Outsourcing the role of technical co-founder

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One of the things that new entrepreneurs keep looking for is how to get a technical co-founder. They have an idea but they need somebody to partner with to actually build it.

Well, joining me is someone who essentially is a technical co-founder you can hire.

Chris Stegner is the founder of Very Big Things. It’s a digital products and services agency.

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Chris Stegner

Chris Stegner

Very Big Things

Chris Stegner is the founder of Very Big Things, a digital products and services agency.

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Full Interview Transcript

Andrew: Hey, the freedom fighter. My name is Andrew Warner. I’m the founder of Mixergy, where I interview entrepreneurs about how they built their businesses. And one of the things that new entrepreneurs keep looking for is how do I get that technical? Co-founder I have an idea. I’d like somebody who can partner with me joining me today is someone who essentially is a technical co-founder you can hire and one who can actually do the work.

His name is Chris Stagner. He is the founder of very big things. It’s a digital products and services agency. I didn’t think that somebody could raise money and then go to a company like his and say, okay, now help me think this idea through and design it for me. And then by the way, also build it for me and then I’ll go and, you know, get some traction and raise money.

I didn’t even think that investors would, would go for that or that any entrepreneur would do that. But apparently it’s a thing and Chris’s company has done that and more. And I invited him here to talk about how he got here about also the previous companies that he started about the successes, the failures, and then why I read an article somewhere that said that he sold the company and he didn’t even know how much he sold it for, but it was, it was significant.

How do you, how do you not know how much you sell a company for we’ll ask him about that and so much more. We can do it. Thanks to a HostGator, our sponsor. If you need a website, go to hostgator.com/mixergy, Chris.

Papa was one of your customers. What’s Papa. Okay.

Chris: Um, Papa, his grandkids on demand is how it was originally formed, but basically it’s solving the issue of loneliness for the elderly.

Andrew: I mean they pay and they have like a college student come over to their house and just hang out and talk about what’s going on in life and what’s life like in college.

Chris: Exactly. Exactly like, uh, like I mentioned, Andrew Parker could definitely come on sometime and then give you a much better description. But at the end of the day, that’s exactly it it’s, you know, uh, loneliness is a major epidemic in the United States and throughout the world. And they’re basically, uh, finding solutions to that by also at the same time, providing, you know, college students with, with opportunity as well.

So.

Andrew: Yeah, I could see that it would make sense, even for the college students beyond getting paid. It’s a little bit of interaction with somebody that you wouldn’t ordinarily get to learn from. All right. So he had this idea, you told me he raised a hundred thousand dollars before he came to you in small chunks of like $10,000 each, I would think a hundred thousand dollars.

You get two people you’re done. Um, and did he have that? Did you have a line of code? Did he have customers? What did he have.

Chris: Yeah. So, so, and, and the, the somewhere around a hundred thousand don’t quote me on it. Um, but the, the idea is correct. Um, from there, I mean, funny enough, he had contracted one agency, um, before us to actually help them build this out. And, uh, as with, I think a lot of. New founders. You don’t really know what the difference, a good quality, bad quality or who you’re hiring.

Is it just, Hey, I got an app, you build apps or I need an app, you build apps, let’s do this. And, uh, and unfortunately had been burned really bad. And the app that they built form just was crap. So at that point, he came to us and honestly, like, I think a great story for all up all the viewer, uh, aspiring. No ours is, you know, we’re, we’re pretty picky about the founders that we do work with.

We, you know, we, we like to poke and prod a little bit and make sure that that they’re going to do something amazing. And we jump in with them and help them to really blow up. And what attracted us to, to Andrew Parker, the CEO of Papa so much early on. Was the fact that even though we had had this kind of a crappy app built for him, he just threw it away.

And he said, I’m going to prove out this model on my own, before I spend another dollar. And he went and he found a bunch of cheap two free services, things like. Uh, Google sheets and, And Twilio accounts, it costs $10 that you could send text messages themselves through and through all these little systems, he made a system that wasn’t scalable, but work to actually prove out the idea.

And, and from there, I mean, he went out and he actually had college students signing up and he had, you know, some, some elderly people sign up.

Andrew: And the elderly people paid for it themselves. This wasn’t insurance, uh, paid for program.

Chris: at this point, it was just like they’re coming out of their pocket.

Andrew: so he had that and now he said, Chris, I just want to get a sense of what you built. And then we’ll talk about how you got here and the previous businesses, but he was able to come to you and say, this is what I have.

Let’s talk through what this could look like. The two of you talked it through, you designed it. Your team did designed a few ideas with him, right? And then you, your team coded it up. And the very first version that was fully coded up, not one of these no code pieces, pieced together thing was built by your team.

Chris: Correct.

Andrew: What do you charge for something like that?

Chris: Oh, well, I mean, honestly, it was different back then than it is today. Uh, you know, we work extremely agile and it’s different with startups too. So, um, it’s, it’s hard to put an exact number on that. I’m sure if you built out technology, you know, it’s,

Andrew: Give me a ballpark. I just want to get a sense, are we talking about 50,000 and a hundred thousand,

Chris: Yeah. So, I mean, I’d say these days with the, with the clients we’re working on, most of our projects start closer to the 250,000 range.

Um, however, what we are doing still is when we find entrepreneurs that have We believe in the entrepreneur, we believe in the idea didn’t we give them assistance to figure out how to get from where they are to the next step. Um, and you know, we, we did that recently, um, with, with one of our clients where they basically said, Hey, I raised a hundred thousand dollars on a, on a, uh, kinda like a kickstarter.com campaign.

And, uh, and at this point, Like, I’ve got 50 grand that I need for my staff. I got 50 grand for you guys. How do I get to actually turning this into something big? And, uh, and from there we, we helped them come up with a strategy to what we could do, how we can help out. And then I think, you know, within like three months he raised a million dollars and since then now has like some awesome partnerships and, and has brought in a lot more revenue too.

So it’s, there’s always

Andrew: thought that this would be a thing. I wouldn’t have thought that investors would be willing to back a company where the key part of what they do is outsource to someone else. You realize this was a thing because you worked in a venture capital firm. And what did, what were you seeing that made you say?

I think I have a new idea for what I can

Chris: Yeah, no, I love that. That’s a, that’s a great question. Um, so to your point, um, I was, I was a CTO and junior partner at a VC fund and basically the idea was. We had cut a check to a startup for three to 5 million bucks. At that point I was supposed to jump in and help them figure out whatever came next, whether it’s, um, their go to market strategy, their monetization, their development, their design, whatever it was and something that I’d get plagued with was.

Say, Okay.

Here’s 3 million bucks now build a dev team or we’re expanding. And you’re one person dev team into a real dev team because we want to see all this stuff built in the next six months. Like we gave you three months, six months, it better be done, ready to rock. And then six months later they’re sitting there and they’re still trying to hire two or three people that can just work well together.

That didn’t lie on their resumes. There wasn’t drama. Um, or they realized, yeah, and we, we need front end people. We need back in people. We need all of these roles. And it’s just taking us a long time just to hire them. So there’s that side of things, which then drove us to say to them, Okay.

forget about building a dev team right now.

You can do that over time. Just go and hire an agency. And when the agency is run a flip side where they’re like, cool, give us a scope, give us a check. Give us three months and we’ll come back and here’s your product and good luck. Right? And for anybody that’s building businesses, uh, especially tech businesses, I’m sure you’ve heard the term agile.

Like you need to be constantly paying attention to what’s happening throughout the development. What features people are liking doing focus, group testing, all these different things. The actual end product should never really be what you set out to build on day one. And there was no agency to do this period.

So it’s, it’s the old, you know, I guess the best advice to an entrepreneur ever solve your own problem. Right? So at that point, I just, I grabbed from the VC fund, uh, our VP of investment, our creative director, um,

Andrew: Meaning you hire them away from the VC

Chris: Hired them away and said, Hey guys, this is a problem. We’re all facing. Nobody’s solved it.

Why don’t we be the guys to solve it? Actually, there’s other people that have the same problem. And, uh, and then previously I was at a consulting company that had, you know, uh, done a lot of very high end product it’s for companies like apple and Walmart and, and T-Mobile and so forth. And I wondered, I hired him three of their top developers are like good friends when I was there.

Instead, we’re starting this thing called very big things. We’re actually going to build software, um, design software, help with ideation and strategy in a way that actually helps us start up. That’s raise

Andrew: What’d you get the money to do this, to hire all these people away.

Chris: Yeah. I mean, So great question. Um, number one. All of the partners. decided to take massive pay cuts, which I think is just part of starting a company. So yeah. I mean, everybody probably got paid up.

Andrew: It wasn’t so much that you hired them away. You partnered up with them and they own, they still to this day have ownership of the business.

Chris: Exactly. Yep. So there’s seven of us in total, including myself and, and yeah, so it was, it? was All of us taking a, hit up front with the idea that this thing would work. And, uh, and then we brought in a. Feels today, like an extremely small investment of a, let’s say it’s 250,000. Um, just to make sure

Andrew: from the fund that you worked with.

Chris: no, actually it was from, uh, one of, one of our partners families.

So, um, they had a, an investment background, um,

Andrew: tell me where you are now. Revenue-wise

Chris: Revenue wise. I mean, now we’re probably do 10 to 15 million this year and we’re on, we’re on our third year. Now last year.

I want to say we were about 7 million and, uh, and the year before that was the first year we were really in business.

Andrew: Wow.

Chris: I can’t even really.

Andrew: Why, why aren’t venture capitalists willing to back companies where the core strength is outsourced to Chris?

Chris: Um, you know, it’s, it’s funny. Um, I think more and more VC funds. Well, for multiple reasons, the one that I described earlier, which is. Hey, here’s a check. We just want you guys up and going, you know, and if these guys have proven that they can do it then to just work with them, um, rather than trying to build your own team, which can be a massive headache and definitely not just working with your traditional, uh, agency.

Um, so, so there’s that side of it. Um, the other thing that we’re seeing though, too, is you find these founders have a massive depth of knowledge in, in, uh, industry, um, that we would never have. And the VC funds will love that. And they’re basically like, Okay.

cool. If we can take your education and just pair it with people that can execute upon it, then, then we have a winning, uh, or winning, you know, a recipe there.

But even your point, like, uh, Papa. The image and they’d gone through Y Combinator and, um, and when they’re in there, they said, should we now go and hire our own team? And I said, well, is the current situation working? And I said, yeah, I think, why are you gonna mess with it?

Andrew: Wow. And Y Combinator is very engineering heavy.

Chris: And that was what the, you know, originally going, in being honest, I was kind of one of their thoughts, you know?

Oh no, we’re never going to get into Y Combinator because they require you to have an engineer in the end. It seems like they require you to have a good business model and good founders in a way to get stuff done

Andrew: Wow, how much money they raised total.

Chris: at this point, somewhere over 90 million.

Andrew: Wow. I’ve got to get pop on here. It’s phenomenal because it’s a, it’s an out there idea. And it’s an it’s backed by investors, you know, I mean, uh, not by just investors it’s being paid for now by insurance companies. Usually you would think that there’d be an entrepreneur somewhere saying this is great, but no one’s going to pay for it.

Insurance should pay for it. I see the benefit, but insurance companies won’t pay for something. So the fact that they mailed that is phenomenal.

Chris: Completely agreed. And their, and their latest rounds from tiger, which is, which is No. small feat. Um, no, it’s, it’s it. And you know, another little point there is. People here now, like, oh, grandkids on demands, solving loneliness with the elderly. That makes so much sense. That’s such a no brainer. And I’m like, no, I was in the room when a guy that had raised a little bit here and there said, I’ve got the idea.

It’s going to be grandkids on demand. And he was like, what are you talking about? That sounds like a horrible idea.

Andrew: That sounds it does, even to this day, I’ve got to say, it sounds like, oh, that should work. We should have something like that. Now society won’t allow it because who wants to pay for friends and insurance is not going to cover it because they’re not paying for your whacked out friendships and all this other stuff.

And sure enough, it worked. All right. Let me get a sense of how you got here. The thing that you started early on was it was a 3d graphics business. Am I right?

Chris: Lucy, not quite. So what happened Was.

I was learning how to use some 3d software.

Andrew: your role now, from what I understand, you were in school, you saw a computer, you said, oh, this is what was it about the computer that made you love it so far. So, so much right away.

Chris: You know, for me, I think it was, um, endless possibility, You know, it was in the situation where, um, I mean, I, I had so many things going for me as a kid, but the same time I grew up in not the best area in the world where there weren’t very many people doing things around me that it didn’t seem like there’s a lot of amazing paths to

Andrew: Lynn hood. What was it about Lynn hood? That.

Chris: You read the preparation? Yeah, no, I mean, it’s just, like I said, it’s, it was just a, an area where there wasn’t a whole lot going on. Um, and, uh, and, and not many role models, parents kinda, uh, you know, around like say nothing, my own parents. Um, but just parents in general, there just wasn’t much to look up to

Andrew: did, how did your parents get you there? Your parents I heard had, what was it? An air conditioning and heating company.

Chris: Yeah.

Andrew: grew up watching them do it. You learned about the pride of looking at a building and saying we put the HVAC system in there. Right. What, how did they end up from being proud of putting their, their systems in such big buildings to suddenly ending up in Lynn hood, which was Linwood?

Chris: It it’s a, it’s a, it’s a great question. And, um, unfortunately, and to keep in mind, I was very young during this, this whole time, when we moved from Oklahoma, when my parents on their air conditioning company to, um, Linwood?

when I was 10. But, um, you know, they, they had a person who owned a building that, you know, ordered tons and tons of work.

And then when the time came to pay for it, um, he left the country, you know, and it’s just one of those stories where I think that, that hit me a lot as I was growing up as asked that same question that you just asked and hearing over and over again, you know, these are situations that can happen with owning a business

Andrew: one thing, one wrong move and boom, you’re done.

Chris: Exactly. Exactly. And, uh, but, but, so yeah, I, I think now something that a number of other CEOs have told me, as well as, you know, a great CEO is extremely optimistic at all times, but also the most paranoid person on the planet.

Andrew: Are you paranoid now? Even more because that happened to your parents. One mistake.

Chris: I don’t know, I don’t know where my paranoia comes from, But I’ll, I’ll definitely say I grew up

Andrew: But you have paranoia.

Chris: for the best plan for the worst.

Andrew: How does it express itself today?

Chris: Um, expressing it, just always thinking through every possible outcome of every possible situation to see how something could eventually hurt you. Um, and internalizing that.

So that external it’s just the dream that you also believe in wholeheartedly, you know, and, and. That’s me all day long is, uh, I’m optimistic to the underworld. I am positive that we’re going to become the best in the entire world at what we do without any doubt. Um, I think we’ve made massive strides in three years to do it.

And I think you give us another two years in and we’ll own it

Andrew: But does it keep you from making investments? Does it keep you from doing things like I remember hearing mark, Andrea and say we were scarred by the web 1.0, bubble

Chris: Hmm.

Andrew: And the interviewer that talked to him said, oh yeah, you’ve got to really learn. He goes, yeah, but you can’t take too much with you.

Otherwise you don’t take risks because you’re constantly afraid of falling back. And I could hear in his voice. Other people who had gone through the same thing who didn’t make the same decision. I don’t know what it was, but the way he expressed it made me realize the psychology of a group of people.

What is it about you that you take from that?

Chris: Yeah. You know, it’s, it’s, it’s funny. Um, So I had a number of other startups throughout the years as well. However, with the other startups, I never made the full leap from completely quitting my day job and just jumping in legally. Um, and then I think by the time that?

I came around to say, let’s start very big saying. I think I was ready to make the leap. And I think I kind of left those scars behind, Um,

and you know, said, Hey, it’s time to take chances, you know? Cause, cause you’re,

Andrew: Because you’re half asking so much that you knew what you were capable of. Right. Am I, am I right about that? Like going back to Lynn hood, apparently your teacher said go door to door, sell candy. Which what, okay, fine. You, instead of selling candy, you realize something. What was it that you realized you got to tell that story?

Chris: Yeah. So, so basically at that point, I said, you know, Hey, we have this army of kids that are all, all basically working to sell something. Why are we just selling the school’s candy? Uh, I had a pile of artwork cause I’ve just been an artist my whole life. And I said, Hey guys, can we just go door to door, selling my artwork?

And I’ll chip you guys in on it. And now we were actually making some money too. And all the kids are like, This is sounds amazing. And literally within like two or three days, they had sold my entire pile of artwork to everybody in those city. And I’ve no idea how much we made. It seemed like it was massive amount at the time.

Um, but the school caught wind of it. And of course, they’re like, wait, you can’t do this of which to this day, I’m like, but then why can you.

Andrew: Right. Well, what, and why can’t you, you just saw the kids express it, take initiative, do something that most adults don’t. Okay. So that’s who you were internally. Maybe you were scarred so much by what your, I don’t mean to be a psychologist, but I guess I kind of loved this part of it.

Chris: you’re helping me. So I’m like, that’s why I did that.

Andrew: Okay. And so I could see now why with this, with this innate need and ability, you are also holding back. So let’s, we’ll come back to the half, uh, half-assed nature of some of the previous attempts. Go ahead. Sorry.

Chris: And say, you know, um, as, as I’m sure you have in your notes there too, you know, the first startup that I was working with, you know, I was 13 at the time, so this was 98, somewhere around there. Um, and I went through that same web point bought switch, which hit me, um, just like a hit everybody else, you know?

So there’s, there’s definitely some of that left by left as well, but.

Andrew: do the, get to know you then. So going in chronological order, we got this kid coming up and he sees a computer endless possibilities, different from the world around him, which is not looking for possibilities, which is not encouraging of creativity. Your creativity gets sparked by this thing you decide.

I’m going to learn what on, on my own 3d graphics.

Chris: so, so yes and no. Um, I, I decided I was going to learn. And the internet. So the internet was AOL was the thing at the time. So how do you build these websites? And that was incredibly interesting to me. Um,

the other side, like I mentioned, I was an artist, so I came across this 3d software, but I just wanted to use, to create a new type of art, art, you know, it’s always pushing innovation.

How can I do something new? Cooler than what’s been done before. Um, however, as I started to use a software is incredibly complex. It’s something like you could get a PhD for. And, uh, and so as I started fighting uphill to learn it, I just said to myself, I’m sure there’s other people in the world that could use this same information.

So why don’t I create a website that could take what I’m learning and put into tutorials and teach other people how to do it? And then from there, it just, it blew up to where it was for a piece of software called 3d studio, max. And they sold plugins for a number of manufacturers. So like in sport that the plugins cost a thousand to $3,000 and there’s no place to advertise them except for us in a magazine.

So all of a sudden it just became pretty easy to start generating revenue from it. And, uh, yeah, so that’s, that’s kind of where it came from us, but at the same time, I’m now at this point 13 and I’m having these email conversations. Huge, you know, executives of big companies and also in we’re we’re interviewing people that have won Oscar awards with the, with the software and I’m talking to people in France and so forth.

And it’s just all of a sudden, it’s like, wow, anything can be done with this box. You know? And so honestly I’d say the, the, the weight of any scars was probably outweighed by that though, too. Um,

Andrew: the endless possibilities that could come from a computer where to use the old new Yorker line. Nobody knows you’re a dog on the internet. Right. They don’t know that you’re a 13 year old kid or a guy who had succeeded before or failed before you build this thing up. Is this the business that you ended up selling?

Chris: Yeah. Yep. So getting acquired by, like I mentioned before, it was like an Aqua hire by a 3d review.com. I was brought on as a VP. Um, I was given like a, um, a mix of equity and so forth too. That’s where it gets a little hard to say, like How much?

Andrew: Wow. Okay.

Chris: from their 3d review, um, ended up getting acquired by my desktop.com rinse and repeat, and then, uh, internet bubble burst and.

Andrew: I heard that this was a substantial, like life-changing amount of money, but I guess it wasn’t, it was just life changing in the sense that you could see the possibility is that right, or where the shares a potential life changing.

Chris: There’s a certain amount of cash that allowed me, um, in my current situation was life changing, you know, allowed me to later on in my life to move to Florida, uh, with, with money that was left in the bank and so forth. Um, and honestly, even before that, Just the whole situation was life-changing for me, because all of a sudden I’m 13 in an area where probably your, your average household income is 50,000.

And, you know, I’m making drastically more than that, just as a business, you know, not, not as a, as a, um, as a future, here’s the, here’s the valuation of this company, but like in a, I’m actually getting checks sent to me every month that are, that are substantial.

Andrew: Okay. And then the next business was what.

Chris: So then the internet bubble burst. And, uh, and then as I mentioned, it was kind of, there was a side of me that always just said, Hey, Uh, this is What I meant to be doing, even though the rest of the world was like, no internet isn’t happening right now. Um, so then at a certain point, I said, Hey, I’m going to make a move.

And part of this movie is just, is going to be making sure that I get back into technology at any cost. And, um, and literally made that move to south Florida. And I started saying, Hey, I don’t have anything on my resume really, other than I was 13. And it says I should be given a job, but, um, but that said.

Just give me a chance. And, um, I remember my first job down here was making like 30,000 a year, which was about to give you an idea, 90,000 plus less than I was making, not doing tech. Um,

Andrew: you were doing when you were not doing that?

Chris: I was doing a financing for cars. You know, the opportunity is available.

Andrew: Well, I thought it was like a car salesman. No, it was financing for cars.

Chris: Yeah. So, uh, as a, as a car salesman for when I first Got out of high school for a few months, then from there immediately moved on to financing and then, uh, into more of like what they call like desk management type stuff.

Andrew: Got it. Why did you make so much money in the finance desk management? Part of the

Chris: You just make a lot of money in the car industry to be. Yeah. Um, it’s, it’s absurd.

Andrew: Does it take any salesmanship to do the financing part?

Chris: I don’t know, I wouldn’t say, especially, um,

Andrew: to sell cars.

Chris: find loans and so forth, you know, but that said there’s people making, you know, three, four or 500,000, um, you know, with, with not much experience doing that. However, it is a you’re working. know, 70, 80 hours a week was with limited future, you know? Um, but so that was kind of me saying, Hey, there is money here, but as money, what you’re really after fresh out of high school was kind of saying, you know, I guess not. So, so me as a, as a 19 year old, say, Well, money is not what I, what I want.

And that’s what, you know, even though they say that like, Hey money, won’t make you happy. Every movie that you grew up with basically says money will make you happy. Uh, you know, it’s like, well, what will? And then I started back in, I said, I was really happy when I was running a business online when I was pushing the boundaries of like how great that that business could be.

Let me get back to that. And, uh, and that’s really what pushed it. And so I get this little job, um, you know, like I said, making almost nothing, but at the same time on the side, I, uh, literally I Got the job and then the same two or three weeks, uh, that I got it.

I said, well, let me learn What the latest, greatest cutting edge technology is.

And then in the process out like the best way to learn something is to do it, not to just, you know, read books. So I created we’re a little startup and I was literally just a test bed for bleeding edge technology. And I don’t know if you remember this, but there was like a dig.com back in the day. So, so tech crunch ran a cover story on the startup dig.com made it their number one story from there, a site called, uh, delicious that Yahoo owned, um, made it their number one shared link of the day and it like

Andrew: was the site?

Chris: It was called a fortuitous. And, and it was basically the idea was, um, MySpace was blowing up at the time, which my space was like choose friends based on how they looked, what their height was, what their sex was, et cetera. And now these are your friends. And the idea was, that’s kind of horrible in a lot of ways.

So why don’t we instead randomly pair people with other people where they don’t see what they look like. They talk with each other for a few days. And if after a couple of days, They say, Hey, I like you as a human being, then you can see each other’s photos And so forth if you even want to, you know, but that was the premise of it.

Um, but more than anything.

Andrew: it hits big, you get coverage. All right.

Chris: Yeah.

And all of a sudden we had 40,000 people sign up in like a couple hours. But for me, the bigger thing was, this was three weeks. Into me saying I’m getting back into technology. It’s what, where my heart’s at, you know, and later I’m talking with Michael Arlington from tech crunch because he was the only person that worked there at the time.

And, uh, and he just starts blowing up and I’m like, okay. This is this makes me happy. This is what I’m supposed to be doing. And then pretty quickly I got great jobs and, and, you know, uh, so happy that I made the choice to just stick with what called me in life. You could say.

Andrew: Alright, before we continue my sponsors HostGator, let me ask you this, Chris, as someone who’s entrepreneurial keeps coming up with different ideas. If you had nothing in your life, except the home in Lynnwood, Lynnwood, Washington, and a HostGator hosting package, and you needed to rebuild yourself. What’s a good website that you can start off with and then build on later.

What’s a good, simple first start.

Chris: That is a loaded question to the Hilton back. Uh, but I’d say I, I would, I would say find something you’re interested in, um, that, that. Isn’t already being done to death. So something very niche that you have a lot of interest in. And then from there, whether that’s like, Hey, I believe in spring break trips to New York city.

Cool. Focus on that and just do something like that. If you’re talking about that simple, Hey, I’ve got an idea. I got a computer. I got free host theater. Uh that’s that’s a place to start.

Andrew: I actually think what you did with 3d studio, max made a lot of sense and still does to this day, if there’s software that’s expensive or something that’s complicated. If you can create the definitive guide for starters. Or for people who are deeply going into it, either one, I think there’s still a good start in that.

And then the ability to build on top of that by building community, for people who are using it by maybe creating plugins for people to doing it, et cetera, seems to still be an option. That makes sense. What do you think.

Chris: Yeah.

no, I mean, I would completely agree with you. It’s it’s. It’s what they teach you. It’s blue oceans, try to find something that somebody is not already attacking. Um, you know, I think, uh, uh, the Y Combinator team, uh, has, has done a great job of kind of laying a lot of this stuff out for people to, which is either find a niche that you can monopolize or do something 10 X better than anybody else.

It’s hard to do 10 X better when it’s just you and a computer, um, in an internet account, you know, our hosting account. But you can find a niche that you can monopolize. And then, like you said, if it’s something where people didn’t have money to, uh, you know, if there’s value in people, handing you money and all that.

Andrew: All right. If you need a website hosted, go to hostgator.com/mixergy, when you do, you’re going to get hosting. That just works. That’s dependable. I’ve used them for years. I haven’t had an issue with them and most people don’t even know that I use them actually, except for my brother. And Michael got so excited that we, we had such a low price and the thing just work.

I said, put their logo on the site. They’re a sponsor. He made it way too big. I think they’re bigger than my own logo. Anyway, it works. If you need that. You’ll get an even lower price in their already low price. When you go to host gator.com/mixergy, hostgator.com/mixergy. All right, you’re starting to see things work at some point, a friend of yours.

I think our contact, from what I remember says, let’s build this agency together. Am I right? Or you had an agency that you partnered up with? What am I, what am I dry? What am I trying to pull the string on?

Chris: You’re talking about very big things.

Andrew: I thought this was even before that wasn’t there some kind of, or maybe not. I thought there was an agency that you did before that a design agency of some kind,

Chris: Um, no there, so, so this was the first time. I mean, there was, there was a couple of times that it popped into my head as something to go and attack. Um, there, the very first job I got in south Florida was at a tiny agency. It was literally in somebody’s garage.

Andrew: I mean this year, here’s what I’ve got. One person said to me, I’ve been building an agency for 16 years. I’ll give you a third of the company. If you join, we’re doing big numbers, but we need you to take it to the next level. You work there for a year.

Chris: Okay. Yep. So this was, this was, uh, yeah, directly before very big sex. So directly before. Very big things. Sorry. I thought you were talking about earlier on, um, directly before. Very big things. I mean, you just nailed it. It was, um, a person that had come into the VC fund and at that point, Yeah. Hey, will you invest in this thing?

And we said, no, we won’t because it doesn’t make sense. However, um, I stayed friends with the person and we’d hang out from time to time. And, uh, and when I kind of got the itching to say, this thing needs to be created, this thing needs to be done. I’d mentioned it. And, and then the response of course was.

Hey, why don’t you come and join us? Because while they had the, while they had the idea that they were trying to bring VC funding in for, they also had an agency, um, that they’ve been running for about 16 years, that was fairly successful. Um,

so, but they were like, Hey, you, you have the chops, you have this kind of dream for it.

So why don’t you come and build that with us? And we’ll give you 33% of, uh, this, you know, the development house, which is mad Bev.

Andrew: Why didn’t that work out? I mean, you left after a year, but you had a third of a company that had some progress that had some focus.

Chris: Yeah. So, so I mean, yeah, I think things were going very well in a lot of ways. However, I think this comes down to one of the, uh, most important lessons for entrepreneurs, which is, you know, I had people ask me recently at another talk like this, like, how do you choose your co-founder. How do you choose your partners?

And, um, and the one piece of recommendation that I gave them on that is make sure it’s somebody that you’ve worked with before. It doesn’t mean somebody that you’ve known before. It’s kind of somebody you’ve worked with before. Um,

Andrew: in having drinks with someone and getting to know them personally and working with them and seeing what they’re like.

Chris: Completely ball’s complete difference. Um, and even being friends with somebody or being siblings with somebody, or being cousins with somebody, any of that is very different than what you see when you’re in a working environment with them. But, you know, it’s something we were deliberate with with very big things.

Is. Every partner is somebody that I personally worked with before I knew their work ethic. I knew how they worked inside of me environments. I knew if they were the ones causing drama or the ones,

Andrew: Okay.

Chris: you know, and, uh, and it’s, I think being able to look at that and say, Okay.

this person would make a great partner, um, is one of the most important things.

So in

Andrew: sensing that there’s some touchiness here that we don’t want to get too personal in the issues, but what can you be a little specific about one thing that was incompatible about the two of you?

Chris: Yeah. So, I mean, technically or there’s three of us.

Andrew: Okay.

Chris: But at the end of the day, I just say it was, um, I mean, to be honest, I don’t wanna get into any details

Andrew: I know.

Chris: in to, I honestly, I don’t even know.

if I’m legally allowed to get any details, but past that I don’t even work there. Um, but, uh, you know, I’ll, I’ll, I’ll point the thumb as much as the finger and just say at the end of the day, it was my own fault.

I should have. I wish somebody had given me the advice to say, make sure you kind of know the people you’re going to work with and how it’ll turn out, you know?

Andrew: Fair enough. All right. So then your wife is pregnant nine months about to have a baby. You say this is it. I’m finally going to go do it because you’d been dancing on the edge and you go all in. Was she supportive at the time?

Chris: She was, um, and it’s funny, like now it’s been three years, I forget about this part of the story and just how ridiculous it is. When I think back to that, um, of how much we kind of jumped and maybe it made it the worst time. Uh, but no, she was, she was amazingly supportive. She basically said, you’ve got this vision.

You’ve got the, you know, of, of what you’ve wanted to do your entire life. And right now, uh, I feel like there’s something hampering it. And if you have an opportunity to do something where you’re, you’re kind of unchanged, you could say, and just go and do what this vision is that you’ve had your whole life.

And she goes, at that point, she goes, you know, if we have to end up living in the woods in a little cabin, whole shack, because that’s the only thing we can afford, but we’re all happy. Then go for it. And she’s nine months pregnant when she says this, you know what I mean? And she’s nine months pregnant with our second child.

We have another one. So I don’t know if it is, um, uh, just the hormones, but do you think the hormones would be driving her to say no? No, no, no, no, Just

Andrew: no, I.

Chris: your, you know,

Andrew: That’s one of the times in my life when I was really just paranoid about stuff like that. And I’ve seen it. We’ve gotten, we got together with other friends who are about to have babies, and I saw the same thing with them. It brings up all these insecurities in you about can I now make sure to protect somebody for the rest of them?

Childhood where before, especially before you get married, when it’s just, you think, yeah, just go live somewhere. It doesn’t take much to keep me running. I, I could literally eat ramen. I, there was a period in my life where I just ate vegetable fried rice for a buck from the Chinese story. That was a block away and got me my vegetables in.

All right. So I get the significance. I now see that this was you. I’ve got to do this. I’m close. I’m going to go in. And your first customer came from what.

Chris: And to hit. And one more thing that I think is worth mentioning there is because it ties directly in with, I think her being pregnant and you are a great therapist, um, cause you, you, you make me realize these connections, but. I remember driving my daughter to school. My daughter was older. I mean, I think she has four or five at the time.

Um, and I was driving her to school and I was telling her like, listen, all that matters in life is that you’re, you’re, you’re around people that you like being around that you’re doing something you love and you’re passionate about. And then you’re pushing that you’re pushing both those things. And in the meantime, I felt like I personally was going to a situation where I wasn’t doing those things and, and I had dreams and I was trying to push them, but there was kind of roadblocks in the way.

And here I am, my wife’s pregnant about to bring our second child and pardon me as your kids will never do. Now, now we’re on a parenting podcast, but your kids will never do what.

you say. They’ll only do what I see you do. Um, and well, if I really believe in this and I really want them to live this way, their life.

I don’t have a choice. Like I have to do this. And that’s when I went home and had that discussion with my wife, you know, and, and from there, it’s, it’s all taken place. So, sorry, back to your question though.

Andrew: No, that makes sense. I do find actually that, um, Your, your personal hypocrisy is blind. You can be blind to your personal hypocrisy until you start telling your kids how to live their lives. And then you see that you’re not in alignment with that yourself. And you realize, oh man, you know,

Chris: I got to do something about this or just own the fact that I’m a hypocrite. I can give them one or two

Andrew: Right. Right. And then I don’t want to be the kind of parent who I saw growing up. We would say do, as I say, not as I do, I didn’t make the right decisions. You could, you should listen to me and do it. And that’s kind of a loser way to live, you know, where it’s, I’m giving up on myself. But now I’m putting all the burden of the things that I couldn’t do because I couldn’t stand up.

I’m putting it on you. It’s just, well, you should do it too. If you’re telling me to do the hard thing. So, how did you get your first customer then?

Chris: Um, So.

I mean, coming from the, coming from the previous company, the previous agency that I’d started there, um, I already had a couple of people that we’d been talking to for a while and everything. So basically when, when day one came, we’re fortunate, in fact that we had a couple of clients that could be working with us.

Um, and then from there. I’m trying to think of the best way to say this humbly, but I I’d built a good reputation. Um, and especially south Florida and then the tech scene here. And I think when word spread that I was going to be creating this new agency and then people I was creating it with, which are just some amazing heavy hitters.

Th the, the rest started to happen fairly organically to where people just started reaching out. People started referring as people and, uh, and, and then, yeah, and then kinda the rest is history at that point. We’ve we’ve. Uh, I was gonna say we have three principles as a company that from day one, when I was thinking, how are we going to make this successful?

Where thousands. Yeah. And thousands of others are mediocre or fail. Um, it’s you ask yourself those questions? Like, where are we going to find more clients? How are we going to advertise? How are we going to do this? How are we going to do that in all of the solutions that I came to wouldn’t allow us to hit the type of. Growth and trajectory to reach our goals, which are goals are like to create the best products in the world. Uh, fast enough. And so when I really sat back with that problem for, for days, I ended up coming away with the only way we can really get there is. By succeeding a three things constantly, which is like having our clients just be extraordinarily happy, finding true, like red carpet service and just feeling like this is 10 X better.

I’m doing truly exceptional products. So this is on the, on the. Like, Hey, either do a, do a niche or do something 10 X better. It’s let’s do two next better. Um, and then just so as our three principles are, you know, happy clients, extraordinary products, every single time legacy worthy products. And then third one is a happy internal team.

And. It’s just been refocused on that. But I mean, when you’re doing those things, people start referring, um, to, to their friends because they had a great expense. Um, we started winning war or it’s, you know, we got the Webby award for top technical, even in the, in the world. The web is like the office and we got the UX design orange product of the year.

We’ve got two days innovation of the year. We got the w three or technical achievement of the year and it just goes on and on. And it’s because we were doing good work and we have happy clients. And we had a happy team, like the happy team, we would allow it to actually produce those things. You know, they’re the ones doing the work at the end of the day.

We inspire them. But they’re the ones pulling it off.

Andrew: But when w in order to get that reputation before, what was the thing that you were known for that allowed others to say he’s just started this agency, but we need them.

Chris: Yeah, I think, uh, You know, I I’ve been doing startups for a long time. I’m a big, big believer during the 10,000 hours rule. Right. Which is you become an expert in anything entire world, if you just put the time in. Um, and fortunately I started when I was 13, so the time has been put in for a long time. So it’s, it’s one of those things where.

I feel like I just know this world really well. Um, so, so from there I’ve been able to just help people throughout the year. So I’m able to help myself as priority because we work on other startups that I work with and able to consult other companies been able to

Andrew: give me an example of a project that you worked on before that helped build your reputation?

Chris: Yeah. I mean, let me, let me see. Trying to think of the best example. Um,

Andrew: W well, what were you doing before? Was it it wasn’t development work? Was it, or was it development and design?

Chris: so, so I mean, yeah, so, I mean, that could be a particular example. So I’ve been working as a CTO, um, and. And, and one of the, one of the companies with south Florida company called catalogs.com where we’re really taking something that’s in desperate need of digital transformation. Um, And, and then doing that, transforming it.

Um, but then after that I left and went to a consulting company, uh, at the consulting company is what I mentioned earlier that that’s three of the partners came from, you know, it was a very small consulting company when, uh, when I was brought on board there. And, uh, and we were helping yeah. Huge companies build their web applications, uh, which was cutting edge at the time, uh, like Walmart and apple and T-Mobile and all these different companies.

So think through things like that. Um, and even when I was there, I was filling in a. Not just development consultant, but also really helping on, on more of the strategy and strategy and ideation for one of the clients. And then from there went to the VC fund where basically that was my whole job is to really kind of help nurture entrepreneurs.

And then from there just, you know, uh, at the, at the other agency, you know, kind of doing the same thing and then. So by the time we get to very big things, you know, uh, we, we had a couple of startups like Papa already go and find success and, um,

Andrew: You also work with BoatSetter

Chris: boats that are

Andrew: there they’re one of the earlier companies. I mean, you were with them in the early stage or later on.

Chris: Yeah, they’re one of our first clients. So they were one of our first clients. However, we weren’t with them in the earlier stages because they ended up having some, you know, they ended up a.

couple of different companies, acquired each other and so forth that it ended up being a BoatSetter. We came in the early days of their technology really taking shape.

Uh,

Andrew: I that’s one of these great idea of businesses that just make sense. Like doesn’t it right. That one I would totally get. And I think why didn’t I come up with their first? What BoatSetter is, is a way to rent other people’s boats. We’ve seen the Airbnb being of other businesses, right? There’s now a company that will let you rent a time in, in your neighbor’s pool.

You want to pull with you. You pay, you get it right. Do you know what I forget the name of the site, but they’ve turned that some things make sense. Some things don’t boats that are totally does people pay a lot of money for their boats. It’s just sitting there to be able to charge a few hundred bucks for someone to go take your boat for a couple of hours.

Make sense? I see some of these boats go for 400 bucks for, for a few hours.

Chris: When the constant recommendation from every person, when you’re thinking about buying a boat is just borrow somebody else’s boat. Don’t, you know, like you’re doing your advertising for you.

Andrew: How many, how many days do you need to be out on one of these boats? I could see getting it and enjoying your time with it, but would you be on it every single day? No, but there’s other people who would pay for it. Look at this here’s one. You can get a 12 person pontoon here in Austin, Texas for 400 bucks.

Chris: Yeah.

Andrew: Yeah. 12 people, you just get together with a bunch of your friends, right? Yeah. Now you got a note. Now you got an event. That’s the thing that you, that, that makes total, that makes total sense. I feel like, uh, there, there are other things that we should be Airbnb, but that is number one.

Chris: No. I was just out in a Napa for my 10 year anniversary. And I was just telling some of the guys here, cause they’re talking about how much a rental cars are right now. Um, cause of car shortages and all that stuff. And I’m like, I use Turo when I went out there, I’ve used her own number of times.

Andrew: Turo doing prices expensive or reasonable.

Chris: So to give you, Yeah.

Um, I had the option of getting a mediocre every day can run in the middle SUV from one of the rental car companies. And it was about $1,200 for five days. I want to say.

Andrew: Wow.

Chris: And then Touro was roughly half the price and I got a BMW X three, then it had a paper plate and like 10 miles on

Andrew: Wow. Wow.

Chris: Yeah.

Yeah. But I mean the, the experience, um, I mean, I’m a, at the end of the day, If somebody were to ask what’s Chris all about really it’s creating these amazing experiences that are enhancing technology. Like to me, that’s, that’s, that’s where the magic happens. And that’s What we push literally every day.

A very big things is I think at the end of the day, technology still. Very new thing. I mean, it’s a very new and mow people’s lives. It’s really only been a part of it for maybe 25

Andrew: What do you, what do you think is missing? Like if, if you, what would you wish that somebody would come to you with to ask you to build with them? What’s a project that you would do if, if you had the time.

Chris: well, I mean, even I’ll come back to that brilliant to say past necessarily project, I would say. What’s missing is truly, truly intuitive user experiences. Um, I think we’ve come a long way. You know, things started with desktop applications and turn in the internet and then it turned into like, you could have some sort of internet on your phone, then it turned into the iPhone.

Um, which, which was a, a major revolution. Once again, now people are playing with VR, they’re playing with AR they’re playing with voice interfaces like Alexa And so forth. However, You know, I, I think we still have so far to go. Um,

Andrew: what, where are you seeing the user experiences painful? Sorry. I keep into our, I keep interrupting. What do you see? The user experience is so painful that you wish somebody could fix it. Where are you seeing that now?

Chris: I mean, is it fair for me to say everywhere?

Andrew: No, I I’d because you know what, if I, if I look at BoatSetter, it’s pretty straightforward. I, lot of things, the only place where I see that there’s a user experience desert is when I do anything with my, uh, With, uh, a doctor of any kind, it’s a horrible experience. If it’s a, yeah, that’s a, that’s a painful one.

Anything where they have to send you private messages, terrible experience. I find, um, the banking is pretty awful and I like what mercury is doing with it. Um, mercury for business banking,

Chris: to what, what, what I would say is, I mean, Hey, you’re completely right.

Um, but on the flip side of that coin, I think you’re comparing to the great experiences you’ve had. Two, two bad experiences you’re having and something, how do we bring those bad experiences up to match the ones that you’ve currently?

Um, but then I take that back a step and pre iPhone. If BoatSetter is just on the website and it’s very intuitive website, you would say, this is intuitive, this most intuitive thing ever. Why isn’t my doctor this easy, but then somebody came out with an iPhone and all of a sudden you go, oh, this is so much more intuitive.

Andrew: uh, you’re saying is as much as I like the way things are right now,

Chris: There’s a whole nother level.

Andrew: there’s a whole other level. You know what I heard Darmesh Shaw on, uh, my first million podcasts. He’s a founder of HubSpot. He said, one of the things that he’s looking into is how you can use, um, artificial intelligence. I don’t know, frankly, what languages, what, what he’s talking about that would do it.

I forget it doesn’t really matter. But the end result is he says, why do we have to learn how we can design this thing? Why can’t we just say to the. Put the box in this corner. Why can’t we just say, I need a landing page that does X, Y, Z, and have a build. Why do we have to even drag and drop? That’s too complicated.

And we’re seeing now that, um, artificial intelligence is getting smart enough that it’s doing writing for people. And that’s where I’ve seen a lot of excitement. What else can we get it to do? Where we, uh, we explained something and it gets done. Yeah, I see what you mean. It’s a next level that we can anticipate.

Chris: There’s yeah, there’s new interfaces to technology that we’re just not using, but there that’s, that’s definitely where the, the excitement lies for me is like one day we’ll find that perfect interface. And I just want to be a part of that. You know,

Andrew: right.

Chris: we’ve got a long way.

Andrew: interface maybe is not even an interface. I would imagine. You know, what I would love is have everything be more intuitive. I just got to Austin. Why should my car know that I’m about to get into it and heat it up? I mean, even if I’m coming out of a store, my key is in my pocket.

If my phone is in my pocket, why can’t it? You’re about to get to the car. We’re going to turn on the air conditioning. I see how close you are. Like little things like that. I shouldn’t even have an interface. It should just know what I’m about to do.

Chris: Completely agree.

Andrew: Right. Right. All right. I see what you’re talking about now.

We’re thinking too much about how do I bring the current interface to more things, instead of saying, what is the next interface that is so painfully hard to, to bring about that we could be focusing our energy on right.

Chris: And that’s that’s I think that drive in is what’s pushing us to win these, like, you know, UX design awards, like product of the year and so forth.

Andrew: What have you done? That’s especially exciting and pushing things forward.

Chris: Uh, I mean, So, I mean, in that particular case, it’s, it’s hitting it from a different angle. Um, that particular case was, um, looking at. Populations of people that are being underserved, you know? So in that situation, it was, um, people that have autism and other developmental disabilities that interfaces have largely just left behind and saying, how do we make something that works just as well or better for them as it would, any other person, you know?

So th that was a particular use case. Not that one is like, how do we really push that, that world forward? And, uh, and that was as gave imagined.

Andrew: Yeah.

Chris: Massively exciting. And, and one of those where you, you, you literally get to see how you’re changing people’s lives, um, using technology, you know, um, then that particular case, what we actually did is, uh, what are the, the hardest issue for somebody who has a developmental disability?

Um, when they go to find their independence, isn’t working a job, they can work thousands of jobs drastically better than I can. Um, however, Getting through the interview process, which is pure communication. And the hardest part of developmental disability is communicating. So they get to the interview and they can’t, they just hit this roadblock where, you know, they just don’t know what to say.

They don’t know how to have that human interaction that gets them the job that they can do. Awesome. So we built a system that did. Mock interviews with them where they’re actually talking to an avatar and they can go through these interviews, get comfortable with it. And I mean, they throw, they throw things at the people that, you know, like little things like sneezes that can throw people off, but also weird, like getting up and walking out in the middle of the question,

Andrew: Uh, huh,

Chris: but then you hear all the people that are coming back saying I got this job.

And now I have my independence and I can go and do things that other adults are doing, um, because of the system. And it’s just like, okay, cool. We did something right on that one, you know?

Andrew: I see it on your site. That’s the Dan Marino foundation.

Chris: Exactly.

Andrew: Oh, wow. You’ve also worked with Mapbox. I love that company. Um, all right. The website is for anyone who wants to see it, it’s very big things. Dot com. I’m imagining that a lot of people are gonna want to contact you and say, all right, I need a co-founder.

I got some money. You’re looking for people who have like what, before they they’re a good fit for you.

Chris: I’m looking for people that are, um, People that are driven. People that are ambitious. People are great founders. Uh, one of the big things that we look at, cause keep in mind, our clients are both startups, as well as enterprise companies, Uh,

at the enterprise companies, you need a. An internal champion.

That’s willing to be ambitious and take a chance, you know, versus saying like, oh, I can get in trouble. If this wild idea doesn’t go, right. No, let me, let me be the agent of change. Let’s do something awesome. Um, but then on the flip side with startups, it’s all about that founder, you know, we’re looking for the Andrew Parker is I come in and say, Hey, I’ll piece this thing together.

I’ll do, whatever’s needed to prove that it can work. Um, I’ll make this thing happen. You guys just help me figure out the interface. You helped me figure out the technology helped me figure out the design helped me figure out the strategy, push it. And so when, I mean, we’re pretty picky choosy about who we work with these days, probably turn them down about nine out of 10, uh, people that.

come our way.

And cherry picking helped us. Of course. And we’re looking at the long-term vision, not just a short-term project, but so we’re looking same way. Like a VC fund would look to invest in somebody that’s like, is this founder somebody that’s going to push us? So yeah, it’s, it’s not an amount of money. It’s it’s, you know, that founder or that, or that champion, you know, are they somebody that’s can, could push something.

That’s really great.

Andrew: All right. I like your website. Um, I like how it’s surprisingly. Well, um, I think there’s a, there’s a standard way that companies that build, display their stuff. And I like that this isn’t that. Um, but it’s just clear and right to what I need. Alright. It’s available at very big things. Dot com and I want to thank the sponsor who made this interview happen when you need a website hosted go to hostgator.com/mixergy.

Chris. Thanks so much.

Chris: Awesome. Thank you. so much, ginger. You have a great one.

Andrew: Bye bye. Everyone.

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