Sunday, March 8, 2015

Steve Kelley of Arganteal

Steve Kelley of Arganteal

Where are you from originally?

I grew up in a suburb of Saint Louis, Missouri

What university did you go to?

I have a Masters in Electrical Engineering from Cornell University

What is the idea behind your startup?

We have developed a technology that automates many of the labor-intensive tasks required to deploy applications in the cloud computing environment. 

What need does it fulfill?

By using our technology, systems integration companies can reduce the labor to deploy complex applications like Microsoft Lync by 60% - 70%.  This allows these companies to do deployments more rapidly and with fewer expensive technical personnel. 

What exactly does it do?

The Arganteal system takes information about the client – the number of users, their physical location and network identification – and then information about the computing environment – what operating system, what hypervisor is being used, how many servers of what kinds, what kind of database system – and based on this information create a library of commands that automatically install the chosen applications on the target cloud platform with minimal or no intervention from expensive subject matter experts.   

Who is it for?

We license the Arganteal SaaS to system integrators and consulting companies for them to use to install applications for the end user companies that are their clients.  This enables these companies to finish deployment projects for their clients in less time and at a higher profit. 

What was the most challenging aspect of starting up?

Since we know the needs of our industry and we have the expertise to design and develop our product, the most challenging aspect for us is raising the capital we need to effectively market our product and then fund the development of new product features. 

What is the next step for you and your business?

We have identified a number of companies that want to use our technology so our next step is to sign license agreements that generate revenue for us while we also raise money from investors.  With this income we will be able to fund the marketing and development activities to accelerate our presence in the market.

What advice do you have for entrepreneurs?

Focus, move rapidly, stay lean and stay flexible.

What resource have you found to be the most helpful and why?

We are a virtual company. The Internet provides a fast and economical communications platform that allows us to speed up our product development, deliver presentations and product demonstrations to prospective clients and investors (usually remotely thereby reducing travel time and cost) and communicate effectively within our own staff.  Because of the Internet we can move quickly, communicate effectively and run a lean and flexible company with greatly reduced capital needs.  

Monday, March 2, 2015

Chris Taylor talks about Square Root

Chris Taylor talks about Square Root

Chris Taylor grew up in Pinch, West Virginia. And yes, it’s as rural as is sounds. He attended Carnegie Mellon University, both because it had one of the top Computer Science programs in the country, and more importantly, it had a diverse student base with excellent schools for art, design and architecture as well.

That broad base of knowledge made him interesting to Trilogy, which recruited him down to Austin in 1995. When he finally left in 2005 he had 10 years of experience in enterprise software and a little money in the bank, the perfect time to start a company!

All he was lacking as the killer idea. By performing analytics and strategy projects with large customers, he as able try and test various ideas, finally coming up with CoEFFICIENT, performance engagement software for large enterprises, in 2009. Almost immediately knew that it was the big idea that he had set out to find four years earlier.

From Trilogy Chris adopted the paradigm that data is a tool that should be leveraged to make better business decisions every day. Square Root’s platform, CoEFFICIENT, analyzes large amounts of data to help retail organizations reduce operational complexity and find opportunities to maximize performance.

As he was building the software Chris was also building his company. He realized that “Company culture can make or break a startup. Think about what kind of culture you would like your company to have, then start building it immediately. By the time you've hit 10 people, it's too late.”

Square Root is built around four core values; Thrive, Think Big, Do Bigger, Be Customer Inspired, and Partner.  Says Chris, “Of the four, I think my favorite would have to be Thrive. It’s important to me that the team feel empowered to find the work-life balance that suits them best. We believe it is everyone’s responsibility to make their work environment motivating and fulfilling.”

“This takes communication from the C-level all the way down to our interns. Every Friday we get together for a company lunch, this alone has helped us build a strong report. We have announcements where everyone hears from the executives talk on the progress toward business, and one employee gives a presentation on something he or she is currently working on. It's a great way to make sure everyone is on the same page about our goals as a company, and it makes for a strong team.” says Chris.

Chris says that his goal at Square Root is to have “a positive work environment where ideas can flourish. I want to be excited to come to work every day, I want that for everyone at Square Root.” One way Square Root encourages this is their office environment. Occupying three neighboring houses, and soon to be four, the offices at Square Root could be confused with someone’s home, except in place of couches and chairs there are stand-up desks.

To date Square Root has been completely bootstrapped. But that hasn’t slowed its growth. Finishing 2013 at 20 employees, it’s currently at 40 and plans to be at 70 by the end of 2015. Says Chris, “Bootstrapping a software company is not easy. I’m glad I had to work hard to get where I am today. My upbringing gave me the grounding to truly appreciate the ups and downs of being a CEO, genuinely value the team at Square Root, and be thankful to be raising my family in Austin.”

And Austin has infused the culture of Square Root. They hire UT graduates, sponsor HI-B Visas, and in the last year have tripled the training budget. Says Chris, “Right now Austin has the balance between being too laid back and having no life other than work. There is so much to look forward to at Square Root. We are doing something awesome and doing it with balance.”

Tuesday, February 24, 2015

Kevin Stone talks about Austin Photonics

Kevin Stone talks about Austin Photonics

Where are you from originally?

I born and grew up in Dallas, Texas, but I have lived in Los Angeles, Fort Lauderdale, Moscow and Phoenix, to name a few places.

What university did you go to?

Texas A&M - Physics

What is the idea behind your startup?

Our idea is to provide solutions to ages old problems in lighting and related technologies by shattering longstanding paradigms, including providing high end optical filters on lightweight, flexible and unbreakable polymer films rather than grossly fragile and expensive glass; providing color filtration technologies that limit off-axis chromatic shift and provide an unparalleled range of hue and saturation; creating permanent theatrical color filters that replace expendable theatrical gel and eliminate the high labor costs associated with ongoing replacement while retaining light weight and ease of use; coating polymer optics without the high costs associated with expensive cleanup from outgassing and without undesirable deformation and coating damage due to thermal instability; providing small and lightweight variable color correction for television and cinema lighting; and pioneering new energy efficient technologies such as our laser-phosphor luminaire currently in development.

What need does it fulfill?

Our patents and processes replace heavy, fragile and expensive glass filters requiring large amounts of storage and complex actuating mechanisms with near-weightless, unbreakable and heat resistant flexible polymer filters that require vastly smaller motors for mechanical devices and micro-machines and significantly less storage space. They also increase the utility and viability of many older energy efficient light sources, expanding the useful lives of these technologies. Our laser-phosphor light engine will replace costly light sources such as HMI and xenon lamps whose rated life ranges from a few hundred to a thousand or so hours with an energy efficient 10,000 to 20,000 hour source that solves the problems of collimation and color accuracy that prevent LEDs from penetrating these markets.

What exactly does it do?

Our dichroic polymer filters replace color gel by providing a color-accurate reject-or-pass filter that, due to the lack of absorption of filtered light, does not degrade and burn through like expendable gel filters, while avoiding the shortcomings of heavy, fragile and expensive glass dichroic filters. Our coating technology also allows the coating of other polymer substrates without the costly and time-consuming cleanup due to outgassing that is typical of other vacuum deposition processes. End-use technologies provide highly precise color mixing and unmatched color and saturation range. Lastly, our laser-phosphor technology replaces LEDs with lasers and novel phosphor geometry to produce full-spectrum white light unattainable by LEDs while overcoming the inherent inefficiencies of optical systems designed around LEDs and their planar emitting surface, allowing precise and optically efficient beam shaping in collimating and imaging systems.

Who is it for?

The market for dichroic polymer filters and their end-use technologies is broad, ranging from medical and scientific applications to optical micro-machines to entertainment and architectural lighting to military imaging systems. Our polymer coating processes are applicable to any industry desiring cost-effective and highly accurate coating of polymers and polymer optics. Our laser-phosphor light engine targets any application that requires the energy efficiency and durable long life of LEDs coupled with superior full-spectrum color rendering and highly efficient and precise optics and beam-shaping.

What was the most challenging aspect of starting up?

Hands down, the most challenging aspect of starting up is attracting investment, given that most investors have little to no experience in the lighting and optics industries. The challenge is in educating them as to the extraordinary capabilities these technologies impart to existing lighting systems in a simple and cost-effective manner and the vast market potential that these game-changing technologies possess.

What is the next step for you and your business?

Aside from tying up a few intellectual property loose ends, the next step, immediately upon acquiring investment, is to purchase equipment and start manufacturing. A number of markets have already been identified and key players aware of our technology. Moving forward is as easy as fabricating material and taking customers’ orders.

What advice do you have for entrepreneurs?

Don’t underestimate how difficult it may be to attract investment if yours is a product that is specific to an industry suffering from lack of general public awareness. In our case, for example, people take light-producing technologies for granted and have little idea of what does or does not constitute viable innovation.

What resource have you found to be the most helpful and why?

It is probably trite to cite the internet as the most helpful resource, but it’s a great educational tool for making potential customers and investors alike aware of the value of your product.

Thursday, February 5, 2015

Andy Tyndall talks about Cross Systems

Andy Tyndall talks about Cross Systems

Where are you from originally?

Born in Atlanta, GA but grew up in Forney, TX

What university did you go to?

East Texas Baptist University

What is the idea behind your startup?

Cross Systems was created after I worked for other companies and witness them completely rip off clients, simply because the clients knew very little about technology.  We specifically teach our clients about the systems they purchase so it directly matches their needs.

What need does it fulfill?

It fulfills the clients need for the technology and the ability to deliver their message to their audience clearly.

Who is it for?

Schools, churches, business, and similar commercial clients needing to deliver their messages clearly.

What was the most challenging aspect of starting up?

Developing the brand and getting the word out there.

What is the next step for you and your business?

Expansion to encompass Texas, Arkansas, Louisiana, and Oklahoma

What advice do you have for entrepreneurs?

No matter how hard it may seem, if you have a product that is worth delivering, fight through the hard time and deliver it to the masses

Wednesday, January 28, 2015

At Jobs2Careers Everyone Gets a Window

Bruce Ge was working at Siebel Systems when it was acquired at Oracle.  A year after the acquisition he enjoyed the culture and benefits of Oracle but was bored by the work.  He looked at his path ahead and decided to create his own fork in the road.  So he quit Oracle and started his own company, one that would eventually become Jobs2Careers.

That willingness to change had already served Bruce well in his life so far. Growing up in China he attended the top engineering school in the nation, and then came to the United States to attend University of Illinois at Urbana, one of the top computer science graduate schools in the country.

At first Jobs2Careers was a social job referral program, a social network like LinkedIn. That iteration didn’t get the traction that was needed, but by building it Bruce gained a better understanding of the market. By 2010 Jobs2Careers changed and took shape as a one-stop job search engine.

Jobs2Careers now offers pay-per-application job search advertising. This, coupled with good integration with their customer’s job sites, bring peace of mind to employers when allocating dollars for talent acquisition.

Although outside financing would have helped Jobs2Careers accelerate their growth more rapidly, there were benefits to bootstrapping. Being a smaller organization enabled Bruce to move Jobs2Careers multiple times, finally making the transition from California to Austin.

It also enabled Bruce to focus on the culture of the company. “My job is to keep my employees happy. They want to change the world and I want to focus on supporting that drive.”

One way he is accomplishing that is by moving the company to a brand new office. With bright, sunny offices everyone gets a window. The conference rooms are named after cities where Jobs2Careers was once based, reinforcing their history of movement and growth.

The open office also enables employees to learn and coach from each other. This team collaboration is one of the core values of the company.

Jobs2Careers currently has 35 employees and is looking to double this by the end of 2015. In an ironic twist, even a fast growing job search company has to fight for top talent.

Thursday, January 15, 2015

Sandra Jensen talks about Kell Partners

Sandra Jensen talks about Kell Partners

Tell me how you got started/involved in this business?

I started KELL 5 years ago.  Having worked with nonprofits for almost 10 years at software companies that provided software as a service solutions, I saw some areas of need and thought I could help address those needs.

Where did you grow up?  

I grew up in Denton, TX, which I always loved.  It is nice to see it going through such resurgence now. 

Where did you go to school and how did you choose where you attended?

I went to the University of Texas at Arlington.  It was close to home, but just far enough away that you would want to live there and not commute.

What does your company do that no other company can do?  

We cater to emerging nonprofit organizations.  Most consulting firms are interested in consulting for large, enterprise clients, but we like to work with the small to mid-size, but growing, clients.  We can have a huge impact at these organizations and there is a lot of personal satisfaction in getting to see the big differences we have made with these organizations.

What need does it fulfill? 

Until KELL Partners came along, I think it was somewhat hard to find a consulting group that really wanted to work with the emerging organizations. 

How exactly does it do that?  

We don’t turn clients away because they don’t have huge budgets.  Instead, we try to find ways to work within their budget and we also offer free SmartPacks, which are targeted solutions that most nonprofits need.

Who do you see your company [product, service] benefiting the most?  

Definitely the small to mid-size nonprofit organizations, as that is where we have placed our passion, drive, services and solutions.

What are the top three values in your company? 

Integrity, compassion, kindness.

Tell me more about the culture here.  

It is important that everyone on our team is passionate about working with nonprofit organizations, as this is what drives us. You will find that most of our team has come directly from working at a nonprofit or they have a rich volunteer history.  This gives meaning to our work and our clients.

What was the most challenging aspect of starting up?  

Funding is always a challenge.  We are a completely bootstrapped organization and we have never had any debt, but growing to meet demand is difficult in any economy, especially with the growth trajectory we have been on since our start.

What was the most challenging aspect of growing the business? 

Finding the right people.  The people that you work with on a daily basis are so important.  I can truly say that at KELL Partners I feel we have all found our work family.  And you would do anything to help family.  Because of this, we have a culture rich in teamwork and care.

What is the next step for you and your business?  

Now that we have the right foundation, people and strategy in place, we are just going to do our best to always anticipate our clients’ needs, so we always have the right people and technology in place to help drive our clients’ missions.

What advice do you have for entrepreneurs? 

Find your passion and make that passion your business.  From there, find people that are just as passionate as you to grow your business.

What resource have you found to be the most helpful and why?  

The Foundation has been really critical to our growth.  They have been a great partner since the start of our business and are an integral part of our foundation.

If you were to do it all over again, where would you be right now? 

Exactly where we are.

Wednesday, December 31, 2014

Happy New Year 2015

I want to thank the investors, the entrepreneurs, and all those who support the startup community in Texas.  Together we made 2014 a great year and look to 2015 as even better because:

Texas continues to be THE place to do business.

Austin continues to grow and will be the next premier innovation center in the US

Dallas will become the third largest metroplex in the US

The state of Texas passed its own intrastate crowdfunding law empowering a new generation of investors and startups

Crowdfunding as an industry has been doubling each year over the last 3 years and will do so again in 2015

TEN's entrepreneurs fundraise surpassed $141M

I wish everyone a happy new year for 2015.

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

Lance McNeill of BCL Provides a Comprehensive Guide to Rewards Crowdfunding

Click here for the Guide

Interview with Lance McNeill of BCL 

Where are you from originally?

Austin, born and raised.

What university did you go to?

I started out at ACC and transferred into Texas State University where I graduated with a BBA and specialized in entrepreneurship. I graduated in May of 2008, right when the Recession was ramping up so it was difficult to find a job. I decided to continue straight through with graduate school and went back to Texas State for my MBA.

I graduated in 2010 and was still having difficulty finding the right job for me, so I joined the Peace Corps and did small business advising in Namibia. I found a passion for economic development and I’m currently at the LBJ School of Public Affairs at UT Austin where I’m focusing on economic development.

I’ll graduate in May and that’s it for me as far as degrees. I think my education has provided a good foundation for bridging the business and public policy fields.

What brought you to Austin?

My family has lived in Austin since 1964. I was born here.

What is your group’s mission?

The mission of Business and Community Lenders (BCL) of Texas is to further the economic development of Texas by promoting and assisting in the growth and development of small business concerns.

What need does it fulfill?

Many businesses struggle to access capital through traditional means. As a nonprofit organization, we’re a nontraditional lender dedicated to helping traditionally underserved businesses obtain the access to capital they need to succeed.

What exactly does it bring to startups?

We offer technical assistance to start-ups from the idea stage to the financing stage. We work with businesses early on so that they know what is needed to apply for a loan. We’ve embraced crowdfunding as an alternative form of capital that we can help start-ups access. We’ve created a coaching methodology specific to crowdfunding and we’ve partnered with Indiegogo to curate local projects.

What type of startup would benefit from your group?

Local Austin metro area businesses that are seeking a loan and/or crowdfunding.

What was the most challenging aspect of starting up the initiative?

When we ventured into crowdfunding, we weren’t quite sure how it would fit within our service offerings. We didn’t know if it was a totally separate function or if it would compete with lending. What we’ve learned is that it is absolutely a complement to our lending services. With crowdfunding, we can help entrepreneurs get all or some of the funding they need for their business. If their funding gap isn’t totally fulfilled by crowdfunding, we can look at our lending products and when and entrepreneur has successfully completed a crowdfunding campaign, they’re often a better loan candidate.

What advice do you have for entrepreneurs?

Leverage the resources in Austin as early and as often as possible – there are many resources available to help with all aspects of the business. Often entrepreneurs try to do everything on their own and I see many get into a situation where they get burned out and frustrated or get into an unadvised situation. For example, when entrepreneurs sign a lease and then come talk to a lender about lending only to find out that they cannot qualify for some reason.

Many entrepreneurs are sprinters, trying to get from point A to point D as quickly as possible, but starting up isn’t a sprint – it’s more of a marathon and you have to get from point A to point B first.

What Austin-based resource have you found to be the most helpful and why?

The City of Austin Small Business Development Program is amazing. They offer a ton of classes, coaching and connect with many resources throughout the community. They’re a great first point of contact.

Wednesday, December 3, 2014

Brady Anderton on Fueldfilms

Brady Anderton on Fueldfilms

Summer Finley and Brady Anderton each took different paths to get to their partnership at Fueld Films.

Brady grew up in San Antonio, TX and Salt Lake City, UT. Growing up in Utah his family were all skiers and filmed everything they did. After receiving his BS in Civil Engineering from Brigham Young University he developed a lip balm tether for the ski and sports market. To promote it he began making original content and commercials with a small production crew. After selling the company Brady turned his focus towards commercial production, co-founding Fueld films with Ben Hurst in 2007.

Summer grew up on a cattle ranch in west Texas and spent her teen years in Austin. When auditioning for colleges, the dean of theater and film school at the University of Manchester, Rose Bruford in the UK, considered the Julliard of the UK, recruited her to college in England.  Her career launched just after college with her first job as a casting assistant. After finding 30 competition-ready body builders in Austin in 5 days time, she earned a reputation as a miracle worker in film production. She joined Fueld Films as a partner in 2009.

Brands are facing 10x the amount of content they needed just a few years ago. There is a need to address this hunger for more content, and faster.

Fueld’s solution aggregates the most creative regional markets into a single, comprehensive network.. By aggregating the talent in regional markets they have been able to attract an extensive, diverse list of acclaimed Directors, they offer a new way to search for directors that agencies wont find on any list With this they are able to deliver exciting new talent for productions with budget limitations.
Fueld serves advertising agency producers, creatives, and brands across the country who have high-quality creative concepts but are facing challenged budgets. They also provide a steady flow of business  for crew members, vendors, and actors  in an uncertain industry.   

They faced a difficult path in getting Fueld off the ground. As Brady describes, “If Summer and I had approached 50 industry experts about what we wanted to accomplish as a production company based in Austin, TX we would have been told 50 times that we would fail. That taught us how to trust our gut as we tried new things.” Summer adds “The uncertainty is hard. As a startup you have no choice but to wear all the hats in the beginning.”
Along the way, Summer and Brady drew inspiration from FAST COMPANY magazine.  Says Brady, “I have always been inspired by pioneers in their field. We are voracious readers and stay curious about everything and everyone around us.”

As they build Fueld, they try to keep it authentic. Brady says, “People come to us because it feels like coming home. We don’t consider doing the right thing a weakness, as it’s more of a way of life for us.  I think some are afraid people might take advantage of them if they admit to being kind.  We want to change this paradigm. We set out to prove that you can be nice and produce great work.”

Summer recognizes that film production can be a high-stress environment but says “we see ourselves as very blessed to be in such a creative industry. Fueld is known for assembling great teams that are not only talented and reliable, but enjoyable to work with. Working with Fueld its like working with family – dedication to the end and honesty all the way along to get us there, and hugs at the end.”

Now that Fueld has shown that new models of uncovering and exposing local and regional talent to a national market are viable, the next steps are to simply pour gas on the fire, without blowing everything up. Brady says that “we have found that growth is best accomplished with equal parts expansion and shoring up the base.” 

The best advice they have for entrepreneurs? Be great. It's ok to dream. We're all in this together.

Says Summer, “When you are young and untested but have a clear vision about something you should just realize that in the beginning its far better for you to simply go and do then to talk about what you could be. A seemingly small accomplishment can easily be amplified once its been proven.”

Brady adds, “Treat everyone with kindness and respect.  You never know who you’ll be dealing with in 10 years, and people never forget the way they were treated, good or bad. “

When you’re faced with a daunting task be the person who won’t  take no for an answer.  There’s always a way!   

When Brady thinks of starting again, “I think I would do everything the same, just fewer Redbulls.”

Thursday, November 13, 2014

Texas Intrastate Crowdfunding -- Town Hall Meeting

The Texas Intrastate Crowdfunding Law has been approved and is coming open for use later this month.  I sat on a Town Hall panel yesterday organized by Cynthia Nevels.  With me were Patricia Loutherback of the State Securities board of Texas and John Johnson of Goldstar Trust whose bank handles funds escrow.

The audience consisted of portals preparing to use the Intrastate law.  By my count, there are eleven portals lining up for it.  Two are focused on oil and gas, two focus on real estate, and the rest cover startups. The audience asked questions of the panel about the specifics of the law and use cases that may come up.   One audience member asked about how to handle situations where non-Texas residents use deception to gain access to the offerings.  This appears to be problematic as it violates the securities laws and puts the entire deal at risk.  Once funds are invested in a startup there's little chance of recovering the funds.

The board recently setup a web page on information for the investor which you can see at this link.
The page describes how to read the disclosure documents and assess the risk of investing in a startup. Even if fraud is detected the chance of recovering the funds is quite low. Equity acquired through the ruling can be sold but only after a nine month waiting period and only to a Texas resident.

Since the legislature does not drive the Intrastate Law but rather the State Securities board does, there's an opportunity to meet and dialog with them on a regular basis about the rules and procedures.  We are contemplating a quarterly meeting for those who want to engage the board on the topic.  If you're interested in joining these sessions, please let me know your interest and I'll include you on the invite list.

Best regards,
Hall T.