Derek Ting is the Co-Founder and CEO of Enflick , a technology startup and developer of real-time social connectivity solutions that change the way that people connect and interact with each other through mobile devices.
Enflick was founded in the fall of 2009. Enflick’s mission is to deliver innovative solutions that empower people to stay closer with their friends and family. Touch and TextNow are the company’s two core products. Both products are used by millions of users worldwide and are growing rapidly. In March of 2011, TextNow sent its billionth messages. Touch is designed to make staying connected with close friends and family an amazing experience. TextNow provides fast and reliable text messaging — for free.
With TextNow, Enflick’s first product, Derek established a multi-million dollar profitable business with no initial funding. Derek has led the development and market introduction of multiple and successful software connectivity products that today serve a network of more than 25 million users worldwide.
Derek holds a degree in Computer Engineering from the University of Waterloo and has a history of entrepreneurship, having founded two web startups while still in high school, and was recently named as a finalist for the Ernst&Young Entrepreneur of the Year 2012 Awards. He is committed to delivering next generation connectivity technologies that transform how people communicate with each other. His company’s current investors include respected technology VCs, (led by Freestyle Capital with participation by the Menlo Talent Fund, Menlo Ventures’ Seed Program), as well as social networking advocates Troy Carter and Scooter Braun, the well-known talent managers for Lady Gaga and Justin Bieber, respectively.
Enflick is bringing to market a new breed of solutions that enable users to easily provision their own phone service and phone number on the cloud for free – and to use it on any device. Plus, even if other users are not part of their network, they can still call, text and leave voice mails on that number – all for free. These solutions are making it a no-brainer for people to have unlimited and affordable connectivity on-demand from any mobile device – straight from the cloud – and are disrupting a multi-billion dollar market that has long been dominated by traditional carriers.
What are you working on right now?
We’ve been creating a new feature for our Touch mobile interpersonal connectivity platform – giving users the ability to easily create, share and add to an online photo album with their closest friends and family. We’ve been working hard so we can go ‘live’ with it before the holidays. We want to give users the ability to connect with their loved ones simultaneously through an online photo album with real-time access from any mobile or web device. We’ve also developed the feature so any designated user can participate – even if they haven’t downloaded Touch themselves. All they need is a valid email address.
Where did the idea for Touch and TextNow for Enflick come from?
We had a concept for a free text messaging product. We observed a huge demographic, particularly among young people, that wasn’t being served by the existing texting model or ‘plans’ that were delivered by carriers. Being located near the University of Waterloo with a large student population, this need was especially apparent to us. We saw a market that was cash strapped yet had a huge desire and interest in connecting with others. Further, we knew that this market was also extremely tech savvy. We wanted to develop a connectivity solution that was easy to use yet highly accessible and affordable to this market – and that concept came to be TextNow.
How do you make money?
We use a highly flexible advertising supported revenue model.
What does your typical day look like?
Mondays and Fridays are a little different. On Monday, I meet with every product team, and together we prioritize and set goals for the week. At the end of the day on Friday, we bring all of the company employees together, and the developers demo the cool stuff they’ve built. During the week, a typical day will include daily standups for each team to review how we’re progressing on all of goals. In addition, I always set aside a portion of the week to focus on the most important tasks/goals facing the company. Those can span product strategy and roadmap; product design and technical projects; employee development; or improvement of internal processes.
How do you bring ideas to life?
I like to start small, focusing on the most important items and features first, then iterating rapidly and incrementally. And it’s absolutely critical to build a strong team that understands the products, goals and priorities and has the ability to drive itself toward the end objective.
What’s one trend that really excites you?
New technology infrastructures – including the web, mobile and the cloud – are now solidly in place, and the development has now transitioned to how we can apply these infrastructures in new and innovative ways. Legacy industries that have been around for years are being rethought from the ground up – for the better. The amount of innovation that’s occurring is tremendous, and everyone is benefitting.
What was the worst job you ever had and what did you learn from it?
I haven’t had a ‘worst’ job. I can honestly say that I’ve learned valuable lessons from all of the jobs I’ve been fortunate to have in my life so far.
If you were to start again, what would you do differently?
While there are quite a lot of things now I would do different, I’m actually grateful that we did everything the way we did at the time. I actually feel fortunate for how everything has gone, as the mistakes that we made taught us valuable lessons that made the company stronger in the long-term.
As an entrepreneur, what is the one thing you do over and over and recommend everyone else do?
The most important thing is to keep things simple – whether it involves the product development, technology, process or team. The easiest and worst thing to do is to create a lot of work. Simple solutions are usually less obvious, but the discipline of figuring them out always pays off in the end.
What is one failure you had as an entrepreneur, and how did you overcome it?
We’re always looking at ways to improve our internal efficiencies. But over the years, my approach to how we achieve efficiency has totally changed. For example, I used to think that adding more process or more management to a project would improve the efficiency of the iteration, but it actually had the opposite effect, leading us to scale the team in the wrong direction. By being open to some big internal changes, including staffing, while maintaining a strong focus on efficiency, we found our center. I can’t overly stress the importance of good communication and direct involvement in projects.
What is one business idea that you’re willing to give away to our readers?
I think there’s really a need for an enterprise suite of software solutions – encompassing communications, collaboration, roadmaps and task management – that is simpler and easier to use. Existing solutions are very outdated, including email and calendar systems. As a technology startup, we’d definitely find a solution like that very appealing.
If you could change one thing in the world, what would it be and how would you go about it?
Cure illness … although I’m not sure how I would go about it.
Tell us something about you that very few people know?
I could tell you, but then it wouldn’t be true anymore.
What are your three favorite online tools or resources and what do you love about them?
Asana has changed the way I organize my work, improving my personal focus and productivity. Several of our teams are also using it. Quora delivers amazing content delivered by real people. It’s great. Twitter lets me stay up-to-date on interesting and current conversations occurring anywhere in the world.
What is the one book that you recommend our community should read and why?
Reworked by 37 Signals and the Steve Jobs’ biography. For an entrepreneur, both are captivating.
Three people we should follow on Twitter and why?
When was the last time you laughed out loud? What caused it?
Watching Jon Stewart. He’s hilarious.
Who is your hero, and why?
My co-founder Jon Lerner. He’s the best partner anyone could wish for.
What makes a great entrepreneur?
Persistence – you need to be able to get through the tough and challenging times even when things seem impossible.
Passion – you need to be passionate about the problem you’re solving rather than just doing it for the money.
How do you keep your energy up?
I’m energized by solving a problem that I’m passionate and care a lot about. It’s invigorating to see our product in the hands of millions of users and witness that our hard work has made their lives easier.