Jason Calacanis LAUNCH Incubator

Here is an email I just received from Jason Calacanis, LAUNCH Incubator, that details how he plans to help entrepreneurs and start ups...again. Worth looking into if you are on that roller coaster.
We are living in an age of excellence, where the science of product design is churning out wave after wave of exceptionally well-conceived delights for consumers. Product is so important, in fact, that distribution is often drowned out by the popping of champagne corks, as founders watch their babies hit number one on Product Hunt and Hacker News.
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What a thrill it is to hit the top of the charts, a perfect peak, only to humble founders with the eventual and brutal pit of despair they will face in the coming days and weeks, as other products replace them at the top of the App Store.  
Lasting distribution, created by growth-driven teams that have exceptional products, are the big winners today. Airbnb built a killer tool for Craigslist, Uber mastered the referral system and ‘over the shoulder virality’, while Wealthfront took the referral system and content marketing strategies deployed by others to the next level. WhatsApp crushed it using the “phonebook social network” combined with relentless localization.
I’ve been looking through the 400 applications, and still growing, that have come into this year’s LAUNCH Incubator class, and I’m stunned by how many have exceptionally well-created products -- with no consideration for distribution.
Great moves all, but with no marketing budget, target audience, titles, or tag lines.
Standing out today with investors requires great products, but that's table stakes. To really stand out from the pack, bring a killer distribution hack that you refined and can speak about first-hand.
For some startups, I’ve had 20-minute conversations not about their products, but about their clever use of street teams. With other startups I’ve invested in, the conversations are around a killer tool they’ve made that helps their customers for free … while building their database of emails.
Perhaps if the bubble bursts, and there are 80% fewer startups, we’ll go back to the days where a great product was enough to get investor and consumer attention -- but I doubt it.
Feels like the stakes are constantly raising in this game, where showing up without an MVP in 2016 makes you look foolish, and my guess is that in 2017, showing up without a unfair competitive distribution strategy will look like showing up to a gunfight with a knife.  
One competitive advantage I heard with a startup that I invested in recently, was their approach to infiltrating college markets by having “power hours.” They basically invite folks for donuts or burritos and have a party that is co-ran by influential groups on campus; those folks who use the app invite their friends to the party, and the cost of the food is much less, and the users much higher quality, than paying for App installs on Facebook. Will it work long term? Will it scale? Who knows, but it shows me they are thinking about how to do something other folks are not doing -- and are fearless.
Another company I recently invested in, without saying their name or revealing too much, was going to industry events for their vertical and signing up folks for trials and having product review sessions. That’s not super unique, but they had really connected that piece of the prospecting to their SDRs (sales development reps), trials, and eventually, subscriptions. They could have showed me more product features, but they focused me in on their sales process, and I’m a sucker for that because “sales solves everything.”
The point here is that coming to your investor meetings with a distribution story dialed in will set you apart from your competition -- it will also help you grow your business and perhaps not need to meet with investors in the first place. :-)
best @jason
PS - Some things I’m working on I could use your feedback on:
  1. My own little growth hack: Inside launched a simple chrome extension called TLDR and it’s just awesome at keeping you informed and entertained. How does it work? Every time you open a new tab we show you a dozen hand-curated headlines that are either fascinating, important, or funny. Download it and let @lons and I know what you think!
  2. LAUNCH Incubator is closing applications on November 10th; read about how we created the greatest startup incubator on the planet.  
  3. LAUNCH Festival is March 2-4 and founders can come as our guests. Sign up quickly, as the first 5,000 founders come for free and the next 10,000 pay $75 each.

PPS - We've got an entry-level position for someone who loves startups / @LAUNCH festival! Apply here.

For the past 20 years I’ve watched the power incubators have had in technology. I’ve taken notes diligently, spoken to my 100+ portfolio company founders and have been quietly developing what is, hands down, the greatest startup program ever created.
It’s called the LAUNCH Incubator and we’ve graduated 13 startups in the last two classes.
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We studied Bill Gross’ pioneering Idealab, which brought us eToys and PeoplePC, and Paul Graham's gold-standard YCombinator, with its phenomenal scale and triplet of unicorns in Zenefits, Dropbox, and Airbnb, as well as David Cohen’s innovative Techstars, which has reached across many cities and corporate partners including Disney and Microsoft.
These three programs are all exceptional and we’ve looked at everything they’ve done right, and combined it with our huge platform which includes the LAUNCH Festival (15,000 attendees, the largest startup conference in the world), the SCALE conference (4,000 attendees and 50+ growth speakers) and This Week in Startups (500+ episodes and counting!).
We’ve come to the conclusion that the best incubator in the world needs to focus on five things:
  1. Small class size
  2. Early access for great investors
  3. A curriculum focused on tactical issues
  4. Accepting startups with finished products
  5. Relentless support post demo day
We’ve done two classes so far, and we are accepting applications for three remaining slots in our Winter Class, which starts the week of November 16th. Our first class had 150 applicants and our second class had 350. Our current class will have over 500.
Most people won’t get in, but we’re going to meet with the top 10% in person and give them as candid feedback as we can, in the hopes that we might have them join us for the Spring Class or LAUNCH Festival.
You can apply at launchincubator.co. (November 10th is the deadline, applications are being reviewed in the order they come in.)
Let me explain a little bit about each lesson and share with you what our founders have said.


The biggest challenge YCombinator companies have right now is that every class has over 100 startups. Those 100 startups all present over two demo days, and I can tell you as an angel investor, this is overwhelming. Everyone on the buy side agrees with this, but it makes sense that YC would make 100 bets -- it’s in their best interest. Most folks agree this is really bad for the startups, with legendary VC George Zachary saying he stopped going to YC’s demo day recently.

At YC the startups hear from a speaker each week, but there is no way for those speakers to know about you. At the LAUNCH Incubator you get up EVERY. SINGLE. WEEK. and present your company to a couple of investors and the speaker. They give you feedback on your vision and product. This is insanely valuable, but it takes 10-15 minutes per company. It takes a solid1:45:00 to present all seven startups.
You can’t give each company 10-15 minutes if you have 20, 30, or 100+ startups in a cohort. Heck, at the YC demo day they get two minutes on stage, we do 10-15 minutes every week. You can’t explain your business in two minutes, but you can in 10-15 (I’ve learned this after 20 years of running demo-type conferences).   
That’s our biggest advantage over YC or even 500 Startups: scale. We’re intimate, they’re enormous.
Intimate is good for you, enormous is good for them.
Also, I’m running ~14 of the 18 sessions we hold, so you have direct access to me. At 500 startups or YC you’re not going to get much face time with the top folks -- just by the law of numbers.


All of the incubators out there have a hard-and-fast rule that you can’t raise money while you’re in the program, forcing founders to wait until DEMO DAY. They say that they do this because it’s in the best interest of a startup, but that’s not the real reason. They do this to create a feeding frenzy on DEMO DAY, which is necessary because they have so many companies graduating.  
I’ve always thought this is really stupid. What you really want is to get the BEST investors into the companies, which is what I’m doing. I invite three top investors to come and see the companies early. I let my friends FRONT RUN the entire market.
Is this fair to other investors?
Does that matter? Again, the huge incubators have to run a demo day in order to get a feeding frenzy going -- we don’t.
I’m trying to get the BEST investors to invest in my startups and we only have seven to get funded. If I bring three investors per week over 12 weeks, well, I’m going to get our founders funded long BEFORE demo day (unless they suck, in which case we kick them out -- which we have done 2x)!


We are accepting startups that are fairly far along, so we have a great advantage in that we are teaching them how to refine and grow their startups -- not how to build their MVP. Everyone in the class has builders on their team, so the entire pack will be running fast and iterating every week.
We learned this the hard way when in our first class we had startups who had outsourced their development, or who didn’t have a designer online. Those startups simply couldn’t keep up, and in fact would slow the rest of the class down.
You can’t focus on your street team or A/B testing if there is no product to take to the streets!


Thanks to our huge conferences, podcast, network, and social media footprint, we can do very unique things for our startups that other incubators simply can’t. You probably have seen me doing contests for Bento on Twitter, or hosting a Q&A for “The Martian” this month for RushTix. We also had RecurrencyRequestedRed Tricycle, and Huckle speak at the SCALE conference about growth techniques!
There are only a handful of angels in the world with the ability to get behind a startup like we can. Those other investors are Mark Cuban, Cyan Banister, Kevin Rose, Tim Ferriss, Chamath Palihapitiya, Dave Morin, and Chris Sacca, and the good news is that we’re close friends with these folks and we have invested alongside all of them ... and they’ve all spoken at our events!


Our incubator accepts 1.5% of applicants and about 10% don’t graduate … because it’s hard. Hard to get in and hard to get through. We’re the Navy Seals of incubators by design.
If you’re applying to Techstars or YC, you should apply to the LAUNCH Incubator.
If you get into YC or Techstars and the LAUNCH Incubator you should think deeply about who your partner will be at each incubator and ask yourself, “How does this partner at YC/TS compare with Jason?”
If you think they have a better network, platform, and they will work harder for you, you should select them.
I’m hoping you pick my team. :-)
I’ve included some blog posts from the alumni below. The best way to pick your incubator is to talk to the founders who have graduated from them.
best @jason & the @LAUNCH Team
“Only apply to the LAUNCH Incubator if you want to get Jedi-level presentation training, get a ‘yes’ from every angel investor you talk to, attract a world-class team, build a world-class product and get expert feedback….” More - Brian AlveyRecurrency
“Requested changed by 50% and our design UI UX changed by 95%, all in less than 90 days. Anyone in a startup out there, the modifications that we did through this program will take you six to nine months.” More - Sonny MayugbaRequested
“We pitched to different judges every week (VC, angel investors, successful founders) and got feedback ... It forced us to iterate fast. Every week we improved the product or did more market research to improve our presentation … By week 12, our product and pitches were 10x better.” More - Mei Siauw - LeadIQ
“Jason’s approach to building a great product starts at the pitch and the results we were able to show for it became evident almost immediately. The network we were able to build and the relationships we fostered will last a lifetime.” More - James Heller - Wrapify
“If you're lucky enough to get the opportunity to participate in JC's Incubator (it's really competitive), you should jump at it. There is no other accelerator/incubator that compares)”  More - Jacqui BolandRed Tricycle
“You will be put through the firing range of some of the heaviest hitters in the industry. People that have grown companies to millions of active users will be giving you unabated feedback on your product.” More - Jordan StoneHuckle
“It was an incredible 3 months that gave us insider knowledge and resources that can’t be found anywhere else … Throughout the experience we were taught new skills that we were able to implement almost immediately into the company.” More - Juan Carlos Perez - Crux
“Launch is taking a big risk by accepting so few companies (less chance of unicorns), and in doing so, they are going to invest so much more time and effort into making you successful. Each outcome matters that much more.” More - David Temple - Scout
“I loved my 12 weeks in the Launch Incubator, so much so that I did not want it to end. Jason and his amazing team understand what works for getting your product all glammed up and investor-ready … He gives you the truth, no egomaniac baloney, just straight talk on how to make your company better.” More - Jill BourqueRushTix
“You will come out of the incubator with a vastly improved product, a crystal clear pitch, feedback & advice from the top minds in Silicon Valley and an incredible group of peers.” More - Jason DemantBento


Rolling Up ISIS Social Media Weapons

ISIS uses social medial tools to take territory, gain power, spread its influence, recruit new fighters, advance its propaganda, and create a myth that it is indomitable. They film their butchery using professional film crews and hundreds of thousands of cell phones. They upload these videos by the thousands to intimidate their enemies into submission. But their social media weapons can be taken out if we have the will and unleash our experts to do so.

ISIS Social Media Jihad
ISIS almost immediately uploads their videos to social media when slitting the throats of captives, selling conquered people as slaves, throwing homosexuals off buildings, engaging in battlefield slaughters, shooting prisoners, and conducting victory parades.
They continuously celebrate their depraved lifestyle, ideology, tactics and beliefs on Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, Instagram and other social media. And when some social media companies take down their excesses, ISIS as quickly regroups and posts it on other social media outlets.  Their social media jihad is relentless and operates 365 days a year, 24 hours a day.
The leaders of ISIS know we live in a socially-connected culture and they use it daily to advance their ends. More importantly, they know that a single Tweet generates little action, but a Tweet and a post on Facebook, Twitter, YouTube and Instagram increase the circulation, and influence of a single Tweet, exponentially.
In 2007, the blogger Robert Scoble identified the social media starfish as a visual way of representing what ISIS does every minute in the Internet: Use various branches of social media to convert the vulnerable to believe their propaganda.
The critical concept in this diagram is “conversions.” Used correctly, a company with a product, a politician with a cause, a now a jihadi with a fanatical ideology can convert others into willing believers.
ISIS leaders know that social media enables them to share larger, deeper, and more extensive relationships. It is why they draw converts from over 70 countries to their expanding caliphate.
Social media tools are so ubiquitous we forget how powerful they are. Mostly, they are fun which is why they are so popular. They create a social story…a human story…not a technology story.
When used together in a Starfish strategy, intelligence services in the West can develop relationships with others to increase trust. ISIS uses this tactic successfully. Our intelligence services were very good at doing this during the Cold War. With the correct use of social media, we can convert social media relationships to fight the scourge of ISIS.
With social media tools we can create, collaborate and share information with others. To compete successfully against ISIS, we must use these social media tools to our advantage to contact, convince, and befriend others through a relationship.
We can use them, as ISIS does, as a force multiplier. Social media aggregator tools like Google+, Instagram and Twitter can be used to defeat ISIS.
These social media tools are more powerful by a factor of millions when used together than when used alone. ISIS and other radical Islamic terrorist organizations know this.
As a force multiplier, ISIS perpetually uploads its combat and recruitment films to Facebook, YouTube, Twitter, Instagram, and other social media platforms and reaches hundreds of millions of viewers. They must be stopped.
We need to act on this as well.

ISIS Use of Social Media in an Operational Attack
During terrorist operations, they have demonstrated a professional grasp of messaging and messaging tools. They understand that the optics, as captured in social media, is as important to their victory as any military objectives they achieve on the battlefield.
And, they’ve used the mainstream media, often unfiltered, as an adjunct force multiplier to increase their power. They are very good at the social media war.
Their attack on the Lindt store in Australia is a good example. For unlike decades of practice in prior attacks, the terrorists at the Lindt store in Australia allowed their hostages to keep their cell phones.
Then they ordered some hostages to call news stations to try to get on the air live.  Why the change in tactics? Because now they have seen how ISIS has mastered the tactical advantage of manipulating social media to broadcast their ideology. 

WWII Social Media Redux
This is not the first time we have faced a social media challenge from a murderous organization bent on world domination. When I was a student at the American College (now University) in Paris, France in 1975, I used to go to Nanterre University to research original sources (films, posters, newspapers) to write a paper for a political science class on Joseph Goebbels and the Nazi Propaganda Ministry.
I saw remarkable propaganda films Goebbels created in the 1930’s and 1940’s in the original versions. Watching those films for many hours on Saturday’s, I knew immediately that there is no question that, like the ISIS propaganda ministry, Goebbels and the Nazi Propaganda Ministry understood the impact of film and radio, the social media tools of his time, for changing the opinions and feelings of people worldwide. As with ISIS, they used that knowledge, ultimately, to bring about massive death and destruction.
But as good as Joseph Goebbels was at using the social media tools of his time to conquer tens of millions, he never had Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Google+, Twitter and the other social media tools ISIS has appropriated and used so successfully  to spread its ideology through visual depictions of its hyper-violence.
The fight against ISIS will take place on many fronts. The social media front is one we created and mostly dominate. There is no reason we cannot win this one. All we need to do is to unleash our social media professionals and companies. Even if we are already several years late to the fight, working together with our intelligence professionals, they can roll back the ISIS and other terrorist organization’s cyberspace battlefield wins. 


Early Christmas Present for Robin

videoTrees vary in quality, beauty, and use.
For example, I have planted a number of oaks on our property, including a seedling from the Maryland Wye Oak that is just magnificent now.
Most of my trees provide food to birds (especially blue jays) and wildlife.
Unfortunately, we had five cheap contractor hybrid poplars in the front yard.
Poor Robin has been cleaning up the leaves and branches that fall from them for years.
No more.
As an early Christmas present to her, I hired Randy's tree service to take them down.
He took down six trees (the five hybrid poplars and a maple I planted years ago that I feared might fall on my neighbors house in a storm) in two hours.
The machine that ate the trees, branches and all still on them, was called "Intimidator" for good reason. It ground them up in minutes.
Randy, the owner, put on his spikes and shimmied up the trees like a cat...all while carrying a chain saw around his belt and maneuvering ropes like an Army Ranger on a cliff.
What is perhaps most amazing is that he only charged me $1000 to remove the six trees and grind up the stumps.
Below are the photos and videos that record the event.