The MentorMob team spent the summer of 2013 in New York City as part of the Kaplan EdTech Techstars Accelerator. The intensive 3 month program was pivotal for MentorMob in turning their idea into a business. Co-founders Vince Leung and Kris Chinosorn, and their close-knit group of "mobsters", returned to Chicago (and to Catapult) to get to work making their passion become a reality. The goal of MentorMob is to create a community of lifelong learners through its crowdsourced lifestyle learning site. From kitesurfing (Coolest.Sport.Ever.) to parenting, from photography to wedding planning, MentorMob allows you to master a skill or lifestyle. With MentorMob, you "learn more and google less." We were lucky to get a sneak peek at the future MentorMob website, and were wowed by its enticing content, visual beauty, intuitive learning process, and ease of navigation.
Catapult sat down with Vince, co-founder and Chief Technology "Mobster", to talk about where MentorMob is heading and the entrepreneurial lessons he's learning along the way.
Tell us a little bit about where MentorMob is right now?
We've proven that crowd-curation of high-quality content from around the web is easy to do and extremely useful to those who would have otherwise had to do a lot of Googling themselves to find the information. We're working on the next big jump in product and user experience - something that has been missing in virtually every online product focused on learning. This is the opportunity that has gotten a lot of investors really excited.
How has your idea evolved since its inception?
It's the same concept since the inception, to make it easier for anyone in the world to learn a new hobby, interest, or lifestyle as well as to interact with like-minded people in each of those communities. We've been iterating on the product and user-experience since then. We've learned a lot about how our users around the world use our product and what works well.
Who is your ideal customer? What is your target market?
Ideally every person in the world who has ever done a Google search to learn a hobby, interest, or lifestyle, such as photography, salsa-dancing, or even how to be a cancer survivor, is an ideal customer of MentorMob. Since we have a finite amount of resources we're targeting topics that are more female-centric and those that have a high-degree of activity and require a lot of content to learn from.
How do you generate new ideas for your business?
We read a lot of news and blogs, and not just within our industry. We also observe how users accomplish different tasks, both online and offline, to better understand how they can translate into our product experience. We also brainstorm a lot since we have a variety of perspectives on the team.
Where do you see your company in the next 2-3 years?
MentorMob will be a recognized and trusted brand to learn and to interact with like-minded people. We will have expanded the number of topics we offer and have made life easier for millions of people around the world.
What have been your biggest business/entrepreneurial challenges?
The most difficult challenge has been to create a product that hasn't existed before. Facebook was able to borrow concepts and design elements from previous social networks (Friendster, Myspace) and just execute it in a different way. We've had to build MentorMob through a lot of trial and error and looking at different products and industries for inspiration and ideas.
What have been your biggest triumphs?
We're proud of the the team that we've put together as well as the group of supporters, from family and friends to investors and users. Also everyone on the team is really smart and excited about the problem that MentorMob is tackling. It's also humbling to know that competitors, who have raised 40 times as much capital as us, have "borrowed" design and marketing ideas from us. I suppose it's true that "imitation is the sincerest form of flattery."
How do you handle different opinions and conflicts among the leaders of your team?
Just like any relationship we have our ups and downs. Luckily we have an odd number of leaders so we always have a tie-breaker!
What does your team do to bond/relax?
We try to do BBQs and celebrate birthdays and work anniversaries. We'll also do "off-sites" to work at different locations to keep things a little more dynamic and less stale.
Do you listen to music while you work? What's on your playlist?
Absolutely! We switch it up from Empire of the Sun to Jack Johnson to Motown. We try to play music aloud so it's a more open environment.
What do you find to be most beneficial about sharing a space with multiple entrepreneurs? What's the best part of Catapult?
Being able to get access to a variety of perspectives on a given topic. You don't feel alone as an entrepreneur. Catapult has a great vetting system to choose which companies come into our community. We value being around startups at around the same stage as us since we all face similar challenges.