During the Winter of 2015/16 Votion had the privilege of being invited to the LAUNCH Incubator hosted by Jason Calacanis and his amazing team. Our journey ended up quite different than how it started, right from the company name itself, our value prop, and how we positioned our company. But before diving in, some history will help frame the context.
Before we were Votion we were called Bracketeers. We had one product that was the industry leading Bracket Voting product used primarily by publishers to drive audience engagement. We had already powered the biggest bracket campaign in history. The product worked great and the traction was good, but the feedback that we had received from pretty much everyone we encountered in the first couple of weeks of the incubator solidified what we were thinking internally - our name needs to change to be less niche, and we need to execute on our larger vision and plan for the company immediately to build out the best, most innovative suite of marketing products on the market.
During our time in market before the incubator we had a 1.x version of our Bracket product. Over a course of 18 months or so we started to gain product/market fit. Our inbound channels were growing substantially organically and via customer referrals but we knew we could do so much more for our clients. So we started brainstorming new product ideas. At the same time, we started getting more and more clients requesting features, enhancements, and in some cases entirely new products. We built out an MVP of our Interactive Polls product and started selling it to a handful of early adopters. The variety of use cases impressed us, so we knew we were at least potentially on to something bigger.
The general feedback we received from the investors in the room was "How can this become a huge business?" - something that pretty much anyone raising money will be asked. The challenge we had with a niche product though was our answer was never strong enough. We knew we had a world class initial product, but we hadn't solidified our longer term approach for growth.
Back to Basics - Focusing on the problem
So we dug deep and started looking at the painpoints of what we were solving for our clients. In general, we realized we were used primarily for driving engagement - for publishers this meant more time on site, more pageviews, more articles read. For brands this meant keeping their brand top of mind, driving sales, generating social visibility. At the same time we thought we had so much more potential if we could offer a one-stop-shop marketing solution for brands and publishers (as well as nonprofits and other types of companies) to leverage for anything related to audience and customer engagement.
We realized the true problems we were solving were bigger than we initially thought. This is one of the funny things about running a startup - often, the true pain point you are solving isn't completely obvious when you are just getting started. You need to keep talking to clients, listening to their pain points, and validate the true problem through working with your customer base. What we came to realize was that we were solving multiple painpoints. Some were consumer related and our clients were struggling executing on campaigns to drive engagement. Others were lead generation related and clients were having a hard time gathering more leads. But the biggest surprise we learned was that the do-it-yourself SaaS based console we built meant that our clients no longer needed to pull in their tech or product teams to execute on their ideas. Our software we learned enabled them to move a lot faster, more economically, and without tying up any internal resources - and what we also learned was that as we move up market, this equals much larger revenue streams for us as the pain point is magnified.
At this point we were a couple weeks into the incubator. We knew we needed a name change at a minimum, and we started brainstorming. We knew we also needed to refine our value prop. We knew we needed to paint a much bigger opportunity. Not only for the investors we were pitching but also in our own sales efforts.
So we ate our own dogfood and leveraged some of our own tools to help crowdsource different company names. Now, in an ideal world you will spend time - weeks/months? - putting together the best branding and picking the best name you can. But we had 2 weeks during Holiday season before pitches to do so, and so we put an interactive poll together and got some input on various names. Both the crowd and our team loved the name Votion, so we moved to execution mode and knocked out a site, branding, new logo, messaging and more.
None of this would have happened had we not done the incubator!
Sure - we'd have executed on our multi product plan eventually and we had already put some gears in motion to do so prior to the incubator - but the incubator itself, the forcing function of pitching every single week meant that we had to constantly improve. We had to gut it out and make huge, sweeping changes to the business in a very short amount of time. And the net result for us has been a game changer.
In the LAUNCH Incubator you PITCH EVERY SINGLE WEEK!
There is no escape, no way to avoid it...doesn't matter if you aren't prepared or aren't ready, or if you changed your entire model. You pitch every single week. And as tough as that is, it not only makes you a much better public speaker, but it also forces you to OWN your business model. Not in a fluffy way either - you need to know how you're getting to where you say you are, what your pain points your problem solves are, how you will get traction - and do it all in 4 minutes. And at the end you get feedback.
* (and feedback)
Not fluffy feedback and "good job" pats on the back, but real feeback. Sometimes it sucks to hear you did a really poor job, but you always get feedback and it's always constructive. Jason is a master of knowing your own business better than you. It's his crazy 6th sense. But because of this he can push you farther than you thought you can go, and adds tremendous value along the way.
Bracketeers to Votion week by week
Here's a glimpse of our week by week changes - check out how much improvement was made week over week in the messaging and framing. Looking at it now, our early taglines are pretty embarrassing to read!
Week 1 & 2 intro
Bracketeers is a SaaS based interactive prediction and voting solution used by brands and companies to drive engagement, gather customer sentiment, generate leads, and create buzz.
Powering FUN campaigns through Brackets!
We tested the name Votion to see how it'd work in a live setting.
Content that Sparks
Week 6 - notice the multi product approach for the first time
SaaS company revolutionizing how marketing teams create & keep customers through innovative products
Products that engage and convert
Week 8 - getting closer...
Empowering Brands and Publishers to drive engagement & increase revenue
Week 9 - 12 - our new tagline!
Crafting the future of brand to consumer relationships
Not only did our tagline and business model change radically and quickly, but our ability to sell up market did as well. Within a week of having our new approach we were pre-selling orders for our new products. We quickly shifted the conversation from one of a singular product - Brackets - to one of a much higher value. This has enabled to experience the fastest growth we've ever seen, by far.
So..back to the incubator
As you can see this was a game changer for us. Between the pitching, feedback and the speaker sessions every week (plus the awesome Bento food) we saw a huge return on the work we put into the incubator. Yes - it's hard to both run your company and prepare for the incubator every week - but it's so, so worth it.
In closing, I'll leave you with my top 10 reasons for applying to the LAUNCH Incubator:
- It'll force you to look deep at the problems you are solving
- It'll make you sell better!
- It's guaranteed to make you a much better public speaker!
- You'll meet investors & advisors every single week
- It'll motivate you and the team to perform your best week in, week out
- It will humble you because there is always someone better
- You'll get mentoring & feedback from Jason
- You'll be invited into the world class LAUNCH ecosystem and network
- You'll get additional speaking engagements
- It'll change your life. Seriously. The experience is that amazing. You'll think about your business and your purpose in your business much differently.
If you got this far - thanks for reading! I hope this provided some context for you as you embark on applying. Reach out to me at any point with questions: craig at votion.co
Also, we'd love if you visit us on AngelList as well.
PS - if you want to see how far we progressed, check out our LAUNCH Festival video: