Venture Corner: Starting Something DISTINC.TT
From Online to Real Life
DISTINC.TT presents its members with the people, venues, and activities in their immediate vicinity and provides the framework to turn virtual connections into real life interactions. The concept is deceptively simple: connect online, meet in person. Using GPS and an advanced recommendation engine, DISTINC.TT entices members to be spontaneous—to get out there and start something.
What is your target customer?
Our ideal target demographic would be urban (population density matters), tech-savvy, and hungry for new ways to connect. We are initially targeting metropolitan gay men because they fit these criteria perfectly and are an underserved population. With over $700 billion in disposable income (in the US alone), it’s hard to believe more companies are not targeting these valuable consumers.
Any plans to expand beyond that?
We initially want to focus on getting something to market, refining the product, and establishing a strong presence within the gay community. With that said, I think the underlying concept here is very broadly applicable, and we are exploring the possibility of expanding to other verticals as well as the greater community.
What did you launch and how did it go?
A big milestone for the company was commitment from the GLAAD (Gay and Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation) TGIF event series. This partnership is taking us to 8 cities with 29 co-branded events. We just had our first two in Washington DC and New York City these past two weeks, and are extremely excited by this opportunity. We’re already seeing tremendous interest from potential customers, strategic partners and affiliates.
Our website, iPhone, and Android apps will be released in the end of May. It’s really exciting to see this all come to life. We put a huge focus on user interface and design. I really think we have created the most efficient, fun, and elegant framework out there. Our sign up page is currently live at http://distinc.tt.
Any advice for other MBA’s interested in high-tech entrepreneurship?
Yes—outsourcing can be a nightmare! You need a lot of technical skill to manage remote development. And if you don’t have a technical co-founder or area expert on your team, you have to understand all aspects of the business to do well. I don’t know how to code, and this put me at a significant disadvantage in managing the software development process. I’ve had to learn everything on the fly, which is difficult and time-consuming. The upside is that by investing in building that expertise, I’ve arrived at a much more holistic view of the product, business, and industry. I finally found a system that seems to be working, but it took a lot of time and many false starts to get there.
This highlights the importance of people in a startup. It’s difficult to find people who are highly skilled and dedicated to the cause, but it’s also incredibly rewarding. Inspiring dedication in people you admire is, for me, one of the critical roles of an entrepreneur.
What has been your overall strategy so far?
I strongly believe that if you create value, “they will come.” I know I’m supposed to be focusing on the specifics of monetization, but my main goal at this stage is to create real value for DISTINC.TT’s members and augment the real world in a way that hasn’t been done before. I think that if I can accomplish this revenue will follow.
What are some of the greatest challenges you have faced?
“Crossing the chasm” is really hard. There’s a tremendous difference between strategizing/designing/beta testing and actually launching a product. The stress and difficulty level is really logarithmic. That last push is exponentially more difficult than initial progress.
Also: being an entrepreneur can be lonely. At the end of the day, you are taking ultimate responsibility for the company, alone. It’s a lot of accountability, especially when it’s your own (limited) cash. You can ask for advice and get opinions, but most of the emotional burden rests on your shoulders.
How can HBS encourage more entrepreneurship?
It’s difficult, if not impossible to launch something significant as an RC. I think the new FIELD program is a great development. There were so many times I got a lot more value out of cases because I was simultaneously dealing with the same issues or applying take-aways with the company. That is, when I wasn’t completely overwhelmed by trying to juggle HBS, the business, and late-night meetings with my remote development team!
Just as leadership issues come up in almost all of our classes, I’d love to see entrepreneurship integrated more into the curriculum. I think this would be very valuable and rewarding for students. It’s partly about assembling a toolkit and cultivating a taste for uncertainty and invention, but critically about realizing an entrepreneurial mindset.
The resources the Rock Center provides are fantastic and show a strong commitment by HBS to encourage entrepreneurship. They offer summer fellowships for some students to work on and entrepreneurial venture instead of a traditional internship. Because they want students to develop their ideas further and get a greater grasp of what they would like to do during this time, the decisions aren’t released until the end of April. It’s unsettling to turn down offers under that uncertainty and I think this creates an even higher hurdle for commitment. I’d love to see more support for integrated team efforts as opposed to solo founders. Every project is better when we’re all in it together.
What are your next steps?
We’re laser-focused right now on preparing for the May product launch and spreading the word through the “GLAAD to be DISTINC.TT” event series. Next up, we’ll be introducing geo-targeted local deals that encourage interaction and provide a logical impetus for people to meet.
About the entrepreneur: If you would like to learn more about DISTINC.TT, please contact Michael Belkin at firstname.lastname@example.org.