AlphaLab has been helping startups get off the ground for six cycles (has it been 3 years already?), so they have a nice pool of alumni to offer advice to new batches of companies.

Thankfully the advice they share is not always private. Last week AlphaLab posted a few highlights from what the latest grads had to share with the new guys.

  1. Launch Quickly. This is often the first piece of advice alumni offer up–and for good reason. Both a pillar of the lean startup model and adopted maxim of many startups, “shipping fast, and often” allows companies to test out market assumptions and use valuable user feedback to quickly pivot their product or service to fit the needs of their customers.
  2. Learn How to Say “No.” This refers both to taking on potential customers that will cause you more problems than you can handle, and the laundry list of features your customers will inevitabply want you to add.

Click here to read the rest of the advice the alumni had to offer. Take special note of number three and be sure to add this blog to your PR email list. Thanks!

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The following is from The Blog of Burgher Jon:

It occurs to me that I should probably give some space to Project Olympus on this blog. After I spoke last week about the number of CMU software engineering students who leave Pittsburgh (CMU Professor Lenore Blum estimates it’s 95%), I thought a project specifically designed to help keep them was worth noting. The project is known a Project Olympus. The goal, as you can see from the chart above, is to more actively place CMU (and by extension Pittsburgh) at the center of their most talented software engineers’ projects. If you click the picture above it will take you to their about page. They have a list of their probes online and while a disappointing number don’t appear to have gone anywhere, they can claim ReCAPTCHA has a huge success (acquired by Google).

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Fred Wilson, as usual, had some valuable insights on his blog yesterday. The topic this time was particularly interesting, how the government can stimulate the startup ecosystem. He started by saying that there are at least two ecosystems in NYC, one around BioTech and one around Software/Internet/Digital Media and that the two are seperate. While this seems obvious to those of us who live this day in and day out, politicians tend to be a little dense.

Fred points to two primary ways that public funds and energies can be applied to nurturing the NYC tech scene. The first one is the chorus that resounds through just about every community trying to build a tech scene, WE NEED MORE ENGINEERS! This of course applies to Pittsburgh as much as anybody, but I think there are plenty of engineers (at least more then the Pittsburgh tech scene can currently handle) to be had coming out of CMU. This is why I think it is so awesome that Google confirmed today that their offices are going to be twice as large as we previously believed. This, and a growing startup community, can form the basis for a community that’s attractive to the top engineering talent.

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Startup Tips Overload!

by Jason Mosley on October 28, 2010

in Blog

In the past 7 days Mashable has posted over 10 How to be a startup success tips. Its part of their Digital Entrepreneur Series that started later this year. I guess they decided to put it on overdrive this week.

Just in case you might of missed them here is a quick rundown:

When I look at both of these lists two things jump out at me; being focused and having the right team. I guess those two things really do set you pace to be a successful startup.

This fact make me excited for whats coming out of Pittsburgh. Most of the up-and-coming startupers I meet in Pittsburgh have these qualities. When I ask them what there doing they have clear idea and mission of what the want to accomplish. They also have about 1-3 more people, usually working away, right behind them.

Pretty soon the word Startup and Pittsburgh are going to be like bacon and eggs. Seeing one without the other is going to look strange and unsatisfying.

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Hearing about Shoefitr during the presentations at AlphaLab’s Demo Day left me not only impressed but wanting to know more. I got in touch with CEO and COO Matt Wilkinson (who founded Shoefitr along with Nick End and Breck Fresen) for an interview to talk shoes, startups, and Pittsburgh.

Did you and your co-founders know you wanted to start a business, or did the idea to start Shoefitr evolve from the problem you saw that exists in online shoe sales?

We had each previously attempted our own respective ventures prior to Shoefitr so we are entrepreneurial and always looking for opportunities. With that said, Shoefitr was started from a problem we experienced first-hand when trying to buy shoes online. Although we knew it would be a challenge, we felt strongly that we had the technical experience and background to find a solution. Its not magic, there is a reason somebody fits better in a certain shoe than others, and there just had to be a good way to capture fit without trying on a shoe.

How did you find out about AlphaLab, and did it benefit you?

We heard about Alphalab through a friend/entrepreneur from Carnegie Mellon, Matt Humphrey, who is on the advisor board at Alphalab. The Alphalab experience has been extremely valuable. The mentoring and resources were crucial in getting us to the next stage but most importantly being accepted into the program gave us that extra push from working part-time on Shoefitr to going fulltime.

How did you balance growing your business while maintaining outside employment?

We had been working on Shoefitr part-time for over a year, including a complete revamping of our approach. We had mitigated as much risk as possible before quitting our previous jobs and going full-time.

For now, Shoefitr is integrated into affiliate sites, such as Running Warehouse. You mentioned during Demo Day that Shoefitr would like to build into “a comparative fitting site where consumers can search by fit before purchasing through an affiliate network.” Can you elaborate?

Shoefitr will be integrated into retailer’s websites, but at some point, it might make sense to reach customers through a fit-centric comparative shopping site as well where Shoefitr can drive more traffic to retailers. We think that there could be a demand for a site like this because 35% of shoppers first visit comparative pricing sites prior to purchasing; however, our market research shows that fit is a bigger concern than price when it comes to buying shoes online. Our vision is to create a comparative shopping site where customers can search by fit and price.

Has Shoefitr received funding?

Outside of Alphalab, Shoefitr has been self-funded and will be looking for funding in the future when the time is right.

If/when you expand to other markets beyond athletic shoes, will the technology be able to detect other possible fit problems? What do you see those being?

Our approach and most of our software will not change when moving to new footwear verticals; however, different types of footwear may require different fitting algorithms and measurements for our recommendation engine. For example, high heels will obviously require us to look into heel heights. Discovering exactly what those are will require some more research, user testing, and also understanding the shopping/fitting behavior of those consumers.

Where are you planning to move your operations after AlphaLab?

Shoefitr will keep its operations in Pittsburgh, and we are currently exploring our options for office space around the city.

How do you and your co-founders come to be in Pittsburgh? What do you like about it in general and for startups in particular?

The 3 of us are all from different places, Breck grew up outside Chicago, Nick came from Milwaukee, and I am from New Jersey but all came to Pittsburgh to attend Carnegie Mellon. We all really enjoy Pittsburgh. Breck’s favorite spot is the Pretzel Shop across from the Alphalabs where he can be found eating for most meals. Nick and I enjoy Double Wide, their TV Dinners are awesome. Nick and Breck like running in Shenley Park and head there almost daily. Pittsburgh is a very start-up friendly city. We have friends working on startups in the valley and there are just so many out there that it’s hard to find people who want to help you. In Pittsburgh everyone is excited about all the new companies and willing to help.

How did Nick become a professionally sponsored runner?

Nick and Breck both ran cross country and track at CMU and Nick continued afterwards. He start runnning marathons last year and after a fast one in Boston he applied for a small sponsorship with Saucony. He really likes their shoes and gear. He runs daily and every month or so enters a big race. On most days he convinces Breck and I to run with him which I always regret as I am in no condition to keep up with them.

Last question, do you have a favorite startup company in Pittsburgh?

Our favorite Pittburgh startup is DeviceKnit. They introduced us to a bar that has 10 cent wings so it was the perfect place for all of us to hang out and talk about startups.

Editors Note: Shoefitr has also just won a global pitch competition. Check out the Alphalab blog for video of the winning pitch!

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