Starting Up in Billings, Montana
Starting up a tech company in Billings, Montana? What?
Yep, we are aware that we aren’t located in a technology hub.
But, Billings is a great place to do business and has a strong economic climate (being near all that outdoor recreation doesn’t hurt either). Also, it’s our hometown! We love it here!
Inspiration can strike anywhere, right? Viable ideas aren’t unique to Silicon Valley.
Is it more difficult here? Yes. There are fewer mentors to seek out, fewer potential partners to work with, and limited funding options to take advantage of (if there are and we haven’t discovered them yet, please share with us).
But, all of that is okay. You see, because when you have an idea that you just can’t shake, you’ll find a way to make it happen. And, it’s possible, we believe, that we may be better off for doing it “the hard way.”
When you have an idea that you just can’t shake, you’ll find a way to make it happen.
We’ve been on this journey with just two people, slowly building a product that we know can solve a lot of problems for content creators and small publishers. Our beta is out in the world with a handful of faithful customers, for whom we couldn’t be more grateful.
We’ve quickly identified the mistakes we’ve made, which are inevitable with what we are trying to build and now we’re busting ass to fix them.
We believe we’ll be launching our major update for the general release of our product, Cardsetter, this month. But here’s the thing with development, it’s really hard to predict how long each and every step will take until we get into each development piece.
Day by day, we’ll get there. We’re determined to.
Here’s a few actions we’ve taken to get us this far:
We Carefully Brainstormed Our Product and Documented the Features
It was really easy for us to get excited about our product idea and want to have it launched “in a few months.” But, we sat down, got realistic and realized that it wasn’t just a product we were building, but a business. We started thinking about who our customer would be and what features would be important to them. What problems were we going to solve for them and how would Cardsetter be different from their existing options. We have a whole lot of scratch paper that eventually turned into our product plan.
We Wrote a Business Plan
Ugh…who wants to take the time to write out a business plan? You already know what you’re trying to accomplish and any second not working on the product feels like a big waste of time. But, writing our business plan helped us work through more than the product. As Co-Founders, we created the roadmap for what we wanted our company to be. Will things change? Of course, but we’ve found having that starting point to be beneficial.
We Met with Our Economic Development Agency
Most communities have an economic development agency of some sort and for us it was Big Sky Economic Development. This gave us a pretty good wakeup call for our funding options being a tech-based company with really no business assets for the bank to acquire if “things don’t work out.” Basically, it’s hard to fund! This was…disappointing, but having that knowledge early on helped us determine how best to move forward in a different direction.
We Continue to Listen and Learn
We’ve taken every opportunity we could find to attend events that are accessible to us here in Montana and meet anyone we can who can offer some insight. Our “Innovate Montana Symposium” offered mentorship sessions with leading business people in Montana. We took advantage of this amazing benefit while a lot of others at the symposium didn’t. This led us to contacts within the Angel Investment and VC Investment communities that do exist here. What did we find out? We were simply too early to seek these types of investment opportunities. Disappointing? Yes, but again, having that knowledge early on helped us develop the roadmap to achieve our goals. What is amazing about Montana is the community, however, so even though these contacts may have said “not now,” everyone has been open to offering some insights that have helped us along the way.
We Travel to Meet More People in Technology
So, Billings isn’t a tech startup scene (we’ll get there!). However, Bozeman, which is a college town (go Bobcats) and is just 136 miles away, is. We’ve made a few trips over, scheduled time with folks at other tech companies and built our network that way. Every bit of insight gained is worth so much.
We Kept Our Day Jobs for Quite Awhile
This was somewhat painful advice we received from one of our mentorship sessions. From this persons experienced perspective, many startups that received funding before they really “found their way” failed. For a long time, we took freelance work and kept our regular jobs (Jessica owns her own website which is now on Cardsetter and generates income), while building our product.
We Leaned on Friends and Family
Once we had real clarity on what we were doing and a handful of beta customers, we determined that we needed to be able to focus more of our attention on Cardsetter and couldn’t be distracted with freelance work, especially in development. We reached out to “friends and family” financing, and that’s where we’re at today. It’s not money that will allow us to operate for too long, so we’ve still got that impending pressure to make some sales! By visiting with Angels and VC’s, we learned that friends and family financing needed to be the first step and that Angel investment could come after that.
We Put in Shitloads of Hours…Seriously, Just Cold, Hard Work
Hustle…it’s hard, and it’s required. It’s not fun. It means saying no to social events, friends and sometimes even family. And you know what? The payoff is still unknown. However, we wouldn’t change a thing…we’re the kind of people built to enjoy this process, complicated as it may be.
Stay tuned! Let’s see if we can succeed or fall on our faces. Either way, we’re better because of this exciting and difficult experience.