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In fall of 2018, Brian Deller was selected to be one of the 24 people who made up WTIA’s first Founder Cohort. The year-long program brings together Washington-based venture-scale startups to learn, develop, and “best of all, become their own team of resources and partnerships that last for many years to come,” according WTIA CEO Michael Schutzler. Since joining the program, Brian has developed meaningful relationships with a number of cohort founders, three of which have turned into professional exchanges of services.
Deller, founder of software company Fiero which developed out of a need for his other company Virtual Sports Entertainment, was discussing his need for a rebrand at a Founders Cohort meeting when fellow cohort member Shari Burk of Vision Platform recommended that he use her company’s product. At first, he didn’t think he had a need for it because he had already hired a branding company.
“She’s an excellent marketer so at first I thought I was just being marketed to,” Deller said. But after explaining a little more about her product, Deller acquiesced, and soon grasped the extent of its value. Burk’s company worked with Deller and his employees for two days (for a massively discounted price) using a software to help them hone in on their company’s identity and mission.
“I’ve been running small businesses for ten years and I can tell you I left that first day calling my dad, who is one of my closest friends and advisors, saying I would never start another business again without doing this exercise,” Deller said. “It was very well organized. It helped establish that leadership was generally on the same page and helped organize our energies in precisely the same direction.”
In return, Deller and his team offered Burk feedback on what went well and what processes could be improved and how.
“They have really polished the first part of their platform but they are still working to develop it. They used us as a guinea pig for some things they were trying to optimize,” Deller said. “We’re writing a complete breakdown for her team about what we learned, how we’ll apply it, and what can be improved.” Deller is also considering taking the product in-house and offering it to the companies that visit Virtual Sports for team building exercises. “We will likely be in a weekly cadence of progress moving forward,” he said. “We’re now both very invested in the success of each other’s products.”
Another Founders Cohort member, M.H. Lines, CEO of Automaton, was present when Burk convinced Deller to use her product. Lines chimed in that Deller should give it a try, and said that once he’d used it she would help him build marketing campaigns. Deller met with Lines before doing the Vision Platform exercise to detect where their biggest blind spots were as a company and agreed to loop back around to her to implement the strategy that was planned with Vision Platform.
“[Lines’] company will be seeing us round trip, from where we started – being really disorganized and not really knowing how to effectively target our customer base – to a month later having a really clear strategy and vision that we’re implementing through the toolsets she’s helping us build out.”
Deller added that Lines, who primarily works with enterprise companies, has used this experience to reacquaint herself with the needs of smaller companies.
“We’re super small, but she usually goes for enterprise companies,” Deller said. “Doing business with us is keeping her fresh on her skills.”
Another Founders Cohort member working with Deller’s team is Robin Elenga of RevelHMI, a company that specializes in haptic motor technology technology. Elenga caught wind that Deller was looking to add simulated recoil to Virtual Sports’ laser tag guns, which his company’s haptic motor design could provide. RevelHMI is currently in the process of engineering a design for the laser tag guns—a win for Deller’s company and a win for Elenga’s, which was looking for additional markets to break into.
“They have all these patents around their product but they don’t know how to apply it specifically to VR and that’s our world,” said Deller. “This experience is getting them a use case that they were looking for.”
Deller credits the Founders Cohort program for providing an environment in which working relationships can develop organically.
“At most meetups, everyone wants something from someone else,” he said. “The Founders Cohort provides a healthy amount of structure but I think all three of these connections came out of just socializing with these groups who were all at similar stages. I don’t think that would have happened elsewhere.”
“I feel very fortunate for our company to have been accepted into this program and would recommend it for any founders who are coming out of the early stage and are ready to build their business,” he added.
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