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The Contagion of the SA Tech Community

Every now and then, Geekdom likes to reach out to some of our alumni and fellow alamo city techies to hear their thoughts on our burgeoning culture in the downtown area. Jessica Hernandez from Grok Interactive wanted to share her perspective on this “epidemic” that everyone should want to catch!

 

I am not talking about an infectious disease. I am talking about the infectious entrepreneurial spirit. The “let’s lift each other up” culture that has developed as a result of Geekdom’s efforts. If you are a part of this growing tech scene, you know the energy, the spirit and have grabbed on tightly to see how you can be a part of this vibrant ecosystem. For those not aware of our growing tech community, let me guide you through the web of knowledge happening in this city.

The tech industry’s growth in our city has helped with job creation. The highly coveted software developer job is most often discussed, but there are also opportunities in other key areas to include sales, marketing, and customer support. Remember that business degree you paid for and don’t know what to do with it? Well, tech companies need business minded individuals to help with day to day operations. Those skills are needed for strategic initiatives to help small tech companies grow.

Geekdom member and WordPress expert, Stefanie Young, from Grok Interactive gave a great example of her experience downtown. “I can walk down the street and ask any developer a question on any topic. Everyone is ready to help each other and provide support when we are looking for help.” Stefanie has also given back to the community by speaking at many engagements to share her knowledge with up and coming WordPress developers. She is a graduate from Codeup and is one of many Grok developers actively mentoring students. This is one small example of the open sourcing of information that is happening right now in our city.

If you are a current or former Rackspace employee, a short stroll down Houston street during a lunch hour will most likely lead you into a conversation with someone you used to work with and is now telling their story about their transition from a big tech company to a smaller start up environment reminiscent of Rackspace’s earlier years. For those not familiar with the Rackspace family and friends culture, you will be delighted to find many former Rackers who are willing to mentor and share their knowledge with others interested in this tech community.

Did I also mention that local downtown businesses are benefiting from the tech community’s growth? We are a group of hungry folks and we like to be fed good food. Pinch Boil House is an example of one of the eateries that will be opening due to demand and growth from this ecosystem.

Our collective community challenge in the coming years will be how will we allow this fostering of knowledge and information between each other to continue without allowing agencies to monopolize the community and make money off the values that we hold in high regard. You could be a Grok Interactive developer, a support team member of WPEngine, a database engineer at JungleDisk, a Codeup student, or working with one of the many startups at Geekdom, but our goals and aspirations are the same: continue to grow this thriving ecosystem and make it home to many of the tech companies of our time.

If you are not participating in the scene, you should be. Come downtown, grab lunch at Moshe’s, and get a membership at Geekdom. Find that energetic group of techies and ask them how to solve that business problem you have. Better yet, ask how you can contribute.

-Jessica

Company Spotlight: BILTT – Brick by Brick

Chalkboards & punk rock – that’s how projects begin to take shape at BILTT.

They are a design-first shop that specialize in helping startups and SaaS companies with logo and identity systems, marketing websites, and their digital products or applications.

BILTT was founded by Chris Welch and Josh Seltzer the beginning of 2014. Neither born and raised here, they originally met during the early days of Geekdom at the Weston Centre in March of 2012.

“It was pretty interesting meeting some rando dude in this city that matched my passion for quality work. Chris, although I don’t like to tell him, is an amazing designer and after a few quiet walks on the beach, it just seemed to make sense to work together”, said Josh Seltzer.

“Busted knuckles and broken backs are how we had food on the table every night.”

BILTT was born out of hard work and passion for delivering good design to good people. Even more impressive is the work ethic. This team is relentless at delivering something people can trust in and be proud of – and that kind of effort is home-grown.

Chris Welch puts it, “We come from blue collar families and backgrounds. Our fathers were both hammer-swinging carpenter types. Busted knuckles and broken backs is how we had food on the table every night. We wanted to build something that represented that work ethic.”

 

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“Aesthetics is a very small part of our job… design is about solving problems and delivering a message.”

In 2015, BILTT grew to add one more person, Claire Osburn. Prior to BILTT, Claire was working with SA2020, but took the first front-end development course that Codeup provided. It just so happened that Josh Seltzer was helping teach that course and BILTT hired her immediately.

“Claire is amazing. Her eye for detail and addiction to results is what keeps us moving forward some days. I can’t imagine a day without her around”, said Josh Seltzer. “The good thing about our team is that we overlap. We can move in and out of each others space. Claire can code and do Information Architecture, while I’m coding or working on UX, and Chris is working on UX or high-fidelity designs. I think we compliment each other and its awesome we can help each other out.”

Though small in team size, BILTT’s success and influence around these halls are bigger than you think. Between Techstars Cloud, Startup Weekend, Startup Next and even Geekdom (to name a few) they have been avid supporters of the local community.

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“We consider our clients and partners to be friends. Working with people that we like, believe in and trust is huge for us. We like to say that as much as a client chooses to work with us, we choose to work with them. Getting to know the people and companies at Geekdom has played a major role in making that possible.”, said Chris Welch.

Stop by their office sometime, located on the 7th floor in the Mortal Kombat office. They may say hi or give you a “why are you bothering us look”, but truly do appreciate visitors even if they tell you to leave immediately – they’re probably just kidding – I think.

Otherwise you can find them at:
http://biltt.co
http://instagram.com/bilttco
http://twitter.com/bilttco

biltt-insta_1024

 

 

Company Spotlight: Digital Creative Institute

Graduation is as much an exciting ceremony as it is terrifying; while there’s always a lot of handshaking and picture taking and the like, there’s that subtle thought underlying everything that you can’t ignore anymore—you’re a grown-up now, time to “adult” with the rest of the world. And it can be a tough place, especially for the people who are just trying to get into it for the first time.
“I observed firsthand the challenges of finding your way as a newly minted grad,” explained Brad Voeller, founder of the Digital Creative Institute, “However, I also noticed that grads who overcame these odds and found early success had two common traits: A solid team of mentors behind them and hands-on experience in their chosen field. So I began to ask the question, why can’t we design a vibrant learning community around these two core elements?”

In order to achieve this, Brad and his team are taking the concept of apprenticeship—one with centuries of history behind many trades and industries—and digitizing it for the modern-day graduate.

“The word’s latin origin, ‘pretendere’ means to ‘grasp with the hand’. We’re re-interpreting this learning methodology for the digital age. Every skill is developed by building personally meaningful projects targeting real-world digital marketing challenges” Voeller said.

While the average graduate comes out of college with a basic understanding of marketing and advertising, most students rarely have the opportunity to get real experience with specific types of popular software or digital marketing tools that today’s companies are in demand for. At DCI, candidates will have both the time and the team to actually learn these highly sought-for skills and become adept at using them before becoming a full-blown employee.

“We work with program candidates seeking to enroll in the program to help them develop a basic understanding of analytics, PPC, and Inbound Marketing strategy,” Voeller described, “Once a candidate is successfully placed with a company and begins the apprenticeship experience, they collaborate with the other members of their cohort in strengthening the skills that are useful to all digital marketers regardless of their specific role.”

In a sense, DCI combines job training and job placement into a single entity where candidates receive guidance and the proper tools to learn what their future companies actually need from their marketing department and tailor the candidates to their strategies. So far, the results have been extremely positive and both the San Antonio and Austin markets are expanding.

“At scale, we should achieve a presence in 50+ markets with an average of 300 apprentices a year going through the program in each location!” said Voeller.

When it comes to succeeding in the professional world, you need all the help you can get, and the team at DCI is helping make that journey a lot smoother for the future of the San Antonio community. For more information or to sign up as a candidate, check out their website here!

Part II: Venture-backed to Bootstrapped

Do me a favor and ask ten random start-up folks if they think companies should be venture-backed or bootstrapped. On second thought, don’t do that. You’re guaranteed to get sucked into a dark world of debate filled with endless vitriol, judgment, and exaggerated eye-rolls…Yeah, I’ll take a large order of “no thank you,” please. (The short answer to that debate is, “It depends.”) The point of this post isn’t to debate which method is better. This post is simply about one (unbelievably good-looking, fantastic & super humble) person’s perspective on what it’s like to be in a venture-backed world vs. a bootstrapped world. On one hand, I’ve had the fortune to be an early employee at a successful NEA-backed company. On the other hand, I’ve also recently launched my own venture — insert plug, PINCH Crawfish Kitchen — using both bootstrapped funds and crowdfunded capital. Here are a couple of my observations:

 

  1. Mo’ Money — The most obvious observation comes down to $$$$$ (I’m going to exclude talks of equity, as that gets pretty hairy, pretty quickly). At a venture-backed company, you’re given money to make the decisions you presented to your investors. With a bootstrapped company, you’re hyper-aware about Every. Single. Penny. It’s important to note, however, that you can still be (and should be) mindful of your burn rate when you’re venture-backed. Too many companies burn through money at ridiculous rates and ultimately waste their funding. Don’t do that. Additionally, much of your company culture can be derived from how you/the company perceives money. The company I worked for developed many money-saving habits early on, and as a result, much of our culture was fixated on, “how can we save more money” — spanning from parties to how we set up our work stations.
  2. Mo’ Problems — With more money comes more temptation to lose focus and spend unwisely. Just a word of caution. In my bootstrapped company, we have a laser-like focus on making money — simply because this is how we get paid. When time is your most precious resource, we spend as much of it as possible trying to create value for our amazing customers. We want them to experience the best Southeast Asian Street Food they’ve ever had! Meanwhile, at a venture-backed company, many of our initiatives were directly influenced by how we thought investors would perceive it. We legitimately spent hours working on pitches, pitch decks, models, etc. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing, as it helps your company truly understand its mission, LTV, churn, and so on, but you do lose time enhancing product ideas and other market strategies. Some other awesome upsides from receiving funding included the ability to easily obtain talent and new technology. This allowed us to scale effectively and grow quickly. Conversely, bootstrapped growth is typically slow and steady.
  3. Blast off in my (Mentor)ship — When you’re living in a venture-backed world, mentorship is a click away. Investors typically have a wide network of unbelievably talented and smart individuals/advisors. And because your company is already vetted, you get automatic credibility. I can recall having several of the world’s top “thought leaders” of a certain industry in our corner. With a bootstrapped venture, finding mentorship is a daunting and grueling process. You’ve got to be a bit shameless in your relentless pursuit of a mentor who is willing to, first, believe in your vision, and second, willing to take you all the way.
  4. Tick, Tock, Tick, Tock — Currently, I have no formal deadlines when it comes to PINCH. It is up to me and my co-founder to accomplish things in a timely manner and to push ourselves to constantly do more. However, in a venture-backed company, you’ll have hard deadlines, timelines and goals that MUST be reached. Your investors are counting on it. You feel the fire underneath you at all times. To be honest, sometimes it’s nice having that fire — especially when you’ve stayed up extra late the night before binge-watching ‘Stranger Things’. (If you haven’t watched this show yet, you haven’t lived)
  5. Shoot for the Moon — In both cases, setting huge goals is par for the course. Just because you’re bootstrapped does not mean you should not be trying to reach the stars. However, venture-backed companies typically have loftier goals — such as a becoming the next FB or IPO — simply because it is more realistic to get millions of dollars in funding to help propel their own valuation into crazy large numbers. A bootstrapped company has one goal: to be profitable. Slow and steady growth does not afford the luxury of ever ‘being in the red’.

 

Regardless if you’re bootstrapping or trying to raise a round, having a great product and being able to execute are the most important things. Because at the end of the day, receiving money is just one aspect of your company — albeit an important one — but providing value, putting forth your best effort and fine-tuning your product are ultimately the things that will validate your company and get you the money you deserve. Speaking of having a solid product, have you heard of PINCH Crawfish Kitchen? I hear their food is amazing. 🙂

 

Part I: Two Year Startup Survival Merit Badge

When I started at Geekdom two years ago, I was two months out of college, and my list of startup relevant skills was one word long.  I came into the job (and our huge ecosystem of entrepreneurs) expecting that everyone knew what they were doing. I pictured the people who started companies as high-achieving geniuses who, unlike me, didn’t have any doubts. While that’s a super intimidating thought, I was incredibly excited to learn from everyone. The learning tons from everyone I met did turn out to be a real thing. Everything else I expected was totally off.

Surprisingly, people starting companies are normal human beings. Even more surprising, adults are also normal human beings. You don’t turn 22 and suddenly receive magical adult-y knowledge that prevents you from getting road rage and forgetting to put your laundry in the dryer. Within the first month at Geekdom, I realized no one knows what they’re doing. The people founding companies are still high-achieving genius humans. It’s just that they also have doubts about the best course of action, get stressed, procrastinate and have to do things totally outside their wheelhouse to achieve their goals.

The story you know is that in these past two years, Geekdom doubled in size, expanded to three floors + an event space, improved our customer satisfaction, etc. While I love the victories, what I remember viscerally were all the false starts, all the little failures that helped us figure out what success actually looks like. I started as a project manager, but then we needed an events person. We didn’t have anyone doing sales so we hired someone. People previously doing office manager stuff, billing, etc became the membership managers you know and love. There was never a playbook for what we were doing or how to do it. The whole concept of “guess and check” from math class was very applicable to daily life. And all of that was just the Geekdom team. There were also sorts of changes, risks taken, adventures embarked upon throughout the rest of the community as well.

Instead of thinking less highly of the people around me, I find myself more impressed. All of the success stories (both large and small) were not about super humans; these are average humans with crazy above average bravery. I could talk your ear off about everything I learned working with the most amazing team I’ve ever had the privilege to be a part of. The really important take away is that you can do anything if you assemble a solid team and aren’t afraid of making mistakes while you figure out what your success story is going to be.

Company Spotlight – Grok Interactive

To build an ecosystem, you need more than just successful companies. You need companies driven by a purpose and doing more than just chasing a buck. A real ecosystem needs companies that contribute, not just consume resources. This week, we want to showcase Grok Interactive, a company whose mission is creating software that matters. Grok is the epitome of a #GeekdomBuilt company led by long time Geekdom members, Jason Straughan CEO and Jason Ellis CTO. The Jasons joined Geekdom about four years ago after they left high paying jobs that had little impact on what they truly cared about. Both Jasons wanted help as many companies as they could while working as consultants, helping a company build an app or two then moving on to the next project.

And that’s what they did. However, the Geekdom community brought Grok Interactive more projects than two people could do, so Straughan and Ellis decided to expand. Before they knew it, they hired someone from the Geekdom community, then another and soon Grok Interactive became the go-to development house in the Geekdom ecosystem. That’s when they encountered a very interesting fork in the road; they could either focus on working with clients that would pad their bank accounts or pick customers who were also mission driven. When the Grok team sat down to evaluate the problem, they looked at their history and saw the answer in the past. Since day one, project after project they completed was for companies who desperately needed a developer to help spread their message and help build San Antonio.

While Grok is not located in Geekdom proper anymore (they’ve outgrown the space!), they are still as vital to this community as anyone. Whether they’re providing mentorship to our members, sponsoring events that support new developers or just taking the time to visit Geekdom during Fermented Friday, Grok is sure to never lose touch with the community that helped build them. No other company is better at contributing to the ecosystem than Grok, and we thank them for being a trailblazer in so many ways.

If you are looking for a company to help you build a web app, a mobile app, a WordPress site or even just someone to talk shop, you can find Grok Interactive in the 3rd floor of the Vogue building with Codeup and TurnerLogic.



Build it at Geekdom.