Blog: June 2012


As an ongoing series this summer on the YEI Blog, we asked the  summer fellowship teams to answer a few questions about their experiences starting their ventures. This Q&A is with YEI venture Project Optix, a dynamic daily deals website for discounted movie tickets. The fellowship team is comprised of Vela-Susan Park (YC '13) and Derrick Gomez.

1. What is the most important learning experience you've gained so far while working in the incubator space at YEI?

We are amazed by the amount of resource and nurturing environment that YEI creates for its student ventures. We have learned that it’s okay to fail, but what is more important is to take lessons from our failure and make our venture even better. We have also learned to think critically about the problems or inefficiencies in the market, and come up with viable solutions to meet that demand.

2. What obstacles have you overcome within your business model that has made your new venture gain momentum?

So far, being persistent and reaching out to our mentors for advice have been extremely helpful. We have been engaging in an active discussion with the moviegoers and movie managers to make sure that we are addressing their problem or need. For instance, we have created surveys and contacted 12 movie theaters in NY and CT to gain their feedbacks. Next, we are planning to do a pilot test to prove our hypothesis.

3. Who was your favorite guest speaker and why?

Our favorite speakers were Ka Mo Lau from PaperG and Chris DeVore. We felt that Mo provided crisp and to-the-point insight on how to develop a successful business as a student entrepreneur. We also found Chris DeVore’s talk very helpful because we were able to gain viewpoint from VCs and investors, and learned how to prepare and approach them in the future. 

Read More

Team Name: Panorama Education
Team Members: Aaron Feuer, YC ‘13; Xan Tanner YC ‘13; David Carel, YC ‘13; John Gerlach, YC ‘14; Max Pommier, YC ‘14
Industry: Education Technology

The Pitch

Panorama Education helps K-12 educators improve instruction, increase parent engagement, attract and retain great teachers, and foster a positive campus culture. With Panorama, schools and districts easily survey their students, parents, and teachers. Panorama analyzes this data and presents teachers and administrators with clear and constructive feedback they can use to improve their schools.

The Team

Aaron Feuer (Founder/CEO) Yale ‘13, Political Science and Global Affairs. From Los Angeles and a product of public schools, Aaron has advised the Los Angeles Unified School District, the City of Los Angeles, the California State Board of Education, and various state legislators on education policy issues. As President of the California Association of Student Councils, he helped write California’s legislation about student feedback surveys and led leadership training workshops for 6000 students and educators from more than 100 schools. Aaron also brings an extensive experience in building scalable web applications and designing user interfaces.

David Carel (Co-Founder/Marketing and Sales) Yale ‘13, Economics. Originally from Philadelphia, David comes to Panorama from a background of international health and education policy. Both in the US and in KwaZulu Natal, South Africa, David has worked with various political advocacy groups, mainly around government HIV/AIDS programs, as well as youth education and health empowerment initiatives.

Xan Tanner (Co-Founder/Data Analytics) Yale ‘13, Statistics and Religious Studies. From Boulder, Colorado, Xan brings expertise in analytics and reporting.  He previously worked as Head of Metrics for the Yale Men’s Basketball Team, working with the coaching staff to provide meaningful analytics and reports to aid team performance.

John Gerlach (Co-Founder/Marketing and Sales) Yale’14, Global Affairs. John grew up in the suburbs of Seattle where he entered the world of education politics at an early age. After working as the youngest staff member for his governor’s gubernatorial campaign in 2008, he has worked in grassroots education advocacy, as a policy director in a local city council campaign, and as an advocate to the state on issues ranging from death penalty repeal to early voting policy to Connecticut’s recent efforts at education reform.

Max Pommier (Branding and Design) Yale ‘14, Architecture. From Silicon Valley where he attended a public school three minutes away from Apple’s headquarters, Max has always been interested in the intersection of education and technology. Since coming to Yale, he has added design to the mix by building the visual brands of HackYale, a web development seminar on campus, and Gakko, a privately funded summer camp for Japanese high-schoolers that questions traditional methods of education.

What problems did you see that led you to develop Panorama?

Panorama is looking to solve two distinct problems. The first is an unhealthy lack of communication among school stakeholders. We all want better schools, but currently the distinct groups of stakeholders in public schools–students, parents, teachers and administrators– often do not communicate to the extent that is necessary to really provide students with the best possible education. Schools around the country suffer from a serious lack of engagement, and as such, they are crippled in their efforts to do right by their students and staff. Districts need to foster an information flow among these groups so that they can make sure schools are the best places possible both for students to learn and for teachers to teach. It’s really difficult to know, for instance, that bullying is a problem on an otherwise safe campus, unless you ask the students and parents about it.

The second problem is that current solutions available to schools are ill equipped to meet this need. Generic survey systems like SurveyMonkey don’t meet schools’ needs for sophisticated data analysis and customizability, and districts don’t have the resources to build high-quality in-house systems, so many school districts settle for mediocre makeshift solutions, such as Excel spreadsheets with thousands of formulas. Not only does this not solve the first problem, but it actually makes it harder for schools to solve their other problems because they’re wasting time and energy.

How is the Panorama solution different?

Too often, data systems don’t have their users in mind. We built Panorama specifically for educators, so Panorama’s surveys are customizable district by district, and our reports give teachers and administrators exactly what they need--nothing more, nothing less. To do this, Panorama streamlines the entire feedback process for schools, both by connecting school experience and classroom experience surveys on one platform, and by being the first to include all the stakeholders of a district on one integrated platform. Every aspect of the process, including designing the questionnaire, administering the survey, and analyzing the results, is handled by Panorama, preventing the need to use multiple vendors on the same task.

Panorama thus gives districts the quality and features they need to engage their stakeholders--and at a lower price than even the most rudimentary in-house systems. And because they’re designed with an eye for a simple aesthetic, not only do Panorama’s reports make reading feedback reports interesting, but they also make teachers and principals want to do something about the numbers they’re seeing. 

Read More

As an ongoing series this summer on the YEI Blog, we asked the  summer fellowship teams to answer a few questions about their experiences starting their ventures. This Q&A is with YEI venture Cronote, a web technology to allow users to schedule an email or text message reminder about an upcoming product. The founders of Cronote are Aaron Abajian (MED' 15) and Ann Nguyen.

1. What has been your biggest challenge so far at YEI?

By far, it has been to define the problem that our business really solves. We started YEI with several assumptions about customer needs, but we soon learned that those assumptions weren't entirely correct. We had essentially created a solution for a problem before truly understanding if there was a demand. Now, we are spending more time on customer discovery and customer validation in order to find the right niche for our product.

2. Who was your favorite guest speaker and why?

Victor Wong from PaperG was memorable for many reasons. It was inspiring to have a former YEI fellow as a speaker. PaperG's success is further proof that incredible companies come out of YEI every year. His stories resonated with us, even more so than usual, because he's also in the advertising space. We appreciated Victor's perspective on building customer relationships and admired his tenacity. He took a lot of big risks -- and even put his degree on hold -- to pursue leads that were viable but certainly never guaranteed.

3. What is the most important learning experience you've gained so far while working in the incubator space at YEI?

YEI showed us that entrepreneurship has structure. It's not just about having a great idea, perseverance, and some space in your parents' garage. Successful entrepreneurs oftentimes follow a recipe, which is artfully described in "The Startup Owner's Manual." There are ways to de-risk your business and increase your chances of having a product that people will actually give you money to make. Entrepreneurs also come in all shapes and sizes. Rob Glaser worked at Microsoft for 10 years before starting RealNetworks. Michael Inwald, on the other hand, started Cheeseboy with zero years in the food industry. While there are always exceptions to the rule, most of these success stories began with a constant feedback loop between customer discovery and customer validation.

Read More

Team Name: UnBuyThat LLC (based in New York City)
Team Members: Neil St. Clair, GSAS 2013
Industry: Consumer-to-Consumer Marketplace

The Pitch

UnBuyThat is an online consumer-to-consumer (C2C) marketplace for the buying and selling of experiences. Think of us as a StubHub for services with a shelf-life.

The Team

Neil St. Clair, CEO & Founder – Neil is currently in Yale’s Graduate School of Arts & Sciences studying International Relations & Economics (2013). At UnBuyThat he focuses on the overall operational and product strategic vision as well as firm finances. Prior to enrolling at Yale, he was as a professional television reporter in New York for Time Warner Cable-owned NY1 and YNN. He was also a research analyst for a boutique expert shop on Wall Street. Neil received his Bachelors from Boston University.

Melissa Dixon, CSO & Founder –As Chief Strategy Office, Melissa focuses on building strategic relationships with various partners (e.g. merchants and API developers). She also heads up investor communications and outreach and development of corporate culture. Prior to UnBuyThat, she worked in corporate and strategic communications for a Fortune 100 financial services firm as well as several years at The Equity Group, a boutique investor relations outfit. Melissa received her Bachelors from Texas Tech University.

Jack Spencer, COO –At UnBuyThat, Jack is focused on day-to-day operations (e.g. Human Resources and Customer Service) and long-term project management, including cost analysis. This follows a career in construction management with Sciame, a mid-sized firm in Manhattan. Jack received his Bachelors from George Washington University.

Bradford Buonasera, CTO –Brad is a .Net- and Java-Certified developer and also has his PMP designation. His role at UnBuyThat is management of systems, people and technology, including overseeing programmers and developers. He has worked for several Fortune 500 firms, including Pfizer and Merrill Lynch, as a Program, IT and Tech lead. Brad has a BA from Cornell and an MBA from Baruch College.

Joel Mazmanian, CMO –Joel’s role at UnBuyThat is overseeing all marketing and strategic branding communications, including managing relationships with media and advertising partners. He has worked for several leading and boutique PR houses following a career in television journalism at CBS News. Joel graduated from Emerson College.

What problems did you see that led you to develop UnBuyThat?

The idea for UnBuyThat came when Neil was unable to find his fiancée a hotel room in the Berkshires for the annual Tanglewood Concert two days in advance of the event--all the rooms were sold out. After looking online for a place to buy a reservation from someone who might have canceled, and finding no go-to option, an idea was born. Since that initial spark, the team has found that not only are a significant number of folks caught with an experience that they cannot change or cancel, but many also would want to profit from their market knowledge if it were possible.

How is the UnBuyThat solution different?

Not only do we help folks get rid of their buyer's remorse and avoid change-of-plan penalties, but we are a platform for encouraging micro-entrepreneurs. When an experience becomes otherwise unobtainable it gains in value—that Groupon you bought for $100 that sold out in one day—well maybe to the next in line it's worth $200.

We are the first mover in this new secondary market space focusing on both traditional B2C businesses and C2C collaborative consumption sites. Committed to setting a standard in the C2C space, UnBuyThat prides itself on native and intuitive UX/UI with simple search tools, unlike many current marketplaces. Our proprietary curation methodology, which we use to determine a minimum threshold of quality, fun and safety for any experience listed on our site, and our emphasis on customer service set UnBuyThat apart.

Read More
By Sohara Mehroze Shachi

Personal sacrifices are often glamorized in the world of entrepreneurs, but at the end of the day it is a price you have to pay. Founder and CEO of ConsumerBell, Ellie Cachette, spoke to the YEI fellows this week about the importance of valuing our time by putting a price on it.  (See her full talk here.)

Cachette talked about the numerous personal sacrifices that an entrepreneur has to make on a daily basis. Drawing examples from her life she told the fellows to stop having expectations of leading a “normal” life once they enter this field. The level of commitment required to make an entrepreneurial venture succeed could put a strain on personal relationships, health, sleep and finances so one has to question whether he or she is truly ready for such a lifestyle.

Once that decision has been made, Cachette advised the fellows to focus on getting the right infrastructure in place—connecting with legal counsel and getting the company incorporated.  She suggested setting up an invoicing system by opening an account with Quickbooks or Freshbooks to better manage finances, as well as getting comfortable with firing people, since the company’s wellbeing has to be put before anyone’s personal interest. “And stop reading TechCrunch, funding isn’t easy,” she said, telling the fellows that they need to do what it takes to maximize their chances of getting funded. “The right thing happens to those that quickly adapt and keep moving forward. Sink or swim my friends.”

Besides conducting the directly business related activities, entrepreneurs need to think about the people they spend time with since that has a huge role to play in shaping their future. Contrary to expectations, Cachette said, it is important to hang out with people who do not believe in you, because they are likely to point out flaws where your friends and family will not, and so you can learn what your weaknesses are and work on rectifying them.

The takeaway:

Choosing the entrepreneurial path means putting a lot at stake. While it can be incredibly rewarding, there is also a very high price to pay, so it is necessary to put a price on oneself but never go on sale.


Read More