“…you don’t have to work a job you hate if you don’t want to. Find a job you love and do it.”
Josh Cramer launched Cramer Development in 2000, growing the company from humble beginnings in a small home office to a world-class web and mobile application development team.
In addition to helping clients create new businesses through ideation and technical services, Josh has co-founded several other successful businesses including a wireless internet service provider, IT consulting firm, and a mobile payments & marketing platform.
Josh also frequently speaks on technology and entrepreneurship to business people and innovators both regionally and nationally. His talks have been included in conferences like SXSW Interactive and Future Insights Live.
What are you working on right now?
I’m helping several new businesses create and scale their digital products. We’re helping to build a golf app, a mobile payment company, an educational app, and a health technology startup. Good thing I’ve got a great team to make all this possible!
I’m also working alongside a number of other community builders in Silicon Prairie to create a community that inspires, teaches, and helps entrepreneurs be successful.
Where did the idea for Cramer Development come from?
In July 2000, I was working as an engineer in the photovoltaic industry, designing and building machines that make solar cells. One day, I came into work and found out the company I worked for was out of money and couldn’t afford to pay us anymore.
I’d always wanted to start a business. I thought the Internet was cool and revolutionary, but I had no money, my first child was due in four weeks, and I was signing on my first mortgage in two weeks. Being the young, ambitious, and risk-seeking individual I was, I decided to just go for it with my wife’s unwavering support. In order to make it work, I ended up reading lots of big books very fast, working very long hours, relying on the help of friends, and generally doing whatever I could to find work. We’ve come a long way.
What does your typical day look like?
I work from a variety of locations, so I might be in my home office, my downtown office, or an office on the road. I always commute to the office by bike — even in the winter. I’m currently working from Estes Park, Colo., for a couple weeks. My team is distributed, so we’re all able to collaborate from anywhere via Skype, Google Docs, and some project management suites. Over the years, we have perfected the process of working together, even though we’re not in the same office. It has become second nature for me, and I truly believe I’m able to be more productive because we have the right team and our communication processes down to a science. I think this helps us collaborate better with our clients as well.
Every week, I meet with entrepreneurs, CEOs, and others who have ideas for new Web or mobile apps. I talk to them about business models, product features, and technology stacks. My goal is to be as helpful as possible from the moment we start talking, whether we end up doing business together or not. I’m normally involved in these new projects during the early stages of app design and building.
I also spend a bit of my time mentoring young entrepreneurs and helping to build up the entrepreneurial and technology community where I live.
How do you bring ideas to life?
I believe that creativity happens when we synthesize diverse perspectives to enhance and strengthen new ideas. This means getting the right people on the team before we even start. Once we form a small team, we go through a flexible process we’ve created called “ideation.” During our ideation process, we iterate on empathy maps, business models, the lean stack, and a number of other exercises to figure out how to bring an idea to life. Once we’ve come to a consensus, we start building using the Lean Startup methodology.
What’s one trend that really excites you?
The Lean Startup does! When I first started building Web and mobile apps, I participated in a lot of failed ideas. In all of these, I saw there were assumptions present in the background that quietly and slowly led us down paths that were not healthy. Over the years, I began to see ways to expose and address these assumptions before they undermined the entire business. The Lean Startup does a great job of crystalizing the thought process behind this. I think the Lean Startup is the best method we have to build new businesses and interactive products.
What was the worst job you ever had and what did you learn from it?
After my first year of college, I went home and worked a summer with a landscaping business. At 6’2” and 175 pounds, I was the smallest guy on my four-man crew. The crew chief didn’t know how to drive a stick, so he had me drive him around town that summer because I had driven a stick once before. I regularly stalled out in intersections and parking lots, but it was the one thing I could do that no one else could.
My boss offered me a $300 bonus if I didn’t quit before the summer was over. I guess he thought the potential for this was high. The work was terrible. I got yelled at for not shoveling fast enough. I had to dig holes and plant trees in rainstorms. I had to clean up large messes that were made by the boss’s brother, who also worked there. I would come home every day and crash in front of the TV. On my last day, after everyone left for lunch, I laid a bunch of sod, dirt side up. I never stuck around to see the reactions of the guys staying on.
In the end, I endured the emotional abuse and physical hardship and earned my $300 bonus. I learned that sometimes work is hard, but there is a reward for never giving up. I also learned you don’t have to work a job you hate if you don’t want to. Find a job you love and do it.
As an entrepreneur, what is the one thing you do over and over and recommend everyone else do?
I regularly seek opportunities to put myself in situations where I’m not the smartest guy in the room. Once you master your craft, it’s easy to surround yourself with people who are less experienced and less talented than you are. It’s easy to go to conferences that are focused on the areas in which you are an expert. But I’ve always grown the most when I find myself in a situation where I am encountering someone brilliant in a subject matter I am not an expert in. I seek these opportunities because they help me remain creative, and they challenge me to think differently.
What is one business idea that you’re willing to give away to our readers?
Someone needs to create an A/B testing service for restaurant menus. I’m sure restaurants could increase the amount of money spent by guests simply by redesigning their menus and testing which design is most effective.
Tell us a secret.
I wish I would have gone through military basic training, just to see if I have what it takes.
What are your three favorite online tools and what do you love about them?
I love Evernote, Wunderlist, and Google Docs. These are what the cloud was meant to be: all your data on all your devices. Google Docs may not have all the features of desktop software, but it brings real-time collaboration to a whole new level.
What is the one book that you recommend our community should read and why?
I recommend “Good to Great” by Jim Collins. There are some real gems of wisdom in this book that will transform the way you think about building your business and life.
What’s on your playlist?
I listen to Bon Iver, Daft Punk, The Black Keys, Johnny Cash, Radiohead, The Envy Corps, The Avett Brothers, Damien Jurado, and Eminem.
If you weren’t working on Cramer Development, what would you be doing?
I’d be a wilderness adventure guide. I love experiencing the dichotomy of nature and technology. We’ve created so much beautiful and useful technology that enriches our lives, changes the way we communicate with people, and improves the way we work together. But somehow, when you go far away from the city and deep into nature, none of this seems to matter at all. Being in nature exposes another side of the human experience that we often forget about.
Three people we should follow on Twitter and why?
@elonmusk: Elon Musk is the Henry Ford or Thomas Edison of our time. You can literally watch him making history on his Twitter feed as he tackles some incredibly audacious challenges.
@EntreLeadership: Dave Ramsey shares wisdom about being a leader in business and life. He offers lots of quotes from historical figures we all respect.
@jaredgruber: Jared Gruber takes amazing photos of cyclists and mixes them with inspiring words. Everyone can benefit from riding their bike a little more.
When was the last time you laughed out loud? What caused it?
My daughter has the most carefree spirit. It’s easy to laugh out loud when I’m around her.
Who is your hero?
My wife is my hero. She has been the biggest believer in me since the day we met. She pours her life out daily for the sake of our children. She’s awesome!
Tell us about a time you failed. What did you learn?
In eighth grade, I fainted while giving a speech in front of my class. After that incident, I developed an intense fear of public speaking that lasted many years. Eventually, I overcame this fear and got a job as a corporate party MC that involved lots of public speaking. I’ve also spoken before very large audiences. I learned that you can overcome almost any fear.
What would you have done differently in your personal life?
A couple years ago, I got back into cycling after purchasing a road bike. It’s been great for my health, both mentally and physically. I wish I would have purchased one much sooner.