Updated: May 25
In January of 2017, Marty Schaffel, founder of AVI-SPL, gathered with a few young entrepreneurs on the terrace of the Holiday Inn in Gainesville, FL. Marty had built AVI-SPL and sold it for 9-figures while holding 100% stake in the company. We sat in a circle and enjoyed cigars and a bottle of whiskey. After getting to know each of us and what we were all building, Marty said "I've got to bring you guys to the Empty Bottle Club one day." A few weeks later, we were at the J.C. Newman Cigar Factory in Tampa with Marty to attend one of these highly exclusive events. It was nothing short of life-changing. We connected with some of the most successful entrepreneurs, executives, investors, etc. that we had ever been in the same room with (the picture below was taken just as the event was wrapping up). Bobby Newman himself (third generation owner) gave us a tour of the 100-year old factory.
When we returned to Gainesville, we looked for a similar type of community where founders could meet other founders and learn from each other, but there was none. And thus, the Empty Bottle Club of Gainesville was born. For about 3 years, we hosted the best networking events for founders in town, period. Each month, we would host at a different founder's office. We even hosted a couple events at the stadium club penthouse (overlooking all of University of Florida's campus) thanks to our mentor Mike Cottmeyer, Founder of LeadingAgile. Attendees would contribute by bringing premium bottles of wine and whiskey. We even had a champagne-aerialist at one of our events.
During this time, we got to know a lot of founders in our region. We did everything we could to help them thrive. We realized 3 common challenges that almost all of them faced: 1. Lack of educational options for early-stage founders
2. Lack of funding at the pre-seed/seed stages
3. Not easy for technical founders to network with investors We realized we could help solve some of these challenges and putting on networking events was simply one small part of that. We first came up with a more fitting name over dinner one night. OneSixOne Group was named after the Fibonacci sequence, also known as the golden ratio (~1.61). For centuries, scientists have argued that the golden ratio is the most efficient ratio for growth to occur, and we simply wanted to create an ecosystem where founders would thrive organically.
Then we created a 10 year plan, that included launching an accelerator and starting a fund. We also started hosting roundtables and workshops for founders. And then COVID-19 hit a few months later. We were forced to cancel all of our in-person events indefinitely. Within a month, Justis and I scrambled to launch our Founder's Program. We created a curriculum, lined up speakers, created an application process, promoted it, interviewed candidates and selected 9 startups. We followed the same advice we give our founders: launch as quickly as possible and learn as much as you can. We made many mistakes, and learned a lot of lessons but even that first cohort featured notable speakers/mentors such as Rob Chesnut, the Chief Ethics Officer of Airbnb; Mayur Gupta, the former Head of Growth at Spotify; and Jeff Hoffman, the former CEO of Priceline. Through our program, we are solving the education problem and the networking problem for early founders. The final puzzle piece is funding. This is what inspired the OneSixOne Founder's Fund, which is entirely focused on pre-seed / seed stage startups.