Scott Bierbryer WG’14, Co-Founder of VeryApt
“Please move slowly and don’t break anything,” says my Jewish mother
In a tech ecosystem that idolizes Facebook (“move fast and break things”) and Y Combinator, the Business Plan Competition feels particularly anachronistic and maybe even damaging to innovation. I couldn’t disagree more.
Virtually all the finalists have working prototypes and traction
To be a contender in the WBPC, real work has to be put into your business to demonstrate traction. My company, VeryApt, a personalized apartment recommendation platform and review community, failed to advance past the initial round in 2013, driving us to create the MVP and execution plan that ultimately led to our third-place finish in the 2014 competition.
Today, we are live in 10+ markets and thousands of renters find their perfect apartment on VeryApt each year. Three key components from the WBPC have driven our success:
1. Feedback: 50 professionals from all the fields relevant to our business tore our plan apart in a way that hundreds of customer and VC pitches could never accomplish. From this, we built a stronger revenue model, product, and narrative to improve our unit economics, customer experience, and fundraising approach, respectively.
2. Mentorship: WBPC assigned us a mentor who became a true partner. Not only was his advice instrumental in the competition, but he became an investor and introduced us to Josh Kopelman, who kick started our Angel Round through the Startup PHL Angel Fund (along with Wharton startup Tesorio).
3. Validation to ourselves, not the judges: The biggest risk to a Wharton startup is that it never starts at all. The chance to perform thorough research on your concept and address tough questions gives you the confidence to know that your opportunity is real, even if someone who spends 15 minutes with your business doesn’t think so. This is why Wharton companies such as Warby Parker and CommonBond become so successful despite in many cases not advancing past the Semifinals.
A whole business plan now in 140 characters or less in a pitch deck
The WBPC may not be the most appropriately named. Although now a pitch deck instead of a 25-page plan, the hallmark of the competition is still solid, revenue-generating businesses backed up by thorough research. The WBPC is well-designed to supercharge participants with feedback, mentorship, and validation – as well as acting as a forcing function to turn your ideas into real products.
Since the Business Plan Competition, VeryApt has raised over $1M in angel and venture capital and achieved profitability in our core markets. The finalists from my 2014 cohort show similar progress through the WBPC approach – they have raised over $5M from top-tier investors (Slidejoy, Abaris, Admitsee, Identified Technologies), bootstrapped businesses that are disrupting markets (Senvol), and make a mean sandwich (Matt and Marie’s).
Whether they’re in the finals or not, amazing companies will emerge from this year’s WBPC, and I couldn’t be more excited.
Bio: Scott Bierbryer WG’14 is a Co-Founder of VeryApt, a personalized apartment recommendation platform and review community, based in Philadelphia. VeryApt was founded at Wharton along with Co-Founder Ashrit Kamireddi WG’14 and placed third in the 2014 Wharton Business Plan Competition.