BendTECH Launches Startup Founder Office–Free Space + Wraparound Support for Entrepreneurs

Putting on my BendTECH hat for a moment — I’ve been on the BendTECH board for a few years, and finding a way to increase access to our awesome coworking community has been on the minds of board members for awhile. That’s why we’re so excited to announce the Startup Founders Office program, which allows us to support more early stage entrepreneurs with free space, awesome expertise, and a supportive community ready to help you get your business off the ground.

What Happens When Your Startup Goes Accidentally Viral? KidRunner Shares Lessons Learned

By Sean Leslie

On the morning of Monday, December 18, 2017, Will Warne strolled up to his desk at the BendTECH coworking offices, opened his laptop and checked his email. His eyes widened. Then they widened again.

Instead of the three or four daily emails Will was used to receiving about his startup KidRunner—manufacturer of “the only natural form, multi-terrain jogging stroller”—Will was staring at an inbox virtually overflowing with emails. Hundreds of them. And they were all from parents who wanted to buy a KidRunner.

KidRunner had gone viral.

The Bend startup bills itself as the first high-performance sports equipment intentionally designed for parent runners. The device is effectively a two-wheeled trailer in which children can ride while being pulled by a running parent who is attached via a padded waist belt.

“Our website was blowing up,” Will remembers. “Our Facebook page was blowing up. I’m getting hundreds of emails. I thought, ‘Wow! We’re in! We hit the jackpot!’”

But there was a problem: KidRunner, a company used to receiving only a small amount of web traffic per day, simply couldn’t handle the massive number of site visitors, emails and orders.

“Up to that point, people would come online, see the product and contact me directly. I mean, I was invoicing through PayPal and emailing back and forth a hundred times. When all this happened, we weren’t ready. I mean, we didn’t even know where the traffic was coming from.”

KidRunner had enjoyed some limited visibility after Will appeared with his invention on the television show Shark Tank. But this traffic was the result of a third-party content producer using online footage of a KidRunner to create a short video posted on Facebook. The video was shared 50,000 times within the first day, and total views eventually topped two million.

“It was a tsunami,” Will says. “In 36 hours, it just washed over us, and then everything went back to normal.” But how many KidRunners did they sell over the course of those 36 hours?

“I think we probably sold 14 rigs,” he recalled. “But when you look at the number of people who engaged with us at that time, we closed nothing. Had we closed 1 percent of that traffic, we’d still be out of inventory today.”

Lessons learned

Will still shakes his head when he recalls KidRunner’s viral moment.

“I think what happened is a lot of people got exposed to our brand through that viral media, and when they came into our site it just seemed hokey to them,” he says. “They couldn’t really figure out whether we were a real company, how they would take delivery, how they would pay, when they would get it, or who they needed to talk to. So almost all of those people were scared off or just kind of like, ‘Oh, this isn’t ready yet.’ We thought we were, but we weren’t.”

The unexpected social media explosion did leave Warne two big takeaways, including how consumer product startups can better prepare for a sudden influx of customers:

  • Make sure your website is ready. “If you’re a B2C company, you have to set your company up online from the start with optimized B2C capabilities. And those skills aren’t organic,” he says. “They’re things that you need to collaborate on with other people who are experts in the B to C environment, people who can help you understand the resources and the technology, and can help you integrate it at an affordable cost so you can actually convert an online sale.
  • Invest in digital marketing. Will notes that great digital marketing is not simply social media posting. Digital marketing is a functional technical skillset that is far more like accounting, or finance or sales operations. It involves a whole domain of expertise, expertise that’s more than just sitting in a hammock and posting on Instagram. That’s not digital marketing. That’s what a 12-year-old does for fun.”

“We didn’t know this, so when the tidal wave hit us, we thought we had an online commerce portal, but we didn’t. We scrambled, and within 18 hours, we had a totally new website up. We had Shopify completely integrated. We had a shopping cart, and we had all the scaffolding of a proper ecommerce platform. But by then, it was too late.”

KidRunner takes off

Today, KidRunner employees a digital marketing professional. Will meets with the consultant every week to discuss ad spends, Google site mapping, analytics, organic search, domain authority and, yes, even social media. The company’s website is optimized for online commerce, including automated email replies to customer inquiries, meaning Warne no longer needs to personally reply to every email KidRunner receives.

The transformation does have some drawbacks.

When I was talking to every single customer on PayPal, by the time they gave me $1,000 for a product, we were friends. I mean, was getting family photos from these people,” Will says. “But the last 20 customers that bought from us, I’ve never heard from them. I see Instagram posts and I get a thank you note, but I’m not getting family photos anymore. And frankly, I miss that.”

However, Will says, that maintaining personal connections with every customer is unlikely as KidRunner sales accelerate. “I miss the photos and everything, but I know that’s the cost of success. It’s the tradeoff we make to get where we’re going.”

And where is KidRunner going?

“We have a radically innovative product,” says Warne. “We’re creating a whole new category. This is not going to be an overnight thing.”

Unless it is, and Will wakes up to again find his inbox crammed with hundreds of KidRunner orders stemming from another viral video. Thankfully for KidRunner, if that does happen, this time the company is ready.

Sean Leslie is a contributor to Startup Bend and president and chief content officer of Cascade Cadence Content Marketing. Contact him at [email protected].

Bend Smart Candle Startup LuDela Heads to Techstars Boulder

If you have the chance to attend last year’s Bend Venture Conference, then you probably saw the wonder that was LuDela candles — smart, real-flame candles that you can turn on with a remote (or with your Alexa). Well the company also caught the attention of Techstars Boulder, and will be joining the accelerator’s 13th class in Colorado.

LuDela is part of the 10-company cohort, which includes six startups from Colorado. Founder Jamie Bianchini is headed to Boulder for the three-month program. His company is currently housed at BendTECH, and Jamie plans to return Central Oregon after Techstars wraps up.

Jamie took second place at unConference and was a BVC early stage finalist. He started his company after experiencing a candle fire while on a bike trip in western Africa. He wanted to develop a safer candle that still offered that real-life experience.

Congratulations to Jamie and the LuDela team.


Is Your Startup Eligible for a $100k Business Oregon Grant?

The BendTECH coworking space has been buzzing a bit this week as people investigate whether they should/can apply for up to $100,000 in grant funding from Business Oregon. The grants aim to help early stage startups commercialize their science, research and technology.

“Without an early source of non-dilutive capital, promising companies cannot live up to their full potential. Early public investment in these innovative companies will support the ability to scale up in Oregon, creating new technologies, products, and jobs,” according to the RFP.

The grants target startups with science or research in the following industries: active lifestyle, advanced manufacturing, natural resources, life science applications, advanced materials, and clean tech/impact investing.

To ensure that applicants have or are receiving adequate wrap-around services, “eligible companies should have existing relationships with service providers like Signature Research Centers, University Tech Transfer Offices and related incubators or accelerators, awardees of Oregon Growth Board funding, or Business Oregon innovation partner organizations.”

The list includes 80 different organizations, including our very own OSU-Cascades Co-Lab. The applications are due Feb. 1. If you’d like more information, here is the RFP and there’s also more information at the Business Oregon website.

Bend is the Work from Home Capital of America

The state’s Office of Economic Analysis put out some interesting research this morning that concludes that Bend is the “Work from Home Capital of America.” According to economist Josh Lehner, 12.1% of people living in Bend report that they work from home. Medford comes in at number 4 and Portland ranks 21st.

These workers are working across a wide range of industries, and tend to earn more than the median wage.

“The second major item I found was that when looking at Bend, Eugene, and Medford specifically, these individuals who work from home are diversifying their regional economies. I feel like I’m burying the lede here because this is, in my mind, the most important finding from an economic perspective. That is, the occupations that have high local concentrations in those working from home, are also underrepresented occupations when looking at the regional economy.

In Bend we can see this among Architecture and Engineering, Business, Finance, Legal, and Arts, Design, and Entertainment occupations. These are individuals who most likely want to live in a place like Bend and either brought their job with them or set out on their own to make it work, which we have discussed before with Bend.”

This is research definitely confirms what probably most of us have already noticed — a lot of people work from home here. It also highlights the creativity that many people employ to make moving here work for them from a career perspective. I can say: In the BendTECH coworking space, where I have an office, there’s people working for companies in Seattle, California and all over the country. There’s also a significant number of people (myself included) who are self-employed, and tap into a market of clients in larger, metro areas.

The result, Josh notes, is good for Bend and good for the people who have made this remote work thing work. Of course, these jobs may be more at risk in a downturn …

“However this is just a risk and not a foregone conclusion. Some businesses do not even have physical space any more, for instance. These trends will be interesting to watch in general and over the next business cycle. Now if we could just get more start-ups and better productivity growth,” Josh writes.

Lastly, a shameless pitch for the nonprofit coworking space of which I’m chair of the board. Sometimes working from home is lonely, uninspiring and distracting (that was my experience). If you’re looking for some awesome coworkers, community, and a reason to get out of your house, BendTECH is a great option.

Bend Robotic Sex Toy Startup Wins CES Award, Then Gets it Taken Away. Startup Pens Open Letter to Call Out Gender Bias.

A Bend-based robotic sex toy startup Lora DiCarlo won a CES Robotics Innovation Award — only to have it rescinded a month later. As the tech show kicks off in Las Vegas today, founder Lora Haddock is “calling out the organization for gender bias and inconsistency in addressing sex-positive women’s products versus male-oriented devices,” according to a story in Venture Beat. The story notes that one of the most puzzling aspects of the situation is that sex toys are not actually banned at CES.

More on that momentarily. This is an innovative Bend startup that spent much of the fall working away in the OSU-Cascades Co-Lab in Bend. There’s many things to love about Lora DiCarlo’s mission and journey. The startup’s first product, the Ose personal massager, was developed in partnership with the OSU robotics engineering laboratory and by a team of nearly all women engineers. It’s the subject of eight pending patents, the company reports.

Lora is unabashedly passionate about Ose and exceptionally proud of her team’s work. In the Venture Beat article, she says “We don’t hide what we do, and we firmly believe that women, non-binary, gender non-conforming, and LGBTQI folks should be vocally claiming our space in pleasure and tech — both of which are still heavily dominated by male-CEOs and executives.”

“We also believe that society needs to drop the taboo around sex and sexuality — it’s a part of life and health that absolutely should be part of mainstream discourse. No shaming, no embarrassment, just the comfort and freedom to be yourself and enjoy your own body,” she says.

The Venture Beat piece continues …
=&0=&While there are sex and sexual health products at CES, it seems that CES/CTA administration applies the rules differently for companies and products based on the gender of their customers. Men’s sexuality is allowed to be explicit with a literal sex robot in the shape of an unrealistically proportioned woman and VR porn in point of pride along the aisle. Female sexuality, on the other hand, is heavily muted if not outright banned. You cannot pretend to be unbiased if you allow a sex robot for men but not a vagina-focused robotic massager for blended orgasm.
CES kicks off today and the Lora DiCarlo team is still attending, showing its product at a party at the Wynn Hotel in Las Vegas tonight. The team also plans to attend AVN, a porn show in Las Vegas at the end of January, according to Venture Beat.

Kickoff 2019 with an Evening of BadAss Women Entrepreneurs; Learn about Startup Funding Opportunities, Hear from Successful Founders and More

If you’re looking for funding and resources for your startup, are interested in cleantech, or simply want to be inspired by great founders, then check out the BadAss Women Entrepreneurs event on Jan. 10.

Organized by Vertue Lab and supported by BendTECH, OSU-Cascades and BendX, the evening includes two panels: One on securing follow-on funding for your business, and a second featuring women entrepreneurs who have secured federal grants to grow their cleantech startups.

The idea behind the event is to introduce female founders to local, state, and federal funding options including SBIR/STTR grants. The latter are government grants aimed at helping small businesses conduct R&D, often in technical areas that are aligned with projects/interests of government agencies.

Vertue Lab, the event organizer, is a Portland-based organization that aims to “advance promising technologies to market while helping innovators find the resources they need to move their vision forward.” Vertue Lab focuses specifically on cleantech startups; however, the SBIR/STTR grants are available for other endeavors.

Tricia Clemmons, Vertue Lab’s senior program director, and Leon Wolfe, the SBIR/STTR specialist, will be at the Bend event to help answer questions about federal funding, Vertue Lab’s assistance, and resources, particularly in the tech and cleantech arena.

Founders can also schedule office hours with Leon for additional guidance on SBIR/STTR grants earlier in the same day.

The panelists for the event include:

  • Jeff Baker, Craft 3 Business Lender | Bridging $$$ to get you from early stage to investible
  • Leon Wolf, Vertue Lab SBIR/STTR Assistance Program, Grant Writing Consultant | Accessing the $2.5 billion in early stage funding from America’s largest seed fund
  • Julie Harrelson, Co-Founder & Fund Manager with Cascade Angels | What are angels looking for?
  • Rita Hansen, CEO Onboard Dynamics | Technology conceived at OSU-Cascades and a ARPA-e grant recipient. VertueLab portfolio company. Experience in raising public and private capital while also being an active angel investor.
  • Katie Pettinger, Managing Director Gadusol Labs | Technology out of OSU. SBIR federal grant recipient and a VertueLab portfolio company.

Interested? Questions? Learn more here. Be sure to register prior to the event, so we can get a count of how many will attend.

BadAss Women Entrepreneurs
Thursday, January 10, 2019
5:30 PM – 8:00 PM PST
Thump Coffee @ BendTECH
1001 Southwest Emkay Drive