October 20, 2010
Since 2007, the team of Brad Feld and David Cohen has been running the TechStars incubator program and seed funding startups. The program, which started in Boulder but has quickly expanded to Boston, Seattle and New York, provides startup founders with support, advice and mentoring during the program. Some past successes have included SocialThing, Filtrbox, Gyminee and Occipital as they all have had exits through acquisitions.
We have been following the program along since the beginning and have teamed up with TechStars to host our classic startup mixer events in the past. So we were excited when Brad Feld and David Cohen shared their news about writing a book called, Do More Faster, about the TechStars way of incubating startups. The book is filled with stories from past TechStar entrepreneurs as they look to share the knowledge that has helped create the success of the program.
We were delighted to get our hands on a special excerpt from the book to share with you. This particular excerpt was written by Jeffrey Powers, the co-founder of Occipital, makers of the Red Laser iPhone application that sold to eBay on June 23, 2010. Occipital shares their story , including the pivot to create Red Laser. The last time we caught up with the team in Boulder, they were still focused on ClearCam, the iPhone photo application that improved the quality of photos with the use of computer vision – we talked with Jeff Powers about it on video here.
Enjoy the Do More Faster excerpt below and be sure to order your copy of Do More Faster.
Be Tiny Until You Shouldn’t Be
by Jeffery Powers
In December 2008, the situation for Occipital was dire. We had a $10,000 deferred legal bill, dried up personal bank accounts, and no revenue. Seven months earlier we had ﬂown out to Boulder to join TechStars with little more than a prototype piece of software that could recognize the logos on paper receipts. In the ﬁrst week, we realized that everybody thought the technology was cool, but otherwise hated the idea.
Then we found a sexier idea that everyone loved. We were going to build a huge, multiplatform consumer application that used artﬁcial intelligence to solve the world’s photo organization problems. There was a lot of buzz in our favor after we demonstrated an early prototype in September, but we failed to close funding for a number of reasons.
This failure gave us one major asset: a big chip on our shoulder. We didn’t need anyone else’s money. We already had what we needed, which was a core competency in computer vision, a technology area that we believed had incredible intrinsic value. In fact, we were borderline arrogant about it—we hypothesized that we could just hack off a tiny chunk of this technology and turn it into revenue. We tested this, stayed small, and launched ClearCam on February 3, 2009. ClearCam is a $10 iPhone application that captures high resolution photos with the aid of computer vision. ClearCam was poular and we immediately were cash-ﬂow positive. Near-death averted and hypothesis reinforced.
We got excited about going big again. But this time we wanted to become even bigger, which translated into technology that was an order of magnitude harder. That led to a near-merger with a group of seasoned entrepreneurs and another failed attempt at getting investors excited. The chip on our shoulder got bigger and led us to hack off a slightly larger chunk of technology than ClearCam. This turned into RedLaser, the ﬁrst iPhone barcode scanner that really worked because it used computer vision to compensate for blur.
The response to our new product blew us away and RedLaser claimed a position in the top ﬁve paid applications on the iPhone App Store for many months. Today, we’re more conﬁdent than ever about the technology area we have focused on, we have a growing reputation with consumers, and we have the money to stop worrying about the premature death of the company.
By staying tiny and taking incrementally harder technology steps, we saw Occipital’s value increase dramatically. Now that we’ve found a formula that works, we are ﬁnally about to start growing our team from a stronger position than at any point in our history.
You can also see David Cohen and Brad Feld in the video below or come out to meet them in person as they are currently on a whirlwind book tour that will be in DC on October 28th and then at the Startup Mixology Conference in Chicago on October 28th.
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