How 6 Colorado tech founders knew they were onto something special

by Joyce Famakinwa
August 9, 2018

It’s like capturing lightning in a bottle: that moment you come up with an original idea and realize there just might be something to it. Moments like these are rare, but for some, they are the launching pad for greater things to come.

We talked to six Colorado tech founders about their Franklinesque key-and-kite revelations, and how they turned those moments of inspiration into thriving ventures.

 

NewMedia, Steve Morris
photo via newmedia

Digital agency NEWMEDIA is a one-stop shop that provides services like website design, UX and branding, digital marketing and web development for companies like Amtrak and Delta Sky Club. Steve Morris, NEWMEDIA’s CEO, told us about how the company began as a more traditional agency before specializing in digital.

Our annual revenue today is 500 times larger ... than during our first year in business.”

 

What made you realize your idea would take off?

NEWMEDIA started as a relatively typical agency, without any specific agenda for significant growth right out of the gate. As we grew organically, however, and were lucky enough to work with several large clients, it occurred to me that there was no de facto brand name player in the digital agency space. NEWMEDIA’s goal is to be that ubiquitous brand.

 

How did you take that idea and turn it into a business?

Over the years, we have successfully identified a number of ways that don’t work. But in the process, we’ve developed a comprehensive solution that works very well. The hardest thing we had to do was build our brand on a national basis. For so long, we’ve been associated with Denver. Currently, we are in eight cities, and we plan to be in 20 by the end of 2018 and hope to make 50 by end of year 2019. The challenge of meeting those aggressive growth targets while maintaining operational efficiency and profitability is currently the most time-consuming component of my job. It’s a little humbling to realize it, but our annual revenue today is 500 times (50,000 percent) larger than during our first year in business.

 

JumpCloud, Greg Keller
Photo via jumpcloud

JumpCloud’s cloud identity management platform allows users to connect to their devices and IT applications securely. Companies like Grab, CrossFit, Zuora and Ooyala trust JumpCloud to manage, authenticate and authorize users. Greg Keller, the company’s chief product officer, explained that listening to users helps spur innovation.

We had developed one hypothesis of our product we believed in, ... but the tea leaves were saying something subtly different.”

 

What made you realize your idea would take off?

When we stepped back and listened to our very early customer base. We had developed one hypothesis of our product we believed in and were putting energy behind, but the tea leaves were saying something subtly different. Early users showed us the way, informing us about where the value really was. It was a very discrete aspect of the product to us, yet a monster need for them which obviated the messy requirement to install and manage certain legacy directory and security software products ever again.

That meant we needed to take on the bear directly: Microsoft and the monopoly they’ve had for the last 20 years or so. We looked for traces of those who may have had the audacity to take them on in this space, but no one had. Certainly not in the way we envisioned taking them on. And ironically, it ended up creating a once-in-a-decade opportunity for us to disrupt a multi-billion dollar market.

 

How did you take that idea and turn it into a business?

Once we compiled the evidence from those early customer conversations, we re-formed our hypothesis. It was not necessarily a pivot, but a course correction for the product. We modified the positioning and illumination of the real solution we were offering and re-forged the roadmap to immediately begin executing on creating our vision. That was the spring of 2014, and not one aspect of that re-formed product or business hypothesis has changed.

Most importantly, the business model we’d dreamed of hasn’t changed. We strongly felt that the product and its SaaS delivery model was only one aspect; the other aspect was creating a highly profitable business, rich with automation, and an absolutely killer team of intensely smart folks to operate it. Traditional ‘enterprise’ sales and business model approaches only slow down time-to-value for customers who need it yesterday. 

 

MeetMindful, Amy Baglan
photo via meetmindful

People who are suffering from dating app fatigue may find Meetmindful a breath of fresh air. The company provides an online dating platform for people interested in things like yoga, meditation and eco-friendliness, allowing its users to list interests and values to find their match. Founder and CEO Amy Baglan explained how the idea for the app was the natural evolution of her first company.

What started as a passion project quickly grew into a realization that there was a bigger movement ready to be unleashed.”

 

What made you realize your idea would take off?

After five years of running a mobile marketing SaaS company, I went off on my own. My first company, YogaDates, held fun, innovate events for yogis. A few things happened in those events. First, our events were not just for singles, we also catered to women, couples and the wider community. Those events truly felt special. Second, my customers expressed how difficult it was to connect with other like-minded folks and started asking if they could find each other online outside of the events. Third, many people would attend events having never stepped onto a yoga mat in their life. They just resonated with the values and mindset of the group. What started as a passion project quickly grew into a realization that there was a bigger movement ready to be unleashed.

 

Finalze, Wayne Smith
photo via finalze

Finalze wants to make it easier for businesses to manage their vendors by automating the work that their employees or contractors execute. CEO Wayne Smith talked to us about how his personal experience working with contractors for his home renovation inspired the company.

Even though we thought we were detailed in our expectations from the contractor, it seemed as if we always had to compromise.”

 

What made you realize your idea would take off?

My wife and I were doing a home remodel project and we agreed that she would manage the contractors. Even though we thought we were detailed in our expectations from the contractor, it seemed as if we always had to compromise. It was as if the contractors would try to convince us to take shortcuts. Consistently battling the guys onsite delayed the project. The idea came to me as a thought: “Wouldn’t be great if we could come up with an app that would allow for the final deliveries of the work be a simple checklist, agreed to by the contractor and the homeowner?” It seemed that every homeowner experienced some type of disappointment with contractors who did work on their homes. Very few were pleased with the process or the unexpected additional costs.

 

How did you take that idea and turn it into a business?

At first, I tried to find some experts or mentors in software to guide me on how to get started building a software company. One advised me to think more of a business-to-business play instead of a consumer-facing app. I created a simple MVP and decided to outsource the development until I had a product to run an alpha test on. Time passed, and we had a product ready to show our clients. They loved the idea of a software platform that would make them more efficient and help manage their vendors. The 2017 alpha test was successful, and we knew that if we continued to focus on the enterprise and the end user we would have ourselves a business. 2018 brought our first enterprise clients and revenue.

 

Swimlane, Cody Cornell
photo via swimlane

These days, it’s not a question of if a security breach will happen; it’s when. Swimlane wants to make sure organizations are prepared, and its security operations platform helps businesses automate their responses to cyber threats. Cody Cornell, Swimlane’s founder and CEO, explained that his “lightbulb moment” was more of a slow burn.

There is more work to do than any security operations team can reasonably expect to accomplish.”

 

What made you realize your idea would take off?

It wasn’t as much of a classic lightbulb moment as it was a realization over time. The amount of network- and internet-connected infrastructure is growing exponentially, and has created a landscape where there is more work to do than any security operations team can reasonably expect to accomplish. There is also a pretty significant shortfall in qualified security practitioners. Much like the industrial revolutions of the past, we expected that it was inevitable for a meaningful portion of security operations human labor to be automated. The moment we decided to build a new software solution was after attempting to use several existing solutions and realizing a solution that met all our needs didn’t exist.

 

How did you take that idea and turn it into a business?

We brainstormed and prototyped the major components we thought the platform required, creating MVP specs as well as design mockups and wireframes. We took both of these to friends in the industry and prospective customers we were consulting with at the time. Those engagements followed two tracks. The first was implementing the MVP prospective customer environments. The second was doing demos of the MVP and the mockups and wireframes for feedback. After a lot of feedback and changes to our understanding of what organizations wanted, our final test was to see if we could get a customer that was willing to pay licensing prices large enough to build a viable business. Once we had more than one of those customers, we were confident that we had a business opportunity in our hands. The only thing left was figuring out how to build a business from scratch.

 

LockState, Nolan Mondrow
photo via remotelock

RemoteLock helps property owners and managers of retail stores, rental properties and commercial spaces digitally secure their properties with connected access control systems. Nolan Mondrow, RemoteLock’s founder and CEO, filled us in on how his lightbulb moments are born out of thinking through things at their most simplistic.

My business ‘lightbulb moments’ always happen when I am thinking about things simply.”

 

What made you realize your idea would take off?

My business “lightbulb moments” always happen when I am thinking about things simply. When I observe a customer buying our products, I wonder, “Why did they buy it?” or “Did they need it or just want it?” or “How did they sound on the phone: excited, bothered, hurried?”

When the answers to these seemingly elementary questions start forming a pattern that I hadn’t previously realized, that is a lightbulb moment. At RemoteLock, this happened in 2011. We developed the first cloud software that controls Wi-Fi locks. When the frequent verbal response from beta users was: “Really? It can do that?” and “I have been looking for something like this for a long time,” I realized we were solving real customer pain point.  

 

How did you take that idea and turn it into a business?

We made a big bet and invested heavily in software development to make this product into an enterprise-class cloud system that anyone from Airbnb owners to Fortune 100 companies would be comfortable using. We knew from the early responses from customers that they would come if we built it. It felt risky at the time, but the bet paid off.

 

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