Don’t bite off more than you can chew….

Don't bite off more than you can chew....

When we started HTRL, we were focusing on three markets: 1) students, 2) colleges and 3) high-tech companies.

Now that we’ve reached our fifth week in the program, we realize we’ve been going for the overkill trying to target three big markets. (Not to mention that each of these markets has mini-markets that are yet to be reckoned with.)

Thanks to HTRL leaders and classmates, we’ve made the decision to narrow our focus to just students and colleges. If everything goes well, phase 2 can include companies.

This feels great because now we can focus our efforts reaching students and talking to as many colleges as possible. I feel like a big boulder has been lifted off our backs.

So many things happening… many GOOD things happening!

As one of our mentors puts it….onward and upward!


Railcomm Customer Interview & Discovery

Railcomm Customer Interview & Discovery

A big thank you to Mike Penza for introducing me to Nicki Denny who’s Director of HR at Railcomm. What an incredible meeting and my hand would not stop jotting notes. For those asking what pain I’m solving for companies, I’m getting closer and closer to answering those questions.

Next up, a thank-you card and some chocolates.  I don’t have to…but I want to.

Proverbs and Platforms

Image“First plant your fields, then build your barn”  (Farming proverb)

If there’s anything we’ve learned lately, it’s that we need to focus on students and students only (hence the sheep 🙂 ) .  If the students aren’t there, it won’t attract the colleges or the companies willing to pay for access to them.  I know it’s necessary to find ways we’re going to monetize the platform but that’s not what this is about right now.  If that means that I have to postpone investment…then that’s what it’s gotta be.

Another thing we’ve learned….(and this is still in development)……is that we should be reaching out to both high school and college students. One could argue that both are very different groups of people.  I agree with you…yes….they are very different and have different needs. High school students are interested in getting into college and finding scholarships…..and college students are looking for internships, research opportunities, and future prospect for jobs.

However, if there’s one common denominator….it’s that both are building incredible innovations.  We’ve seen robots from high school students that blow college student robots out of the water and vice versa.  We learned this just recently actually…..we were strictly working with high school robotics students but then we realized that their mentors…(college students)….were curious about GradFly and some even told us this…”Ya know…I could use this, too.”  A-Ha!

We are going to continue doing what we’ve been doing …….. finding the right recipe for high school and college STEM students to thrive on GradFly.  Because if they’re not using the site, our paying customers aren’t going to give a squat about what we’re trying to do.

However, one thing we are doing is talking to colleges administrators and HR directors from various companies to learn how we can nail the pain of recruiting and sourcing technical talent while we’re building the right community for students.  Thanks to our mentors, we need to continue doing our homework and find that wow-ness around the problem we’re trying to solve.  This will definitely take time and we are aware that need to find those customer nightmares right away.

Other platforms that have gone through this include Yelp, YouTube, Dribbble, Behance.

GradFly featured in Tech This Way Blog

GradFly featured in Tech This Way Blog

I don’t believe in being featured too much in the media before launch,  but it’s okay to do it occasionally to generate some sort of excitement – especially if it involves engaging the STEM community.  We have to start introducing the concept anyways and small articles go a long way.

A big thank you to Rob Merlo for writing up this fantastic article.


“Camaron que se duerme…”


There is an expression in Spanish that goes like this:

“Camaron que se duerme, se lo lleva la corriente.” 

….which means….the shrimp in the sea that nod off get swept away by the current.

Basically, don’t miss the bus.

My mother used to tell me this when I left anything until the last minute.  For some time, I got away with being the washed-away shrimp – I didn’t really seem to mind. But…this has changed since I’ve become an entrepreneur and startup founder.  There is no way I’m missing that bus.

It’s Monday…and that means I’m up emailing customer leads and trying to talk to anyone who’s either a student, a college official, or an HR professional.  It doesn’t matter who….what matters most is that I’m learning as MUCH as I can about the space I’m getting into.  Since I’m working with three models, that’s thrice as much effort I need to be putting in.  One thing’s for sure, I need to be asking the right questions.

So it’s 11:45am, and I’ve already sent around 10-15 emails asking people for their time to kindly answer some questions and also tell them a little bit about what we’re doing at GradFly.  I have also have two appointments today so it should be good to get some answers down on paper.

So for those having the Monday blues, there is no such thing in entrepreneurship.  It’s all about how fast can you move….even better, how FAST are you willing to move.  There is no doubt in my mind that I’m moving at the speed of light.  Okay, okay, maybe not that fast….but if it helps you do what you do…why not?

Customer discovery over beer

urlLast night, I met with Mike Tomidy, Assistant Director of Advancement at the University of Rochester’s Hajim’s School of Engineering.  He and I have met before and he’s been an amazing resource for connecting me to college admission officers and evangelists.  He agreed to meet up once again to catch up and offer some introductions to more folks who could help us. BTW, if anyone hasn’t been to Victoire for some good belgian beer, I highly recommend it. 🙂

I didn’t hold back; I asked an onslaught of questions – particularly questions having to do with how companies currently recruit students and whether the U of R gets pressure from high-tech/engineering companies to feed students into their co-op and internship programs.

Well, it turns out companies are willing to pay top dollar to create exclusive feeder programs.  I’ve known this – I just didn’t realize how much mula these companies are willing to pay.  They’re also well hidden inside the university so it’ll take some work to find more answers on these type of programs.  This is very important for us since our matching algorithm will provide recommendations for GradFly users on various STEM-oriented careers based on their projects.

Take optics for instance, UR is well known for its optics programs – companies may spend up to $50k to have colleges like UR establish an exclusive program that introduces and trains students to pursue a career at that respective company. Our job is to learn more about what companies are looking for  and what ‘qualifies’ a student to consider company internships and career offerings.

Who are the people responsible for running these programs?   Usually C-level folks and head of HR.  This has given me some fuel to approach high-tech companies who are looking for the right students.

My biggest take-away:

Companies are spending top dollar to find the right technical candidates.

Students with technical degrees have inherent value because they can ‘create’. Companies see these students as assets and an investment.

Since colleges are losing research dollars at the graduate level, they will rely on undergraduate researchers – it’s cheaper.  They’ll just need a way to find that talent.  BINGO!