Posts in Pre-Launch
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!

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:

Little Red Sauna & Top Gun
Sauna trailer, as purchased in March 2018.

Sauna trailer, as purchased in March 2018.

For the last year, I‘ve been working with great mentors from Portland SCORE to get the Little Red Sauna rolling. (Super thanks for the patience of Hank McCaffrey!) As a Maine-based entrepreneur looking to grow my business, I was thrilled to jump at the chance to apply and be accepted into Top Gun Maine. (Thanks to Maddie Purcell, founder of Fyood Kitchen in Portland for encouraging me to apply.)

Top Gun, a state-wide selective business incubator run by the Maine Center for Entrepreneurs (MCE), is designed to accelerate entrepreneurial development with coaching and mentorship. Laurie Johnson, the Top Gun Program Manager, runs an organized and efficient five-month schedule. Since 2009, 83 companies have been through the program, and 90% of them are still active. This year a record 47 companies were selected. Ten of them are in the 2019 Top Gun Portland cohort.

Every week we get together for dinner. We practice our pitches, discuss strategies in marketing and fundrasing, and collaborate with other entrepreneurs. We have homework and meetings with our mentors during the week. Some of the start-ups are pre-revenue and are just getting off the ground like Little Red Sauna -- their energy and excitement are the most palatable. Other companies already have branding, loyal customers, and are looking to expand their business. The Portland group includes wonderful businesses including Tiny Homes of Maine, Bartlett Yarns, and Sticky Sweet. I love seeing many of the women-owned companies! (Shout out to Kim Koehler who has the dual role of being my business coach and working for MCE.)

By the end of the program, we will all give our pitch to an audience of business owners, investors, entrepreneurs, and the media at a regional pitch competition that will generate state semifinalists for the final MCE annual Top Gun Showcase in Portland. Both Maine Technology Institute and biotech entrepreneur David Shaw are providing a $25,000 prize. Which Top Gun finalist will win $25k in June?