Often, startup stories focus more on the product and company than they do the people that made them possible. We at The Startup Collaborative have found that our mission statement to allow everyone an unbiased investment thesis to building their own tech-centric company allows us to step aside and let the entrepreneurs be center stage. The Behind the Founder campaign is meant to do just that — let the stories of those who call themselves TSC Fellows be told from their own perspective.
What’s your name?
Where are you from?
Norfolk, NE but raised in Omaha
How did your upbringing influence you today?
I had a middle-class upbringing for the most part. However, when my parents separated, my mom and I ended up in a shelter. I started building websites for cash going into middle school, which is what led me down the path I am at today.
Whether you’ve met them or not, who is one REAL person that has influenced you?
I’ve been so fortunate to have many amazing business role models in my life. However, as it relates to my current tech startup (and I’ve told him this story before), if it weren’t for Dusty Davidson I probably wouldn’t have stayed in Omaha.
He came and spoke to one of my undergrad classes. He sold me on the idea that you could have a meaningful impact in a community like Omaha. He helped me see that you can start, grow and exit a tech company right here in the Silicon Prairie. At the time, venture money was only in the San Francisco Bay Area, startups weren’t cool, entrepreneurship wasn’t a buzzword, and developers didn’t seem to stay in Omaha. So, this was nuts!
But my dude practiced what he preached. At the time, Dusty had a software consultancy called Brightmix here in town. He’d later go on to co-found Silicon Prairie News, Big Omaha and co-found/raise venture money for Tripleseat which moved to Boston and Flywheel which just sold for an undisclosed amount to WP Engine after growing to several hundred employees.
Who is one FICTIONAL character that has inspired your life/career and why?
This sounds bad, but I’m a non-fiction guy. So, I can’t say offhand.
From a sketch on a napkin to officially starting up, what triggered the inception of your company?
I was running a digital signage integration business. Our largest end-users were brands selling into brick-and-mortar. The lack of data and visibility at the shelf level made it impossible to prove ROI on the fixtures and displays they were putting into stores. There had to be a better way.
After I sold my integration business, I moonlit on the problem with a technical partner until we built the initial solution. What was important is that we built alongside our customers, using both my domain expertise in the space combined with real-world validation, testing and failure. We were never married to a specific technology or idea, but rather the problem(s) we were solving for our customers.
It didn’t become a real viable business until we landed our first large customer last year. So you could say we were an overnight success two years in the making.
How did the founding team meet?
I can’t stress how important it is to be involved and connected to the community you want to work in. If you want to build a startup, it’s the technology/startup organizations, groups, meetups, and events you need to be plugged into.
Over the years I’ve been active in local events/orgs like 1 Million Cups (fun fact: I was an ‘OG’ presenter at Kauffman Labs in KC), Big Omaha, BarCamp, TechOmaha, UNO’s Collegiate Entrepreneurs Organization, Pipeline, NMotion, StartupWeekend, Startup Collaborative and more. I’ve also attended out of state events like the annual Consumer Electronics Show in Vegas, SXSW in Austin (this year was my first!), and others in San Francisco, Chicago, Denver/Boulder, and NYC.
It’s taken a lot of mileage, but every great partner I’ve worked with has come from this network. Our founding team included. One of our members came from Collaborative, another from Big Omaha/UNO C-E-O, and another who I met through networking – we previously worked together on another project.
Within The Startup Collaborative, what level was the most challenging for you, your company and why?
They all had their challenges. The hardest part for me was staying focused on the next deliverable while also operating the business. We had so many moving pieces to our business – designing, building, executing hardware, software, store installs, vendors, sales, customer support, fundraising, building out the team, etc. – looking back its overwhelming to even think about everything that’s gone into getting us even to this point.
Within The Startup Collaborative, what level has been the most rewarding for you, your company and why?
Hands down, the fundraising level. It was that external validation we’ve built something bigger than ourselves. But don’t be fooled, it’s like jumping into the next chapter where the obstacle course just gets bigger and you just extended the time clock enough to get to your next milestone.
Presently, what does a typical day look like for you and your company?
There is no typical day. My days are mostly spent stalking/emailing/talking to customers, traveling to industry events/trade shows, meetings, putting out fires, taking care of business needs, working with the team, laying out roadmaps/plans/budgets/proposals and the many nuanced tasks that seen to creep up throughout the day.
What’s next for you and your company?
Sky’s the limit. Our vision is to connect the world’s retail shevles. It’s not often you have the right ingredients to make really impactful change in an industry, but our team, partners, investors, and customers are incredible and hands down the group that can help pull it off.
My three priorities for the rest of the year are (1) tightening up our current offerings, (2) securing follow-on orders from existing customers and (3) closing a few key new accounts. Business 101 stuff. But easier said than done, right?
We’re launching new wireless micro sensors and announcing a new product next quarter. Traveling to London to meet with strategic customer/partner next week. Doing more speaking engagements (find me! —> www.groceryshop.com/speakers). Exhibiting at TechCrunch Disrupt in San Francisco the first week of October!
And so much more.