Fresh Perspectives Swamp Startup Founders in AlligatorZone

June 19, 2014

With a small splash, last Saturday morning, AlligatorZone got started in an elegant library that recently underwent a multi-million dollar expansion, tucked away in a beautiful neighborhood in Valrico, Florida, about 30 minutes east of downtown Tampa Bay.  Here is a pictorial report on the first ever AlligatorZone.


Chief Librarian Margaret Rials, of the Hillsborough County Public Library Cooperative ( welcomes members of the community to the first ever AlligatorZone, as the first presenting entrepreneur Jess Rasemont of, (what we describe as an organic-garden-as-a-service company) prepares for her presentation in the background.

About alligators and grass, rather AlligatorZone and Grassroots.

AlligatorZone is just another step in a fascinating journey of programming brought to the public library in a grassroots fashion – based on the need felt by the community.  First, there was the CoderDojo Tampa Bay Area which launched back in May 2013 with the help of selfless volunteers from the programming community to nurture the next generation of developers; the program grew within a year from one library location to 6 locations in 3 counties, serving about 300 parents every other week.  Effectively, each month 12 classes are held to teach kids to code.  The positive economic impact of this program will be experienced by the community within 5 to 10 years as these kids become teenagers and young contributors to the economy of the area.  It is the only educational program that we know of, where a parent sits alongside the child, sometimes even learning with the child.

With AlligatorZone, it was the community of entrepreneurs who have a genuine need for getting fresh perspectives from members of the community about their business – both, risks and opportunities that the entrepreneurs usually miss because they are too preoccupied with their original vision and mission, and dare not stray from.  However, as the presenting startups at the inaugural AlligatorZone realized, members of the audience provided them with suggestions on target markets whose needs they hadn’t considered, suggestions on advertising avenues they hadn’t considered, and some in the audience asked questions that helped the entrepreneurs rethink how they communicated their value proposition, their business model and their pricing models to the common member of the public.

How the Community Gathered Around the Entrepreneurs.

AlligatorZone’s debut session in Valrico, Florida featured three entrepreneurs, and the audience consisted of moms, dads, grandparents, teachers, working professionals from the fields of finance and marketing, teenagers, elementary school kids and other entrepreneurs.  Yes, an investor also showed up, listened and left impressed.


An engaged audience of members of the community hear out Jess Rasemont as she describes


Each startup received various forms of feedback and suggestions, even offers for help to promote their service through resources where the audience members enjoyed access.  Jess Rasemont is seen here talking to an audience member.


Pat Bhava of prepares to show an animated video to members of the community gathered at AlligatorZone on June 14, 2014 at the Bloomingdale Regional Public Library in Valrico, Florida.

image founders Pat and Chitra continue to obtain feedback from school teacher Lorien Mattiacci who was a member of the audience, and had driven close to an hour to be at AlligatorZone.


Travis Russi talked about StuffHub, his app for selling/buying through trusted personal contacts.


Travis Russ, creator of StuffHub chats after the AlligatorZone session with Alfred Urena, a technology marketing professional, who also volunteers as the lead mentor at New Tampa Regional Public Library CoderDojo teaching kids to code.

Birds and Alligators, of course

Here are some tweets from AlligatorZone that could give you a feel for the session.

Thanks to the incredible support of @TampaHillsLib team from behind the scenes with @alligatorzone @HillsboroughFL

— AlligatorZone (@alligatorzone)

June 16, 2014

#teens in audience at @alligatorzone debut session offered valuable tips to #startups @tamphillslib @HillsboroughFL

— SiliconGlades (@SiliconGlades)

June 15, 2014

The Fringe Benefits For Startups in the AlligatorZone

Among the unplanned benefits of presenting a startup at AlligatorZone turned out to be the visibility they enjoyed in the media and in web searches.  Pat Bhava of pointed us to the organic search results that were an outcome of their startup’s participation, by sending us this link:

Alexandra Booth kindly took the time to write the story of AlligatorZone in the community newspaper Osprey Observer which we believe reaches 30,000 households in the vicinity of the library.

Building Best Practices for AlligatorZone

We are taking several of the lessons learned from the inaugural session of AlligatorZone and designing best practices for startups in AlligatorZone.  We have identified interesting startups to present at the next AlligatorZone of July 12, 2014 at the same location.  Sign up at and stop by with your friends and family.  Show your kids how inspiring entrepreneurs in their own community are!  Follow AlligatorZone on twitter at

Talking About Your Startup to Families and Kids at AlligatorZone: Be the Consummate Storyteller You Ought To Be

June 12, 2014

As we prepare for the debut session of AlligatorZone this Saturday (10:15 a.m. on June 14, 2014), one of the items on our checklist is to provide the invited startup founders with tips on presenting to kids and families who will be a part of the general public in the audience.


Margaret Rials, Chief Librarian at Hillsborough County Public Library Cooperative helped us immensely in bringing the program to the library system and in planning the layout for the program at the Innovation Studio at the Bloomingdale Regional Public Library, in Valrico, Florida, where AlligatorZone will make its debut at 10:15 a.m. Saturday, June 14, 2014.

As Chief Librarian Margaret Rials was saying earlier this week when inviting a roomful of children who were learning to code at the CoderDojo Tampa Bay Area along with their parents, this was going to be “the first AlligatorZone to be ever held (and she paused before adding) in the world”.  As far as we know, it is the first such program.  This makes it as exhilarating as getting ready for a gig during amateur night at the Improv Club in Ybor City.  Soon Sunnyvale Public Library in California will have a session of AlligatorZone (August 23, 2014, to be precise), by which time we will have three successful AlligatorZone sessions under our belt in Florida.  However, for now, we are going foward improv-style.

With no precedence, how does one design a list of tips for the presenters?  We drew parallels from different experiences.  My experience at a Great American Teach-in explaining a web-startup offering virtual trade shows to a class of 2nd graders and 4th graders really forced me to boil down my startup’s value proposition to a simple sentence, only to be asked by a 7-year old girl, “How can your company help my mom’s business become famous?”.  The other experience has been in trying to explain a dot com business at a Thanksgiving gathering where the only one at the dinner table who wasn’t a naysayer just came out of the oven.  The robust common sense of someone from the general public is something we are hoping will challenge the presenting entrepreneurs enough to refine their messaging if not rethink their strategy.


Here are tips for presenters at AlligatorZone :

Tell Your Story:  Talk to the audience as a gathering of a group you met at a neighbor’s backyard for a barbecue and tell them your story.  That means avoiding jargon.  Be a story-teller.  However, do not assume that your audience is clueless, so try not to dumb it down to absurd levels.  It’s something the street entertainer near the Ellis Island Ferry does effortlessly.  It is a skill entrepreneurs must learn.  Talk to the audience, not down at them even if they are lesser qualified.  They can be your greatest advocates with a single post on their personal social media channels.  Be extremely respectful even if a child inadvertently puts you on the spot, or a grownup deliberately does so.  While shows like Silicon Valley on HBO have a generous sprinkling of profanity, that is uncool, and is a dead giveaway of an entrepreneur’s poor vocabulary, or lack of imagination, or both.  Take yourselves lightly, take your product seriously, use humor very carefully if you have to, and remember that your goal is to be likeable. Consumers are forgiving of likeable presenters, and more willing to help them out or do business with them.  To quote entrepreneur, philosopher and author Rajesh Setty, likeability is an unfair competitive advantage.  Be the likeable and entertaining storyteller whose product or offering solves a problem for the members of the audience or for someone they know and care about.  The other rule of thumb that might work is, imagine your mom is also in the audience.  Make her proud.

Take Notes: Every reaction from the members of the audience has a lesson, be it indifference, a crinkled brow, a smile or a nod.  Note down their questions, their concerns and their suggestions.  Feel free to poll the audience members for questions you always wanted to ask about the use of your product or service, or about the pain it is supposed to address.  While on the topic of taking notes, allow us to add a valid and valued suggestion from Sean Murphy, who is also the founder of Bootstrappers Breakfast in Silicon Valley.  Bring a Spotter, suggests Sean, and further explains”Bring a friend who also observes and takes notes. It’s very hard to be improvising and reacting to the crowd and also noticing what’s not working or other reactions. They can also ask questions or help to direct your attention to an aspect of a question you may have overlooked or a help to clarify a statement (or give you a chance to clarify a statement)”.

Express Gratitude: A sincere thank you, a limited free trial, a free sample, an offer to keep them posted when you start hiring — whatever it may be, do consider a way to reciprocate their willingness to hear you out and offer you suggestions.

Plan B for those technical glitches: The other tip was the common Plan B tip in case the technology faltered during the talk.  Bring images, or handouts or samples to pass around.


The library has a solid infrastructure for holding the AlligatorZone event, including the big screen.

The presenting startups in the debut session on Saturday June 14, 2014 are:

Jess Rasemont, Founder & CEO of Rasemont Gardens bringing to your backyard, a subscription service of fully managed non-GMO and heirloom varietal vegetable plants that they have grown from seeds to insure that they are 100% organic home-gardens.

an app for making school dismissals easier for parents and school administrators.

Travis Russi, Founder of StuffHub, an app to easily trade stuff with friends.

We hope you can make it with your friends and family!  To reserve a seat, visit  The startup founders are excited about this opportunity to meet with the community!  We at SiliconGlades and the leadership and team at the Library are indeed excited to see the AlligatorZone program coming to life!