So before I get into the latest RzerV update, I want to publically send out sympathy from Tiernan & I to each and every victim of Hurricane Sandy. It certainly was a catastrophe for hundreds of thousands of people and our thoughts are with them all.
In the run up to our expo event we were in good spirits. We were finally regaining momentum; the rebranding was firmly established and the app was undergoing a beautiful redesign. Tiernan put in a huge effort to prepare all the relevant materials, from the pop up displays to the flyers, so that we would be ready for the expo on Saturday. Some websites were not good enough for us to use so Tiernan created beautiful products himself.
Now to the Expo itself! It was quite an undertaking for us to rustle the cash together, but now, one week after, we have to say it was the best investment we ever made. We met some unbelievable people, some unbelievable companies and definitely some future partners, which is always key! We had our own stall next to yoga instructors and personal trainers. We received exceptional feedback from these guys. A special mention should go to Jon White of Pix 11 who accommodated each and every whim of mine! He was so understanding of our position as a new young player in the health & fitness space. It’s funny, until we went to that Expo we thought of ourselves as a tech company. We can’t say that anymore. We are a health & fitness company. Tiernan & I worked the floor and desk very well. You’ve got to be very outgoing to make an expo successful. You need to be willing to sell yourself, your company, whilst at the same time listening to the other person to hear what they have to say and what they can offer.
Obviously the only thing on people’s minds here the past 10 days has been the hurricane. Let me saw this categorically: this was a devastating hurricane on not just New York, but New Jersey and everywhere else on the East Coast, so when people say it was nothing but poor Irish weather I must take exception to that. So many people are suffering from loss of life, flooding, no power etc. Lower Manhattan was a ghost town until last Friday. We ourselves have no access to the subway and have no idea when that will reopen. Every single person in New York has been affected. In terms of business, it’s been a serious wound. I mentioned momentum earlier in the post, well that basically curtailed it. We had an amazing expo, but the following day New York was nearly wiped off the map so work took a backseat for survival which we are now only recovering from. We were very lucky that we lost only tv and wifi for a few hours. We didn’t get flooded; we didn’t lost power for a week. Our partners and potential ones did, in one shape or another.
We are very happy with the product so far. We feel like it looks great and will be a super product for clubs/health pros etc. in America. We have meetings arranged to get the product into clubs hands and the feedback we got from all the people at the Expo has been invaluable. We are now all guns blazing and very confident that RzerV will get off the ground!
Since I drafted this little blog post Mother Nature has been at it again. Out of nowhere we have now gone through a snowstorm too. Within hours Manhattan was invisible from Brooklyn and again businesses were closed early. It’s been a challenging few weeks, but then, who ever said this was supposed to be easy.
Next week I am joining a panel along with other Trinity College Dublin alumni for a discussion on entrepreneurship. I am really looking forward to it. It should be great PR and great for networking. I never miss a opportunity to network and get the RzerV brand out there into people’s conscious’. It’ll be great to meet other entrepreneurs and get more involved in the Irish & Trinity community over here. We have been very vigilant to go to as many networking events as we can during our time here, in the hope of making as many good connections as possible in our time here. Also, it should be a bit of craic too!
It’s been quite a journey where we have experienced more highs and lows than most. We are coping with building a business at our ages, which is both a thrill but also the most daunting thing either of us has ever done. It’s a highly pressurised environment and there are so many set backs, from rejection to natural disasters, but to be honest, we wouldn’t have it any other way!
So we might have told you about the Sunday Business Post interviewing us for a piece they run on Irish startups. The article was published at 4m NY time and we woke up that morning to a tonne of emails and messages on our Twitter and Facebook about it.
It was great, we got massive coverage back home and in among the well wishers was a person who emailed us about investing in the company!
We were on cloud nine. Literally. After landing a place on the Incubator, this was the best thing that had happened the PearUp team. The offer was also a great boost for us and our idea.
The would-be-investor had been following Phillip Connolly’s columns on start-ups over on the SBP website and he had already invested in other startups who appeared in Philip’s columns.
Ironically, just the previous evening we had been at a 3.5 hour class over at General Assembly on Angel Investors.
Over the course of a week we had a call and 2 emails. We outlined what our costs were to keep the show running over here for the next 6 monmths and he told us he could cover them. Then he put a few numbers on the table.
It was really interesting dealing with him, the conversation really helped give us clarity on the sales side. He outlined a 15 point plan that got us thinking about the customer cancellations side of the product.
At the end of the day the timing was wrong. We are still pre-customer, we need to get out and try and sell our product.
He was looking for 12% and we felt that was a lot to give away… particularly given the scale of the US market. It would also have set the overall company valuation.
We want to keep pushing the project for 3-6 months and see where that takes us. It was obviously a big call passing this up, we took a week over it, but we feel we need customers and only then we can approach Angel Investors.
We got great legal advice on the investment side from our lawyers at SNR Denton.
They took us through the legal aspects covering off different types of structures such as convertible promissory notes, preferred shares, what we were offering the investor and how it might impact on a round of VC funding in a couple of years time.
We didn’t realise that taking an investor on board now could make things difficult later on. We don’t want to be in an unfavourable position a year down the line if we are looking at raising another round of funding.
We might well need an investment in 6 months time, but we didn’t just want to take it for the sake of taking it. If someone is willing to invest now, pre-customer, has made us confident going forward.
We are gaining massive commercial experience of being over here and the bid helped focus us. You have to think big about your idea, and in a place like New York, thinking big is second nature.
There are days when it has been really hard, and all of this was a great confidence boost and got a buzz going for us again.
The timing of everything was good for us we re-wrote our business plan and it gave us the chance to refocus the product. As a result the App is no longer about pairing users together, PearUp is still a feature of the product, but now you can book into anything and pay for it.
We are transitioning into RzerV.com, and the app now looks cleaner and we have improved the navigation. We are re-branding the product, we’ve a new logo and a new website, we also need to re-brand all our social platforms (Tumblr, Facebook, LinkedIn and Twitter).
We’ve picked things up and given ourselves momentum on the sales side. We now need to populate the product with clubs.
By re-thinking the product we’ve opened up our customer base to every health club in NY. The App will be a revenue generator and channel to market for our customers.
We’ve contacted some sports clubs, we were chuffed that one of these, Soul Cycle, ‘liked’ the link to the article that we posted on Facebook. We are also taking a stand at a big health and fitness expo on the 27th of October.
We went to a Trinity alumni event over here three weeks ago and Orla Power, from JP Morgan, invited us to speak at their next event. The event is titled ‘Are entrepreneurs born or made?’ It is a great way to publicise ourselves.
We’ve been really impressed so far with the alumni events over here. There’s also plenty of cheese and wine, so as an increasingly lean startup we can stuff our pockets with bread and cheese!
We were also asked to speak at Trinity’s careers week, it was really nice to be asked but we won’t be able to make that one.
We met another ex-pat Enda King from WhatIf. They help to invent new products, brands, services, and business models, as well as providing problem solving for small companies. Enda took us to lunch over inn Chelsea, it was nice to see the West side of the city for a change. We spent an hour and half shooting the breeze and he was able to plug us in with Dogpatch NYC.
We would love to be over at the Dublin Web Summit, while some people have said the line-up is less inspiring this year. As Europe’s largest Tech conference it gives huge international press to Ireland that can only be a good thing. Unfortunately the timing isn’t right for that one either. Maybe next year!
Status: in development
Founders: Alex Mann, Dermot Markey and Tiernan Kennedy
Support: GE OMD incubator
What it does: iPhone app and web booking system for sports, health and wellness centers.
While many final year students head stateside after their exams, most end up working short term jobs for a few months. A trio of recent Trinity College graduates took a different route and ended up taking their startup idea to New York as part of one of the city’s top incubator programmes.
PearUp is the brainchild of a trio of recent Trinity College graduates, Alex Mann, Dermot Markey and Tiernan Kennedy. The company is developing an iPhone app and web booking system for sports, health and wellness centres.
Earlier this year, Mann spotted a tweet about the GE OMD incubator programme in New York during the closing weeks of his final year in college and speculatively put in an application for a startup idea based on a final year project. A few months later the trio were rubbing shoulders with top graduates from MIT, Harvard and Stanford.
“I got a message on the night of the Trinity Ball in April saying we had been selected for the final,” said Mann. “I hadn’t told the two other founders, so I had to tell them to change their summer plans because we were going to New York. I chanced my arm sending in the application and we took it in our stride.”
The ten week development programme is a partnership between General Electric and global media group Omnicom OMD. PearUp eventually came second in the programme and the company has stayed on in New York to continue its development.
PearUp has developed a platform for booking and paying for sports facilities online through an app. The system acts in a similar manner to popular US restaurant booking app Open Table.
“If you play tennis you can book a court through your phone and also pay for it,” said Mann. “The name PearUp comes from the initial idea that we had to pair players of similar abilities together. We built that and decided we could do more with it and turn it to every sport. The app also has other functions, for example you could also pay for a personal trainer through the app.”
One of the principal advantages of being based in New York is the sheer scale of the opportunities and potential customers for a company developing an app. Working with luminaries such as GE also made the firm reassess its ambitions.
“When you are dealing with people from General Electric, you have to make your project huge,” said Mann. “Initially when we came up with idea we never really thought we would build it. When we got to America the scale was different. One of our potential clients has 55 gyms in Manhattan alone and half a million clients worldwide. The numbers are vast.”
So we came second at the Incubator, but to us our real prize was coming to America, not winning. And then you know what, we actually did win a prize in the end! We were hugely proud to win a DANI at the Digital Advertising Awards NI for Best Mobile App.
Then the Sunday Business Post interviewed us for a piece they are running on Irish start-ups who have moved over to New York, so keep an eye out for the article coming soon! Some others who are on their way over or are already slogging away out here are:
· Launchpad’s Richie Murray is looking to come here at the start of October
· Gianfranco Palumbo is also moving to New York to launch a music start up.
But it hasn’t all been plain sailing, it has been 4 weeks since we finished, Thursday 16th of August was come down time It took us 5 days to recover as we hadn’t slept for in the run up to the pitches.
We found ourselves dazed and rubbing our eyes out in the real world. The incubator was almost like a school setting, as safe environment where we were well supported.
First order of business was to recuperate and recharge. We had a chilled week where we all had 15 hours sleeps everyday for 5 days. The team is now down to two, with Dermy gone back to Northern Ireland to do some more schoolwork. We had an amicable parting of the ways. We also had to have the whole equity talk, it was a mature conversation. Thankfully there were no toys thrown out of the pram.
We all sat down before the pitch and the conversation was done in ten minutes. Alex kept the minutes of the meeting on his father’s advice. It worked out really well for Dermy over here; he’s got great contacts over in New York and in London. He sees himself ultimately working in a marketing agenc, at an ad agency or in a marketing role in a firm.
We also needed to sign contracts ourselves. These were drawn up by lawyers. We had to think about what might happen if we all fall out. The thought hadn’t occurred to us.
Then Tiernan headed out to the infamous Burning Man Festival in Nevada’s Black Rock Desert, you couldn’t find a place more unlike New York in America if you tried. He came back alive, which is great!
Speaking of burning, in Manhattan you simply burn through cash at an amazing rate. $50, $60, $100 doesn’t feel like it is worth as much, and it certainly doesn’t go anywhere here! Our stipend from the Incubator finished last Friday.
We are doing whatever we have to do to survive we’ve taken up part time bar jobs so we can get by and we are really lucky that our parents support us somehwhat, even though they don’t seem to be too sure what we’re doing over here!
Every landlord wants rent for 3 months: your first month, your last month and your current month’s rent; before you know it you’ve just dropped $ 2,500 to get a roof over your heads. We are living in East Williamsburg, 5 stops from Manhattan on the L train.
We are looking for places to work now. We view ProjectiveNYC last week. Beautiful co-working space in Soho. We spent a few days in Skillshare as well. It’s good to get of the apartment; we also hang out at the very cool Ace Hotel on Broadway. The place is jammed full of people coding, it almost seems that everyone in the lobby is working on some type of start up. I’d definitely recommend it to anyone who comes to New York on business.
We also cycle everywhere to save money. Lean startup right?
We realised we needed to incorporate also! We had been too busy building and selling. One of the many bonuses of being part of the incubator was that we got $5,000 worth of legal access. As you can imagine lawyers in New York are unbelievably expensive. Our lawyers, SNR Denton Law Firm, are very pro-start ups, they’ve invested in us and when we become big they benefit as well.
While Tiernan was gone I got our house cleaning done and spet most of my time with SNR, who have been brilliant. One thing we hadn’t realised was that Manhattan shuts down for the week around Labor Day, which fell on Monday 3rd of September, which was weird given the go-go-go nature of the city, so VC applications were put on hold so we don’t get caught up in the post Labour Day weekend pile!
The lawyers paid for our Incorporation and Patenting on the condition we stay with them. We also got our NDA’s and other legal stuff for free on that condition, which suits us fine.
Their advice has been great, and our lawyer replies to emails like bullets from a gun, she is very sharp waiting and ready. So we’ve incorporated.
The team are building our deck for potential investors now, this has to be pin sharp - clear and succinct.
The Incubator sent us their VC list with their direct emails and we are sending them mails letting them know what PearUp does. We have also met half of them as they came in to give us talks as part of the Incubator.
We are researching these people finding out what they’ve invested in previously and what type of person they are. It seems a lot are investing in the same type of thing: social, local mobile apps… We don’t want to be like Homer Simpson and the counterfeit jeans shouting “Me too!” in an already overcrowded market place. We have something to offer and something of value.
Jerry Kenelly from Tweak.com took us out to dinner with a friend of his from Credit Suisse who is also Irish, Mike Brewster. Jerry is a born and bred Tralee man like myself who received a substantial exit in 2007 with Stockbyte. He was able to tell us about dealing with VCs and what to do if it comes to a point where you have to buy them back and othe very sueful information.
While Tiernan was away at the Burning Man I began to understand how people get lost in big cities. If I ever got sick of Dublin I could always hop on the next train to Tralee and sit and watch Sky Movies back at my mother’s house. That is not an option now, so I’ve had to figure the whole place out! Graduation in on the 5th of December and I’ll be home for that.
We both agree that going home is the white flag. We have clarified where we are now and what’s next. We are quietly confident, if we can make it here…..
Make or break, we are now into our final match in this competition. This is the week we are pitching on both Wednesday and Thursday. The stress levels are up across the board.
At the start of this process the PearUp team were the only ones pulling weekends and late nights…. now everyone else has joined us. We’ve been working until 4am and having the place from ourselves. No distractions.
All the other teams have really pulled their socks up. Everyone has stepped up their game as you’d expect. We’ve seen plans, presentations, websites floating around the office. It has brought home that all the other competitors we are up against are hugely.
It is only $10K, in the grand scheme of things it will pay our rent here for 3 months, but it will be a great accolade to say we’ve won. Huge kudos for the PearUp team against such great fellow competitors.
We are all rehearsing our roles we know what we are saying on each slide. None of us want to draw a blank and look like a jackass.
We have had all our content ready since Saturday, and we’ve been looking at presentation styles since then. We originally wanted to present in HTML5 but it just hasn’t been practical.
We will now spend 3 days of doing the same thing as a team. Focus constantly on our delivery to really nail it.
We don’t really know anyone in New York and with less social distractions we are primarily working on our product.
There’s a bit of being a contestant in a Reality TV show setting in, people are beginning to get on each other’s nerves. We’d love to have our own space now. The flip side of an incubator is seeing too much of people.
It has been weird and all consuming, in the last few days in particular. We’ve really needed a break from the office. So last week we had dinner with Paul Canetti who is the founder and CEO of Maz Digital (digital publishing, newspapers and magazines use his tool to make content).
They were able to share loads of info and feedback, especially their legal stuff. In the land of lawyers it costs quite a bit to get access and time with a lawyer as you can imagine. The guys at Maz Digital offered to send us some of their legal stuff for us to adapt for our product saving us a heap of money.
They have just closed a round of funding and Paul has talked to more than 300 VCs. He never really believed in the impact of press on your startup. He says a lot of it comes down to your press particularly in the Tech sites TechCrunch, The Next Web, NYTimes etc. which he never really believed until an article was written about him in Business Insider.
All work i some shape or form with OMD & GE over here. We’ve been directly exposed to tonnes of web 2.0 heroes as part of this process which has really been amazing.
We have stuff we want to hold back. It is still a competition after-all and we don’t want people to see our game plan, especially the style we’re going to use to pitch.
We plan to go 1st on each day, looking to be the pace setters. We learnt back in college, in similar pitch scenarios, that the judges are likely to be stuck in a room for hours, possibly even having lunch in the same room. We are being somewhat tactical about it, but obviously not playing mind games in the classic Alex Ferguson style.
We are really focused on the VC pitch on the second day. Out of the group of 20 New York based VC’s and Angels – we already know two of them. Last year Last year out of 7 out of the 8 projects got funding.
Whatever happens, the competition is finished this week and then it is back to the real world.
After an epic tie-breaker in the final set we came joint finalist with Piggyback, losing out to the brilliant Zoetic.
Yeah it’s disappointing to be a finalist, but with hindsight if you said we would come second at the beginning of the programme we would have bitten your arm off!
We are looking for meetings with VCs at the moment, but we’re more focused on getting the product in to clubs first and building traction and momentum. Onwards and upwards as they say!
So here we are, approaching the end of the incubator, and what an amazing time we’ve had! In just 7 days the teams will presenting their final pitches in front of a panel committee made up of OMD and GE executives to decide who gets the $10,000 prize at the end of the program. The teams are really starting to put in the long hours now and our guess is the next week is going to contain a lot of junk food and very little sleep! But hey, that’s the life of a start-up for ya!
The past 2 weeks have been pretty awesome! Apart from continuous development, both with our product and business, we have had some pretty impressive speakers. Only today we were at the Tumblr offices in Union Square where co-founder David Karp gave us a talk about his experiences and how far Tumblr has come. Jeff Blackburn, SVP, WW Business Development at Amazon stopped by the incubator to tell us about Amazon, and how they can help start-ups really grow and develop. However the most impressive so far has been Jack Dorsey, founder of Square and Twitter! We were all pretty excited about this one and he most certainly didn’t fail to impress. He told us about his experiences with Twitter and Square and gave us some very sound and important advice on how to locate capital and how to manage your business once you start to scale. Meeting guys like this has really helped us to focus on what we are doing over here and with that we continue to develop and learn as the last days of the incubator draw closer.
Over the last weeks also we have been getting some pretty sweet press from back home! Local papers have been running some articles on us as an Irish Start-up abroad and we can’t thank them more for the exposure! Follow the links below for some of the articles on us!
Again, watch this space for the next segment by Simon Geraghty on Dot Dash’s blogs following our progress! Or if you haven’t seen them already then click on the link below!
Newry Times Article
Dot Dash Vol. 3
And make sure to like us on Facebook!
David Karp, Founder of Tumblr, in the Tumblr offices, NY
Jack Dorsey, founder of Twitter and Square, in our incubator!
So this week has been brilliant! Incubator continues to provide us with amazing one on one time with founders who have been extremely helpful. We have some exciting meetings coming up with potential clients! But this week has seen some great press from across the pond! Check out the newest blog from the wonderful dotdash.ie and a very impressive write up from the guys at www.newrytimes.com Safe to say PearUp is getting noticed!!!
Watch this space!
Check out the first blog on us from DotDash! Big thanks to Simon Geraghty for the spot!
Make sure to check out http://www.dotdash.ie/ for more on PearUp as the weeks progress!
Each year GE and OMD run a 10-week incubator program bringing together the brightest student entrepreneurs to work in New York City for the Summer. This year sees 3 Trinity graduates, from Co. Kerry, Co. Down and Co. Clare flying the Green, White and Orange alongside graduates from Stanford, MIT, NYU, Cornell among others and are the sole non-US startup in the competition.
What are they working on? PearUp is a mobile app aimed at people looking to play their favourite sport whether its ping pong, squash, tennis or even a game of five a side. The app allows people to compete against strangers in a safe and fun enviornment, working their way up the PearUp Leaderboard. The Pear Tree provides users with a list of available slots to compete against someone at their local gym.
The Pear Up app is targeting 3 audiences:
The successful Incubator program is now in its second year and provides complimentary work space, mentorship from GE and OMD executives, free access to classes at weekly General Assembly sessions with founders, product and design leads from notable startups, and a stipend of US $4,000 for the summer. And importantly for the PearUp team there is no equity exchange.
The sole aim of GE | OMD Incubator program is to create a collaborative environment where entrepreneurs can learn, thrive and build great digital products.
At the end of the program, that runs over the summer from 4th of June to the 17th of August, the PearUp team will have the opportunity to pitch to GE and OMD executives for the chance to win $10,000.
PearUp began as a final year business class project. Alex first came up with the idea on a visit to New York the previous year. Due to the unforseen travelling problems caused by Hurrican Irene Alex arrived a day later and was stuck for 24 hours before he could meet his friends. He thought to himseld “wouldn’t it be cool if I could log onto some where and meet someone to play tennis with right now” and so PearUp was born. Alex approached Dermot in early Deceomber and asked would he be part of the class project and Dermot was immediately sold on the idea and the pair worked together for the following semester developing and building the business.
The Irish team’s adventure started back in late March 2012, in the middle of Alex and Dermot’s finals, when Alex read a tweet from Cindy Gallup. The tweet mentioned the closing date was approaching to apply for an Incubator program aimed at startups,Thursday, April 12th, 2012.
Alex’s first instinct was “Fuck it, I’ll apply!” A slightly blasé approach he gladly admits today.
Then on the night of the Trinity Ball Alex got an email, just as the Friendly Fires set drew to a close, at 2am. As he rambled into Bewley’s for breakfast the next morning his first thought was “did I just dream that?”
He checked his mail again and sure enough it read “You’ve been selected for the final round for the GE | OMD Incubator program 2012.”
The next hurdle was a Skype interview with the organisers at 7pm on the 24th of April, just before Chelsea beat Barcelona in the Champions League Semi-Final. Dermot exaplains “As they threw us questions about our concept, market leaders, competitiors and how we knew eachother and our friendship we came off the call feeling like we had nailed it”.
The team got the news they had been accepted as they started their final exams the following week 3rd of May, Friday midnight. They had no developer on board at that point.
Tiernan Kennedy was a mutual friend from Trinity and when presented with the opportunity he agreed without hesitation.
Their next challenge was to get their US visas arranged, processed and delivered. The first port of call, as it is for every other Irish student, was a trip to USIT who informed Alex that it would take 8 weeks minimum to turn their visas around.
Down’s Dermot Markey tells us “we simply were not going to let this stand in our away”
Sheer determination, tenacity and bloody mindedness saw the visas for the 3 turned around in 5 weeks. The process involved a former Labour Party Leader , a Conservative Republican Congressman from the USA and a Venture Capitalist that Alex met at the Dublin Pub summit in April who provided Alex access to immigration Lawyers in California.
At Paddy Cosrgave’s Pub summit, a networking event for Dublin’s burgeoning startup community, on the 22nd of May in NoName Bar Alex cornered Will Porteous with the simple question “I need to talk to you right now, do you know any lawyers to expedite the visa process to help us get into the US?”
They were still late for the programme… arriving 8 days late, visa in hand and have had to hit the ground running, the pitch to decide the winner is on the 17th August, they have 6 weeks to go.
So far the Incubator has given the Pear Up team access to OMD’s client list such as EHarmony and Visa. Now their aim is to get a minimal viable product stage into testing next week and to find a Manhattan based sports club willing to talk to them.