We had an interesting chat with Ms. “Jeff Schroeder”, Co-Founder of the US based start-up “vaporware”
Below is the interview we conducted with him:
1. What is it exactly that you do and what your start-up is all about?
Vaporware is a company that specializes in building, testing and running lean cloud software. We help our clients learn from each iteration of development that we do, which we integrate into the next iteration. We work closely with a variety of community experts, to ensure we are providing all the services you need. For example, we can create an app that provides business process automation.
2. When has your startup been founded? And what stage is your startup currently at?
Vaporware was founded in August 2012. This is our passion, but we are still at the beginning stages of our business. Our office is at HQ Raleigh, which is also where Dan hosts office hours for anyone that wants to talk to us or has questions. If you haven’t been to HQ, you should drop by and check it out.
3. What is your startup’s business model and how does it work?
We fulfill product and development needs for startups and small-to-medium sized businesses. To bigger companies we can provide an application for business process automation. We work directly with our clients on their application needs, so there is no middle-man. We have many partners that we work with, to ensure we provide you with everything you need for your application.
4. How did your team meet? And who in your team does what?
Dan and I met at our full time jobs at a cloud provider. Dan specializes in API development and algorithms. He also takes on the role of a product manager. I specialize in the user experience and optimization. We work really well together and make sure to keep each other in check. With Vaporware, we get to work on projects that we are passionate about.
5. What, exactly, makes you different from existing options, what will make your product and/or service stand out in the marketplace? In other words what’s unique about you and what’s new about what you make?
Our process and our brand. We make vaporware real. We believe in early-released software and failing fast. We work with a company and figure out a budget and a timeline, then we start discussing what the application will look like and how many different iterations we can do in that timeframe. We don’t do fixed rates, which provides our clients with more flexibility in terms of changes.
6. What is your growth like? And what milestones has your startup achieved so far?
Our growth is steady at the moment, but we have no doubt that it will increase in the near future. Our first milestone was our first paying customer, which told us that our offering works. Our next was our fifth paying customer that signified to us that our service was repeatable to other customers. And our most recent milestone was hiring our brand strategist, this shows that we are serious about what we do and making our company successful.
7. Who are your competitors? And what is your start-up’s competitive advantage over them?
Our main competition are companies located in or around the triangle area that offer application development services. There are many companies that do this: Smashing Boxes, thought-out, Two Toasters, and PixBit. Our competitive advantage is that we work closely with a company to figure out what they want and then execute different iterations of that application to bring it to life.
8. What obstacles did you face and how did you overcome them?
One obstacle was learning how to set expectations with our clients. Setting expectations involves knowing exactly how to say what we offer and how we work. Another obstacle is continuing to stay a separate entity from our clients who want to hire us full time. This means that we are doing something right.We also have a hard time finding great hires. We are overcoming this particular obstacle by networking and getting to know the talent in our local area.
9. What are the key things about your field that outsiders don’t understand?
Our target market is non-technical people, and as such they don’t innately understand the irony of our name. Therefore, we are looking for a way to explain it even before people ask. Also, generally, most people outside the technology industry don’t fully understand what we do. They see the end-result (or have an idea of the end-result in their mind) but do not know how to get there.
10. Why are you going to succeed?
Technology is always changing. We use the lean model and therefore are able to adapt to the changes that happen as they occur. The lean model also allows us to fail faster than others. Therefore, we are able to quickly find out what isn’t working and fix it. Using this process, we test out things before they are fully launched.
11. If your startup succeeds, what additional areas might you be able to expand into?
When we succeed, we want to be a one-stop shop for your application needs. Right now we work with partners to obtain this. But in the future we hope to have a robust team of people that work on different aspects of the application, from the design to search engine optimization. We also want to create products, along with providing a service.
12. Why did you choose this idea and concept to build your start-up based on?
This was actually not the first concept that we decided on. In our small time as a startup, we have tried out different things. For example, when we started there were four of us and we started off working on a lean cloud model to bring to market. We quickly realized that was not the area we wanted to work in. So our current idea came about from us adapting and figuring out what our passion is in.
13. What have you learned so far from launching your idea?
A better question might be what we haven’t learned. We have learned about what we actually want to do with this company (and I’m sure this will change again). We have also discovered what we don’t want to do. And thanks to our brand strategist, we have learned more about marketing than we ever thought we would. She is actually the one that found this blog. 293
14. Six months from now, what’s going to be your biggest problem?
Our biggest problem will be landing the right people. We are going to need to expand. And when we do, we want people who not only are good at what they do, but who get us. We want to make sure that all of our employees fit in with our company culture. A big part of that culture is making sure we are working on what we love. Because if you love what you do, then you never have to work a day in your life.
15. What’s the benefit for the customer/user?
Our clients get their application built and launched quickly and within budget. We use early-released software to fail fast. We execute much iteration quickly to keep within your budget. Using this method, we are able to test as we go. So if something isn’t working, we notice quickly and therefore, work on fixing it faster.
16. How did customers / users find out about you?
At the moment, it is mainly through us networking around downtown Raleigh, being involved in HQ, and certainly word of mouth. The Raleigh and HQ community are close-knit and at the moment, our reputation is everything. Also, we have expanded our team to include a business strategist to help us with sales. So we are looking into events that we need to be at and people that we need to meet.
17. Who are your current customers / users? Who are your target customers / users?
Our current customers are typically startups, like ourselves. At the moment, most of our clients don’t have much background in technology. Our target customer shares this degree of knowledge about technology. They have an idea for an application, but are not sure how to build it. And we are starting to target small-to-medium sized businesses to expand our business beyond the startup world.
18. Where do new customers / users come from and what makes new customers/users try you?
Right now our new clients come from recommendations from their contacts. This is marketing that money can’t buy. We plan on building on this reputation as we grow. Our current clients are all in Raleigh. When they reach out to us, we show them our past work and what we can do. We let our work speak for itself.
19. What do your customers / users say about your product and/or service?
We recently published a case study on our blog www.http://blog.vaporwa.re/. The case study is on our client, SnapYeti. Justin Beard, the founder of SnapYetisaid “They are hands down the best team I have ever worked with.” And Morris Gelblum, the founder of Sweeps says “I highly recommend Vaporware for their communication, process and commitment to quality. We are pleased with the results of our project with Vaporware and learned and improved as a company as a result of the partnership.”
20. How are you going to scale?
When we take on new clients, we determine if we need to reach out to one of our partners in the area to assist with the project. When we have enough clients, we will be able to hire people with different backgrounds in the development industry. Before you know it, we will be the one-stop shop for your application needs.
21. What’s the biggest missing feature? The one thing customers/users keep asking for?
There are three things that we find clients asking for and that is 1. more time, 2. to join their team full time, and 3. lower costs. What client or customer doesn’t want more of your time? Our current clients are mainly startups, so they are very passionate and want to bring people on board. And again, who doesn’t want a lower price?
22. Are you going to internationalize? And if yes how are you planning to expand your start-up’s operations accordingly?
Currently we don’t have any plans to expand globally. But if the opportunity presented itself, we would certainly not ignore it. At the moment, our focus is on expanding our business within the Triangle area in North Carolina. We are looking to work with more small-to-medium sized businesses. One way that we can help these companies is by providing business process automation.
23. How big do you think you can get? Why? And how you are planning to achieve your goals?
We dream big, so we don’t think that there is a limit. We will achieve our growth by continuously proving ourselves and our work until quality becomes synonymous with the vaporware brand. One goal is to become a brand that is known as one of the best places for developers to work. And the other goal is make great products that make peoples’ lives better. And it wouldn’t hurt to improve the state of open source tools.
24. Are you looking to hire a new workforce? And if yes, what job vacancies do you currently offer and where can potential applicants contact you at?
We do not currently have any vacancies. But as we get more successful, we will be able to bring on more people. We want to have people from all disciplines that are related to cloud computing. For example, we currently partner with a designer that we know and like. But in the future, we will have a designer in-house.
25. Are you looking for partnership opportunities or funding from Venture Capitals (VC) or other funding sources? Or your business is self-sustainable? And if the first option applies where can potential partners / investors contact you at?
We are boots trappers. However, as we talked about earlier, we didn’t start out that way. When we developed a prototype we got to the step where we had to get funding. That is when we realized that creating products and looking for funding was not what we were passionate about. Down the line, when we have more capital as a company, we will revisit building products.
26. What advice do you have for fresh entrepreneurs?
Have the confidence to fail fast. Using this philosophy you will know if something isn’t working and can fix it before it becomes a major issue. Release software frequently in order to continuously test it and make changes to it. When testing your idea, make sure that you are getting feedback and data on what you are trying to achieve.