grand Opening Open House Was a Big Success

An estimated 300+ people stopped by Innovation DuPage’s new headquarters at the Glen Ellyn Civic Center, 535 Duane Street, Glen Ellyn, Illinois, on Wednesday, May 22, for a Grand Opening.

Be sure to visit Glen Ellyn retailers who are helping celebrate the Grand Opening of Innovation DuPage

People were able to meet some of the start up businesses that are incubating at Innovation DuPage. Also, ID staff offered tours to show off the renovation of the former Glen Ellyn police station and explained how this business development incubator and small business accelerator that is Innovation DuPage will make a big impact on the economic development of the region in the future.

The space is beautiful, the tours take just a few minutes and there are dozens of trendy restaurants and delightful shops to explore in downtown Glen Ellyn!

Participating retailers are offering a free gift through Sunday, May 26, with a minimum purchase of $25 for anyone who stopped by the ID Grand Opening and presents the flyer from the goody bag takeaway.

A big thanks and shout out to these retailers who helped us celebrate our Grand Opening:

Alla Moda Boutique
Blonde Boutique
The Bookstore of Glen Ellyn
Cabernet & Company
Courier Travel
Glen Ellyn Sweet Shoppe
JAYNE
Larc Jewelers
M and Em’s Boutique
Marcel’s Culinary Experience
Marche
Norabella Boutique
Olive ‘n Vinnie’s
Shawn Sargent Designs
Sign of the Whale Antiques
String Theory
Treasure House
UPTOWN

When you go, be sure to take a photo and post to social media with #GO_ID #MyID

How Gindo’s is spicing up the craft hot sauce business

Chris Ginder is unapologetically obsessed with hot sauce. He creates a new flavor almost every week. Today, his business offers about 103 unique sauces, and “unique” is often an understatement. (Chocolate Cold Brew hot sauce, anyone?)

You may call him crazy, but he prefers “Gindo.”

In 2011, Chris and Mary Ginder launched Gindo’s Hot Sauce in LA. Soon after, they brought their business to Batavia, Illinois, where they found a surprisingly ideal home for their obsession.

The finance portion of the program was invaluable,” Mary says. “Understanding cash flow is absolutely necessary for success, and the mentors were awesome in helping us apply that to our business.

Illinois isn’t typically known as a hot sauce destination – Midwesterners traditionally wince at the truly hot stuff – but that’s changing. In the last decade, a crop of new businesses has emerged, and they’re serious about their hot sauce.

It’s no longer just hot sauce. It’s craft hot sauce. Think food-pairings. Think locally sourced ingredients. Think small-batch brews. Like the micro-breweries of our region, these new craft hot-sauce cookeries are capitalizing on Chicagoland’s foodie culture and the nutrient-rich soil of our state, perfect for growing peppers. We, the Illinoisans, are willing devotees.

When Gindo’s Hot Sauce joined Innovation DuPage, their product was already a hit, and they were on their way to becoming the Three Floyds of craft hot sauce. (If you’re wondering about this Three Floyds business, ask your nearest craft beer nut.) Their product is delicious and complex. Equally important, it’s natural and locally sourced. Chris and Mary are persnickety with their ingredients, only selecting fresh peppers from area farmers and “carefully curated sea salt.” Their audience, equally persnickety, loves to know that such care is being put into their food. And while the couple is consistent with quality, they are also full of surprises. Like a good line of craft beer, Chris’ flavors are inventive, dynamic and perfectly paired with certain foods, and his rapid-fire, small-batch releases are the perfect business model to keep the market hungry. Gindo’s small batches are so ravenously popular that they rarely make it to the online shop, since they routinely sell-out at farmers’ markets. Some of the couple’s rarer batches can be as difficult to get your hands on as a Dark Lord Stout.

If Gindo’s had the success of a craft brewery, it also had the troubles of one. Just as the business rose in popularity, a whole wave of craft hot sauces followed suit. In the last decade, more than a dozen competitor businesses cropped up in the area. Overnight, the farmers’ markets became crowded with craft hot sauces, all promising similar products to Gindo’s under the craft principals of experimentation, curation and fresh, locally sourced ingredients (as well as trippy labels with elaborate designs, which can be just as critical). The couple claimed that their hot sauce was the best – if you ask their customers, it is – but so did everyone else.

The Ginders were stuck in a woefully bloated market.

It was time to tweak their recipe.

(Don’t worry! Not their hot sauce recipe, just their business.)

Chris was attending a networking event in Batavia when he met Ellen Huxtable, a fellow entrepreneur and a board member at Fermi National Accelerator Laboratory, one of Innovation DuPage’s partner organizations. Ellen had already heard all about Gindo’s.

“It just so happened her son was a huge fan of our sauces,” Mary says.

When Chris told Ellen about the challenges Gindo’s was facing, she referred him to ID. Less than a week later, Chris and Mary joined our Accelerator program, an intensive course designed to help business owners grow their customer base, improve operations and break into new markets, while networking and sharing ideas with fellow entrepreneurs. For the Ginders, who were fighting for air in an increasingly oversaturated market, it gave them the edge their business needed.

“The finance portion of the program was invaluable,” Mary says. “Understanding cash flow is absolutely necessary for success, and the mentors were awesome in helping us apply that to our business.”

ID’s Accelerator program took a comprehensive approach to Gindo’s Hot Sauce. Mentors and fellow entrepreneurs helped the Ginders identify “bottlenecks” in their business model – inefficiencies that have a negative impact on the business as a whole – and improve those areas. 

“ID helped us approach our company more like owners,” Mary says. “We’ve taken a step back to focus more on how to manage operations. Instead of trying to do all the work ourselves, we’ve hired several employees to delegate responsibilities.”

The result? Business is booming, Gindo’s is more efficient than ever, and the Ginders are looking to take their operations to the next level. Mary says the couple is even planning to open a hot-sauce manufacturing facility in the near future.

That’s good news for everyone. Now, Chris can focus even more energy on his passion for all things spice, and we can have a second helping of that Honey Habanero.

How Gray Matters Games rewrote the rules of business growth

The New York Toy Fair isn’t all fun and games. Okay, technically, it is all fun and games, but the stakes couldn’t be higher. For the thousands of exhibitors who pitch their products – many of them small businesses trying to break into an overcrowded market – the future of their business is on the line. They stand to win (or lose) just about everything.

It was at the 2018 Toy Fair where Lauren and Joe Barron were first discovered.

Just a year before, in 2017, Joe left a lucrative career in finance to launch a startup with Lauren.

The couple had just taken a road trip with Lauren’s family. To pass the hours on the highway, they made a game, a clever hybrid of trivia and betting. It was good. More than “good,” it was approachable and addictive, seemingly simple yet deceptively complex, totally familiar and, somehow, utterly original. (The game would eventually become their company’s first product, You Bet-cha!) Hours flew by and the family was engrossed. Someone suggested they should do this for a living. The Barrons agreed.

The couple had discovered their passion: creating games that make you laugh, smile, blush and think. They decided to turn it into a business – and not just any business, but one with a purpose.

“When we started thinking about who we wanted to be, we really wanted to do something that had a social impact,” Joe says. “We want to be a force for good.”

Joe and Lauren founded a company with two missions. First, to bring people together and stimulate brain activity, a much-needed therapy for our smartphone-addled minds. And second, to raise money for Alzheimer’s research, after Joe lost two grandmothers to the disease.

They had a business. Now, all they needed was a name, something that captured the importance of our brains and how we use them.

A quick brainstorm later, and they settled on “Gray Matters Games.” (Take a closer look at their logo, and you’ll see a G and an M amid the cerebral swirls.)

Back at the 2018 Toy fair, a sales representative approached the Gray Matters Games table, bumping elbows with a crowd of nearly 30,000. There, they met an excited, if somewhat stressed, pair of entrepreneurs. The stakes were especially high for Joe and Lauren. The market was extremely competitive, there weren’t any investors backing their business, and Joe had just left his job. They were the quintessential startup. And, as if there wasn’t already enough pressure to succeed, a baby girl was on her way, due in seven months.

The couple took the sales rep through a round of Ridiculous Expositions, a card game for adults where teams attempt to translate seemingly innocent phrases into their less-than-innocent counterparts. (One of the cards reads, “Sofa King Awe Sum!”) Like other Gray Matters creations, Ridiculous Expositions is fast, quirky, easy to pick up, and beautifully crafted with cartoonish illustrations and tight game design. The look is iconic, and the gameplay is addictive. It instantly draws you in and makes you laugh. And then you want to play again.

“As you’re growing, the working capital portion becomes really important. You have to find a way to cover those costs, and that’s hard to do on your own.

The sales rep was impressed. So impressed, they pitched it to a well-connected retail buyer over dinner that same night. Within two weeks, a deal was signed. Ridiculous Expositions would be on the shelves of nearly 700 Target stores across the nation.

The Barrons had made their big break.

Now, the hard work could really begin.

A good idea is only the beginning of a successful business, as Joe and Lauren soon learned. After the initial thrill of landing a deal with Target, the couple had to consider the immense logistical and financial challenge of actually fulfilling such an order, a project far larger in scope than anything the couple had encountered before. Creating a prototype for Toy Fair was one thing. To fulfill the Target order, they would need to produce 20,000 copies of the game – at 400 cards per box, that adds up to about 8 million individual cards – and they would have to cover all the production costs upfront, which meant a heavy investment.

“We’re bootstrapping our business,” Joe says. “As you’re growing, the working capital portion becomes really important. You have to find a way to cover those costs, and that’s hard to do on your own.”

The Barrons are a business-savvy couple – both have MBA’s – but they had never owned a small business before Gray Matters Games. They didn’t anticipate the growing pains, and they didn’t expect to encounter so many roadblocks in such rapid succession. They felt like they had just rounded a bend and entered the rapids. Suddenly, the couple had to face a whole slew of challenges – finances, logistics, marketing and operations, to name a few – things that have seemingly nothing to do with what the Barrons do best: creating smart, ingeniously addictive party games.

Their business seemed to be on its way to success. But, to survive, they needed some help.

Soon after landing a deal with Target, Gray Matters Games joined Innovation DuPage’s Incubation program. Based in our Glen Ellyn headquarters, Incubation connects startups and developing businesses (like the Barron’s) with peer entrepreneurs, mentors, resources, investors and talent. As members, Joe and Lauren have connected with people who understand the challenges they face and can provide the support they need.

“We could use help on the marketing side, financing, and even bringing in new employees and interns,” Joe says. “Those are things we’ve never done before.”

“Now, at ID, we’re working in this space where we can just tap someone on the shoulder and get the help we need.”

Today, the Barrons live in Glen Ellyn with their daughter and a rowdy pair of Vizslas, Gipper and Rudy (think: Weimaraners, with extra-floppy ears).

Some things have changed since landing the Target deal, but most things are just as they were before. In this house, most nights are game nights. The doorbell rings. Pizza arrives. Friends and family gather around the table to “test” new games and toss around ideas. Lauren and Joe play with note cards within reach. Throughout the evening, a flash of inspiration might strike. When it does, the Barrons jot it down on a notecard and add it to a growing stack. Often, these notecards stay in the stack and gather dust. A few times, they have met a fateful end in the jaws of Gipper and Rudy. But, every so often, an idea takes root and grows into something bigger.

For Joe, the feeling of seeing his product on the shelves of a major retailer is as surreal as ever.

“With Ridiculous Expositions, we had an idea, we wrote it on a card, and now it’s sold nation-wide at Target,” he says.

The Target deal was a turning point for Gray Matters Games. Since then, the business has produced two new products, Badmoji and The Game of Wolf. Both are set to launch soon on Amazon, as well as on the shelves of 80 Sunrise Records stores across Canada. Wolf, incidentally, is a finalist for the Mensa Select award, one of the most prestigious honors in the game industry. 

Another piece of good news: Gray Matters Games is about to grow significantly. The Barrons say they are close to landing a lucrative deal with another major retailer (but the details are top-secret, for now).

Building a business is more difficult than most people could imagine, which is why about half of all small businesses fail within three years. Having a big idea is one thing; to transform it into a successful business, you need the right support. As Gray Matters Games continues to grow in its second year, Joe and Lauren are going to face even more challenges – some of which they’ll anticipate, others that will come out of nowhere. But they’re not alone.

As members of the ID Incubation program, the couple has a community at their backs. They have the people, the resources and the support they need to continue transforming their big ideas into a successful business. In return, they plan to give back to fellow entrepreneurs along the way.

“I think we’ll all be sharing ideas on how to grow our businesses,” says Joe. “I have a background in corporate development, and I’ll use it to help others in the program any way I can. That’s what this is about: building a community.”