Featured Startup on Azure: Intelli-Focus
"Get to work. The fruits of your labor will not usually be fast. Most products out there are not people’s first. Everyone tells you this, but actually comprehending it is a little bit harder. Fail fast, is such an often used term now in the industry, but to me, it isn’t about failing fast necessarily. It is about building upon what you already have."
Today's Featured Startup of the Day is Intelli-Focus. Here is our interview with CEO Bob Wall, who is based in Santa Monica. His company just built an app for the Olympics, called OPlanner you can give feedback and engage with the community here. Their development company is responsible for building several solutions for retailers and other businesses, including MotoMechanx, an online garage for vehicles. With MotoMechanx you can upload images and keep maintenance records, car part information and technical documents all in one place. You can even create professional, one-page slick sheets for car shows.
But they are probably most excited about Oplanner, since it is a live tracking software for scheduling your enjoyment of the Olympics in London. You can plan, schedule, watch and re-watch Olympics content from your phone. More on that later.
And so we asked Bob Wall why he was on Azure and what he was doing with the company these days.
Tell us who you are and your role in the company.
I am one of two cofounders of Intelli-Focus. I am currently wearing many hats within the company. I have been leading our development efforts on two fronts. Most of my time is being spent building out our products.
What did you do before creating your company?
I have been working in the tech industry since 2000. I actually started my career working in VB6, for a toll-road management firm in Pennsylvania. In 2005, I moved from Pennsylvania to Washington DC, where I first created a marketing tool at Merkle Inc that was used by GEICO for their media mix planning. When I decided I wanted to get into web development, I took a position at the HR Policy Association in DC, building out their web presence, as well as an intranet system. Then, I decided that I wanted to start trying to do web at really large scale. I partnered with my current business partner, and co-founder Jose Segura, who I have known for over 12 years. We have worked with each other, not only in the office, but in the garage, building and maintaining cars and bikes.
How do you feel being the most promising ‘Startup of the Day’ per Microsoft BizSpark?
Beyond excited. First of all, working in Santa Monica, and namely at CoLoft means that you are brushing up against very entrepreneurial type people, all the time. This provides such a great backbone for inspiration. The other thing at this time that is so exciting is just what Microsoft is doing in general. Their announcements of the updated portal and features of Azure, the Windows 8 OS - a universal operating system for all devices, and lastly the Surface tablet. These make it a very fun time to be in the industry.
What is your company’s mission?
We want to continue to expand the software space. We feel that our value added, is that we can bring beautiful, efficient, powerful, and most importantly intuitive products to customers. We also feel that many industries are under-served in this arena. What I mean by this is, take the auto industry for example, it is huge, there are major advances coming along as far as green energy, cars that drive themselves, etc, but if you go to a car forum online, bam, you are thrown back into 1994. We want to change this as much as we can, by bringing deign sense and efficiency to many industries that technology has seemed to ignored.
In 140 characters or less, tell us what your company does.
Intelli-Focus builds powerful, scalable, end-to-end products. This means delivering the front-end package as well as a robust back-end.
How did you get the idea for your company?
Jose and I have been talking about starting a company for years. When we both started working together over 10 years ago, him, myself, and other developers on our teams would ride motorcycles, and him and I ended up building a spray booth and things like that. About 2 years ago he came to me with a website that someone he knew wanted built. He and I started working together and realized our skillsets really mesh well together. This idea quickly led us back to our bike riding days, and we saw an opportunity in the car and bike industry, and we started to build out MotoMechanx, our first end-to-end product. A lot of long days and nights later, and Intelli-Focus was born.
Tell us about your funding history. Are you currently looking for funding? If so, how much?
We are not currently seeking funding. Intelli-Focus is about making really great products, but not just that, making great products that people will pay for. We plan to scale our company, by offering items that people are happy to pay for, offering it at a low price, but providing the scale to make the pricing work for us.
How many employees do you have? How many developers?
The company consists of Jose and myself wearing all executive caps, as well as both being lead developers, Jose on backend and middle tier infrastructure, myself on front-end web and iphone as well as database. We also have our accountant, assistants, Creative Director, Copywriter, and a couple developers. So, fewer than 10 total employees, under 5 developers.
Are you hiring? If yes, what are you hiring for and where?
We are hiring, but strictly for the right fit. Our timeline does not have us at a need to hire too many people right now; we are more worried about building our infrastructure, and getting our methodologies in place, before we start to grow.
Which platform are you building on? Why?
This is a very exciting topic for us. For our server infrastructure, we are using Microsoft Azure. This means we are able to host SQL Azure and MySQL databases in the cloud. We are running websites and services on Windows Azure, and using ASP.NET MVC 4 for our websites, mobile websites, and our API. Our newest product, OPlanner, is an iPhone app, so we are very comfortable in the Mac/Linux world, but the backend of that is all SQL Azure with a Web API. All our documents and images are stored on Azure Blob. The reason we chose Azure is two-fold. Firstly, we both come from a very MS-centric background; this made the learning curve of using it easier, and made deployments from Visual Studio almost too easy. Secondly, the amount of support and the overall push Microsoft is making on this platform has been extraordinary. I have worked with Google App Engine, and I have worked with AWS, and they certainly have great aspects, but the ease of use, the support level, and the overall integration into existing tools, is just unparalleled.
Where do you see opportunities today in the Software/Internet area?
As I started to touch on earlier, the places I see opportunity in, is in markets that are very big business, yet looking at a website in that space or trying to use an iphone app in that space is painful at best. What I mean by this, is that obviously software is very cyclical, and some industries, take media for example, have these circles that are maybe two years around, so large media outlet websites have been on web 2.0 and 3.0 for a long time now, but industries like automotive, might be on a 10 year circle, so their last update was at worst 2002, and it shows. We intend to serve these industries, both in consumer facing, as well as B2B and B2C ways. Opportunity is wherever you look. Does a mechanic want to use some old dos machine with a plastic sheet covering it in his shop, or does he want to tap it into an ipad, and then at home, see all that data on a 27 inch monitor in his office. We plan on providing SAAS solutions for many industries, bringing a product to market, and then continually refining it until it truly is helping people become more efficient and productive.
What do you think about the BizSpark Program?
BizSpark is just one of those programs that make you excited to be a software guy. From being able to download any of their tools from MSDN, to getting to talk directly with Microsoft employees that are actually building the tools you use. This is not even mentioning the free server space, especially for us now, as a BizSpark + member, which enables us to grow our company in ways that would have formerly been cost restrictive. Take for example this past week. We created OPlanner, for the 2012 Olympics. It is an iPhone app, but our data is refreshed often on the server. Ten years ago, scaling this thing would have been a major problem. We would have been running it as a Web Service on some hosted servers, and all of a sudden the Olympics would be starting, and we would be copying data and processes to other servers, it would have been a nightmare. What we will do now, is simply slide a bar to add more instances. BizSpark has been instrumental in letting us concentrate on value added products, not infrastructure.
Do you have any advice for young Software entrepreneurs?
Get to work. The fruits of your labor will not usually be fast. Most products out there are not people’s first. Everyone tells you this, but actually comprehending it is a little bit harder. Fail fast, is such an often used term now in the industry, but to me, it isn’t about failing fast necessarily. It is about building upon what you already have. If we did not build a website for a company two years ago, and figure out how we work together, MotoMechanx would not have taken shape. If we did not build out a robust JSON enabled Web API for MotoMechanx, we could not have built OPlanner in a week. Was our consulting work a failure, no, it was a building block. Keep at it. The most important thing I would be telling myself, when I am updating a document, or changing a CNAME at 1 am on a random Tuesday, is that there are a finite number of hours until I can make this successful, and that all these hours are getting ticked off the list. Also, build out processes as you go. We use Jira and Confluence for our issue tracking and company wiki. This was just thrown into one project, and then I hounded everyone to use it, now people are messaging me, saying, oh the screenshot is attached to the ticket. Lastly, collaborate, with anyone that will put up with you. Over the past few years, I have done Improv, filmed movies, created documentaries, learned graphic design, and just have continually reached out to people outside of the software bubble. These relationships will help bring many new elements to your work that you had not thought of before. Anyone can hack all weekend and create a program, but taking it to the next level requires some extra panache that only properly collaborated projects take on. Keep working!
Who’s your role model?
I have taken lessons from many people, it is hard to pin down just one, but I think an interview with Bill Gates that I just watched helped reaffirm some things I really like about him. The first was he talked about how in your 20’s and 30’s, that laser focus is so necessary to succeed. These huge companies were built, because the leaders ate, drank, and slept it all. This is Bill at Microsoft, Steve ant Apple, Larry at Oracle, Mark at Facebook, and outside the software industry, guys like Donald Trump or Mark Cuban. These guys only did that one thing, and did it very well. What Bill goes onto talk about is how he has gotten older, and his value added is that he can stay a bit broader, how his philanthropy efforts are not based on him huddled over a keyboard, hacking out a new form of Basic, but instead he is working with many talented scientists. I guess he is a role model, because he is still laying out a path that I can aspire to.
What’s the ONE THING you would like readers to take away from this interview?
I want people to remember that Intelli-Focus is passionate about software, and that we want to work with people that are passionate in their industries. We want to be a tool provider across many fields, providing fast, efficient products. We want to disrupt as many old ways about thinking about project life-cycle and time to market as possible. Lastly, we truly just want to help make people’s lives a bit more efficient, productive, and even fun.
If you want to check out Oplanner, you can find it online here.