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Alfa Jango

1327 Jones Dr
Ann Arbor, MI 48105

Steve Schwartz

Steve Schwartz doesn’t know what makes up a successful startup but he knows what he is looking for in the people he wants to work with when launching one.

"I have spent years trying to figure that (what makes a startup successful) out," Schwartz says. "I have seen some that I thought were terrible taking off and become valuable, and ideas I thought were great go nowhere. I know I don't know what's going to be successful."

Schwartz is the managing member of Alfa Jango, a software firm that pairs techies with aspiring entrepreneurs. The Ann Arbor-based firm, it calls the Tech Brewery home, will handle the coding and other software functions for people who have a great idea for a mobile app or software platform. In return it takes a stake in the startup. The 6-year-old firm has helped launch more than 40 startups, a practice that has grown the firm’s staff to four full-time employees and two part-timers.

Some Alfa Jango startups have gone on to become cash cows for their co-founders. Others are associated with high-profile tech incubators, such as Silicon Valley-based Y Combinator. Three startups have raised venture capital funding, including one that raised more than $1 million. And some have gone nowhere.

Schwartz doesn't know the secret sauce for successful startups but he knows where to look to find the right ingredients.

"It's not really about the idea but the founder," Schwartz says. "I have no idea about what is going to take off and what is not."

So when an aspiring entrepreneur is pitching his idea to the Alfa Jango team, Schwartz doesn't focus on what could bring down the startup. "I ask, 'What do they have to do to prove me wrong?'" Schwartz says. He becomes more optimistic when he thinks the co-founder can prove his doubts wrong.

Schwartz often tells them to go out and find 15 customers for the business idea before they start investing lots of time and resources into it. Often he finds the successful ones will come back a month later with 20 customers signed up.

Schwartz also looks at whether the cofounders have a good grasp of both the solution and the problem. Coachability is another thing he looks for in his co-founders. How do they handle feedback? How do they take criticism of their product?

"The promising founders are the ones who take that feedback and are willing to be wrong," Schwartz says.

- Written by Jon Zemke

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