Guest blog by Jason Demant
Reprinted with permission from FounderDating.com.
Scott Dodson and John Bito were a part of the very first FounderDating Seattle round. They now make up 2 of the 3 co-founders of Bobber Interactive. Scott is the COO and John is the CTO. Bobber is an award-winning financial technology company that engages Gen Y in the language they speak. Bobber helps financial partners drive critical business metrics with customer engagement solutions grounded in motivational psychology.
We caught up with them recently to find out how the company was doing and to get their advice for future FounderDaters and those interested in starting a company.
When did you get into startups why did you decide to apply for FounderDating?
John: I’ve been a startup guy for 30 years. My first startup went public in 1987 and Bobber is my 6th startup all told. The one prior to this we had to scale back when the last downturn struck, so I went out and started doing some consulting. But I knew that I wanted to get into another startup and start building ownership.
Brian Schultz, ManagingDirector for FounderDating Seattle, posted on the Seattle Tech Startup list and this looked like exactly what I wanted to do.
Scott: I’m another chronic entrepreneur. I started my first company back in 1994 and never looked back. I had done three startups — two sold and one was a victim of the 2008 crash. I thought I was done with startups for a while, until I met the CEO of this company, Bobber.
I was speaking at a game conference about how to raise money for gaming companies. Eric, the CEO, introduced himself and we hit it off. I was really impressed with him and I started advising, then consulting, and then finally as a tentative founder. But we really needed a strong technical cofounder. Dan Shapiro is a long-time friend of mine and he had heard from Brian about FounderDating and put the recommendation in for me.
What was helpful for you about FounderDating?
John: We found each other when FounderDating was just an event – there was not even a site to connect the network like there is now. Even still, I thought it was really a unique opportunity. It was great being in an environment where everyone was looking to talk about what idea they could pursue or how they could contribute to an idea.
There are quite a few startup events around Seattle, but for the most part, the folks that attend are already underway. They have their startups at least mostly populated and bootstrapped if not somewhat funded. FounderDating has all of the advantages of startup networking, plus you’re in an environment where you don’t have to waste your time trying to figure out what stage the other folks are at, your desire to join as a founder is welcome and expected.
Scott: What I loved about it was that it was a pretty selective group, a nice high-caliber group of participants who were largely seasoned and very motivated folks. It was a great mix of technical and non-technical founders. The quality of the people, enagaged there, essentially looking for the same thing is very, very efficient and productive. I mean we literally came out and had 3 technical cofounder candidates, of which John ultimately won the gig. That’s extremely hard to do — to find 3 people who could have potentially worked!!
Tell us about your “dating” process.
Scott: We didn’t know exactly what product we wanted to build but we knew the domain in which we wanted to build it. We needed someone who believed in the opportunity in the space. It’s the intersection between social networking, financial services and, what we now call engagement. At the time we used a different word, that began with “g”. The was the most important things to us were: does this person have an affinity for this type of project? And are they someone who can roll-up their sleeves, deliver code and scale? Can they build out a team? And it was pretty easy for us, John fit the bill on all accounts.
John: I was mostly trying to understand how the executive team was going to work together. From my experience with startups, the people are the most important ingredient — the ideas change pretty quickly. It’s not easy to change the people, particularly the founders. We spent about 6 months working increasingly together before we made the commitment.
Scott: Essentially there was a company that existed, but we literally reformed it and recreated the cap table when John joined as cofounder.
John: We spent 6-months working together before taking the plunge full-time. During this time we were primarily trying to form the idea. We built a mockup, user experience. We connected with incumbent players in the space and talked about the opportunities to work together with them. We mostly explored the idea and how it was to make decisions together. There wasn’t much in the way of building things at that point, but we did engage with potential partners. I spent less time drumming up consulting gigs, so that kind of faded and I began to spend more time on the business.
How did you know that you wanted to take the plunge together?
Scott: This is a funny story. One of the things John insisted upon, that I think is great, is that we have a meeting of the wives. When you do a startup, there’s a big impact on the people around you and so we wanted to test compatibility one layer deep. It went really well.
We also had the great fortune of being able to test out the concept at Finovate which is the financial innovation conference in San Francisco. And we won best of show. It was very validating and showed us that the concept had legs. This was a critical group of the financial industry – banks, big financial institutions and service providers voting for us for best of show. That was what convinced us all that this thing had merit. So you take that with the compatibility of the founders and you go this is something worth to pursue for all of us.
What do you say to entrepreneurs that aren’t looking for someone to compliment their skillsets?
John: It never occurred to me to try to find someone else who was technically focused to join up with. Business requires a lot of expertise that is very different from building software or constructing products or delivering services. You need someone with a marketing background, that can understand what it takes to sell or position a product.
Raising capital is also a very important job. The quality of capital really matters too. You may be able to find people to put money in, but if you get money from people who don’t really respect you and don’t want to work together with you, they can cause you problems later on.
How have things been going recently?
Scott: Going really, really well. We’ve raised over $1M, but are taking it slow. We have a small team of 6. And we’re actively raising a small round now and targeting a Series B before year-end. We’re right on the cusp of things that we can’t specifically talk about. But we just got a ‘yes’ from a Fortune 100 financial institution for a project that has a long term life component as well as something with an initial fee structure. And it’s a really good fit on both sides and could be a huge piece of business for us. The consumer app that we’ve built is starting to get some early traction as well, which is great.
What advice would you give to others interested in FounderDating?
Scott: I’d say take advantage of the fact that that you can be transparent and open in both sharing and listening. If you’re too protective or too attached then you’re not going to get as much value. You only get people enrolled in ideas that they are a part of. If you’re too attached to a very specific thing, that’s a sub-optimal recipe.
What advice would you give to others that are interested in starting a company?
John: Openness and try not to be too attached to what you think is the right way to do things at the start. Find people that have different perspectives, different backgrounds, and different strengths than what you possess. Make sure there’s good communication, mutual respect and that there’s a decision-making pattern that builds on the strengths of all involved. The whole is greater than the sum of the parts.
Scott: I’ll echo what John said. It’s all about the people. You’re not going to succeed on your own. The set of what you don’t know, that you don’t know, is a ***-ton bigger than you think it is. There’s so much to be done and you’re crazy to do it alone. A division of labor just makes more sense.
This is my 4th startup and it’s the strongest cofounder team that I’ve had. It’s so nice to not have to be the guy that’s the “queen on the chessboard” – the strongest piece on the board. It’s great to be able to play with “3 queens.” Basically, it’s great to have 3 really strong cofounders in different domains. And it’s proven itself time and time again. We’re pretty anomalous because we’re all 40+ founders. But even among three guys who are pretty accomplished we often find areas that we don’t know as much as we thought we knew. And inevitably someone on the team is smart enough to realize that or pull in a resource that has that capability.