“Momentum Awards 2011…the whole thing was so inspirational, so energizing and overall so much fun, that 2 weeks later I quit my job and dove full time into the startup world.” - Andrew Nieman
Andrew Nieman, a founding team member and Director of Business Development for Scenetap, recently took some time to share the initial founding days of Scenetap and gave us a chance to get to know his entrepreneurial spirit. He will be pitching tonight to Chicago’s top business leaders at the Momentum Awards, in hopes of being crowned Chicago’s Coolest Startup.
What was the trigger that ultimately led you to start your own company? Did you have any fears? What were they?
“Attending the CEC Momentum Awards Dinner in 2011 was the event that put me over the top. I was working at an investment bank at the time and had been wavering with the idea of leaving to build a business for months. That night, I had the chance to speak with people like OpenTable founder Chuck Templeton, GrubHub founder Matt Maloney, VC heavyweights like Jim Dugan and Lon Chow… And the whole thing was so inspirational, so energizing and overall so much fun, that 2 weeks later I quit my job and dove full time into the startup world.”
What was the trigger that made you find the courage to take that initial leap into entrepreneurship?
“I love leaving my comfort zone. I chose a college where I knew virtually no one. I picked up and moved to the Middle East for work in 2009 where I, again, was starting from scratch. So for me, the idea of entrepreneurship didn’t scare me. In fact, I embraced the idea. It was the reality of entrepreneurship that scared me. The reality of inconsistent pay (and that’s best case). The reality of hearing “no” way more than hearing “yes”. The reality of eating peanut butter and jelly for lunch every day for 3 weeks straight (although who am I kidding, I used to do that even when I was making decent money). It wasn’t the initial leap that took the courage. Rather, it was sticking with it through the rough times after the leap that required the most courage.”
What prompted you to start this business? What was your aha moment? How did you come up with the idea?
“In a sentence, SceneTap is the product of a failed bar hopping experience. It was born out of night that consisted of jumping around from place to place, trying to find a certain scene, all the while spending a fortune on cabs along the way. It sparked a very universal thought, one that everyone around the world at some point in time, regardless of their country, language, age, etc has wondered: I wish there was a way to know exactly what a place was going to be like BEFORE we went there…
Sure, you can read reviews or look at old photos, but we wanted something more dynamic.”
One of the hardest things entrepreneurs struggle with is building an audience. What’s your advice for building the right audience?
“The big mistake that many early stage businesses make is trying to appeal to everyone universally. It’s a major trap for a new brand that’s trying to make a name for itself because you want everyone to like you. You want to try and win over every available customer out there. But unless you’re one of those rare, instantly viral concepts like Facebook or Twitter, you are not going to grow a loyal audience by trying to appeal to everyone (even Facebook started as a college-only service). Truth be told, if you don’t turn off one crowd, then you won’t excite another. If you stick to your guns, target the audience that you want and ignore all the other noise, you will develop a loyal following for your business.”
What’s the one question you don’t get asked, but wish you did because you have a great answer?
“I have been asked this a few times, but not nearly enough: What’s the most overlooked part of pitching an investor?
The story. Institutional groups might beg to differ because they try and break everything down to an equation, but an angel investor that is remotely honest with you will tell you that the story is a huge factor in whether they say yes or no. Venture-stage investing is highly emotional, and investors are more likely to put money into a story with which they can personally connect. At SceneTap, we have a very relatable story. Everyone has had a time where they walked into a bar or restaurant expecting one thing (whether that’s a big crowd or a bunch of open tables) and been disappointed to find the exact opposite. If you set the “problem” portion of the story up well, the investor will know exactly what you’re going to pitch next before you even say it.”
What challenges/failures did you face as you started the company? What steps did you take to work through those challenges?
“One of our biggest challenges early on was a common problem that plagues most companies regardless of size; lack of communication. Everyone was working from their living rooms at this point, so the dialogue across team members was fragmented at best. Crucial items were slipping through the cracks, and creativity was stifled. To overcome this, we went to a bit of an extreme…
We didn’t have the money for an office, and with the drastic pay cuts everyone was taking, it wasn’t long until rent money would be an issue, too. We decided to collectively rent a 5 bedroom house and all move in together. For nearly a year, 5 members of our core team all lived (and worked) together under the same roof. To make personal space even tighter, 3 additional members of the team would come over 5 days a week to work from the house. Needless to say, communication was no longer a major issue. In fact, the whole process made us friends first and coworkers second, which I would argue is a key ingredient for overcoming the stress of building a new business. “