You co-founded a startup that provides a foundation for what you refer to as the “wind tunnel testing of ideas,” could you expand on the basic premise of the company?
[Paul]: Imagine what you could do with a million minds in your pocket! That is our slogan, and our mission is to connect the most innovative, ingenious minds here in Maine into a world-wide imagination grid. Built in the style of an ongoing idea tournament game, people and organizations of all types can post their pressing creativity problems as “idea challenges” for our community of creative thinkers to browse and enter. Using a double-blind rating and mentoring system, participants will benefit from the proven wisdom-of-the-crowd to both source new ideas and vet their existing products, messaging, and ideas.
The ongoing tournament format encourages fun competition which also improves the quality of thinking through mutual feedback loops. Participants can earn prize money for their efforts, and eventually do “ideation work” full-time. We envision MaineNerve as a place for creative people and projects to get funded as the state’s first crowd-sourced think tank.
What kind of education/skills prepared by for this venture? What advice would you give to entrepreneurs that are growing a startup and/or raising capital?
[Paul]: I always followed my own path in life, from studying subjects that interested me in college to seeing opportunities for solopreneurship when I was 23. I founded a web firm in 1996 that has allowed me and my agile teams to build over a hundred custom web software projects for companies large and small. I was never afraid of taking risks, and as the saying goes, luck favors the prepared. I never traded “job security” for the freedom to follow my interests and build projects that could help others. That is how I met Cameron our co-founder and how a “web project” became a passion to impact the world.
The best advice I could give to new entrepreneurs is to test and vet your ideas before committing significant time or money to them. The people closest to you may not believe in your ideas, but someone must see what you see– whether it is a business partner, a seasoned advisor, or a peer group. If you cannot persuade one other person, your idea needs work. Read as much as you can from experts to have more mental models (viewpoints, frameworks) in your head so you can test your own ideas thoroughly, and maybe even discover unsolved opportunities to work on.
To someone trying to raise capital, you have probably heard this before: do not stop at the first (or hundredth) “no”. Do your own reality checks (test your ideas at MaineNerve!) but, do not be discouraged with no’s. Not all angels or VCs have the same appetite for risk, or level of expertise, or far-vision that you may have for your new concept or market. When you find the right investor, the friction will evaporate. They are out there! And it never hurts to show traction with an early prototype.
What value did crowdsourcing add to your venture?
[Paul]: We continually run our own “how can we improve” challenge questions to solicit fresh feedback and improvement ideas from our community. We are amazed at the insights they have in what would make the platform more useful and engaging for them.
When we set out to build the platform, we didn’t ask any specific kind of user what they wanted; we identified a set of problems that we recognized in the world, and then devised the experience with a set of prototypes, and are now seeing our assumptions get validated (thankfully!). But we never must stop innovating on the initial vision, and our user community is the ideal resource to learn from, since we built this for them.
What is the best application/advice your company would have for area businesses looking to grow their business, working alongside MaineNerve?
[Paul]: We believe companies should take a portion of their product and advertising budgets to fund their own think tank home on MaineNerve.com, so they can build an engaged following of insightful, clever thinkers who will provide them with crowd-ranked suggestions, ideas and feedback. Think of us as a better suggestion box. The money you budget each month for sourcing fresh, outside innovative thinking will help your internal teams test their concepts or service/product ideas faster (without the big budgets and hit-or-miss nature of consultants and traditional expensive think tanks). The fun tournament format will also help bring in new players, and can promote your brand in a virtuous loop, in ways advertising could never achieve. And if you think you are not in the “innovation business”, think again!
What is the “next big thing” on the horizon for MaineNerve? What challenges and opportunities do you see in moving forward within the context of today’s economy, including impacts related to COVID-19?
[Paul]: The pandemic has shocked our country and economic system so tragically. We think the timing right now is actually beneficial to launch our platform widely, as soon as possible. MaineNerve enables work-from-home and remote collaboration; it connects struggling businesses with a broad audience for ideas on how to adapt or pivot to survive; and it can channel funding to the clever, ingenious people who might have been laid off or furloughed recently. There is no other platform like ours that is structured to effortlessly pull the best ideas from the market for organizations and influencers, while also recognizing and funding these clever, insightful people as a new mode of work. We are the democratization of think tanks, for everyone.
We are finishing our platform over the next 3 months, but we’re engaged in various pilots now and nurturing our fledgling community.