You should do something once a day that’s completely unrelated to your main focus. Mark Cuban plays basketball. I usually go for a run. Unplugging and doing something totally different will decrease stress and free up your mind to come up with more creative ideas.
As students at Marquette University, Devin Turner and Charlie Beckwith created FocalCast to give students and professors an easier way to share their presentations. They began developing software around the wireless technology that’s used in Chromecast and Apple TV with the idea that users could wirelessly connect to an external display and give presentations from their tablets or smartphones.
They went on to create one of the first cross-platform mobile presentation applications, and they won the grand prize at Marquette’s ImpactNext Business Model Competition. They also won the $50,000 Trailblazer Capital Startup Entrepreneur Investment Prize and the $3,000 Gimmal Group Outstanding IT Prize at the Rice Business Plan Competition in Houston.
Before starting FocalCast, Devin and Charlie didn’t know each other. In fact, they met for the first time over a Skype call when Devin was working in Florida one summer. A Wisconsin native, Devin earned his private pilot license at age 13 and is one of the youngest engineers to work for NASA’s space shuttle program at the Kennedy Space Center. Charlie grew up in Minnesota and has worked as a programmer at a startup and a Fortune 500 company.
Where did the idea for FocalCast come from?
Charlie and Devin: It always bothered us that even though our smartphones have more computing power than the spacecraft that landed on the moon, we still needed cables and adapters to display content from mobile devices on monitors. In 2012, Devin predicted that wireless adapters would soon be widely available, and we began developing software for wireless screen mirroring. Less than a month after we began development, Google released the Chromecast wireless adapter and validated our assumption.
What does your typical day look like, and how do you make it productive?
Charlie and Devin: Our mornings typically start with a conference call with our development team in India, and we spend the rest of the day coding, testing and designing as well as making sales calls. We try to do much of the back-end work during off hours so we can focus on our customers and sales during the day.
How do you bring ideas to life?
Charlie and Devin: We’re huge fans of whiteboards and late nights. If you look through the photos on my phone, at least half of them are pictures of whiteboard drawings. There’s nothing like having a breakthrough “aha moment” at 3 a.m. and drawing it out for the rest of the team.
What’s one trend that really excites you?
Charlie and Devin: Enterprise mobility excites us — no surprise there! The market for mobile enterprise applications is expected to exceed $53 billion by 2017, and with new wearable technology such as the Apple Watch, I think the way we do business will change a lot. It’s incredibly exciting to be a part of that trend.
What is one habit of yours that makes you more productive as an entrepreneur?
Charlie: I set aside time in the morning to do all of my social media and take care of catching up with news and friends. Doing these tasks before starting my workday allows me to focus on work for the rest of the day without getting distracted.
What was the worst job you ever had, and what did you learn from it?
Devin: I’m not a morning person, and there’s nothing worse than having to wake up early. In college, I took an internship that I was really excited about. But when I arrived, I discovered that the workday started at 5:30 a.m., which meant I had to wake up at 4 a.m. for the entire summer. It was one of the hardest things that I’ve had to do, but after that, I learned that I’m really capable of anything.
If you were to start again, what would you do differently?
Charlie and Devin: We would have created user accounts from day one so we could learn more about our users and be able to contact them directly.
As an entrepreneur, what is the one thing you do over and over and recommend everyone else do?
Devin: You should do something once a day that’s completely unrelated to your main focus. Mark Cuban plays basketball. I usually go for a run. Unplugging and doing something totally different will decrease stress and free up your mind to come up with more creative ideas.
What’s one strategy that has helped you grow your business? Please explain how.
Charlie and Devin: Collecting, aggregating, and analyzing user data has been incredibly important to how we’ve developed our business. Getting feedback from your customers is the most important thing you can do in any business. This process has helped us develop new features that better fit our customers’ needs.
What is one failure you had as an entrepreneur, and how did you overcome it?
Charlie and Devin: As engineers, we initially focused on product development when we should have put more focus on our market strategy. Since then, we’ve invested more time and effort in business development and building features that are required to handle back-end logistics for enterprise customers.
What is one business idea that you’re willing to give away to our readers?
Devin: Businesses that apply new technologies to the medical industry are huge right now. I think there’s a great business opportunity in continuing the trend of self-diagnosis using personal devices such as smartphones and wearables with biosensors.
It would be cool in a few years if you could automatically take all of the measurements that you would normally take during a checkup with a smartwatch. Then you could upload that data and get a diagnosis and prescription.
What is the best $100 you recently spent and why?
Devin: I just spent $100 on an ergonomic keyboard! One of my engineering professors has done a lot of research about keyboard ergonomics, so I bought one after my old keyboard broke recently. My new ergonomic keyboard has a set of keys for each hand, and it’s angled for a more natural arm position. The keyboard is amazing, and I would highly recommend it for anyone who spends a lot of time in front of a computer.
What software and web services do you use? What do you love about them?
Charlie: We use Amazon Web Services, Google Analytics, Crashlytics, and Google Apps for Business. Amazon provides great services for web hosting and databases, and Google Analytics is great for any software or web-based product. With any business, the most important thing is to understand your data!
What is the one book that you recommend our community should read and why?
Devin: I would stay away from the self-help books and focus on personal stories that you can learn from. Mark Cuban’s book “How to Win at the Sport of Business” is a great read and emphasizes the most important quality of great entrepreneurs: determination.
What people have influenced your thinking and might be of interest to others?
Charlie and Devin: There are too many to count: visionary Elon Musk, developer Jake Wharton, film producer Bob Evans, designer Tim Schafer, NASA engineer Steven Sullivan, research scientist Monica Turner (Devin’s mother), and executive and corporate board member Karen van Lith (Charlie’s mother).
Google Play: play.google.com/store/apps/details?id=com.narsys.focalcast&hl=en
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