MassChallenge Endorsements

This is the second year of the MassChallenge competition and the second year the Innovation Nights team has been an official endorser.  (Full disclosure:  we’re also entered into the competition for the same reasons we suggested other startups check it out — no strings attached money, free office space for several months if you get to be a finalist, and wonderful access to mentors and resources.  Since Bobbie held office hours last year and worked with several of the finalists on their marketing programs, it seemed fitting we should give it a try.  Hey, it would be nice to have a designated desk.)

If you are unaware of MassChallenge and the endorser system, here are the most basic details:

  1. MassChallenge is a big competition for startups — one of, if not, the largest.  There’s prize money involved.
  2. There is a complicated system of diamond and platinum endorsement points.  The Diamond ones get added up to refund your entry fee and both give you points toward the first round of judging.  The system is designed to get people talking to people in the community and telling their startups’ story.  The endorsers are a diverse bunch and you get invited to be an endorser.  Anyone who registers on the site can vote.  (Note:  I’ve heard complaints about the registration requirement and after dealing with two years of voting on our sites, I’m on the side of  registering.  Public voting is hard to control and easy to game.)

You’re right.  If we entered, we shouldn’t be endorsing.  In our (and MassChallenge’s) defense, we never intended to enter.  It was a last minute thing and with more than 700 entries, MassChallenge can’t be expected to be able to police the associations of all the endorsers, contestants and judges.  (We have withdrawn from judging.)  That said, we like to think that we can be fair and do our part even if we are competing ourselves.  There will be many winners and the finalist group alone will be huge.

So, all that aside, we have placed our bets and made our endorsements.  With almost 100 requests, you’ll all have to forgive me if I don’t send personal notes to everyone we did and did not endorse.  We will say that there were some biases:

  • Mass Innovation Nights companies — This one might seem obvious but our reasoning is that companies who have (or are planning to participate in) Mass Innovation Nights have a product.  They are a little further along the continuum.
  • Experienced founders — Not saying you have to be a gray-hair, or a serial entrepreneur but there has to be some understanding of how to run a business, some experience in the marketplace you have chosen to enter, some foundation in what you are trying to do.  Or, at least you were able to convince someone with those qualifications to believe in you and your concept, and join you as a co-founder.
  • A business model –You are creating a product people are willing to pay something for.  Bonus points for multiple revenue streams.
  • We know you — that’s right.  We know you.  You’ve introduced yourself and we know you aren’t crazy.  (Or we know what your particular brand of crazy is.)  People do business with people they know.  VCs and angels invest in people.  And, people endorse people.
  • We think you will do well, for one reason or another, and we want to point back and say, “We endorsed that.”

The anti-endorsement bias:

  • Built to flip — “Gonna get me millions of users and then get purchased by Facebook.”  Nope, not interested.
  • The request phrased as an order — you must endorse my company.  If you aren’t polite with us, how are you ever going to deal with customers and partners?
  • The folks who addressed their request “Dear Mr. Carlton…” While it is easy to dismiss this one based entirely on ego — I mean, come on, my picture is sprayed all over the Internet, it actually gave me pause for a different reason.  These are people going down the list and sending a note to everyone.   No careful consideration of what is relevant and why.  There were lots of strangers who approached us with their pitches but some of the pitches were based on a decent level of understanding of what we do and our backgrounds.  (For example, Bobbie, a mother of two, has both enterprise software and consumer product marketing experience. Dan is a developer who has previous experience with event companies and runs his own website development company.)  I do have a certain level of sympathy for people trying to hit anything that moves, and we are easy to find but do the research to make it relevant.  (And, in the course of that research, take note of whether the contact is a Mr. or Ms.)

Or, we didn’t endorse you simply because we ran out of endorsements.  There were companies we want to give diamonds to that we gave platinum (and one case of vice-versa…there’s no correction feature on the website) and companies who got nothing because they came to us too late.  We went and voted on their concept.

Additional note:  A massive thanks to everyone who voted for us, endorsed us or gave us a push to enter.  While we aren’t one of the finalists, we got awesome feedback on what we are doing (and admittedly some head scratching feedback/advice too) and we’ll still be there, mentoring and supporting MassChallenge companies.  We’re looking forward to a whole new crop of new products to introduce too as part of Mass Innovation Nights.

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