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On Wednesday, September 23rd, the Entrepreneurial Institute hosted its first ever First Generation Founder Talk, featuring Wayne Mackey, Ph.D. (GSAS '16), Founder and CEO of Statespace (Aim Lab). The event centered around Mackey’s journey as a first generation college student, up through his doctoral degree in neuroscience at NYU and the founding of his company, Statespace. Statespace is an analytics platform for the esports community, providing training regiments and analysis similar to traditional sports. Mackey launched the company’s beta 2 years ago and has since surpassed 4 million users!
Join us for the next First Gen. Talk on October 14th, w/ Di-Ann Eisnor, of Core (and former head of Waze U.S., and CWeO of the Cities group at the We Company. Di-Ann is also a venture partner at Obvious Ventures and is co-founder with Lupe Fiasco of Neighborhood Start Fund.
Here are some highlights from the Q&A with Wayne:
[Q] You started off observing a bunch of different opportunities, how did you go from seeing some of these problems to actually building a product you could distribute?
[A] I had really deep knowledge of the specificity we needed. We had a hypothesis, “we think this is what users want.” … The scarcest resource for a startup is time. Don’t build something you think people will want before you know they want it, or it’ll be an immense waste of time and resources. Test, listen, test again.
[Q] What was the first indication that you had demand?
[A] We had a really bad review score when we first launched the beta. We had assumed that a small portion of very skilled players would want to use this - we thought people who really understood these things were going to be the ones who wanted to use it. We were wrong. We had low review scores because a wide base of users - not just highly-skilled ones - wanted to use the product. Anybody who hates losing in games (pretty much everyone) was our true addressable market.
[Q] Can you talk about how the skills you developed early on, what were some of them and how were you able to apply them to this business?
[A] As a founder, you need to do so many jobs that you have no experience in and until you can hire someone to do it, you need to do it yourself. You need to be able to build a team far more talented than yourself and have the right culture. Being at NYU in the neuroscience department… sometimes has a reputation of being a little rough! It’s not a negative thing, but going through that as a student set me up to go anywhere. I could speak in front of anyone. When you go to raise money from VCs, that’s a great skill because they ask you so many tough questions that you may not know the true answer to...yet. But you need to at least let them know you have the same questions and are dedicated to finding the answers. They want to know you understand the risks ahead and how it can all go wrong, as well as how it goes right.
[Q] You mentioned playing the VC game, could you talk about that? What’s the VC game?
[A] The VC game is strange. A good piece of advice I got from a past Entrepreneurial Institute event is “Once I stopped caring if VCs gave me money, they all gave me money”. They can smell desperation. This is their job and they’re really good at it. It's a constant process of de-risking their potential investment. Show them you have a great team, you are solving a real problem, and that problem is in a massive market. You have to be able to at least explain how, even if you only capture a small part of that market, it can still be a big business.
[Q] While you were figuring out how to capitalize the business, how did you figure out what to focus on? How did you drive the engagement that VCs want to see?
[A] Don’t pay anyone to use your product. It needs to be something that fixes a problem people actually have. If you’ve seemingly hit on something and you have no marketing and are acquiring users, you’ll naturally grow. Luckily for us, it's not hard to get opinions from gamers. We made it easy for them to talk to us and made sure we talked back and that they knew they were heard. We could learn what was working, what wasn’t, what [problem] points we weren’t even aware of.