In the Vancouver startup community, you never know if the next person you meet will go on to become the next breakthrough startup entrepreneur. Startup Weekend is one of the key outlets for aspiring entrepreneurs to not only come together and bring their startup ideas to life, but also for them to meet an array of high potential founders with unique stories to share.
When military soldier-turned-artist and now startup CEO, Jennifer Yemu Li participated in Startup Weekend Vancouver in 2014, little did we know that this powerhouse entrepreneur and her co-founders would go on to build an online network of over 170,000 influencers on Instagram through their online platform, Musefind.
Musefind is an online platform that allows eCommerce brands to market through social media influencers. Incubated in Vancouver’s Spring Activator, Musefind has become the first and only Canadian startup to have been accepted and funded by one of New York’s leading tech accelerators, Entrepreneurs Roundtable Accelerator (ERA).
We sat down with Jennifer to discuss her Startup Weekend experience and the support she has received from the Vancouver startup community that has led her to grow her business in New York.
How did you first hear about Startup Weekend, and what made you want to participate?
I had first found out about Startup Weekend from friends in the Vancouver startup community and by word-of-mouth. Around that time, I was also participating in the Kick program at Spring where I had met one of my co-founders, Stephen Shen, and then at Startup Weekend, I met my other co-founder, Andry Tanusdjaja. Since then, the three of us have built Musefind in Vancouver, and after getting accepted into ERA, we decided to move together to New York to grow Musefind even further.
Did you participate in SWV with the idea of Musefind — or was it initially a different idea?
The idea of Musefind was the same as what we went in Startup Weekend with — which was initially called Fame Mob. It had the same roots as Musefind, but we only had an MVP, and the idea wasn’t validated until we joined Spring.
How did you come up with the idea?
My co-founder Stephen and I both had similar experiences running an e-commerce business, and we both had frustrations around connecting our brands with influencers. So when we came together with our other co-founder, Andry, during Startup Weekend, we knew we were on to something.
When did you feel that Musefind first had legs?
When we sold our product to our first customer — without an actual product. It was just a concept during Startup Weekend, so when someone actually paid for something I had pitched to them, it was then when we realized we really needed to hustle and start prototyping.
You are the first and only Canadian company to have been accepted and funded by ERA in New York – congratulations! What led you to wanting to move Musefind to New York?
We knew that if we wanted to grow our company, New York was the place to be — and it was the best decision for our company. With ERA being the one of leading accelerators in New York, it was an honour to be selected as one of the 10 companies for their summer cohort, out of the 1000+ applications that they had received. Although we intend to grow our company here in New York during the whole duration of the program, we left our hearts in Vancouver, and we plan to be back if it’s best for our business. We want to be an inspiration to all the startups in BC, and come back to help further develop the startup community in Vancouver.
How have your first few weeks in New York been?
In just our first two weeks of being in New York, we’ve managed to double our growth, grow our revenue sales by 25% each month, and sparked a ton interest from major NYC agencies and digital advertising companies. We’ve even signed our first SaaS brand customers just last week!
What resources did you find the most helpful in Vancouver to get you to where you are now?
Definitely the people and the relationships we made in Vancouver. The support we received from Keith Ippel and Spring team — we couldn’t have done it without them. Also, developing our company in Vancouver really helped us connect and understand our customers better.
What were the best takeaways from SWV for you?
Learning how to work under pressure, meeting my co-founders, and being a part of Startup Weekend really made me realize how amazing the tech community was here in Vancouver, and support it has to offer for startup entrepreneurs.
How should someone prepare for Startup Weekend?
Be prepared for the unexpected — I know it’s a very vague thing to say, but be prepared for blow-ups between team members, or people not showing up the next morning — but more so, be prepared for the experience of working under pressure.
When should a startup founder start exploring options on participating in an accelerator — why not just look for VCs or angels?
It really depends on the level of the founders’ experience. If a founder had a past experience with a successful exit, perhaps working with a VC or angel would be beneficial. But for us, we were very focused on People, Product, and Industry — we wanted to be very selective on who we were going to be working with, and that they had a shared vision of what we wanted to accomplish.
What is the best business advice you’ve received?
Talk to your customers. Keith Ippel had always told us when we’re stuck on an idea or feeling crappy — talk to your customers to validate why you need to keep going. Spring definitely pushed us to keep going and we will always be grateful for their support.
Be sure to follow Musefind on social media to find out more about their journey through ERA: