Nov 10, 2015

Sobotka Stories: Guide Finder

The Sobotka Seed Stage Stories introduces you to former winners of the grants who share their experience and perspective. The Yale Center for Business and the Environment aspires to build a robust entrepreneurial community around sustainability and is proud of its alumni.

Meet Michael Holkesvik (YC’ 13), winner of a 2012 Sobotka Seed Stage Venture grant and one of the founders of The GuideFinder along with Siddhartha Banerjee (YC’ 13) and Konrad Coutinho (YC’ 13).

The GuideFinder was aspiring to be an easy-to-use search and booking platform that would bridge the gap between fishing guides and potential customers. The team believed that if it was easier to find a great guide, more people would experience the outdoors and society would place more overall value on wilderness and healthy river systems.

The Sobotka Seed Stage grant provided the young entrepreneurs with a stamp of legitimacy and the brand name of The Yale Center for Business and the Environment gave them a boost as they continued to move their venture forward. Michael and his team allocated the funds from the grant to web hosting and marketing of the platform and to travel expenses so they could meet with fishing guides directly.

One of the hardest challenges the team faced was finding a work-study balance. Juniors at Yale College at the time, The GuideFinder team was shuffling their course load and their venture, which sometimes took a back seat. The fishing entrepreneurs also struggled to identify the fishing guides that most needed help with a web presence. Another hurdle was customer acquisition which proved exacting as most fishing guides “lived in a cash economy” and were hesitant to book online.

Michael advises aspiring entrepreneurs to:

  • Move fast and break things
  • Write down a list of all your assumptions, and find quick and cheap ways to validate them
  • Don’t wait until perfection before launching
  • Besides drive and focus, a startup's greatest resource is time

Even though The GuideFinder is no longer in existence, Michael reflects with wisdom, saying “I wish I would have been part of a failed startup earlier. I learned a lot and the experience still helps me with my work today.”

The learning experience from the Sobotka Seed Stage Venture Grant propelled the team in their career paths. Michael Holkesvik is a software engineer at the real estate platform Redfin, Siddhartha Banerjee is a Doctor of Philosophy Candidate in Robotics at Georgia Institute of Technology, and Konrad Coutinho is a Coordinator for Latin America with the National Basketball Association (NBA).