[quote style=”boxed”]Persist. Keep believing in yourself, keep focusing on and reinforcing your strengths rather than your weaknesses, keep exposing yourself to new people, events and activities, keep getting out there and bump around, show up, have fun, and try not to be so hard on yourself.[/quote]
Cliff Stevens is a Center City Philadelphia-based entrepreneur who began his technology career in 1998 as a Database Conversions Specialist for Blackbaud, now one of the largest software-as-a-service vendors in the world. Cliff’s technology experience ranges from Web development and database programming to quality assurance and systems administration, through various roles with three different Internet technology startups from 1999-2003. In 2004, he founded his own technology business, MyOwnITGuy, Inc., focused on developing proprietary Web-based software products and providing clients with software technology development, support and staffing services. Following an interim role as Director of Technology Connectors for the Arts & Business Council of Greater Philadelphia in 2008-2009, Cliff conceived of the location-based audio technology for smart phones that would eventually go live in the Apple AppStore as “Lokadot” in March 2011 and then formalize itself as Lokadot, LLC in April of 2011, having released a string of subsequent updates to the Lokadot iPhone and mobile Web applications since then. Cliff is passionately forging new ground in the mobile space with Lokadot, and working to introduce the power of location-based audio to locally-owned brick-and-mortar businesses, and arts, cultural, historical, tourist, governmental and educational organizations everywhere.
What are you working on right now?
We’re in the midst an exciting new Lokadot pilot program with a number of reputable arts and cultural organizations in Center City Philadelphia, while also working on our first major paid bulk-licensing deal with a major media technology company, while also laying the groundwork for more pilots with local brick-n-mortar businesses, City government and arts and cultural organizations. Of course, I am also constantly working to improve our location-based audio technology platform and this takes up the majority of my time, despite its always feeling like glacier-like progress in this regard. My talented and trusted developers are all overseas for now, and have all been working with me since 2010, but not full-time, so their time and attention is always split. Regardless, they constantly pump out new builds of our iPhone app and our mobile-optimized Web app that require my attention so this keeps me unendingly busy with conceptualizing new and improved features and functionality, wire-framing and documenting, database and server engineering and administration, testing, bug reporting, project management, release management, and of course lots of time spent on Skype, Elance, Unfuddle and Gmail. I also spend a lot of my time doing Lokadot product demonstrations along with everything that entails, constantly exploring and building partnership opportunities, and generally raising awareness of Lokadot while figuring out how to take what began as a technology concept and turning it into a meaningful, sustainable and rewarding business enterprise.
Where did the idea for Lokadot come from?
The idea for Lokadot was conceived in the early spring of 2010 during a road trip with my wife in Cape Cod. It was our first time ever visiting the area, and one day, we decided to drive up to Provincetown from where we were staying in East Falmouth. The weather was nasty, and so even though we were passing through what were obviously a lot of really cool little villages on the way up, we never felt like getting out of the car to explore despite wanting to experience and learn more about them. We had the car radio on, and when there was any music at all, it was usually bad, to forgetful at best. And of course, the relentless barrage of irrelevant radio commercials was just flat-out obnoxious. It was then that I realized exactly what I wanted instead: a way to 1.) listen to my favorite music, while 2.) only ever having that music occasionally interrupted with interesting audio about the places we were passing by, as we were passing by them. I also realized at that moment, that my iPhone had everything in it to turn that idea into a reality – I just needed to figure out how. And that became Lokadot.
What does your typical day look like?
I try to live a balanced, healthy life, so the pervasive “startup ethos” that in order to have a chance at being successful in your startup, you’ve got to work constantly, all hours of the day and night, to the exclusion of everything else, doesn’t resonate me. I do go to the gym, I do take the occasional walk with my wife, or go out for a coffee or sometimes lunch, I do run errands when I need to, I do go to various events and activities. Bottom line, I work from home, I deeply enjoy it, I have great flexibility and so I take advantage of that to live the life that I want. That being said, I’m typically up by 6 or 6:30, and start the day with a warm glass of warm, freshly-squeezed lemon water, and head to the gym for a workout while reading and responding to email, then return home to get cleaned up, brew coffee, eat some fruit and a Clif bar, and get in front of the computer/tablet by 8:30 or so. I’ll also spend 10 minutes reading through my personal affirmations, and maybe 20 minutes reading the Philadelphia Inquirer. From that point on though, each day is different, yet often completely planned out the night before. I frequently have each day’s tasks laid out so that I know exactly what I will be doing from one hour to the next. This helps me stay focused, and helps me to have a chance at accomplishing most of what I set out to do each day. I spend a lot of time in email and Skype/IM conversations with my developers, designers and other partners, and in face-to-face meetings around the City and in constant email dialogs with new potential partners and publisher/users. I graze when I’m hungry, usually take a coffee & sweets break around 4-ish, and then don’t really quit until 11 or so Mon-Wed. By Thursday and/or Friday night, I’m getting spent, so will call it a day by 7 or 8. Of course weekends are always a mix of work, travel and play.
How do you bring ideas to life?
I’m a bit of a loner, in that I enjoy thinking of stuff on my own, and I am not one to need a whole lot of social interaction for validation of my ideas. I enjoy the solitary ideation process, and then executing on the resultant inspirations as immediately as possible. This has a tendency to work against me in that I have lots of ideas that I spend time and resources on that end up not amounting to much. But I also have lots of good ideas too, and by setting out on my own, and giving them a go in that moment of initial inspiration, I get to feel the joy of executing upon them with a sense of urgency and excitement that I believe gives them a better chance of seeing the light of day and being potentially successful. Ideas often come to me in those moments when I’m doing something routine and mundane, or fun and playful, and so these are important parts of each day that more people ought to embrace as moments of potentially ground-breaking importance, rather than scorned as idle or wasted time.
What’s one trend that really excites you?
Probably the same answer a lot of people will have: mobile technology. The rapidly advancing computing power of our mobile devices, and the rate and breadth of their global adoption, is quite literally a revolution in our evolution unlike anything we’ve experienced before. The ramifications are unknowable, and to me, mostly very, very exciting. Our creative means are empowered like never before – these are interesting and very exciting times.
What was the worst job you ever had and what did you learn from it?
A buddy and I had a few odd business endeavors in high school, one being gutter-cleaning, until I fell off a roof. I learned not to clean gutters alone, and to ask for help when I needed it. Another series of gigs was black-topping driveways in the summer – that sucked, but we didn’t do very many. I learned that I didn’t want to black-top driveways for a living; but I also learned that taking the time to do things right the first time is usually the most efficient way to get things done. I bussed tables for a few summers and vacation breaks during high school, and that wasn’t very glamorous, but the tips on New Years Eve or when celebrities were in town were good. I learned how to work long, hard hours, and how effective a genuine smile, and treating people with unconditional respect can be. I spent a few summers during college working for a pool company, and so digging trenches and repairing plumbing and acid-washing pools wasn’t great in the hot summer sun, but I learned how to have fun while on the job, and that making the customer happy was the top priority. I think the most stressful job I’ve had was when I first graduated college, and set upon being a stockbroker. Being a twenty-something, with a fresh finance/economics degree and a Series 7 registration, and trying to advise retirees how to invest their life’s savings was an intimidating prospect for me, and not one that I was good at. If I didn’t have to actually sell anything, I would have been fine – but that’s not how that business works; its all about sales, and I stunk at it. Regardless, every job I’ve had has always enabled me to grow, learn new things, and ultimately led to the next growing and learning experience. I don’t think I’ve had a technology job yet that has been a bad one. Certainly being, or striving to be, an entrepreneur isn’t a bad gig, though it comes with its own unique variety of lumps, bumps, cuts and bruises.
If you were to start again, what would you do differently?
Easy, I would have changed my major in college from Finance/Economics to Computer Science or whatever they called it back then. Otherwise, I wouldn’t change a thing.
As an entrepreneur, what is the one thing you do over and over and recommend everyone else do?
Persist. Keep believing in yourself, keep focusing on and reinforcing your strengths rather than your weaknesses, keep exposing yourself to new people, events and activities, keep getting out there and bump around, show up, have fun, and try not to be so hard on yourself.
What is one problem you encountered as an entrepreneur, and how did you overcome it?
My problem was that my entrepreneurial idea involved building a mobile app, and I had no idea how to build one. So, I talked to people locally who did, and then leveraged what I learned to hire talent overseas who could actually build it for me without going to great initial expense. Then, I hired people locally again to validate the work that was done, and provide more advisory expertise, so that I could then leverage more talent overseas to build more again. This is not a time-efficient way to get things done, but it was how I was able to turn my idea into reality without risking a really large amount of money up front.
What is one business idea that you’re willing to give away to our readers?
Made-to-order clothing/shoes, where sizes are irrelevant because you provide your customers with a cheap 3d handheld scanner-wand that they use to scan and provide you with spatially perfect 3d images of their bodies. Your customers only have to choose the style they want, never having to worry about sizes and whether anything will fit, because you’re robot clothing factory will produce everything made-to-order based on your customers’ 3d body images and the styles they’ve chosen. This solves a lot of problems (waste, inventory, distribution, stores, returns, labor, etc.).
If you could change one thing in the world, what would it be and how would you go about it?
Staying rather close to home, I’d focus on our totally messed-up election/political process. Our federal government is breaking/broken, and is resulting in some really nasty domestic and foreign implications. To begin the cleanup, I’d like to see how we could increase the President’s term to 6 years, but forbid re-election of consecutive terms. I would get all corporate/organizational money out of campaign finance, and cap all campaign spending for any political office to some reasonably low level. I would limit congressional terms to no more than 2 re-elections, and I would strictly prohibit any campaign money to be spent, or any campaign activity to take place, more than 6 months in advance of an election. This all probably sounds naive, and simplistic, but what we have now clearly isn’t working either.
Tell us a secret.
I too often struggle with ridiculously fragile self-confidence.
What are your three favorite online tools or resources and what do you love about them?
Google Apps – its where I get things done online. Unfuddle – its where my code lives and where I manage my development projects. ELance – its where I find great, affordable, on-tap talent.
What is the one book that you recommend our community should read and why?
The Singularity is Near by Ray Kurzweil. Because it’ll blow your mind, and get you excited about our technological advancements, our infinite capabilities and our rapidly expanding future. Or, it’ll just scare you s**tless. Either way, its good stuff.
Three people we should follow on Twitter and why?
@themartorana – snarky, funny, brilliant, excellent human being in Philly.
@wilreynolds – SEO wizard, unendingly generous, gracious, excellent human being in Philly.
@jason – calls it as he see’s it, insightful, connected, ears-on-the-ground tech prognosticator and bombastic critic. I can’t vouch for his human-ness.
When was the last time you laughed out loud? What caused it?
A few hours ago. Dancing like a bobble-headed idiot.
Who is your hero?
I can’t say that I have one. There are plenty of people who I recognize as having been heroic, and for whom I have deep love, respect and gratitude, ie: my wife, my Mom and Dad, my fathers-and-mothers-in-law, my late brother-in-law, my late wife, all my grandparents, my bio-Mom and bio-grandparents, et al. Barack Obama has also been a great inspiration for me, as has Tony Robbins. I’m honestly not very interesting in this regard. I hope to be my own and someone else’s hero one day.
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Mario Schulzke is the Founder of ideamensch, which he started a decade ago to learn from entrepreneurs and give them a platform for their ideas.