The Competition: South by Southwest 2014 Business Startup Challenge
The Outcome: A Berkeley-Haas team took second place in the competition at University of Texas at Austin McCombs School of Business on March 8.
The Team: The winning team, a vibrator startup called SmartBod, consisted of Berkeley MBA students James Wang and Bobby Davis, both MBA 15; Liz Klinger and Arlene Hadi; and Leo Chen, EECS 07 (who was unable to attend the event).
“I think it’s worth noting that our entire team came together through Haas connections; Bobby and I are in the same MBA year, and Leo was introduced through another MBA classmate,” Wang points out. In addition, Klinger is Wang’s partner, and Hadi is Davis’ partner.
The Field: Competing teams came from Stanford, MIT, Ross, Darden, McCombs, and Chicago Booth.
The challenge: Teams had to make a 10-minute pitch for their startup ideas, business models, and progress to experienced angel and venture capital judges.
“Most competitions have shorter pitches, so mostly cover just the high-level idea of a startup,” says Wang. “Since this competition involved a longer pitch format, we had to get pretty detailed on not just our broad concept, but how we would execute, market, and make money from it. With experienced judges and a lot of fodder, all the teams got really good (and difficult) questions during the Q&A portion as well.”
What made them winners: “As a VC, you see the same idea over and over again—they loved that this was something they haven’t seen before, and feel that it’s a viable business versus one that just chases a hot trend,” says Wang. “Again, I think our willingness to challenge conventional wisdom came through here.
“Additionally, they really liked that we were a strong, diverse team where everyone brought something to the table. (We have two electrical engineers, a systems engineer, a data and software specialist, and a designer).”
The Haas Factor: “The Defining Principles are core to how we’re approaching our startup and how we got into it in the first place,” Wang says. “Our startup is a smart vibrator company (yes, those types of vibrators). It’s not a typical startup, but we feel like we can bring a great product to market—we’re definitely questioning the status quo with what we’re doing.
“Additionally, even during the Q&A session, I think it came through that we were very open to feedback (Students Always) and very focused on providing reasoned, logic-based answers and not just opinion (Confidence Without Attitude).
“Finally, a big part of what drew us all to this project is the fact that it’s not just a business—we’re able to go beyond ourselves and help remove harmful taboos and misunderstandings around the topic of female sexuality.”
Where the idea came from: “It was mainly from Liz’s experience. She’s studied human sexuality from an artistic, philosophical, and sociological perspective for nearly a decade now since college, and in the past few years has sold sex toys as a sales consultant. She has gotten to talk with a lot of women about vibrators and has seen basically all the products on the market. When Startup Weekend Berkeley rolled around (a weekend “hackathon” where you build a startup from scratch) she was ready with her idea, and we were off to the races from there,” Wang explains.
Most memorable SXSW experience outside of the competition: “Some members of our team got to meet Grumpy Cat. During a panel that one of our teammates attended, Shaquille O’Neal popped in as a surprise guest. That same teammate, tagging along with a new friend from the pitch event, ended up at a small, intimate dinner event with Hunter Biden (Joe Biden’s son),” Wang recalls.
“Personally, even though I was in Austin for less than 24 hours, I ended up having a long talk with my UberX driver on the way to the airport –he’s a music photographer in Austin now, but turned out to have worked at Google, and we ended up talking about the future of smart medical devices, artificial intelligence, and the different management styles of companies in the Valley. You never know who you’ll meet at a place like SXSW!”
Learn more about SmartBod at smartbod.co.