This interview is an extract from the book Accelerate, which launched last week through publisher FGPress. Accelerate is the first comprehensive guide to the fast-paced world of startup accelerator programs featuring 230 accelerator programs spread across 46 different countries. Included in this book are responses from over 150 entrepreneurs whose businesses have benefited from participating in an accelerator.
The focus of this post today is Ubooly. Ubooly was founded by Carly Gloge, Isaac Squires and Gavin Lee in 2012 and is a graduate of the Techstars Bolder program of the same year. Ubooly is a stuffed animal for children that talks and listens. Ubooly can be customized to know a child’s name, teach lessons, and much more. The company was started in much the same way as Accelerate, through a KickStarter project. By completion of their project, Uboolyhad raised more than $50,000, double their goal. As an interesting side note, their acceptance into the Techstars program was partly contingent on the success of the KickStarter campaign, which was coincidentally running alongside their application process to the program. To date Ubooly has raised over $2.5m in funding with over 40,000 units sold. They are currently in the middle of their second accelerator program, this one is run through Disney and powered by Techstars.
“Possibly one of the biggest learning experiences for us during Techstars was how to market the product to consumers, but also how to describe what we’re doing in a way that’s compelling to VCs. Convincing VCs to give us enough money to build a stuffed animal was a tricky venture on its own, and Techstars definitely made this an easier landscape to traverse than it would have otherwise been.
One of the most incredibly helpful things to us during the program was to meet with true tested CEOs. We sat down and shared experiences through which they could help us navigate. During the program we had our first acquisition offer, which we ultimately declined. While going through the offer it was so valuable to be able to sit down with CEOs that had experienced acquisitions, where we could candidly discuss their first acquisition and how they handled it. If you think about it, the internet is a really wonderful thing where you can ask all sorts of anonymous questions and get all sorts of anonymous answers back, but having a real one-on-one with others that have been there and done it, in an off-the-record the-record format that allowed them to talk about details that they otherwise may not be able to discuss, was incredible.
The accelerator experience isn’t all smooth sailing – there’s a learning curve and it’s a steep one. One thing that we had to deal with was Demo Day and our first product shipment deadline was happening at the same time. When we initially prototyped the product we used silicone foam which was way too expensive to manufacture, so the plan was to switch to something called CPR gel. It seemed like it was going to work, we received some initial samples that looked great. It was getting close to Demo Day and, for some crazy reason, we felt that it was important to ship the product alongside the big event. So, instead of getting a final production sample, we decided we would just look at the product in China over webcam and make the call. Great choice! We saw this toy on webcam and it looked beautiful, but when it arrived in Colorado it looked like it had eaten six chocolate bars on the trip over. What we found was that there were pockets of air in the gel so at high altitude our toys were exploding. We actually shipped some units directly from the factory to our Kickstarter supporters. Some of the toys became so fat that their seams exploded – hilarious in hindsight but shocking and nerve-wracking in the moment. Everything turned out fine – it was non-toxic gel and we replaced the units, but this was definitely something we didn’t expect we’d experience when entering the program.”
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