Team Focus: Allstacks!

The Innovators Program is chugging along, and I was excited to learn more about one of our awesome external teams last week, Allstacks. CEO Hersh Tapadia and CTO Jeremy Freeman have partnered together for 10 years, and after years of collaborating on project after project, they identified a hole in the project management market for a good analytics tool that gave useful data to drive decision-making.

Allstacks is business intelligence tool for engineering management in which they pul together all the data that is generated by the team and give them leading indicators of project health so they can better direct their attention and ship better quality products on time without having to spend a lot of time digging around trying to figure out what’s actually going on.

Dashboard of Allstacks

We had the chance to chat with Hersh and learn more about what drove their team to build Allstacks and how years of experience can groom you for building the perfect product! 

If you’d like to learn more about Allstacks and how it can transform your project management, learn more today!

Learn more about Allstacks!


Magdalyn: Why did you decide to apply for the Innovators Program?

Hersh: Primarily what made us want to apply was the partnership with Citrix and Red Hat. They’re two prototypical customers for our company, so it gave us the opportunity to work really closely with that type of customers to build a good product.

M: Awesome! What are you most looking forward to in this program?

H: We’ve been able to define some structure around working with our customers that allows us to recognize patterns and identify areas where we can make small changes that have large impact, and what really drove that was the tools that have been taught in the program. 

M: What skills or backgrounds do you each bring to your team?

H: It’s kind of an interesting story about me and my partner, we’ve been working together for over ten years, and this is our fourth company together. We met when we were in undergrad and i was spinning a company out of the university that was a medical device, and my partner jeremy was my first hire. that company was more bleeding-edge, and jeremy and the team wrote all the software for that. We ended up getting picked up and acqui-hired (before acqui-hiring was a thing) by a startup coming out of Johnson and Johnson. So I joined as a cofounder of that company and i was able to bring over the technology. I was able to hire back the critical parts of that team, so once again Jeremy was the first hire. We ran product there for 6 years, and we were ready to do something new, so we ended up building a business for 2 years looking for our next idea. We ended up working on a confluence of factors – data science projects, API development, and other algorithm development tools – we didn’t realize it then, but basically over the past 10 years we had trained ourselves in all the different components that allowed us to develop Allstacks really quickly. We built and launched the product in less than three months. 

M: What was the “ah-ha” moment that led to starting your company?

H: The idea came to us kind of two ways – my partner and i had actually had launched another data-based company, and when we actually ran the data, we found out that the data from the original product we had didn’t work out, but there was one slice of that product that was really interesting to our customers – people were interested in knowing what the productivity of their employees was inside of the tools that they’re paying for. So we started trying to understand that market and looked deeper into the productivity analytics market, and what we found is that there was a huge hole for engineering management. 

We then came at it from another angle in that we thought back to our experiences – because my partner and i both happen to be engineering and product managers for 10 years – and realized that it was actually a problem. We thought back to our own experiences working with senior management and how frustrating it was that we weren’t able to give good, quantitative answers to how things are going. We realized that the part of the problem was that there wasn’t good data available, and whatever data that was available is very siloed and not holistic. and by looking at that kind of data lead to blinded, partially-informed decision making which was really ineffective.

M: Short answer, what problem are you trying to solve?

H: Helping engineering build better products ahead of schedule and under budget.

M: What’s your biggest take-away from the Innovators Program so far?

H: It’s really important to be consistent in how you interact with your customers so you can identify patterns, and by doing that, it’s been really helpful. 

M:  When you are not working tirelessly to launch a company, how do you spend your time?

I think what’s really important for me is not losing the social connections that make life meaningful, so carving time out for that is really important so you don’t lose yourself in your business. My wife and I dedicate time to our friends and family every week so that’s really helpful.


Thanks Hersh for sharing your thoughts and progress with us, looking forward to seeing Allstacks grow and thrive!

If you’d like to learn more about Allstacks or the Innovators Program, check out more here.

Allstacks   Innovators Program

Visit us soon for more interviews with this year’s participants!

Cheers! -Magdalyn

 

How Innclusive generated 50,000 pre-signups in just 5 months

Ready to grow your startup — and fast? Read this interview with Rohan Gilkes by Innovators Program mentor, Alex Kehaya

Rohan Gilkes is easily one of the nicest and most positive entrepreneurs I’ve had the chance to interact with. In my recent interview, Rohan shared the amazing and powerful story behind his latest venture, Innclusive. In his words:

“Innclusive came out of a need where I encountered discriminatory hosts on AirBnB and thought I could build a platform that would take some of the bias for discrimination in these products.” 

For Rohan, Innclusive is about building products and services that allow everyone to participate in the new sharing economy. What started with a focus on fighting discrimination on AirBnB has grown into a movement to give people of all walks of life access to the opportunities to build community and earn a living through ride sharing, home sharing, and the gig economy.

My focus with this interview series is to share specific examples of how successful entrepreneurs have driven growth for their companies. Before we dive into his growth story, I thought it necessary to point out how important his company is for our future. I consider Innclusive a social venture that has the potential to literally create a more inclusive and understanding environment between all those on the platform. In the US, now more than ever we need to be building companies and movements that push us to be more inclusive and open.

For his work to build a more Innclusive sharing economy and as an entrepreneur, Rohan has been featured in many major publications and most recently was invited to the White House.

Enter Rohan:

What’s your background or personal story?

The last 5-6 years I’ve been building businesses (here’s one, and another). I started out as an accountant and a about 6 years ago I started reading on blogs and online about how to execute on ideas.

I’ve learned and gotten a lot better at acquiring customers. And all those things that lead to making money online. In my career, I’ve been successful in hiring myself out of the job in multiple businesses. My last project Wet Shave Club and Innclusive were spawned out of my own experience.

Tell us about your current business.

The home sharing market AirBnB is only 10% of the hotel and hospitality market. The rest of it goes to hotels and established businesses. This is from a study done by PWC. The market for companies like Innclusive and AirBnB is forecast to grow from 10% to 50% of the market in the next 7 years. There is clearly a lot of room for competition and growth. Today, AirBnB and other companies in the space aren’t meeting the needs of people like me.

Almost all of my startups were built based on something I needed. There wasn’t anything that connected with me the way I wanted so I built it for myself. Innclusive came out of a need where I encountered discriminatory hosts on AirBnB and thought I could build a platform that would remove some of the bias for discrimination of these products.

Here’s a case study on discrimination seen through AirBnB. Here’s one about Lyft/Uber.

For us, It’s not about where you sleep when you go on vacation, it’s about how you are able to plan your trip, or call a Lyft or be a participant in this new economy. Are you able to be apart of the future?

Before we get started talking about growth strategy there are two steps that I think every entrepreneur should focus on when trying to build a successful online business.

There are only really two things you need to do to build a successful online business.

  1. You have to have a website that is setup to convert. Meaning that the branding connects with your customers, the colors are what they’d expect, things look secure and that you’re honest, and the copy matches what people will expect. If you miss that step you make your life ten times harder. We spent some time in the beginning to make sure our branding connects.
  1. Send as much traffic as possible to that website.

What traction channel are you an expert in?

Influencer Marketing is where I always start with each of my businesses.

First we asked ourselves, Who are the people who have an audience around travel? We found that there are tons of bloggers, tons of Youtubers, and Instagrammers. Often times they understand the market better than we do so we can learn a lot by listening to them. They’ve been living in the market and they have all the industry knowledge and they can help us with messaging and so on.

When you decide to go after influencers you need to ask yourself “Where do these people exist”?

For example, if you’re looking at beauty products then you need to focus on YouTube. If you’re in furniture you’ll need to focus on Pinterest.

We started out by searching for top 10 bloggers and even if that person is too expensive or not a good fit, we build a relationship with them and they’ll recommend us to someone else. A lot of times we end up working with the medium size audiences and then work our way up. Medium sized audiences are typically cheaper and will be more willing to work with you when you’re smaller.

How did you get your first 100 customers/users?

Funny enough, we just passed 100 customers (we’re still in beta). For us we’ve been lucky to get a lot of PR. We’ve worked really hard but there’s definitely been luck. There has been a bigger story about discrimination on various platforms so it has been easier for us to pitch our story.

We used that press to capture emails and we captured about 50,000 emails in 5 months and when we launch we’ll send an email to them and they’ll use our service in good numbers.

Another really successful strategy we used was to run referral contests with some of the influencers we found. (Here’s what a referral contest site looks like.)

The most successful referral contest we did was a YouTube giveaway for $1000 free travel on Innclusive including $500 in air travel. We actually did this a couple of times and the first one we did generated 8,000 signups!

Get free access to Action Pages and grow your email list today!

Each time we would do it we could predict how many signups we could get based on the size of the audience and the type of influencer.

What steps/advice would you give to other entrepreneurs to achieve success in this channel?

The thing that comes to mind is how we run these contests. For every single product that is worth selling online there is a community that is obsessed with that product or service. We go and find those communities and inject ourselves into those conversations.

We introduce ourselves as an Admin to the group, so that when we are ready to launch a viral contest people already trust us and are more likely to share it and participate.

For more ideas for launching a successful viral contest read here.

What’s the hardest part of “growth” in your opinion?

I think that part of it is finding product-market fit is the hardest part. I want to say that is the hardest part. We build products and services that already exist and we feel like we can put a small change or speak to a smaller demographic. This helps us miss some of the product market fit process and focus more on customer acquisition and branding..

Starting with the name was our first step for validating our business. We didn’t need to validate our product but we needed to validate our branding. We went to travel communities online and we said we need to come up with a name. We said we’d give a $500 dollar airfare voucher to the person who got it right.

The community came up with our name and voted. It was a 3 to 1 vote for Innclusive.

I feel there are some opportunities to bring your perfect customer into the decision making with every product you build. If you do this, you’ll be able to figure out growth.

What’s one question you never get asked in interviews but wish you’d been asked?

One question that I wish I was asked more is what motivates you to be out here building different companies?

I really think we’re living in the most perfect time in the history of the world for entrepreneurs. There has never been a better time.

With a WordPress theme and a lot of hustle you can sell almost anything online. I feel that we owe it to ourselves to take this opportunity and go after some of our dreams. I want to live a life where I can make my own decisions. I’m able to come to a point where I can be where I want in the world and do what I want. I can help out family and friends, I can do things that impact the world in some way.

I talk to a lot of entrepreneurs through our Facebook group and I really hope that someone who’s listening to this or reading the article and you have an idea of something you want to do. Here’s the best piece of advice I have for you:

Get into an action oriented mindset and do that thing you’ve wanted to do, do it TODAY. Ask yourself,  How can I get started today? I feel like if people can get into that mindset you can do anything.

If people get anything from this interview it’s get into a mindset of taking MASSIVE ACTION!

Meet Shinebig, the North Carolina startup disrupting the $2.1 billion survey market

We’re just a few weeks away from the Innovators Program 3rd Annual Raleigh Demo Day on December 12th. As we gear up for all ten companies to take the stage, we’re spotlighting Shinebig, the final external startup in our Q&A series. Shinebig is focused on grabbing a share of the $2.1 billion survey market by narrowly focusing on delivering simple media-based survey experiences that match audience expectations set by social media.  With Shinebig, organizations can perform market research, crowdsource content, AND connect with audiences at the same time. The startup is led by co-founders Kelly Giles and Tola Oguntoyinbo, both graduates of the School of Media and Journalism at UNC Chapel Hill.  

IP: What made you want to participate in the Innovators Program?
KG: The opportunity to be around other smart, motivated entrepreneurs. The people and environment really push you to make progress.

IP: Do you remember where you were or what you were doing when you came up with the idea for Shinebig?
TO: I was working on few ideas at the same time that took advantage of browser-based webcam technologies.  After experimenting for a while, the Shinebig concept eventually won the feasibility contest.  

IP: What problem are you solving with Shinebig? Where do you see the biggest value in what you are building?
KG: At its core, Shinebig is about connecting organizations and their audiences. Specifically, we see an opportunity to help conferences and events pick up some of the money that they are leaving on the table. Our product is designed to help our customers establish meaningful year-round communications with attendees that will keep them engaged, help to generate content and insights, and attract sponsors.

IP: How did you two start working together?
KG: We are both graduates of the UNC J-School but didn’t know each other there. A mutual friend and J-School alum introduced us about six months ago. We met for coffee, and here we are.

IP: What do you feel each are other’s strengths as team members?
KG: Tola is equal parts creative visionary and skilled programmer.  
TO: Kelly excels at both business and product development.  

IP: What is the most rewarding part of launching and growing your startup?
KG: There is nothing like creating something from nothing. It’s amazing to see something that started as a kernel of an idea take shape. You’re really willing something into reality.

IP: What mentors have you worked with so far in the program? Any takeaways that you’ve already started applying?
KG: We were really lucky to start out with working with Tom Snyder from RIOT. He gave us tons of great ideas about how to ask interesting questions that benefit both audiences and the brands asking them. Nick and Alex have really pushed us to think of ways to generate quick wins. They push us to get out of our heads and validate quickly.

IP: Have you learned anything from your fellow participants?
KG: We are always blown away during presentations. All the teams are awesome, but the Glance team in particular has shared some great insights about simplicity and usability. The Red Hat crews are all fantastic presenters.  And we’re also petitioning the Malartu folks to start holding start-up bootcamps – their product has some real potential.  

IP: What’s your current focus at Shinebig and where do you hope to go next?
KG: Our current focus is market validation. We’re testing a few different areas and getting traction. Based on these results, we’d like to hone in on one and really go about creating a fantastic user experience. We are definitely in the “do things that don’t scale” phase and plan to be there for a little while.

IP: What’s an ideal workday like for you? And how about an ideal day off?
KG: An ideal workday — meeting with customers, learning how they’re using Shinebig and what we can do to add more value. An ideal day off is doing something outside enjoying this amazing NC fall weather.

IP: Favorite movie quote?
TO: “You’re gonna need a bigger boat.” 

Learn more about Shinebig here, and make sure to catch their pitch during Demo Day on December 12th. You can register to attend here, or stay tuned for access to the livestream!