Ostanik Shares Tales of Two Start-Ups

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“It was an accident actually,” quipped Matt Ostanik, CEO of FunnelWise, as he spoke about his initial venture into entrepreneurial territory. “I stumbled into it as I was frustrated with something in my profession and I felt there had to be a better way.” Submittal Exchange, a highly successful construction communication software company was the better way he found although the process took a bit longer than expected. “I was on record, to my wife, that I would be done with the project in 2 years, but of course it was more like 10.” Still, it was 10 years well invested as Submittal Exchange was ultimately acquired by Textura Corporation and Ostanik, the architect turned entrepreneur went on to become a corporate executive.

“I discovered I liked creating things,” said this still licensed architect of his decision to leave Textura and start another venture. “I guess there exists a certain synergy between architecture and building businesses,” he postulated. His observation underscored the fact that two of the last three guests of the Start-Up Stories series began as architects and went on to become successful business builders.

Speaking before the January iteration of the Business Innovation Zone’s Start-Up Stories, Ostanik, now a bonafide serial entrepreneur, would speak less of Submittal Exchange and more of his current venture FunnelWise, as well as the differences in his approach to the two ventures and the lessons therein for other would be entrepreneurs.

Taking its name from the traditional business view of the sales and marketing process as a funnel, FunnelWise integrates with Salesforce.com and marketing automation software to bring an alignment between the all too often disparate and disconnected silos of marketing and sales within a company to support best practices for successful revenue generation. Some of the similarities, differences and lessons were explained by Ostanik while fielding questions from Mike Colwell, Director of Entrepreneurial Initiatives of the Greater Des Moines Partnership as well as members of the audience.

Frustration as the mother of invention

Like Submittal Exchange, FunnelWise grew from Ostanik’s exasperation that no such tool existed. “Sales is both an art and a science, and it seemed that in my previous position I was spending half of my time or more managing Excel spreadsheets,” he said of the genesis of FunnelWise.

Not just your frustration

“I got lucky with Submittal Exchange, I built something I wanted and it turned out that others wanted it too,” he shared of an approach that he does not endorse and did not use for FunnelWise. The creation of FunnelWise was a very deliberate market research driven process involving more than 100 interviews of potential customers before any product development. Next came a mock-up process of a basic product that was then reviewed by the 30 most interested of the initial interviewees, and only after that feedback did the first line of code get written. “I was afraid people would not talk to us, but if you ask about their pain points, they are happy to tell you all about their frustrations,” he said of the value in the market research process. As a result of this approach, the first customers are now awaiting the products release.

Obsess over the right details

“In my first start-up I did not know which details were important so I obsessed over all of them,” he explained admitting to a certain level of micro-management. “The reality is that in any business there is a really small set of things that truly matter and you have to be perfect with those and the other things don’t matter that much,” he said shaking off the professional proclivity of an architect to become mired in the minutiae.

The right details

“From my perspective, the ones that really matter the most right now are getting the right people on board and shaping the right culture,” he shared, noting that with Submittal Exchange he tended to hire the entry level first but that with FunnelWise he his bringing on the leadership team first and letting them build out the staff.

Shaping brand and message follows as a priority not only to properly identify them in the marketplace, but also to attract the right people to join the team.

And of course creating a technology that is powerful, intuitive and addresses the pain of their clients is a detail worthy of at least some level of obsession.

Know your sweet spot

FunnelWise enters an already crowded Customer Relationship Management software field with a focus on aligning the efforts of marketing and sales and providing valuable real time data to business leadership. When asked if the goal was to develop into a fully integrated one stop shop for business communication both internally and externally, Ostanik said no. “The reality is a lot of companies employ a number of tools, and while we will likely develop the ability to integrate with some of them, for now our focus is on our sweet spot.” As Ostanik’s history has proven out – knowing your sweet spot can yield some pretty tasty and profitable results.

Bawte Founder Jackovin Talks of TechStars, Melissa and Boulder

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“I was the youngest person on the team so they assumed I knew the most about technology. It turned out that I did but only because I could navigate my way around Excel,” quipped John Jackovin, Founder of Bawte and guest speaker at the November iteration of the Business Innovation Zone’s Start-Up Stories. Jackovin was recalling his early employment with a series of consumer products companies after the completion of a marketing degree from the University of Iowa. Over time and through circumstances Jackovin became more involved with technology oriented projects, eventually becoming conversant with developers and in turn with code itself and the rest as they say, is history, with him embarking on a path of serial entrepreneurship which would eventually lead to his latest adventure, Bawte.

Characterized as a “platform that revolutionizes product support and the entire post purchase experience” while serving as a consumer concierge, Bawte really began in 2011 with the purchase of a Yamaha keyboard for his daughter. “I opened up the box and out came all this paper,” he recalled of the warranty information and product registration card, all of which, like so many of us, he simply tossed. Relating the event to Mike Colwell, Director of Entrepreneurial Initiatives for the Greater Des Moines Partnership and his questioner before a capacity audience, Jackovin shared a sense that there must be a better approach, and ideally a digital one which would require nothing more than the scan of a bar-code for instance. When a quick look about the marketplace revealed that no such application existed, Bawte was born.

TechStars:

Foremost among the questions from both Colwell and the audience was the TechStars experience. Somewhat to Jackovin’s surprise, Bawte had risen to a level of notoriety that attracted the attention of TechStars, a leading start-up accelerator with a world-wide network of offices including Boulder Colorado where Jackovin was invited to audition. With considerable reluctance at the thought of leaving home, wife and children for the 3 month immersion which is life in an accelerator, he never-the-less decided to follow the opportunity, ultimately being chosen as one of the handful from among thousands who sought admission, and with that took up residence in Boulder to begin a process which compresses a year’s worth of business development into 3 months while testing the mettle of those involved.

“In hindsight it was great, while I was going through it, it was absolutely awful. There were many times when the thought of a 9 to 5 job was very appealing,” he remembers of 12 hour days spent in continuous pitches followed by relentless critiques which often contradicted one another and often confused and taxed the rationality of the entrepreneur. “No matter how masochistic you are, you cannot push yourself through a process like they’re able to do,” he observed, admitting that left to his own he would have quit long before accomplishing what he ultimately did accomplish.

“I can definitely say that me personally, the business, and the product have come out stronger than we went in,” he says noting that their approach to the product and how they pitch the product have undergone significant refinement alongside a near complete product redesign. And though un-stated, it is clear that the products founder now has a confidence in his product and self, forged under fire, which will be a key factor in future success.

Melissa:

Meanwhile back in Des Moines while John Jackovin was laboring in Boulder, Melissa Jackovin, his wife, stepped into the spotlight, and stole the show. Jackovin had entered Bawte in the Rise of the Rest completion sponsored by AOL Founder Steve Case and visiting Des Moines in October. The competitions pitch day unfortunately fell the day before demonstration day at TechStars and there was no way John could be in Des Moines, so enter Melissa. Initially declining, but ultimately acquiescing, Melissa took a remote crash course in not only the pitch presentation, but also the multitudinous questions that might follow the presentation. As those in the room who saw it agreed, her performance was outstanding and she bested the other very experienced presenters, securing a $100,000 investment from Case for Bawte.

Boulder:

In response to an audience request that he contrast the Boulder start-up scene with the Des Moines ecosystem, Jackovin shared some frank and insightful comments. Observing that the presence of noted entrepreneur and investor Brad Feld is a valuable catalyst, he also observed that there was a more conducive business culture in Boulder. “Established businesses really, really support start-ups. The mind-set is very much different, it is give first,” he said explaining that legal and financial advice for instance was plentiful and free without strings or expectations as businesses understood that success for start-ups would continue the success of established entities.

So, as a result, he was asked why come home? In a typical Iowa “aw shucks” manner this serial entrepreneur declared himself a homebody who never considered leaving Des Moines. “I think it’s important to come home, as an entrepreneurial community we struggle to reach that critical mass and I would not want to be one to detract from that effort.” An audience populated by many fellow successful Des Moines tech entrepreneurs seemed to give testimony in agreement.

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