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We’ve run TechStars in Boulder for three years. So far each year at least one of the teams ends up with a runaway success on a bootstrapped business. In year one it was J-Squared with their Facebook (and now MySpace) apps. The bootstrapper of year two is Occipital with their awesome RedLaser iPhone app.
RedLaser has been at the top of the iPhone App Store paids apps listing for over three months. Rather than review the app here, I’ll just point you to a recent TechCrunch article about it reaching over 750k downloads and a recent WSJ article about Price Checking: Finding Deals With a Phone. Or just download RedLaser – it’s only $1.99 and you’ll love it.
When Jeff Powers and Vikas Reddy, the founders of Occipital, were accepted to TechStars, we chose them not because of their great idea (I thought the original idea was stupid), but because of their incredible technical talent. As David Cohen and I went through their application and saw the demos they had done, our immediate reaction was “these guys are great – they’ll do something amazing if they land on a good idea.” So – we accepted them into TechStars.
On day one we told them we hated their idea and encouraged them to think hard about other things before going deep on building something. They resisted for a few days, but listened as they heard this from a number of other mentors. They quickly discarded their original idea and started working on something else that leveraged their skills. During the program, they built some cool demos and started making progress on their new big idea. They reinforced their position as “super smart software engineers” but as the summer ended they struggled to get investors excited.
Shortly after the summer ended, they found themselves with a very ambitious technical project, some demo code, and no funding. I worried about them a little because I knew how much talent they had. True to character, they regrouped and started hacking on the iPhone. They also – in their words – developed a “huge chip on their shoulder” since they hadn’t been able to raise money. They decided “we don’t need no stinking investors” and went after bootstrapping the business.
The first product they shipped was an iPhone app called ClearCam. It was popular and sold enough copies that all of a sudden Occipital had some cash coming in. A few months later they released their next iPhone app – RedLaser – and had a monster hit on their hands.
Obviously, I’m super proud of Occipital. And I’m carefully watching the TechStars 2009 class – both in Boulder and Boston – for who is going to be the bootstrapper of year three.
If you are interested, applications for the TechStars Boston 2010 program (which runs in the spring of 2010) are currently open until January 11th, 2010 at 11:59:59 PM Eastern Time. There is plenty of room for bootstrappers, as well as folks that want to raise angel or VC financing, in the program.