The Creation of
(As told by Bruce, our CEO)
It was 2016, my business partner and I
were standing in front of a random college guy’s front
door swiping his credit card on our square reader. He was
paying us $15 dollars to be set up on four dates per month. As
he closed the door we remained professional, but moments later we
were pumping our fists, and loudly congratulating ourselves like we had
won the Super Bowl, I was even close to tears.
The reason was that it was our first sale for our newly developed start up dating service where for a small monthly subscription you could be set up with hand selected dates from all over campus.
We’d go to a bunch of college apartments, sign up willing participants, Facebook stalk them, give them looks scores and then our algorithm (my business partner) would sort them into couples who would look “cute together” and then we’d send them each other's phone numbers. They’d date, tell us how it went, and then we would modify who we set them up with next.
Things were going great, but as the number of participants increased, our jimmy-rigged excel sheet that was acting as our date-a-base, was showing signs of strain, so our next mission became to find a programmer who could solve our technical challenges. My business partner searched the Science and Technology building on campus asking TA’s and random people in study rooms for the “smartest programmer they know.”
And that’s how we met Approachable Geek’s current CTO, Garrett.
We grilled Garrett about everything we knew of that went into being a great startup technical co-founder (which was very little at the time.) And finished with the question, “Would you be willing to dedicate yourself to this start up for 10 years?” To which he responded, “Yep.” He was in.
The first time I worked with Garrett all of his most salient characteristics were on display. He is a technical wizard (he solved a bunch of our most technical problems in minutes), he is fun to work with (we were laughing and joking while we were mapping out the code) and he is a workhorse (we basically started working that day together and haven’t stopped since.)
With him on the team we were able to start pursuing our goal of building an app with a ferver. Garrett estimated it would take us about 3 weeks to develop, 8 months later we finally rolled out the first, incredibly ugly, version of the app (don’t worry, we’ve gotten much better at both estimating and UI design haha.)
The first launch was both exciting and frustrating. I was on the phone with Garrett almost every day asking why this and that was broken. We made every mistake in the book, building too much work at once, not testing the code, not designing the app and on and on. But, people were still enthusiastic to give the app a try.
We continued to grow, but started to make some decisions that changed the economics of the business. The biggest of those was making the app free to all users and providing places on the app for people to purchase date night packages at a discount with local businesses. As time went on we began to see that our revenue model and setting up people on dates were at odds with each other. On one hand you had the matching app which was focused on first time daters and then you had the revenue model of taking a percentage from businesses which needed as many people as possible and was even better if people were in relationships because it was more consistent.
And the clock was ticking, we needed to figure out how to make money with the app so we could keep the team together and working on the app. So, in a major change of perspective for the app I wrote a 6 page paper on why we needed to shift the company into being a date planning app, Garrett and our other business partner were understandably frustrated because it would both mean adjusting our mission and scrapping a lot of code that we had worked on for months.
But it would also mean we’d survive.
So over Christmas break we chopped up the app, and left only the parts we thought would help people find cool things to do for date night at a discount. And then we went on to win the 2019 Idaho Entrepreneurship Challenge.
Using the prize money from that we expanded our business from just our small college town in Idaho to a second city in Utah. We signed up 70 businesses, and reached something close to 10,000 downloads.
While we were making our efforts, we were noticed by the largest dating app in Utah. Both of the founders had used the app to take their wives on dates and we began going back and forth about how the app might be integrated into theirs. Eventually they decided it would be too much effort.
A few months later, we got a call from them asking if we might be interested in selling the app. They had the scale we needed to make it a true business and we offered them a way to continue their relationship with customers even after they had found a significant other. So four months of negotiating later, we sold it.
So Garrett and I were left with the question, “now what?” We realized we both wanted to continue to work together and Garrett had the dream of starting a software development agency. So we did.
In January of 2020 we started the new decade by incorporating Approachable Geek as a company. We began as just us two working with a project from Garrett’s uncle, I still have the first check, there are few things in an entrepreneur’s life more salient than the first time you get paid for a business you run.
We soon realized that there was a huge demand for people that had both the skill set of a software developer and the mindset of an entrepreneur, our rare advantage was we didn’t just know how to build software, we also knew how to build a software business.
From Doorstep (the app for finding cool things for date night) we had learned a huge amount of things that helped us begin developing apps for other. We learned about how to involve customers in the selection of ideas (we did hundreds of inperson interviews), we learned about how to find effective ways to market your apps, we learned about how to build software in a structured way and how to test things so they wouldn’t break. We also learned how to hire.
The first few hires at Approachable Geek were really taking a chance on us and we appreciate them immensely. We were an ultra small company (3 people), with both founders in their 20’s, who had never hired anyone full time before. We quickly learned how to screen for talent and slowly developed the hiring process that we use today, which involves more than 100 candidates for each position, a rigorous testing process and a final interview with our whole company.
From hiring Garrett we had learned how much it can affect the trajectory of a business to hire the right talent and culture fit. And so each of the people we have on the team today are rock stars.
The main struggle in the early days of Approachable Geek was to develop a process that could reliably deliver apps for clients on time, in budget and high performing. Which is much harder than it may sound. Every app you build is unique, every developer you have has different strengths and weaknesses, and there are many things that can affect the timeline of applications.
But we dug in, we studied books on and took courses on software estimation, scrum methodology, agile development, UI/UX design process management, product management and on and on and on.
With each successive project we refined our system, marking on a virtual whiteboard which parts of the process were delightful for the client and which ones needed improvement, we built our own internal estimation software, we refined how we prioritize risk and removed barriers to communication in the project. Until, we arrived at what we have today, which is a team of 11 professionals who are highly capable, running a system that we have shown over and over again to produce great apps that humans love to use.
Well, that’s a bit about who we are, hopefully we’ve illustrated our love for entrepreneurship and the drive to build excellent software. If you share that same enthusiasm, we’d love to work with you on your next project.