Jon Staff is a student at the Harvard Business School and the founder of Getaway, a company that rents tiny cabins with a catch: You don’t know where the secluded campsite will be until after you book your stay.
A serial entrepreneur, Staff has some unique insights on how the Harvard i-lab — and its Venture Incubation Program — can benefit early-stage ventures.
How did you get started at the i-lab?
I came for the free coffee, stayed for the sweet workspace, and couldn’t leave once I got hooked up with the great Venture Incubation Program resources and the community of great people.
Which resource do you use most at the Harvard Innovation Labs? Why is it so useful?
Hard to say — there’s a lot of good stuff.
Choosing one, I’d have to say the EIR meetings since they resulted in direct financial benefit to my company in addition to allowing access to great, practical advice.
In the middle of our fundraise, after several difficult pitches in a row, I walked into one EIR session and rather than presenting my company in the best light possible, I laid all my cards on the table and delved into the questions about the business that I had been struggling with. To my surprise, the EIR not only offered to give me advice with those issues, but also offered to invest in my company. The next day the same thing happened with another EIR who also connected me with two other investors.
Those are meetings that would not have happened without being a part of the i-lab.
What are some of the difficulties you’ve faced while trying to grow Getaway?
The hardest part has been choosing between focusing on building the company versus attending all the great i-lab events versus just hanging out with all the good people who are constantly around.
How have other founders/companies helped you during your time in the i-lab?
The other founders at the i-lab are great for what I call “startup therapy.” It’s incredibly helpful to be around people who understand what building a company feels like and that you can empathize with.
What’s next for you and your venture?
We just raised a second seed round and are getting ready to expand to a new city. (Stay tuned!)
If you had to give another student one piece of advice to get the most out of the i-lab, what would it be?
I would tell other students to first think about the most pressing needs for you and your company, and then to customize how to take advantage of the i-lab’s resources around that. That is much more beneficial than feeling like you need to take advantage of everything all of the time.
There is a bit of tension in settings like the i-lab where there are so many great things to take advantage of, but you also want to pour as much of your time and energy into building your company. Sometimes an hour spent with a mentor, in an EIR session, or at a networking event can make a huge difference for your company. But sometimes that same hour would have been better spent just grinding on your project.
The key is: Use what you need and don’t get overwhelmed by the number of options.
Anything we missed?
Literally, without the i-lab I’m not sure my company would exist right now.
The financial support and connections the i-lab has allowed for Getaway are the lifeblood of my company right now. Three of my investors are i-lab affiliated. Four of my mentors are i-lab folks.
Aside from all of that, being a “Harvard Innovation Lab” company is a big part of our company’s story that we’re proud of and that the media loves to feature.
We’re so grateful to be allowed to be part of this community.