My father was a Psychology Professor, and from him I picked up the habit of paying close attention to what people are saying, and carefully thinking through what’s important.
Julie Roche is the CEO and co-founder of Burbio.com, a service that streams thousands of live school and community calendars for residents so they can stay up to date in real time. Julie started her career as an Actuary at Hewitt Associates before beginning a 15 year marketing career that spanned Procter & Gamble, and Playtex Apparel. She launched Burbio in 2014 and runs all product & technical operations. Julie has an AB from Harvard University in Applied Mathematics and Chemistry and an MBA from Indiana’s Kelley School of Business. She is the mother of four boys and lives in Pelham, NY.
Where did the idea for Burbio.com come from?
I am a mom of four boys heavily involved in community groups in of Pelham, NY. My husband and I were frustrated at how “manual” it was to keep track of events going on in our lives – scouring through emails or websites and hand copying over events, not knowing if things changed – it was easier to book a flight to London than it was to figure out when Back to School Night was, which seemed crazy. So we zeroed in on the idea of building a calendar platform that automates all this event data in one place and allows residents to manage it. From that Burbio.com was born.
I was a math major in college, and I ended up taking hundreds of hours of coding classes at General Assembly to get the technical knowledge to run Burbio, and have led product development from Day 1. Burbio.com now serves over 150 towns – from 4 just 15 months ago – and we stream over 10,000 school and community calendars. We have developed a core expertise in aggregating local event information and making it easily accessible and usable for local residents. We have a web and iOS version of the service and are scaling rapidly.
What does your typical day look like and how do you make it productive?
Typically I get up at 5;30 am, and I do product testing on any overnight deployments, review the product pipeline, and focus on emails that require more time than I have during the day. I do a daily stand up – on skype – at 7 am – with our lead developer – to kick things off, from home. We still have two children at home, so I then take a short break then to get them off to school, and my office day starts at 8:30 am, where I will lead our content and operations team. The day consists of everything from business development calls to marketing programs. In the evenings it is typically another round of product work and product marketing review.
How do you bring ideas to life?
The easiest part is coming up with them – once we have them, it’s all about balancing speed to market and delivering the most value to our users. So we’ll do some research to make sure we understand how our users benefit and then determine how to deliver that core benefit in the most efficient way. Once the initial implementation is done, we get real market results and determine what we can do to improve it and iterate. Getting something out in the market quickly that you can build on quickly based on real results gets us much further than waiting to perfect every details which might not even be relevant.
What’s one trend that really excites you?
I am most excited about trends in search, from the way traditional search is getting better and smarter about serving up customized answers to queries, to voice search, which opens up a whole set of possibilities in terms of data discovery. One of the things that we have done at Burbio is make an entire category of events “digitally readable” – school, community, library events – that fit right into this trend.
What is one habit of yours that makes you more productive as an entrepreneur?
Listening. My father was a Psychology Professor, and from him I picked up the habit of paying close attention to what people are saying, and carefully thinking through what’s important. I use this with everything from our development team to conversations with our users and customers.
What advice would you give your younger self?
I would have explored programming at an earlier stage in my career. The internet barely existed when I was a Math major in college so the opportunities for computer programming looked very different then but I could have pursued that more. I really enjoy the process of building products.
Tell us something that’s true that almost nobody agrees with you on?
That “The Goldbergs”, one of my guilty pleasures, is an entertaining TV show. At least nobody in my house – my husband and four boys – think it’s a good show. Everyone leaves the room when I turn it on! I get more buy in from the guys when I binge watch Game of Thrones or Westworld. But still, I wish someone liked it!
As an entrepreneur, what is the one thing you do over and over and recommend everyone else do?
I think the early morning reset on the upcoming day is really critical. It just allows you to be much more productive and focused and a bit less stressed when the day starts. It doesn’t need to occur at 5:30 am, of course, but just having some time to plan things out and get your team aligned before everything starts to happen is important.
What is one strategy that has helped you grow your business? Please explain how.
Over 70% of our users access Burbio via a mobile device, and we recently launched an iOS app to supplement our mobile web experience. It’s gotten a great reaction and helped us serve a new audience which likes to use apps for this sort product. Our audience is majority moms with children and the vast majority access Burbio from an iOS device.
What is one failure you had as an entrepreneur, and how did you overcome it?
When we made the transition from Minimum Viable Product to our first version of Burbio, we used some outsourced technology resources that were very difficult to manage – the off shore team was fine, but I was much deeper into the hands on management of them than I ever expected. It was solved by a 10 week mad dash of midnight testing and 5 am skype calls with India and Belarus where I micromanaged the project to its conclusion. It was exhausting, and I just had to grind through it.
What is one business idea that you’re willing to give away to our readers?
E learning is a great area to explore for new businesses. There is quite a bit of activity in the “learn to code” space for children/teens- companies like Scratch and Code Academy do a great job – but I do think there are some additional opportunities in creating engaging ways for kids to take up coding. In particular I think that “gamifying’ the coding process to make it even more enjoyable to learn has potential. .
What is the best $100 you recently spent? What and why?
I bought a bunch of back up chargers and power chords for my various Apple devices. I kept leaving them at the office, or at home, now I have them all over the place ready to plug in.
What is one piece of software or a web service that helps you be productive? How do you use it?
We use Trello as our project management tool for Burbio development. We use it to prioritize current work, keep track of new product ideas and document what has been done in case we need to reference it again. It allows me to always know the status of any work in development, communicate quickly about any blockers, easily communicate changes in priority if needed so we are always working on what’s most important.
What is the one book that you recommend our community should read and why?
I will give two. The first is The Lean Start Up, a great book to read when you are in the early stages of launching a new product or a major feature to an existing product. A second is “Scaling Up” by Verne Harnisch – it talks about how to manage a fast growth firm and the different habits you can adapt to keep everyone driving the business through good communication and iteration.
What is your favorite quote?
“Out of the hottest fire comes the strongest steel.” That 12 week sprint of overnight Skype calls to get Burbio launched will always be with me!
- My father was a Psychology Professor, and from him I picked up the habit of paying close attention to what people are saying, and carefully thinking through what’s important.
- Over 70% of our users access Burbio via a mobile device, and we recently launched an iOS app to supplement our mobile web experience.
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