In the spring of 2018, the PocketNest team had the great pleasure of participating in Ann Arbor SPARK’s Entrepreneur Boot Camp program. It was a valuable experience, and we became part of the SPARK Boot Camp community at the perfect time in our startup journey.
We didn’t know what to expect coming in. We had just graduated from a pre-accelerator where we nailed down our executive summary and our pitch deck and had some exposure to mentors and investors — a great first step. We had some practice pitching but never enough. We knew SPARK Bootcamp would be a good experience but didn’t realize how valuable it would be, and how complementary it would be to the pre-accelerator experience, until after we completed it. From the boot camp, we received help in pitching, encouragement to do endless customer discovery, and access to great mentors who provided a good balance of encouragement and tough love.
- Pitch Practice: Each time we got together for boot camp, we spent the first half of the session practicing our pitches and receiving feedback. There is nothing more humbling for a new founder than practicing your pitch in front of peers and mentors and simply listening to feedback. It took some getting used to but then became high energy and fun (seriously!). The feedback we received allowed us to polish our message and make it much more concise. Certainly, a nerve-wracking experience but one that made us so much stronger.
- Customer Discovery: More customer discovery?! I thought we already did this!? Turns out customer discovery is not a destination, it is a journey (and a never-ending one at that!). During boot camp, our coaches and mentors encouraged us to keep doing more customer discovery. Being a B2B2C platform, this meant not only learning what our end users wanted but also, and equally important, what our paying customers were looking for. Our coaches walked us through a formal process of how to ask the right open-ended questions to fully understand their pain points.
- Mentorship: Through boot camp, we had access to a full team of mentors, many of who continued to be mentors of ours outside of the program. These mentors had experience in all aspects of the startup world: venture, funding, marketing, pitches, exit, technology, finance … everything. Months after the end of boot camp, I still feel fortunate to be able to reach out to any of these people if I need help. The community encouraged that.
Ann Arbor SPARK’s Boot Camp came to a close with a one-night pitch event which was high energy, well attended, and spirited! The winners of this competition walked away with a significant cash prize, but we all walked away with more street cred, mentors, and experience than we had had going in.
If you are an early stage startup looking for your community, some mentorship, and the right next steps, look to Ann Arbor SPARK Boot Camp. I firmly believe it would be time well spent for any early stage startups.
Jessica Willis, CFP® and CPWA®, has more than 15 years of experience in the investment advising and financial planning industries. Jessica is the founder of PocketNest a free, secure, easy-to-use app that walks you through a truly complete financial plan.