Have you ever had a good idea? One that was so obvious, so helpful, so ingenious that you couldn’t believe it didn’t already exist? You searched the web and couldn’t find anytime about it, you researched the patent list and it just wasn’t there. You sat in a darkroom late at night thinking “what is my next step?”. Well, if you idea has anything to do with technology, your first call might be to today’s guest Michael Kelly at DeveloperTown. Along with taking tech ideas from infancy to launch, Mike and the DeveloperTown gang help large corporations turn their tech ideas into reality. All of this happens in a huge warehouse with about a hundred tiny houses inside.
Here’s an overview:
What’s the back story?
Mike went grew up in a family that owned small retail businesses. He worked from the age of 9 in stock rooms. He got a healthy work ethic and sense of how money works from that. In college, Mike started a software consulting company and stuck with it for 10 more years. He would go into different businesses and address a specific issue or project in that business. He was always working on cool stuff and moving place to place but he never really learned how to resolve conflict because he could just leave.
How did DeveloperTown get started?
There were 5 founding partners drawn together by serial entrepreneur Michael Cloran. He brought together 5 people with different superpowers to start helping tech businesses start and grow. Originally, the founders want to help and invest in startups. But cash flow considerations drove them towards working with existing businesses. Now they do both.
What are some insights about working with other people?
Part of it is just practice. You have to learn to be in tense situations and crucial conversations and come out on the other end having made progress. Mike struggles at first. He could be aggressive and want things done his way. But he was self-reflective enough to realize the issue and committed to working on it. He read books like Crucial Conversations Tools for Talking When Stakes Are High, Second Edition and How to Win Friends & Influence People. He also starting participating in the martial arts, specifically Aikido. What he’s realized is that team is family and family works through things. That means handling your own issues with integrity and trusting everyone else to do the same.
The DeveloperTown office is pretty weird. Why did you set it up this way?
The office structure is based on the idea that creative people work best in their own private spaces. So they decided to build tiny houses instead of cubicles inside of a 20,000 square foot warehouse. Each employee has his/her own house and can decorate it however they see fit. The houses are on wheels. When a project begins, everyone who is working on it puts their houses in close proximity to each other.
There are community work spaces as well so it’s a mix of both worlds.
What were some scary moments?
The first was a time when they’d done over a million dollars worth of work for a company and hadn’t yet been paid. It had to do with purchase orders and delays in payment but Mike and the team of owners was starting to sweat pretty hard about covering payroll. They did finally get paid.
The second is something Mike struggles with more consistently. The issue is how to scale the sales side of the business. The owners are passionate and are very comfortable talking about what they do, but hiring people into those positions has been a struggle. Until he can figure out the scalable solution it kind of a constant scary part of the business.
What are a couple piece of advice for up and coming tech entrepreneurs?
The first is to find people who will tell you the truth. The second is to research the market ten times over before building something. Maybe even build your marketing strategy and implement it prior to the build. Don’t build it until you know they’ll come.
Special thanks to Mike Kelly for taking the time to share the DeveloperTown story with us.
This episode produced and edited by Jeremy Goodrich. The music is by Mark Vinten.
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