Life after Top Gun + Summer Sauna Tour

Amazing. There have been few times in my life I feel I can say that word and mean it for it’s true defintion: Awe. Wonder. Great beyond expectation. This is the feeling I am left with after four months of Top Gun. These are the entreprenuers who support each other, listen when needed and give advice when asked, celebrate each others successes, and empathize with work-life balance challenges.

The Little Red Sauna had it’s finest pitch at regionals, and while we did not make it to the showcase, we were lucky to see two fearless Portland entreprenuers Sticky Sweet and Hornet Watersports move on. We — the whole Portland group — felt nothing but pride and compersion for Sticky Sweet when they WON the 25K prize! Be sure to check them out this Summer 2019 as they open their first store to compliment their already successful icecream grocery retail business.

We have lots in store this summer. Soft launch summer tour of Maine + five weddings, three festivals, and a family reunion. Be sure to check back to see how we’re doing. We’ll be at the Old Port Festival, Portland Pride, Midsommers Festival, and a handful of other events.


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What goes into a pitch (or Top Gun update)

If you google “pitch deck” or "how to pitch investors", you’re going to find thousands of Silicon Valley opinion pieces written by male TechStars. Not the greatest fodder for reading nor always appropriate for a Maine audience. Thankfully, the Maine Center for Entrepreneurs’ Top Gun Maine program has done a lot of the work in pitch practicing for us, by aggregating information and giving us forums to practice and finetune our pitch. In March we had a live pitch demonstration from Kristel Hayes of Fibher, a custom apparel company. We’ve been working on our 1-minute, 3-minute, and 5-minute pitches in preparation for the Top Gun Portland Top Gun Pitch-Off & Showcase. It’s humbling, painful, and great learning experience to pay attention to your body and your visual cues.

A few things learned:

  • Gender matters. Statistically, investors are 60% more likely to invest in male-owned companies than female entrepreneurs. Women own 39 percent of all businesses in the US, but female entrepreneurs get only two percent of venture funding.

  • Practice, practice, practice.10x times a day or more. Record yourself, and practice in the mirror.

  • Earn the attention of your audience. An investor should love your business in the first 5 minutes.

  • If you want advice, ask for money. If you want money, ask for advice. To succeed, you will need both.

  • Prepare for the unknown. Every investor will focus on different aspects of the business. I found this Y Combinator flashcard-style interview pitch deck preparation to be helpful  

Up next: I’ll be pitching the Little Red Sauna at the Portland Top Gun Pitch-Off Event on May 9th, 2019!

Community Response

I’ve been thinking a lot about community these days are and what community means to different people. We all crave a sense of community through shared emotional or spiritual connections (McMillan & Chavis 1986). But community cannot be easily replicated -- there must easily be a sense of trust and belonging. I saw that last week at the Portland Trails 15x15 annual meeting, I see it daily at the dog park with the other dog owners, I feel it in my car listening to podcasts.  How do we create a sense of community that makes it easier for us to reach out to one another to let each other know that we are struggling in the most intimate parts of our lives? How do you trust those that you haven’t met? What do you do to make the claim of “I belong. I’m a member.”

For me: Sauna is my community. On late Saturday afternoons, I escape from the city and slip into a hidden sauna oasis in the backwoods near Bradbury Mountain State Park. These are people I’ve come to love and trust who support each other, regardless of age, ethos, gender, sexual orientation, or class. When I see the candle lit in the window, I feel at home.

Through the Sauna Survey, I’ve been asking some of you to describe your community. Here are a few of your responses:

  • People who want to make the world a better place

  • …growing their own personal selves while sharing and teaching their experiences and values with the rest of us.

  • I seek a kind, supportive, inspiring, and open-minded tribe to embrace as “my community.”

  • They are my community because they are positive and supportive of meaningful ways to treat people with love and respect. They inspire me to create and bring beauty to the world while at the same time sharing in the day to day struggles of humankind.

And so … the Little Red Sauna building has begun, with wupport and love to the community that is bringing it to life:  Mat O’Brien (Owner of O’Brien Wood & Iron LLC) and his team of artists are transforming Little Red from two-stall horse trailer into a sauna.  No sneak peeks just yet, but you can see the progress on our Instagram.

Survey & Customer discovery interviews

Like most entrepreneurs, I have a million ideas going around in my head every day -- ways to run the sauna for my own friends and their children, or how to throw a kick-ass party that both entrepreneurs and academics would enjoy.  In the beginning, some of these wild ideas were already established competitive products in the New England market; some of these ideas were so outlandish I couldn’t get a single person on board (like my FreeHugger App idea ... aka group hugs on demand). Last year for the mobile sauna, I did a preliminary survey for the transition from ideation to validation.

Fast forward a year as we close in on the YET TO BE ANNOUNCED startup launch day, I really needed to figure out what I’m going ask potential customers to help create "community buy-in" and the type of environment that would thrive in Maine. Even though I’m a native Mainer, performing rounds of customer discovery interviews to learn about your own community is not always easy. Tell us about the last time you went to a sauna. Tell us about your sauna experience. Tell us about your community. Why is that? Why is that? Why is that? Why is that?

I have been asking lots of awkward questions in interviewing people: talking about their emotions, digging into the “why” of Maine sauna culture, explaining to newbs what a sauna actually is in the first place, talking about nudity and cultural norms. I’ve been asking for stories and listening to the good, bad and ugly sauna experiences.  

It’s hard to do - but we’ve already got a nice community around us. A big, big thank you to Coffee By Design owner Mary Allen Lindemann for helping us conduct the interviews over the last few weeks and to Kim Koehler and Jim Britt for support and incentive advice. LRS project was lucky to be featured on facebook.

A long post to say: fill out the survey by April 30 and be entered into a chance to win a mobile sauna rental experience: