Blokable - the startup
When I first met Jason Calacanis it was literally Blokable’s first day of existence. My friend, investor, and advisor Jennifer Lum had invited me to attend the March 2016 Launch Angel Summit in San Francisco as her founder guest and introduced me to Launch’s visionary founder Jason at the opening night reception. Jason was in the middle of a conversation with a network television exec but excused himself to meet me and hear our 15 second pitch. I was taken aback as Jason seemed to immediately understand our vision. We were going to change the way we build housing and create a product that could be built in factory, delivered on intermodal trucks, and installed anywhere to create new communities. He got it right away.
Jason asked that we join his incubator which was a path that I had not seriously considered. I had built more than one business in the past with some great outcomes and the idea of going through an incubator just hadn’t crossed my mind. To me, incubators were for people coming out of college with a good idea but no background in building or operating a company. Were we too experienced for an incubator? I quickly realized that I had been thinking of incubators in the wrong way, and that while raising money was a goal we also had a lot to work out with our business model, distribution, pricing, design, and really everything so why not meet every week for 3 months with some of the smartest and most accomplished investors in the world? A few weeks later I met with Jason and gave him a more detailed pitch of our vision. He invited us to join the Launch incubator and we accepted. The commitment meant that I would have to travel to San Francisco every Thursday from late April through early July to attend the incubator and jam sessions.
Week one of the incubator was a wake-up call. The audience didn’t know what we were talking about. Brian Alvey’s feedback was, “I don’t know what you’re doing. I don’t know what I’m supposed to buy.” What had been a clear product vision in my mind was obviously not coming across in our pitch and while we had already had investment commitments I realized that we were a long way from being able to communicate our plan. Right after I left the incubator I called the team and said that we needed to have our first product design ready for the following week’s incubator.
The following week we won the pitch contest and I was hooked on the process. Now I was going to use the incubator to test every assumption and message and accelerate our product development process. For the rest of the incubator we tested different prices, messages, designs, and stories. We changed the sequence of the pitch, the customer quotes, the tagline, everything. And every week we met with investors, some of whom wanted to look at investing and others who either don’t invest in our market or wanted to wait until our product was in the market so they could see the full experience. We became part of a community that would have otherwise been unavailable to us and we will be in touch with this community as we grow. We met investors, journalists, advisors, growth hackers, and other founders who had their own challenges and stories to share. And we came to own our story and to understand how we can make an impact in the world.
But raising seed financing for a pre-product, pre-revenue company in the spring of 2016 was not easy. We met with a lot of folks who would have seemed, on the surface, to be obvious investors, but they wanted to see market traction and we just weren’t there yet. In June and July, we were very excited by the positive reaction from developers and have amazing and visionary customers who will use our product to build new communities in 2016, 2017, and beyond. But we weren’t there yet in April or May and hearing honest feedback from the incubator audience each week was exactly what we needed. We were building our business in front of this community and had a forum to be completely transparent about our priorities and challenges. I believe that this was the biggest benefit of participating in the incubator as we were determined to show progress every week which required disciplined collaboration from our team; a team that was just coming together.
Making progress each week in the incubator brought us to a climax on July 14th at the Launch Angel Summit where we pitched on stage to an audience of over 40 investors. The room saw our vision and we had people’s attention. We had many conversations with seasoned investors who were really thrilled with what we are doing and added a number of investors who typically focus on other markets such as mobile and SaaS.
Blokable has a mission to change the way we build. We ask people to imagine a world where we could build in days instead of years using our modular buildings that are smart, energy efficient, built in factory, shipped on trucks, and assembled on site in days. Taking millions of tons of wasted materials, millions of dollars, tens of thousands of hours, and hundreds of millions of dollars out of a broken process is worth a lot of hard work. The housing crisis is local, regional, national, and global. By 2025, 1/3rd of urban households, 1.6 Billion people, will live in substandard housing unless we change the way we build. Our team believes in our mission and the hard work it will take to bring it to reality.
Jason saw the vision in the first 15 seconds of our first conversation and has been behind us ever since. Looking back now as we have moved out of our planning phase and are now heads down building a fantastic product for our early adopter customers it’s easy to see that the incubator was a transformative experience that gave us a real advantage. We’ve met friends and have shared experiences. Building a business in front of a small community requires honesty, hard work, and trust, and we’re grateful to be a part of the Launch community.