Business RX: Advice on improving or starting a business

Jul 16, 2013

Elana Fine, managing director of the Dingman Center for Entrepreneurship at the University of Maryland's Robert H. Smith School of Business, will take your questions. This week, she is joined by special guest Justin Baer, founder and chief executive of guest list and event check-in app Check In Easy. Together, Fine and Baer will offer advice on raising capital, luring customers, scaling a business, and any other entrepreneurship topics.

Hi Everyone, 

Thanks for having me this afternoon. I am the founder and CEO of Check In Easy. An iPad, iPhone & Android app that eliminates paper guest lists and makes event check in lightning fast and super easy. Check out our site here.

I am considering patenting an algorithm I invented for my Web-based business, but patents are very expensive and I am not sure it's worth it. What would you recommend?

You can do a provisional patent which "locks up" the idea for one year. In that year you can see whether the biz is viable and whether it's worth doing a full patent. A provisional patent should be around $1500.

I know there are tons of resources out there for entrepreneurs but what would a quick short list of the best places to seek advice be?

I know it sounds trite, but everything is online. Whether they are informational blog postings on venture capital or marketing or youtube videos on facebook ads, almost every topic and tutorial is available online. 

Justin - you've grown CheckIn Easy in a short amount of time, what do you see as some of the keys to your customer acquisition strategy? 

Check In Easy is at 11,000 users. We didn't get there by "tweeting." We got there with hustle. Lots of it. We targeted the right people (key!) then, did a full court press. Phone calls, emails, follow ups, awesome customer support etc. Check out this video which explains Hustle Muscle -

Cvent's planned IPO seems to validate the event management space, what impact do you expect on your business and other's in the sector? Is event management D.C.'s new hot sector?

Cvent's IPO is definitely exciting for the event industry. It validates the vast size of the industry. DC is home to the most number of organizations and associations, many of them do tons of events. I think that's why they are here, however the industry is global.

Elana, have you ever owned a business? If so, what was/is it? If not, Where does your impressive entrepreneurial expertise stem from?

I have actually not owned a business, but was an early employee at a startup, tech-focused investment bank.  We advised early-mid stage companies while also growing our own firm.  Best of both worlds in that I learned a lot from the successes (and failures) of our clients as well as our own highs and lows. I think I benefit from being able to leverage learnings from a wide variety of companies at a variety of stages.   

I have a single member LLC with a boilerplate operating agreement. With new co-founders coming on board and the need to set up more complicated provisions like a vesting schedule, should we seek out a lawyer or are there available resources to help us?

I always think it is smart to seek counsel early on.  There are a lot of local lawyers who understand that startups don't have a lot of cash. Protecting you, your employees and co-founders is usually less expensive than any issues down the line. Find the right lawyer that will be a partner with you and your company as you grow. 

As a newcomer to the the DC area, what you have found most suprising about the area? Any complaints?

Traffic on 495 ;).. Business wise, no complaints ayet. We're on the look out for some talented people to join our team. Coming from NYC, there was an abundance of  savvy folks to choose from. We're just getting started with the hiring here, so I'll have to see how it goes and circle back to you on that, but I'm optimistic. The D.C. area has a ton to offer. I think we'll be more than fine in finding the right people.

What are some of the coolest new startups in the D.C. area right now?

Two words- "wheel bite." Unless you are a longboardee (or hang out at the Dingman Center) you've probably never heard the expression. One of our student ventures, Wheel Shields, is solving this very painful problem with wheel covers that prevent riders from falling, while also enabling new "tricks." Wheel Shields' founder Chase Kaczmarek is so passionate about this that I'm considering starting to longboard myself.  Pictures to follow. 

You mentioned targeting the right did you do that? What data did you look for in some of your early adopters that helped you create a replicable process?

The best thing you can do is talk to your customers. Early on, I made sure I spoke with a lot of customers on the phone. From those conversations, I was able to determine which verticle would be most profitable. 

Thanks for joining us for today's chat -- hope we were a good distraction from the DC heat.  We'll be here next month with another local entrepreneur.



In This Chat
Elana Fine
Elana Fine was appointed Managing Director of the Dingman Center in July 2012, after joining the team in 2010 as Director of Venture Investments. As Managing Director, Elana's primary focus is leading the Dingman Center in support of its mission and strategic plan. Key responsibilities include oversight of our student venture incubator, Dingman Center Angels investor network, business competitions, and technology commercialization efforts. Elana earned an MBA in Finance and Accounting from the University of Chicago's Booth School of Business in 2002, and earned a BS in Finance, from the University of Maryland, College Park, in 1997.
Justin Baer
Entrepreneur Justin Baer has launched the guest list and event check in app Check In Easy. Prior to founding Check In Easy, Justin launched its predecessor company, a social business venture providing the nonprofit sector with a Web-based calendar, ticketing service and supplier directory. As chief executive, he grew's subscriber base to over 20,000, firmly establishing the site as the preeminent online hub for nonprofit events. Baer founded The Cure Card in 2003 to develop and market a loyalty card concept targeting charitable causes.
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