Elana Fine, managing director of the Dingman Center for Entrepreneurship at the University of Maryland’s Robert H. Smith School of Business, took questions online last week with special guest Justin Baer, who recently launched the guest list and event check-in app, Check In Easy. Here are excerpts from their chat, edited for grammar and clarity:
Q. I am considering patenting an algorithm I invented for my Web-based business, but patents are very expensive and I am not sure it’s worth it. What would you recommend?
Baer: You can do a provisional patent which “locks up” the idea for one year. In that year, you can see whether the business is viable and whether it is worth doing a full patent. A provisional patent should be around $1,500.
Q. I know there are tons of resources out there for entrepreneurs, but where would I find a quick short list of the best places to seek advice?
Baer: I know it sounds trite, but everything is online. Whether they are informational blog postings on venture capital or marketing or YouTube videos or Facebook ads, almost every topic and tutorial is available online.
Q. Justin — you’ve grown Check In Easy in a short amount of time, what do you see as some of the keys to your customer acquisition strategy?
Baer: Check In Easy is at 11,000 users. We didn’t get there by tweeting. We got there with hustle. Lots of it. We targeted the right people (key!), then did a full court press. Phone calls, e-mails, follow-ups, awesome customer support, etc. Check out this video which explains “hustle muscle” — http://youtu.be/ZlY2aDQOjMo
Q. Cvent’s planned initial public offering seems to validate the event management space, what impact do you expect on your business and others in the sector? Is event management D.C.’s new hot sector?
Baer: Cvent’s IPO is definitely exciting for the event industry. It validates the vast size of the industry. D.C. is home to the most number of organizations and associations, and many of them do tons of events. I think that’s why they are here; however, the industry is global.
Q. I have a single member LLC with a boilerplate operating agreement. With new co-founders coming on board and the need to set up more complicated provisions such as a vesting schedule, should we seek out a lawyer or are there available resources to help us?
Fine: I always think it is smart to seek counsel early on. There are a lot of local lawyers who understand that start-ups don’t have a lot of cash. Protecting you, your employees and co-founders is usually less expensive than any issues down the line. Find the right lawyer that will be a partner with you and your company as you grow.
Q. As a newcomer to the D.C. area, what have you found most surprising about the area? Any complaints?
Baer:Business-wise, no complaints yet. We’re on the lookout for some talented people to join our team. Coming from New York City, there was an abundance of savvy folks to choose from. We’re just getting started with the hiring here, so I’ll have to see how it goes and circle back to you on that, but I’m optimistic.
Q. What are some of the coolest new start-ups in the D.C. area right now?
Fine: Two words — “wheel bite.” Unless you are a longboarder (or hang out at the Dingman Center) you’ve probably never heard the expression. One of our student ventures, Wheel Shields, is solving this very painful problem, with wheel covers that prevent riders from falling while also enabling new tricks. Wheel Shields’ founder Chase Kaczmarek is so passionate about this that I’m considering starting to longboard myself.
Q. You mentioned targeting the right customers ... how did you do that? What data did you look for in some of your early adopters that helped you create a replicable process?
Baer: The best thing you can do is talk to your customers. Early on, I made sure I spoke with a lot of customers on the phone. From those conversations, I was able to determine which vertical would be most profitable.