As we gear up for this year’s Innovation Showcase–which is coming up this Thursday–we’re taking a look at some of those companies that will be pitching and the creative solutions they’re providing to practical business problems.
Our first pitch for June’s Verge event came from Chris Palmer, founder and CEO of BoxFox, an online B2B marketplace for small retailers to appraise and sell excess merchandise to authorized resellers.
BoxFox grew out of Chris’ first venture, SupplyKick. Chris has a friend who owns a retail clothing store here in Indy. Last fall, this friend ended up having to give away over $4,000 worth of great inventory because he just couldn’t sell it. Furthermore, his vendors were very strict about where and how he could sell their merchandise, so putting it on a site such as eBay wasn’t an option.
Chris began to wonder how many other retailers have this problem. After all, large retailers have online stores where they could move their excess inventory, how do small retailers cope with this issue?
After doing some market research, Chris found some rather striking statistics. “99 percent of US retailers have four or less locations,” he said on the Verge stage. “That makes up over 700,000 retailers in the US that collectively have over $6 billion dollars of excess merchandise every year that they have no good way of liquidating.”
And so SupplyKick was born.
SupplyKick has been successfully buying and selling small retailers products in the Indianapolis area over the past year. Currently in their first year, SupplyKick has already achieved over half a million dollars in revenue. BoxFox aims to scale what works well with SupplyKick in Indianapolis to the national marketplace.
BoxFox is designed to allow small businesses to get a real time appraisal of their merchandise and quickly and easily liquidate it to other businesses. All retailers have to do is scan their merchandise, get an appraisal, and send it off. It’s both easy and safe, with their system acting as a double blind transaction, masking both the buyer’s and seller’s identity.
The future looks bright for Chris and the BoxFox team. They were invited to Silicon Valley as a finalist for the next class at Y Combinator, one of the country’s most prestigious accelerators a few months ago. Though they did not secure a spot at Y Combinator, BoxFox was able to secure funding from Start-Up Chile, a globally recognized startup incubator. As Chris gears up for the Innovation Showcase, he is looking for retailers who are willing to give some feedback on their product, a lead Ruby on Rails or Python developer, and potential investors.
I was able to sit down with Chris a few weeks ago and discuss his lessons learned from the Y Combinator and Start-Up Chile experience. Here are few key pieces of advice for startups applying for well-regarded accelerator programs.
- When you get the invitation to come pitch, usually two or so weeks before the pitch date, book your travel plans immediately–then clear you schedule until then. It’s worth setting your ongoing activities aside to ensure you make the most out of the chance to catapult your company to the next level.
- Before you pitch, find existing companies that have worked with your accelerator and reach out to them for input on your business. Chris flew out two days before pitching at Y Combinator and met with a company at their headquarters in California. The advice and strategies he gleaned from them had a big impact on how he pitched BoxFox to the YC team.
- The accelerators need to hear that your company is going to reach massive scale. When it comes to your projections, “They’re looking for a B, as in billion, not an M,” said Chris.
- Be brief in your responses on the application itself. Most applications will have a video segment anyway, and the individuals reviewing your application probably don’t have more than five minutes for it. They are, after all, reviewing thousands–so do your best to be short, sweet, and memorable.
- Make sure you are able to demo your product or application at the pitch. They want to see and interact with it–not hear about it.
- When given the choice to either know your market or build your product, you absolutely must know your market. Understand your competitors and exactly how you are differentiated from them–and why your customers need you.
You’ll be able to learn more about Chris, BoxFox, and 59 other innovative Indy startups at the 2013 Innovation Showcase. Be sure to grab your tickets and I’ll see you there!