As a former venture capitalist with Trilogy Partners, Katie Thompson has seen her fair share of business plans over the years. But none resonated as much FUNnerator. That’s because it’s her business plan.
The 42-year-old venture capitalist and former Microsoftie partnered earlier this year with former Onvia executive Kristen Hamilton to create a new marketplace that helps parents more easily discover the best camps for their kids.
Described as part database, part family planner and part social network, FUNnerator recently launched in Washington state with more than 1,200 camps listed. (Yes, you geeks, there’s even listings for Star Wars camps/activities).
Parents can search by zip code, type of camp or keywords, such as horseback riding or soccer. FUNnerator then generates prices, available dates, ratings and reviews.
We caught up with Thompson — who retains an interest in Trilogy but is working full time on FUNnerator — for the latest installent of Startup Spotlight, just as parents wonder: ‘What are my kids going to do this summer?”
Explain what you do so our parents can understand it: “We are a marketplace that connects parents with all activities they can buy for their kids all in one place — anything they do outside of school such as ski school, summer camps, horse riding, Lego robotics, hula dancing – you name it!”
Inspiration hit us when: “I realized I could look online and find more information about the flange on the coffee maker I just shipped to my in-laws than I could find on the Karate school my kids are enrolled in. It didn’t seem right that while we all love our kids and want the best for them, despite all the great tools available on the Internet, finding, selecting and booking out of school activities for kids was still a logistical nightmare.”
VC, Angel or Bootstrap: “The number one rule is to never run out of money, so basically, it’s whatever path you can take that ensures that won’t happen. Ideally you also have help, dedication, and insights from experienced advisors, and often it helps if they are invested in the company. You can package it up however makes sense, but getting both is important. We started out bootstrapped, we’ve received angel funding, and we believe to grow the way we will need to eventually grow that VC funding will play a role for us.””
Our ‘secret sauce’ is: “Not so secret – give customers on both sides of the market the services they want and deliver on your promises. It’s getting that right that is the “sauce.” In the case of parents, we offer the “one-stop-shop” for out of school activities, and they tell us that’s just what they need.”
The smartest move we’ve made so far: “Hired brilliance. I’d put our team up against any start-up out there. We’re experienced in the right things – we’ve all founded startups before, we’re all parents and understand the customer very well. The team is super motivated, super sharp, and very passionate about what we’re doing. It’s not often you get to go after a market space this large, and solve real pain for such important customers – parents who want to do right for their kids, and educators passionate about imparting some fantastic experience to kids. It’s high fives all around when a customer sends us feedback saying, “WOW, you may have just saved my relationship.”
The biggest mistake we’ve made so far: “It’s early for us, so we are bound to make many more, but probably it was forcing Facebook-only login for a blink there. People using the site wanted more options. We listened and fixed.”
Would you rather have Gates, Jobs, Zuckerberg or Bezos in your corner: “That’s really an abundance of riches question. They are all brilliant and multi-dimensional. How about Bezos –he has more kids so he’d potentially be a more frequent customer.”
Our world domination strategy starts when: “The $30 billion that parents spend on out of school activities in the US is spent more efficiently – most of it through FUNnerator – heck – ALL of it through FUNnerator!”
Rivals should fear us because: “We’ve done it before and we’ll do it again (startup success). We’re all seasoned entrepreneurs, we’re wildly networked, we’re passionate and committed and we will never give up. Additionally, we’re based in Seattle – where we get to tap into the world’s brain trust of online marketplaces on a daily basis.”
We are truly unique because: “Our exec team is made up of seasoned tech entrepreneurs who also happen to be passionate target customers. Every day we live our customer’s life. Our kids are in the office all the time, we are surrounded by parents who are also tech entrepreneurs telling us every day how to be better, and as parents, we are well trained to be listening.”
The biggest hurdle we’ve overcome is: “Probably getting launched. Again, it’s early days for us, but we’ve been so thrilled with the reception we’ve had – from parents to service providers to strategic partners. We are working on a ton right now that would suggest great momentum ahead. We will have our hurdles for sure – everyone does but we’ll take the wind at our backs right now.”
What’s the one piece of advice you’d give to other entrepreneurs just starting out: “Have deep passion for what you are endeavoring to do. You’ll need it. Then go find the very smartest people with whom you would enjoy going on this journey. Also, it is important for everyone to write down what the hopes, goals, and aspirations are for the business and then at the end of a year, go back and reflect on them. It’s too easy to get caught with the blinders of aspiration, the day-to-day motion of activity, and not be able to better measure the progress that has been made, and the decisions and directions that have been taken. It is much better to chart a map forward if everyone realizes what progress looks like.”