Mike: Hey everyone, thanks for joining me. I’m Mike Sullivan. This is MO.com With me today is Jason Karas of Trover. Trover is a really cool app. I actually checked it out. It’s described as a discovery network designed to allow people to share location specific discoveries. It is pretty cool. I’ll let Jason talk more about it.
Jason, thanks for joining us, and can you tell me a little bit about your background and kind of how you got your start?
Jason: Yes, I have about 15 years of experience now developing new businesses. First in the telecom arena back in the ’90s where I was working with some large carriers around new mobile services and new data base services that were using the Internet protocol, and then I spent a fair amount of time diving more into product. So I spent five years at a mobile carrier called Orange, which is based out of London. I spent time developing a new product process for them trying to get new products into market in six months or less. For a carrier, that’s a challenge because they typically take about two years to get a product into market. It was really focused on the emerging mobile services space, so new forms of messaging, video messaging, new forms of entertainment on the mobile device. This was in the early 2000. It was like 2004 to 2008.
After Orange, I decided to go out on my own and start my first company, which was Carbon Rally, which married an interest in consumer facing social services and a passion for environmental issues. So Carbon Rally was an online game and social network where people could team up with their friends, their classmates, their neighbor hoods and compete with others to see who could save the most amount of energy. We did really well with that site, and it grew really quickly in 2008 and had presence all over the world with people competing.
Then moving on from Carbon Rally, just an increasing desire to understand how photos and geo-location could really change the way that people explore the world. That’s how we arrived at Trover and what we’re doing right now at Trouver, which I’ve been working on for about a little over a year now.
Way back, my background, I have an MBA from Duke University. I have a master’s in environmental economics also from Duke University. But that’s a long time ago.
Mike: As I mentioned, I downloaded the app. I really like it. For those who may not know what it is, can you kind of describe if for us? What is Trover?
Jason: Trover is a mobile application that we put into market about six months ago. We’re based in Seattle. We have a small team of six folks here designing and building Trover. Trover provides a radically new way to explore your surroundings. We do that with Trover and the Trover application, we do that by showing you images of cool things that people have found near where you’re standing. So you may be standing in the center of Seattle, and we’ll show you some amazing street art down an alley that somebody snapped with Trover and left there for you to find. We may show you a bartender at the bar across the street who makes an amazing old fashioned cocktail. We may show you down the street a little park that has some great kids activities. Or you might decide to stroll away from Seattle and you might end up in Maui, and we’ll show you a little pathway to a hidden beach break where there’s an amazing surfing wave.
These are all images that are generated by Trover users, and when somebody snaps a photo with Trover and leaves a little description, they essentially leave it on the map. They leave it at its location, so that when friends come by a week later or a month later and are in the area and they open Trover, they’ll see what you found there. You sort of like leave a breadcrumb for your friends to find or other Trover users to find when they cross your path.
Mike: I always like to ask this question, especially to app developers. Where did this idea come from?
Jason: Well, it was really kind of a culmination of a bunch of different factors. I had a background in mobile, and then I got together with some folks here in Seattle that had a travel orientation. The smart phone really started to seem like it was emerging as a wonderful tool for travelers and explorers. It’s got a great camera. It knows where it is, so it’s got geo-location. It’s socially connected through Facebook, Twitter, email, messaging. So all of those factors coming together we said, “My gosh, there’s got to be a way to create a radical new tool that is just a great thing to carry around, whether you’re looking for something new to do and you want to be recommended by a friend of yours, or you find something and you say, oh, my gosh, this is an incredible piece of sushi or this is a waterfall on a hike that my friends should not miss. They should know that it exists here. So when they decide to explore this area, they’ll see it. So we said, “Wow with a smart phone we can really start to make that happen.” That was the genesis of Trover, a tool for explorers.
Mike: For other businesses out there and people who have ideas for apps, what is it like developing an app? Can you talk about the process a little bit?
Jason: Well, you know the apps are just a different kind of animal, and we’re learning every day about how to navigate the app landscape. One thing about applications versus websites is that the cycle time is longer, because if you build an app, you need to then test the app with users. It’s not like you can just put up a website. You’ve actually got to, if you’re dealing with Apple which is what we started with, with the iPhone, you can’t put an app into the store and let people just use it. You need to go through a process of testing it with a couple hundred people before you can put it into the store. So there are just some different processes around how you do beta testing, how quickly you can get things into market. As we improve Trover, we submit it to Apple. It takes several weeks for it to be reviewed, and then it gets live in the store. So it just adds a few weeks to the interatie cycle time of building and refining a product. We’ve had to adjust our metabolism a bit, and understand that things move a little bit more slowly with iPhone development.
Mike: How did you go about raising capital for Trover?
Jason: Trover was an interesting situation in that I got involved with a company that had an idea similar to Trover. They had raised capital already, but their concept was adjacent. It wasn’t exactly what Trover became. The company name was Travel Post, and they had raised about $9 million when I arrived on the scene about six months after they started. They decided to take Travel Post in a new direction and really refocus it on this Trover proposition. So I didn’t actually raise the capital for this one. I raised capital for Carbon Rally. This one was sort of pre-capitalized, but we re-started the company six months in with a new concept and a new focus. We changed the team and essentially restarted the company. But the funding is a bit unique in that the funding was already existing from a previous venture.
Mike: What words of wisdom do you have for other entrepreneurs or small business owners that are looking to get something out there?
Jason: Try to get something in front of a customer as quickly as possible and do a really simple version of whatever it is that you’re thinking about. Start with PowerPoint, mock it up, and just start sitting down and engaging with people about the idea. Just iterate it as quickly as possible with feedback. Don’t spend six months developing your idea before you show it to somebody. Be wide open with it. Don’t worry too much about people stealing your idea. Just get feedback from the smart people that understand the market or understand the need you’re targeting.
The second piece would be just keep it small. The opportunity for things to go off the tracks just magnify when you get a large team, and unless you’re laser locked on exactly what you want to do, keep the scale tight. You’ll know when you lock into it and then say, “Okay, we’re going to scale it.” So the first couple of months or eve n the first couple of years can be very, very backbreaking. You’re just going to be working with a tiny team and trying to do a lot. But the small team drives focus, and you’re only able to do a certain scope of things. I just find stay small as long as you can until you know for sure you’ve got something, and then raise some bigger capital.
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