Serial entrepreneur Tim Laubacher rolled out Launch EZ in 2015 with the original goal of helping 500 Connecticut startups. Since then, he’s refined his mission to meet the needs of the entrepreneurial ecosystem.
INNOVATION DESTINATION HARTFORD: Let’s begin at the beginning. There’s a story behind how you came up with the concept for Launch EZ.
LAUBACHER: In 2013 I won an AppCampus award with Microsoft and Nokia. Part of the prize package was being a part of a 30-day accelerator program in Finland specifically for mobile apps.
When I was out there I found that their startup ecosystem was really amazing. It totally floored me. I’d been involved in the business ecosystem here in Connecticut, but it was geared more toward small business; it wasn’t a startup ecosystem. In Finland, theirs was really solid. It involved the universities, the community, and tons of startups and experienced entrepreneurs.
When I returned to Connecticut, I thought: We have to have this here. I’ve just got to go find it.
I started looking around and I realized it wasn’t like that. There were a lot of resources, but they weren’t really connected to each other. There were a few different websites out there listed a bunch of resources, but it was just a giant mess. Trying to go through it to figure out what really made sense for me took a lot of time and I found it really time consuming.
Being a data-type person, I thought: There’s got to be a better way to do this. So I started a database that not only listed everything but categorized things in more detail. For example: This is for a more advanced startup, or this is for someone with an idea, or this is for someone who is working on building a team. The database also categorized things in terms of resources specifically for a woman-owned business or a veteran-owned business, those kinds of things. And then it categorized things to address: What is it really helping? Is it a marketing-type of thing? Is it a mentoring thing? Is it a business expertise type of thing? That was kind of like the beginning stage of it.
IDH: How did the concept evolve and when did you launch the site?
LAUBACHER: In January 2015 I created the website www.launchez.com with the idea to help 500 Connecticut startups. I set 500 as a goal because you have to have some sort of a goal you’re working toward. I thought: Everyone in the state will see this cool resource and push people to my site and it will be great. However, I’m more of the technology guy, I’m not really the marketing guy.
The website had some amount of success to it. The bigger part of the success was CTNext approached me. They really liked the database and wanted to white label it and have it on their website. And then John Shemo, the Economic Development Director at MetroHartford Alliance, approached me because they wanted to use the database on the Innovation Destination Hartford site, but they wanted to white label it too.
Some other startups I’ve worked on have done similar types of models, where multiple entities contribute to a product from which they all benefit. For example, I designed an app called My Town Trails where towns can map their trail systems. No specific town could pay to have me build an app just for them. They each pay a little for this much better system many of them couldn’t afford individually.
I applied that business model the Launch EZ system and told CTNext and the MetroHartford Alliance: If you each contribute to the cost of what it would take and you promote it, I’ll build all the technology and maintain the database behind scenes and we’ll grow it that way.
That’s what we’ve been working on for the past year—getting the Innovation Destination Hartford site up and running with the Resources and the Startup listings specifically. The current database has different nodes. Under the Resources section there are subcategories: programs, networking groups, and service providers—who you would pay for services they are going to provide. There is also a mentor group—people who want to mentor startup companies, and then there are the startups themselves. They all connect through the same categorization system. So you might have a startup that’s just in the idea phase and I could match them with resources that help startups in that phase, that’s kind of the idea.
With regard to making connections, I thought partnering with CTNext and the MetroHartford Alliance would be a faster way for me to help 500 startups.
IDH: You’re very immersed in the entrepreneur ecosystem. How and why did you become so interested?
LAUBACHER: I’m committed to Connecticut. This is where I’m going to live and die. A lot people say Connecticut doesn’t have what they want and they move out of state. I feel that, if your area doesn’t have what you want to, do what you can to service your community, that’s how I grew up. I was always involved with community stuff. That’s how I was raised.
So going to Finland and seeing what it could be made me wonder what could be done to get Connecticut to that level of connectedness. It’s kind of a personal mission of: What can I do? How can I put my talents out there to help Connecticut improve our economic status, especially with startup-type companies?
IDH: Speaking of your talents, you have a technology background. Have you always been entrepreneurial?
LAUBACHER: I started my first company on my own in 2006. It was an agency that serviced marketing companies with technology. I sold that company 2010 and then I started Sound Web Solutions that same year to focus more on businesses that run specifically online—not a plumber who wants a website. For example, I worked on the FamilyMeds website, which is third the largest pharmacy website, and DanceTeacherWeb.com, which one of the largest dance instruction websites.
Before all of that I always worked in corporate America. Two years prior to launching my first startup, I joined a startup company, which kind of got me into the bug of wanting to own my own business. That company grew from eight employees to 300 employees in two years.
IDH: Are you still operating Sound Web Solutions?
LAUBACHER: I still do that although I’m trying to phase that down to just my existing customers. I want to focus more on Launch EZ specifically.
IDH: As far as the future of Launch EZ, you mentioned the goal was to help the Connecticut community and then to have it be a tool that could possibly be used in other cities and states.
LAUBACHER: Definitely. If I can help Connecticut do it, I don’t see why I couldn’t then expand the system and release it in other areas around the country or around the world that want to do the same type of thing. That would be the long-term business goal, to grow the platform that way and release it in other areas.
Another goal is to grow Launch EZ as a business. If there are entities out there that serve entrepreneurs, I would love to be able to talk to them, tell them more about Launch EZ, and explain how they can get involved. I can be reached directly at email@example.com or 860-305-5690.
IDH: In terms of being here in Connecticut, do you find that you’re getting the resources you need here as opposed to being elsewhere?
LAUBACHER: For business-type stuff, definitely. Connecticut has really good small business networking, meaning that other businesses are always there to help. They are readily available to help you grow your business.
For more of the technology-type stuff, I would say that’s a little bit of a weakness of Connecticut. For more detailed technical stuff, Connecticut doesn’t really have that right here. I have to go to New York or Boston, but I can, and I can do that in a day. I think the technical expertise in Connecticut is there but it’s entrenched in more of the corporate environment, which is fine.
IDH: So how can that be improved?
LAUBACHER: I don’t necessarily think it needs to be improved. What would that look like? I don’t want there to be a density of businesses in Connecticut. If I wanted that, I would move to Boston or New York. I like the fact that Connecticut has all these cute little communities that have a lot of local flavor to them. That’s really what’s great about Connecticut. So why try and bring Boston or New York here? It doesn’t make sense.
LAUBACHER: I’ve had my own office space before and that’s nice. Working from home is good, but I don’t get that much done. You don’t get to network and you don’t meet new customers. I’ve made more customer connections from co-working then I could at home and even going to networking events. So I like co-working and being more in a community-type environment.
IDH: Do you have any advice for other startups and entrepreneurs?
LAUBACHER: I would say get connected into one of the main networks, whether it’s reSET, CTNext, The Grove in New Haven, or the Stamford Innovation Center. Get connected to a community so if you have a question you have someplace to go to tap into that.
I do a lot of mentoring for people who want to get into web- and mobile-based businesses, and I always tell them to start really basic and lean. It’s the number one comment that comes up with every entrepreneur I talk to. They always want to try and accomplish everything on day one—it’s not smart, it usually doesn’t work, and they end up spending a lot of money. So that is something I say to every entrepreneur, mentee or customer talk to: Start small and then prove that your idea and build it from there.
To learn more about Launch EZ, or find out how to be involved in growing the database, visit www.launchez.com.