From Fit with Friends to My Elephant Brain

single elephant with name
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In my previous post I went over the events right up until Start-Up Chile actually began. We’ve come quite a ways since then, both as a business and getting settled in Chile.

June and I arrived in Chile on Monday October 22nd after 15 hours worth of air travel and layovers. Atlanta is an enormous airport by the way. We checked into a two bedroom apartment I found on AirBnb. Decent little two bedroom with two bathrooms as well.

[map address="Gorbea 1953, Santiago, Chile" ]

After a brief nap we decided to take a little tour of the new city. We wandered the city for a bit but we were both too tired and too confused to reasonably absorb anything.

The following day we spent most of our time looking at apartments. Renting in Chile is pretty painful without being a local so most SUPers go with one of the placement agencies. At first it may seem annoying to have to pay a commission, but there’s so much paperwork, and Start-Up Chile is such a stickler for documents that unless you’re very lucky, it’s probably worth it. I was one of those lucky ones. I messaged everyone on AirBnB that had a one bedroom available (June and I wanted separated places to escape to) and ended up in a finding a fantastic little place not too far away from the offices and in a decent neighbourhood. My land lady Celia has been absolutely fantastic and I would strongly reccomend anyone coming to town for Start-Up Chile should look her up at CozyApartments.

[map address="Argomedo 65, Santiago, Chile" ]

While were in the East end (Providencia) of town looking at apartments, June pulled out her guidebook to find a place for dinner. We ended up at Le Flaubert, a little French place on a side street, and had one of the best meals I’ve ever enjoyed. At first we thought the prices were a little steep, then we realized it was $6000CLP (about $12CDN) for a bottle of wine, not a glass. The wine here is fantastic, btw.

Enough Play, Time for Some Work

On October 24th we had our first official days of Start-Up Chile. 5.2 (the second half of wave 5. The first started October 4th) loaded into a presentation room in a building owned by CORFO, the government agency in charge of economic development in Chile that runs Start-Up Chile.

We were given an overview of the program and how we could expect things to play out for the next month. We were told about demo days and community involvement. We learned about reimbursements and whatever it is Chileans speak (it’s not Spanish). And we also pitched.

These were really informal pitches. Usually no more than one or two sentences describing what problem we were solving. At the time we were still Fit with Friends, a social fitness app meant to encourage workplace activity. Mostly it was a chance to hear where everyone was from. Lots of Latin Americans, but also a heap of Brits, a few from Asia and even one from Australia.

I say ‘at the time’ because even when June and I arrived were weren’t completely happy with Fit with Friends. It wasn’t clear how it would make money, and we didn’t have enough expertise in the fitness industry. We also hadn’t been able to settle on a name because we had heard Zynga was issuing cease and desist orders to any company using “-with Friends” to protect their ‘Words with
Friends’ game. They probably didn’t have a case, but they’d bury a small company in legal bills and we just weren’t willing to fight for an idea we didn’t love.

So over the weekend between introductions and our first real pitch June and I brainstormed possible ideas. In the middle of a list June had been building for some time was an online tool to help people remember people’s names. It was inspired by a story from the early days of the online retailer Zappos when they built an internal tool to learn the name of everyone in the company. Something about it just leapt off the page to me. I had been fascinated by tools that optimized how we learn and remember since reading an article in Wired about SuperMemo, software that uses a technique called ‘Spaced Repetition’ that schedules memory tests as to not overwhelm the user. Before that, I had read a book by a memory champion (they exist) that described all the tricks to learning faces, or memorizing a deck of cards. I still recall memorizing the top 10 banks in Europe using the Roman Room system.

Certainly software existed that took advantage of some of these techniques, but it was usually klunky desktop software that took no pride in it’s usability. Furthermore, nothing was using those tools specifically remember faces, let alone targeted at the enterprise. June and I were meeting dozens of new people every day, and this was the perfect way to validate our ideas and test with a captive audience.

So we bought MyElephantBrain.com and got to work preparing a pitch deck for the following Monday. In startup terms, changing an idea that isn’t working is known as a ‘pivot’. But in the words of one of our colleagues down here, ‘to pivot you need to leave one foot on the ground.’ Our change of product was a complete departure from what we had applied with, so this was more of what David Cohen of Tech Stars calls a ‘leap.’

Start-Up Chile introduction demo pitch order.

The presentation order from the introduction pitch day. I changed the name as soon as we took the stage.

The pitches were incredibly interesting. There were teams  that were tackling hard medical issues like diabetes and pacemaker reuse. Other teams were looking at big data analytics to encourage environmentally conscious purchasing. Others still were creating companies to sell unmanned aerial drones to take pictures from literally a birds eye view. All of this was taking place in what we could call our home, away from home, away from home, the Centro Movistar Innova. The co-working space most Start-Up Chile teams are based out of.
The greenhouse room and incredible roof screen of the Centro Movistar Innova

Yes, that’s a giant video screen for a roof.

When it was My Elephant Brain’s turn to pitch June and I took the stage and presented our idea as a team. Clearly everyone else was struggling to learn all the new faces and names because as we described our product the nodding induced whiplash in a few cases. We were still brand new as a company and idea, so just assembling the slide deck had clarified the product in our minds. It was great to get in front of such a receptive audience and commit to delivering a product to potential customers.

Since then, Santiago has been a whirlwind of paperwork, networking and coding. We’re currently getting ready to give a proper internal pitch on Monday December 3rd.