Ethos in the Sandbox - Validate, Validate, Validate!

This entry is written by Rob Barber, who co-founded Ethos Studios LLC with partner Joel Little.  Rob and Joel are working to deliver not just for their first customer this summer, but to build an entire library of customizable of app-based games to make brands playable, quickly.  Rob and Joel earned their spot in the Sandbox by showing their skills in programs like the UB Pitch Competition and the Panasci Competition.  


The Sandbox program. When I first heard of this program my co-founder Joel Little and I had already been working on our company Ethos Studios LLC (which creates branded mobile video games for businesses to better market themselves) for over a year. The Sandbox sounded like a good way to help gain some company capital while allowing us to earn enough money to scratch out a living during the two summer months. I was told about the opportunities that would pop up and the connections that the company could gain through this program but gaining lackluster connections from various networking events in the past, I took this with a grain of salt. After nearly a month I can whole-heartedly say that the Sandbox program has drastically changed our company in ways that would otherwise take years.

Let me start out with mentioning that neither Joel or I have formal business training. This hadn’t stopped us from gaining our first client or in our successes with winning the 2014 UB Elevator Pitch Competition and making the semi-finals in the 2014 Henry A. Panasci Jr. Technology Entrepreneurship Competition. With me graduating from UB with a B.S. in Electrical Engineering and Joel currently enrolled in the Computer Science program at UB it seemed like we knew what we were doing… Oh boy was the Sandbox program about to kick us where it hurt.

In the first week of Sandbox we were rudely awakened to how much we just didn’t know and lacked as a company. We attended Pitch-In, a local event to pitch your idea to a diverse crowd of people, and quickly realized that the lack of business training had been clawing at our business in the background. This is where the Sandbox program really shines in my eyes.

The Sandbox program has taught us so much in the past month about not only how business and entrepreneurs operate but also how to form teams, what is right for your specific business, and all of the little things that can snowball up into huge problems for your company down the road. For instance, this program requires you to download Quickbooks as a means to track your company’s finances. The program provides a one day class for the software and through this class we learned that one of the biggest reasons why a company fails is by not properly tracking your finances. At first a company only has to track a few things so a normal spreadsheet can get you by but this habit can kill your company. Investors don’t want to see a spreadsheet of finances, they want to see professional reports on the state of the company. Getting into good habits early on is an underlying theme of the Sandbox and one that is absolutely essential for a business.


Validate, validate, validate!!!

In the fist year that Ethos had been in business we were building a product with the absolute knowledge that people would love our idea and pay money for it…Wrong. While people do love our idea and have already paid for it we were still unaware how the masses would react. A company doesn’t want to spend two years on a product that people might not want. Through the weekly classes that Sandbox requires you to attend, we are carving a new path for our company and we are already seeing huge changes with how we operate and benefiting from it.


Connections are essential for a business.

The Sandbox program sits in the Innovation Center that houses D!G, 43 North winners and Z80 Labs. This is quite literally a centralized hub of some of the most talented, driven, experienced and helpful people I have ever met. What I have personally learned is that you can NEVER assume you know everything and meeting with the people in and around the Sandbox will show you many things you just never thought about with your company. Also, it still astounds me how every person here is more than willing to help in some way.


A not so apparent benefit of the Sandbox.

I want to end sharing something I feel can really hinder a student-run company. While I was in school I had the benefit of living off of loans and potential grants and scholarships. This allowed me to focus on academic success at the cost of incurring debt. That can lead to huge obstacles right after graduation when you have to start paying back that potential heap of loans. If you want your company to be successful you need to put in the time to make it successful and finding a full time job will cripple the time you have to work on it.


Here is where the Sandbox saved me.

Through all the connections here I was able to talk with the right people and find a part-time engineering job that still allows me to work full-time on Ethos. So while the Sandbox program directly helps your student-run business it can also help indirectly.


So, one month down and there is still another left to go! Might as well end with some shameless marketing.


Choose Ethos Studios, where we make your brand playable! Ethos Studios website