From idea to reality
They say the best problems to solve when starting a new business are the ones you experience firsthand. At Inspectar, we took this approach, after having been through the grueling experience of performing hardware bringup on dense and complex boards over the years. From accidentally probing the incorrect pad on a 128 pin connector to taking a picture of a problem on a board, throwing it in MS Paint to markup and share with your team, we have seen firsthand the inefficiencies and mistakes that happen in the lab.
What started as a senior engineering design project back in May to solve these problems using Augmented Reality (AR), eventually evolved into something much greater over the past few months. Up until September, our work was mainly focused on the academic side of the school project until 2 of the founders Darryl and Matt were able to commit to a work term aimed at building a company out of the idea over the Fall semester through a Memorial Centre for Entrepreneur (MCE) program. This opportunity was in part due to the amazing and very supportive startup community that is on the rise here in Newfoundland, Canada.
In parallel with entering the MCE program we also joined various other startup programs to better help fuel our growth as a business.
The Evolution program is an intensive, 8-week workshop that helps entrepreneurs identify their markets and validate their business ideas. The program was a perfect fit for the stage we were in as during the program there was a massive emphasis on customer interviews. We talked to over 100 potential end users, which helped us better understand our customer segment and led to a few iterations of our featureset. The program also gave us an opportunity to practice our pitches and also gave us access to an excellent network of mentors.
At the end of the 8 weeks, we have the opportunity to present our venture to an audience of approximately 100 industry professionals, investors, and other entrepreneurs at “Pitch & Pick”. We came 3rd place in our cohort of 20+, and generated interest from folk that can help us with things like legal and finance.
Y Combinator (YC) is a world leading accelerator program that has helped spawn many amazing businesses. Twice a year, YC onboards new companies, supplies them with some money, but more importantly work intensively with the companies, in hopes that some find massive success. In addition to their regular program, YC also offers a free, 10-week, online course called Startup School. It’s designed to be accessible for all founders who would like to get help through the earliest, most difficult challenges of starting a company. If you aren’t familiar with the program, Startup School requires participants to follow weekly lectures, participate in a weekly office hours style discussion with a moderator, along with forum style discussions. New to this cohort of Startup School was a small number of equity free 10K grants available for the most promising prospects upon graduation.
Our goal when entering Startup School was to connect with the huge pool of participants and build meaningful relationships that will help us moving into the future. To achieve this we were as engaged as possible, offered help to anyone asking for something we could assist with, and kept tabs of people we knew who could help us. During weekly meetings we would prepare our current largest problem and ask for help. There were very few problems we talked about that were left unanswered.
In order to qualify for the Startup School 10K grant we also had to apply to the next YC batch. What happened next caught us off guard. A YC partner Eric Migicovsky asked us for a video of our software, which did not yet exist. So we put on some coffee, and glued together the working parts of our tech and produced a demo. Thanks for the kick in the butt, Eric!
One week later we get an email. We were selected for a YC interview after only two months of being a company. The next week was filled with preparation for the interview, and meeting with potential customers/investors in the Bay Area.
Our YC interview was a great experience. Preparing for the interview taught us a lot about pitching, and the interview itself was very insightful. We also took full advantage of the opportunity to network with other YC applicants, and were able to make some meaningful connections for future.
We were not selected for this coming YC cohort, however were chosen to receive one of the 10K equity free grants. Feedback from the YC partners validated that we’re on the right track for launching something great. They were excited by the product space, our team’s potential, and said we should come back when we’re in a more mature place (launched) to be able leverage their acceleration.
With a successful 2018 now in the books we move into 2019 with a huge backlog of development to finish productizing what was once an academic project. We expect the first few months to be busy with technical work before moving into a private beta with a small number of handpicked customers. The selection criteria are those we can be add significant value to, and be intimate with so we can further refine our product offerings. Beyond that is hard to predict given a company at our stage, however we are setting our sights on a full product launch - however fully expect the unexpected to happen along the way.
Thanks for reading, we’re so glad that you’re along for the ride this early into our company’s life. This is going to be fun.