November 22, 2013
Acceleration: The Story of Gentoo (Part III)
Benjamin Nadeau, Biomedical Engineering ’13, and Greg Affsa, Industrial Design ’15, continue their Gentoo story in part three of our three-part series. In this installment, the team looks back on an exciting year, and prepares for the future.
Written by Greg Affsa and Benjamin Nadeau
If there is one constant related to this project, it’s that nothing was ever handed to us. From the very beginning, we’ve worked for every little bit of progress we’ve made. Even though we did not win any prize money through MassChallenge, our experience there was invaluable. In addition to our team, there were 100 other finalists that didn’t win, and 1,080 other applicants that did not even make it to the finals. Only 26 companies were considered winners. As they say, “Money earned is sweeter than money won.” Or something like that. Regardless of the outcome, our acceptance to the program is something to be proud of, and the progress we made while there was more than we anticipated.
At any given time, we always have multiple contingency plans drawn out. It helps us avoid being blindsided when any of the things that can go wrong in a start-up, do. From midway through our MassChallenge, one of our mentors said not to focus purely on winning MassChallenge, but on building the business. This was when we began implementing a back-up plan in the event we did not win money through MassChallenge, which was well before judging even began. In the event we didn’t win, our business could continue to flourish. Because of this, last week our first batch of inventory was ordered, which may not have happened if we were planning all along on having $50,000 additional dollars in the bank at this time.
When you’re part of a start-up it matters what you’re good at and what you want to do (or what you think you should do), but what matters even more is being a salesman. If you can’t sell, your business fails. So in 10 working days, our inventory will arrive and whether we’re a designer, engineer, in finance or marketing, it doesn’t matter because we’re all in sales.
The most difficult part of this situation is that in some ways you’re able to hide behind all of the preparation work. It becomes familiar. Although you’re very busy, it’s a judgment-free experience. The second we go to market with the product we’re at the mercy of the world. We’ve invested a year of our lives, made major personal and professional sacrifices, and put everything we have into this project. Now the entire future of the company rests on whether or not people will actually look at it, buy it, or even care, and even more, if we can sell it. So think of it this way: Our parachute might be working, the door of the plane is open, and all we have to do is jump, because if we don’t, the plane crashes anyway. Easy, right? Not so much, but it is an experience like no other.
If there is one other certainty in this project, it has been the unwavering support of our friends, family, and mentors. This is where we say, “I’d like to thank my parents for putting up with my start-up shenanigans and actually helping me turn them into something bigger than ourselves. Without them we wouldn’t be alive or able to succeed on this level.” We wouldn’t be here without any of our supporters and we thank all of you! In many ways we want to succeed more for them than for ourselves. The fact that they have invested in us, and are willing to invest more, is inspiring beyond belief. If failure exists in any form, it would be in the market, not our lack of trying. We’ve learned too much to consider ourselves anything but successful. The reality is that those close to us invested a piece of themselves in us, and not delivering on that would be more difficult to deal with than any personal disappointment. That being said, because of their support, we’re ready to jump without hesitation. There is a “calm before the storm” feeling as we wait for the inventory to arrive. Once it does, we’ll be going full throttle.
Last week, we attended the Fall 2013 Accelerate Pitchfest. Exactly one year ago we made our first pitch for Gentoo. It was a great reminder of where we began. Although the business plan and product have drastically changed, the energy and desire to change the world is still very much the same and is what continues to drive us forward as a company. A year later, we’re finally bringing our product to market, and we’re absolutely thrilled to continue sharing our story with you.
- Dennis Nealon