NextStep.io CEO John Schnipkoweit spoke publicly about his company’s experience with TechStars Tuesday.
Schnipkoweit’s talk focused on interpersonal relationships. Using Robin Thicke’s summer hit “Blurred Lines,” he emphasized how situations can get blurry when employees become housemates, significant others move halfway across the country, hundreds of investors and mentors come into the picture and strangers become friends.
“Until I actually went to the accelerator, I didn’t realize what that would do to those relationships,” he said. “If co-founding a business is like getting married, going to an accelerator is like consummating the marriage.”
Tuesday evening’s “fireside chat” with NextStep was the first event of the Vault Startup School, a new effort by Vault Coworking and Collaboration Space in Cedar Rapids. The school hopes to regularly feature successful entrepreneurs in an intimate setting.
From RecBob to NextStep.io
After founding RecBob in the fall of 2011 and spending more than a year building and rebuilding the platform, Schnipkoweit said being accepted into the TechStars-powered accelerator felt like stepping onto a roller coaster. After being notified of their acceptance in March, the five-person team had only two weeks to relocate to Portland for three months.
Through the experience, the team had access to hundreds of investors and mentors, received $20,000 in funding and was granted early access to the API for Nike’s Fuel Band. “We were really, really excited,” Schnipkoweit (right) said. “But, in the back of my mind—and I think everyone’s—I thought, ‘They’re going to tear us apart.’”
After meetings with more than 200 mentors, the team came to the realization RecBob was a “nice-to-have, not a need-to-have” product. Rather than a pivot, Schnipkoweit described the transformation to NextStep.io as a complete leap of faith. The team had to leave every part of RecBob behind, and Schnipkoweit even wrote a eulogy for their personified mascot.
“Within the first four weeks, we made the decision that we were going to completely change gears—but we had no idea what that meant,” Schnipkoweit said. “We went through idea after idea after idea. Some of these ideas would last a few hours, some would last two days.”
Each of the accelerator’s 10 teams struggled with how to integrate the Nike+ Fuel Band data into their businesses, Schnipkoweit said. At times, Nike could be slow moving or hesitant to give up data because of users’ privacy concerns.
The inspiration for NextStep.io came from the sheer amount of data the Fuel Band and other wearable computers can provide. Fuel Band can give wearers more than 1,200 data points per day, which is difficult for the average user to make sense of. The NextStep team hopes to solve this problem by integrating with a user’s other social networks to spot trends between daily habits and fitness levels.
Leading up to the final pitch day of the accelerator, the team was in a panic with no product and no pitch deck. Schnipkoweit said TechStars was able to help by putting them in touch with other entrepreneurs who had gone through similar trials.
“TechStars, they invest in people,” he said. “They don’t invest in ideas, they don’t invest in products…[people] are what holds a company during adversity, during trying times.”
Return to Iowa
Schnipkoweit says returning to Cedar Rapids at the end of June felt like “accelerator hangover,” noting Iowa simply doesn’t have the same density of startups, resources and early adopters.
“In that environment, I felt like I could get anything done in an hour,” he said.
Upon returning, Schnipkoweit made the decision to downsize the team from five members to three so the company could focus on business development and product development. After living and working closely together for months, downsizing meant separating personal relationships and professional goals.
The NextStep team currently includes Schnipkoweit, Chris Quartier and Brad Candullo, who works from New York City. The company will remain in Cedar Rapids “for now,” Schnipkoweit said, noting the team has already moved twice this year. However, he didn’t rule out the possibility the company might have to move again in the future.
In the past few months, the three have worked on integration with other wearable fitness trackers, such as Jawbone UP and Fitbit.
The team is still developing a business model for NextStep, but Schnipkoweit says he hopes to complete another round of fundraising and have paid trial users by the end of the year. He said there has been strong interest from both consumers and businesses.
“We might not have the solution, but we know where we’re going,” he said. “We just can’t stop pitching, we can’t stop connecting with people, we just have to keep evolving.”
For more information about upcoming events, visit Vault Startup School’s website.
Credits: Event photos courtesy of Vault Startup School. John Schnipkoweit photo courtesy of Schnipkoweit.