Hannah Dow and Steve Coffey – Co-founders of Bearbone Studios

Always have a pen to write and sketch things out! Some of the best ideas I get come at the weirdest times where I am out doing other things or just about to fall asleep, but I never ignore an idea.

Bearbone Studios is a young design duo started by two creative minds on their search for smart, beautiful products that could improve people’s lives. With a tagline that touts, “Naked Design,” Bearbone aims to create products that are clean in design and straightforward in their delivery. Using their combined backgrounds in design, development, and production, Hannah Dow and Steve Coffey are working towards redefining everyday experiences and interactions for their users much like they’ve done with their premier mobile app, Rudder, which changes the way people travel at night. Bearbone is over the boring and predictable day-to-day grind that many people have become accustomed to, it’s time to add some worth to your daily experiences and see that everything is an opportunity for greatness.

Where did the idea for Rudder App come from?

Hannah: The idea for the app was born during a walk home when I was a sophomore at the University of Michigan. While I always did my best to avoid walking home alone, there were times when this was unavoidable. It was during one of these walks home, feeling uneasy, that I wished I had a tool that would tell me where the street lights were across campus. It became clear that the experience of walking at night was very different from during the day and I wanted a product that understood this. The fastest route wasn’t necessarily the one I felt most comfortable taking.

What does your typical day look like and how do you make it productive?

Hannah: On a typical day, I wake up, make coffee, and go to work as a UX designer at an advertising agency in New York City. Throughout the day I talk with Steve about any Rudder emails and work we have to do within the next week or so. Once I get home, I check my Rudder to do list and spend a couple hours working on the app- even if I’m just doing little things like answering emails or brainstorming some ideas for future releases, I like to make sure I have a chance to spend good time on Rudder everyday- it’s what I love to do more than anything.

Steve: I’m a huge believer in routine, even if I don’t always stick to one. I get up every morning around 7:30 or 8, make coffee and a healthy breakfast, and read emails, the news, or work on Rudder before going to work. I work full-time as a software engineer, which is great because I’m always around really smart, talented people who challenge me to think in new and creative ways. After work I’ll come home, usually testing Rudder on my walk, and work on the app for a few hours. I strive to be productive for the majority of every day, and am constantly thinking about ways I can make tomorrow more productive than today.

How do you bring ideas to life?

Hannah: You just have to push until you can figure out how to make your ideas happen. Before I met Steve, Rudder was on the back burner for over a year. I knew it was something that I wanted to make happen but I also wanted to make sure that the person I found to help me would become a partner, someone as invested in the project as I was. If you want to make an idea come to life, figure out the steps you need to take to make the best product you can and then create a road map to get there the smartest and efficient way. There can’t be any shortcuts when it comes to your ideas and your goals.

Steve: One of my favorite parts of being a software engineer is that you start out with just an idea, and the degree to which you bring that idea to life is limited only by the time you put into it. I love sitting down at the computer with an idea for a unique interface or interaction, and in just a few hours be able to figure out the kinks and have it running on my phone or computer. It’s really a thrill to be able to see those things come to life right in front of you.

What’s one trend that really excites you?

Hannah: I know it’s not really a trend, but the increase in young social entrepreneurship is very exciting. I’ve always had this sort of mindset, naive or not, that I want to change the world in some way. I constantly want to be happy and excited about what I’m doing with my life and creating things from the ground up gives me that gratification.

Steve: I really believe that wearables are going to become a mainstay in technology within the next two years. Right now there’s sort of a stigma against wearable tech that limits the interested market to early adopters, but I think that wearables are going to become much more popular with the rise of the Apple watch and Android wear once this stigma wears off.

What is one habit of yours that makes you more productive as an entrepreneur?

Hannah: I’m pretty detail oriented…possibly to the point of being a bit compulsive. But that makes me consider every aspect of what I’m working on, even if it’s a tiny piece of the final puzzle.

Steve: I think frequent, short breaks are very important to maintaining a productive workflow. Often when I’m struggling with a problem it helps to take a quick walk around the block, many times when I return I’m able to look at the problem in a new way and find a creative solution to it.

What was the worst job you ever had and what did you learn from it?

Hannah: I’ve either been very fortunate not to have a good answer for this question, or there’s still time for a bad job experience in the future! But what I can say, is that even when I have an assignment that I’m not looking forward to, I give myself the challenge of doing that job the best I can possibly do it-make it better than anyone else could make it. This internal contest helps me to get more excited about any project.

Steve: I once worked at a very small radio consulting firm whose main market was creating apps for radio stations. Although the team communicated well, there was a complete lack of vision and creative direction, and the other engineers didn’t seem invested in their work. It really taught me the importance of loving what you do, and that people who are invested in their work and really care about making it successful will produce much better work than those who aren’t. Needless to say I didn’t stay at that job more than a few months.

If you were to start again, what would you do differently?

Hannah: If I could do anything over, I’d make it a point to make meaningful connections earlier on. I cannot even begin to express the useful information and advice I’ve gotten just through talking to people. You’ll never know the wealth of information someone has unless you ask.

Steve: I would have spent less time worrying about the small details and over-optimizing the code and worried more about getting a working product in the world. I think too many people worry too much about getting something out there that’s completely perfect, and don’t stop to think that people might not even use or need the product. Learning this as quickly as possible can help young businesses learn weak point, pivot if need be, or learn quickly that they should shift resources to another project, without wasting years in development. Failing fast is key.

As an entrepreneur, what is the one thing you do over and over and recommend everyone else do?

Hannah: Always have a pen to write and sketch things out! Some of the best ideas I get come at the weirdest times where I am out doing other things or just about to fall asleep, but I never ignore an idea. You have to write everything down because as silly as some ideas might be at the time, they may inform another idea later down the road.

What is one strategy that has helped you grow your business? Please explain how.

Hannah: It is so important to consider all your steps in the bigger picture and realize that every decision matters, there are no details. This requires you to put care and consideration into every step of your process to make sure that you’ve crossed your T’s and dotted your I’s. The biggest downfall for a business, in my opinion, is to have a fantastic idea that gets executed poorly. Putting in that extra time to consider all the details, create a great finished product, and make sure people really understand what you’re doing and why it’s important makes a huge difference.

What is one failure you had as an entrepreneur, and how did you overcome it?

Steve: We’re fortunate that since we’re still young, we haven’t had too many entrepreneurial failures of much consequence. I think when I was in high school I wanted to start a business doing oil changes. We would come to your house, change your oil, wash the outside of the car, etc. I still think this is a good idea, especially in the small town where I’m from. I think what kept it from happening was my parents doubtfulness that it would work. So I suppose the cautionary tale here is that you should never let anyone talk you out of something you think is a great idea. All great innovations in the past have been things that no one thought they wanted at the time, the automobile and the cell phone being two great examples. Not to say that house call oil changes were some great innovation, but you get the idea.

What is one business idea that you’re willing to give away to our readers?

Steve: I still think the oil change idea is pretty solid. If there’s anyone out there who want to give that a go, let me know how it works out!

What is the best $100 you recently spent? What and why?

Steve: Hannah and I recently spent $100 pre-ordering a new website-building service called the Grid. What sets them apart, however is that you just upload your content, apply a simple layout filter depending on the feel you want your website to have, and the Grid will automatically lay out your website by analyzing your images and your text. I think investing in new technologies like that is really key, both because it helps you stay current with new things that are being created, but also because it helps foster more innovation.

What software and web services do you use? What do you love about them?

Hannah: My favorite programs and services are easily Adobe Illustrator, Google Drive, and notepad on my iPhone. Illustrator and Google Drive allow me to make a lot of iterations of an idea and share them with Steve so we can quickly give each other feedback and continue to improve on a design. The reason I added notepad to my favorites is because that’s where I keep a running list of every crazy idea that I have during the day. I used to write them down on a real notepad, but then I’d forget to throw it in my bag when I changed purses or things like that- but I always have my phone on me, and being able to view the list on iCloud from my computer is pretty great too.

What is the one book that you recommend our community should read and why?

Hannah: Street Smarts (fka The Knack): An All-Purpose Tool Kit For Entrepreneurs by Norm Brodsky and Bo Burlingham really solidified my drive to become an entrepreneur while giving great advice on how to run a business and be a good leader. Another book that has really made a difference during some of my tougher and uncertain times is Getting There: A Book of Mentors by Gillian Joe Segal. This book is great because it tells the stories of countless successful entrepreneurs while sharing many of the hardships they encountered along the way. It really helps when you’re questioning, “Am I the only one going through this?!”

What people have influenced your thinking and might be of interest to others?

Steve: I know it sounds cliche, and it is, but Steve Jobs was truly a visionary in his own right. He’s inspired a lot of people with his immense foresight into future tech markets, and absolute drive to see his vision made reality, so much so that there’s now a term for people who think they have the same abilities, namely Steve Jobs Syndrome. But I think what a lot of people don’t give him credit for is the fact that he surrounded himself with the smartest people he could find to help make his products not just good, but amazing. I think one thing I’ve learned from his story is just how important it is to have a great team and to work with the smartest people you can find. Even if you’re a visionary, it takes a great team with varying expertise to bring a successful product to market.


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