By Eric Fishbin ’20, co-founder and CEO, Stalgia Inc.
“It takes one thought, one second, or moment of positive memory to act as a catalyst for the light to gradually seep in again,” Fearne Cotton, Happy
It’s a September afternoon, and the Fall 2019 semester is just starting to pick up steam after a fun-filled Syllabus Week at Colgate University in Hamilton, New York. Classes let out, and the quad fills with students rushing off in all directions—to the Coop, back to the dorms, down the hill to Case Library… it’s shorts and t-shirt weather, and the energy on campus feels as good as the sun.
Among the scattered scurry of students is senior Tristan Niskanen (an English and creative writing major from Aspen, Colo.). He walks down the Persson steps and strolls along College Street, smiling as he passes Donovan’s Pub and Taylor Lake. He takes out his pocket notebook and pulls out a pen from behind his ear to scribble a quick note.
As he walks, he reflects on the last couple of years at Colgate, considers how his decision to transfer had worked out so well, and then thinks about how happy he is to be back on campus after spending the last semester studying abroad in Bloomsbury, London.
Meanwhile, senior Eric Fishbin (a philosophy major and English minor from Port Washington, N.Y.) is on his way to the same apartment complex—but to a different room and for a different reason. Eric is driving over to see his friend, Jeremy Harwin (a Chinese major and economics minor from Mamaroneck, N.Y.), because he is eager to show off a new book of poetry which was written by his friend and literary journalism classmate, Tristan Niskanen.
Eric opens the door without knocking, and Jeremy is at the table already waiting for him. Eric kicks off his shoes and tosses the copy of the book onto the table for Jeremy to see.
“This,” Eric tells Jeremy, “was written during the Spring 2019 semester when I was abroad in London.”
Tristan, who writes to document his life and share it with the world, took pens and paper wherever he went and turned memorable moments from his semester overseas into poetry. By the end of the trip, he had over 100 poems and self-published the collection.
Eric was thrilled to show it off when he first got the book; reading it reminded him of inside jokes, small details that triggered bigger memories, and other stand-out days from his semester abroad.
Jeremy loved it and was envious because he could not recall similar details from his semester in Shanghai the previous fall. He knew he had the best four months of his life, but he had nothing to make his journey come to life. A year and a half later, Jeremy’s semester in Shanghai felt like a lifetime ago and much of the value from the trip felt like it had slipped away.
So, the next day, Jeremy asked Eric for “this guy” Tristan’s number—he had an idea, and he needed to see if “the poet” was interested.
Jeremy had already been in the TIA Incubator because of an idea he submitted on a whim a couple weeks before. He roped in a friend, junior Spencer Spitz (a computer science major and psychology minor from Mount Sinai, N.Y.) who knew how to code really well, and the two were in.
Then the poems landed in his hands, and he connected with the author. Soon after, our team of four (Eric , Jeremy, Tristan, and Spencer) strolled cautiously into 20 Utica Street on a Saturday morning for our first Thought into Action Workshop. We had an idea for improving how we preserve and share our memories from experiences like a semester abroad, but not much else.
We asked ourselves, “What is it about going to a new place that inspires such a drastic shift in our perspectives? What is it that makes us more observant, adventurous, and "in the moment" when we break our routines? How can we build something that makes the details that are core to a defining moment or experience stay alive in our minds more vividly?”
No matter what, we’ll learn something about entrepreneurship, we thought to ourselves. But working on this venture has meant so much more than that. The Stalgia project—and doing it together as a team in itself—has been a life experience that the four of us will cherish forever. Like making memories on a spring break road trip or going to a Cornell-Colgate hockey game on a Saturday night at the Class of ’65 Arena, being in TIA has been something that will always be an incredibly special part of our time at Colgate.
Though three of us closed our Colgate chapters this spring, we are grateful to have made enough progress on our venture to continue this journey into our post-grad lives. So, to the TIA community: thank you for making the last year of progress, growth and team bonding possible.
2020 has been a whirlwind of a year, and it is still only the summertime. We know in times like these there is opportunity. We are chasing it.
The Journey (so far):
Today, we are less than three weeks away from putting the first version of Stalgia into the hands of beta testers. Stalgia Inc. is a software company dedicated to modernizing how people digitally preserve and share memories from travel and other experiences. Our team’s mission is to create an online space that facilitates authentic story-sharing with friends and the discovery of once in a lifetime opportunities and experiences. Our team believes in both the power and value of hardcopy journals, but we also recognize the versatility of a smartphone. So, we are offering an easier and more convenient way to record and share memories while leveraging technology’s ability to capture media-rich details.
So how did we get here? Let’s rewind:
We spent the 2019-20 school year in the TIA Incubator working with an incredible group of mentors (special shoutouts to Brian Horey ’82, P’21, Wills Hapworth ’07, Kate Foster Lengyel ’99 and Andy Greenfield ’74, P’12!) to formulate and refine our vision and hone in on our product-market fit. Along the way, we absorbed every little piece of advice imparted by guest speakers, fellow venture teams and advisors.
Our team features a dynamic combination of English, philosophy, Psychology, Computer Science, Economics and Chinese majors and we have learned that our liberal arts education is a powerful asset; we utilize our researching, interviewing, writing, presentation and creative thinking skills to solve problems and get results to further our venture.
We’ve picked up experience working with teams in three time zones (California, Rwanda and Ukraine) and have frequently leveraged the TIA network of advisors and mentors to get answers to critical questions.
This spring, we took a series of important steps in Stalgia’s journey to get where we are today:
- January: Our team was ready to start building a minimum viable product. So, we applied for a seed grant from TIA and were awarded $1,000. We took that money, matched it with our own, and teamed up with ScrumLaunch—a Los Angeles-based company that connects start-ups with engineers, designers and product managers to develop products—after being introduced to them by the TIA network. A few weeks later, we were paired with a development team in Rwanda, and we have been working with them since.
- March: We picked up a design team based in the Ukraine and the app really started to come alive. Patrick and Johnson (the coders) have been working with Spencer to build the backend while Yuliia and Dasha design the front-end screens. Meanwhile, the rest of the team has been putting together presentation materials, reaching out to advisors, speaking with customers (and about a few hundred other tasks at a time).
- April-May: We knew that we were all-in on Stalgia. We applied for the 2020 Entrepreneurs Fund Summer Accelerator and celebrated when we found out we had been accepted. Then, we hopped on a Zoom call and decided we had to be together to make this work. We called a few landlords and sent out a few emails to Colgate administrators begging to let us return to the Village of Hamilton.
- June onwards: When the pieces came together, we digitally signed a two-month lease and found ourselves back in Hamilton. Tristan hopped in his car and drove 2,000+ miles from Aspen, and we set up headquarters on Pine Street. We’ve been here and locked in on Stalgia since the beginning of June.
While three of us lost the last few months of our senior year—and one of us is going to return to a different campus this fall as the coronavirus pandemic continues to cause widespread devastation in so many aspects of life—the extra time we have had together in Hamilton this summer has meant so much. The natural upstate New York landscapes have served as an inspirational force to drive our daily efforts. We are glad to be reclaiming some of the lost time from the semester. Like a student being in the heat of finals week, our team is in the thick of a sprint right now as we close in on getting our product out to the world.
Being here together and working on such an important passion project (that originated from a collection of poems written on a Colgate study group) makes it feel like our four years are really complete. “Work hard to get a good job,” they say. Well, entrepreneurs work hard to make their own jobs. We are still here because we need to see our vision come to fruition.
So how does that happen? Well, we have to start with our customers and learn how they respond to the first version of our app. Our focus for next two months is centered on moving through as many feedback cycles as possible to improve our growth and stick rates of our app. Simultaneously, we are conducting A-B tests with users to identify the best performing features and screen designs.
Our team has areas of needs, and we would not be doing everything in our power to make Stalgia the best it can be if we did not ask for help when we need it. We are hoping to connect with anyone who is able to set aside 20 minutes for a Zoom call to address any of the bullets below.
Areas in particular where we need input:
- SEO: We are eager to ensure we have a strategic and well-thought out SEO plan.
- Data Analytics: As we collect feedback from users, we are looking for guidance on how to best quantify and analyze our data sets.
- Development Team: Our last area of need is to find a small team of coders to work with Spencer once our team in Rwanda finishes the first version. In order to get the right features to our customers, we need a team that can make quick iterations on demand.
Once we reach our benchmarks for daily active users and other key performance indicators, we will approach angel investors to find the right partners to scale up.
Growing up with different social media platforms since we were in middle school, we see the problems that exist in the space. Our friends do not think of Instagram or Facebook as “real life.” There is such an amazing power in the technology we have at our disposal; it is a shame that social media is not a more positive and inclusive platform where people feel like they have control. At Stalgia, we are creating an authentic space where the emphasis is on the quality and importance of personal connections to the experience (not on vanity metrics like the amount of likes or followers). We are creating Stalgia because we needed Stalgia five years ago. We needed it for our weekends visiting new cities in Europe, and we needed to preserve the memories made during this summer.
If you feel the need for it, too, let’s talk! We are going to make it happen; we would love for you to be a part of it!
In the meantime, subscribe to our email list on thestalgiaapp.com, follow us on Instagram @stalgiaapp and sign up to be a Beta Tester by following this link. And of course, do not hesitate to reach out with any question, comments, ideas or any high-level concepts that might have any chance of helping us reach our goal of releasing a successful product.
Until then, thank you for reading about our journey and for your support of TIA. The program has inspired us to believe in our idea and in ourselves. We hope you believe in us, too.