Posted on 17 October 2009 by Cristian Dorobantescu
Cristian: Hi Justin and welcome on board. Tell us a few things about yourself.
Justin: Hey Cristian, thanks for having me, my name is Justin, I work for a startup from Madison WI called PerBlue, where we are building some really interesting technologies and products and we’re having too much fun doing it.
Cristian: I had a look at some articles about you, and I found out you have invented a lot of new technologies, gadgets and software. So do you consider yourself an inventor or an entrepreneur?
Justin: I would say probably on a day to day basis I consider myself more an entrepreneur more then an inventor. I never really bonded with the word “inventor” I think everyone is an inventor in their creative outlet. But true entrepreneurs those are rare. I don’t even know if I deserve that title yet.
Cristian: You actually won a $10,000 prize on 15th anniversary of the Schoofs Prize for Creativity. What was it for and how did you feel about someone recognizing your work?
Justin: Yeah, so University of Wisconsin – Madison has these great competitions for innovation, business and engineering. I had participated in that contest for my entire college career and this last year all of the past experience paid off because as a team and product when we submitted a Proactive Sleep we had a really solid idea, prototype and plan. It does feel good to get recognized for your product/idea. But its just a contest, making something successful in the market place is the next milestone of achievement.
Cristian: Your latest venture is www.operatorsue.com What is it about?
Justin: Yeah, so PerBlue has been founded with our main and most successful product Parallel Kingdom which is a location based Role Playing Game for the iPhone and Android. But we wanted to try something new, we wanted to build a service that allowed people to stay in touch and on the same page while in a mobile environment. So we built a Group Texting technology called operator sue. Basically it is reply all for texting. So organizing sport practice, getting group feedback, running an event like a wedding or bit party is easy.
Cristian: How is this different from let’s say mass messaging from PDA or similar Web based applications?
Justin: Operator Sue allows you to create a Team Line with people you know. Its not about mass messaging, but rather staying connected with a group of friend or co-workers. Operator sue is completely implemented via Texting, no application install, no smart phone required.
Cristian: And who is the target customer?
Justin: Operator Sue is great for those who are on the Go but need to coordinate with a group of people. This is common for many of us, parties, big events like weddings, conferences, trips to theme parks, sport teams.
Cristian: What would be the benefits of using www.operatorsue.com ?
Justin: The primary benefit is that everyone is in the conversation, instead of having to tell everyone the time has changed from 3:00pm -> 3:30 individually, when the time changes everyone just knows. Operator Sue is an amazing system to syndicating information quickly between members of a group.
Cristian: How did you come up with the idea on this one?
Justin: We started off trying to build some smart phone app to help people get and stay connected. We we’re thinking of campus student orgs and groups. But one of the biggest challenges is that not everyone has a smart phone. So we realized we could do it with text messaging, we knew we had to give it a shot. Operator Sue was the result.
Cristian: You worked as an intern for Google, Microsoft, Mechantronics and Cuna Mutual Group. So you could see a glimpse of how is it to work in big corporations. What made you become an entrepreneur?
Justin: This is where I might be a little weird. I love working for big companies. I love having a manager and setting my objectives. So it’s not that I was running away from the big companies. PerBlue as an opportunity just came out of the wood work, and when I saw it and the potential it had in this space I knew I just had to run with it. Once our team started to formulate more, I knew even more in my heart this was absolutely the right thing to do. We have an amazing time here at PerBlue, its extremely challenging work. It’s one of those few experiences in life where you can watch yourself majorly grow by the month. That is humbling.
Cristian: For a young entrepreneur, what’s the typical path between having an idea and seeing the end product on the market?
Justin: That is a good questions, I think to be honest, there is no typical path. In fact I have actually started a little collection. You know how some people collect Stamps. We’ll I collect entrepreneurial startup stories. Almost every entrepreneur has one, its normally traumatic, where the company or team almost dissolved 3 times before getting together or something. Here are the things you need:
A true leader – this job is by far is the worst job, you do 2x the work, 3x the time, 4x the stress, 10x the responsibility. But it’s a requirement, the leader drags everyone along with chains when needed, cheers them on when it’s working, resolves the conflict when it happens casts visions, sells people on the ideas or when needed just sits down and writes the code.
Persistence – You got to believe your fighting for something worthwhile and you just can’t give up! If you can conserve your cash and keep the team motivated you’ll eventually cross some finish line. The only thing that truly kills a startup is “giving up.”
Cristian: Do you think school has something to do with your “entrepreneurship career”?
Justin: School being classes the answer is for sure No. School being all of the extra group, Innovation Contests, business contests and what not the answer is: Yeah they really helped. The whole experience, peers, mentors, challenges, parents, cultured my personality which I think the real reason I’m an entrepreneurs. I am a connector. I love salesmanship. I have a natural knack for business. I love to build things.
Cristian: Yes, my feeling is that apart from education, school is the best place for a young entrepreneur to gather with like minded people and start a business. I mean where would you meet young entrepreneurs elsewhere?
Justin: I think school provides a great ground work and social network to build a company out of it. PerBlue is almost 100% staffed from UW Madison. I think having a pool of talented passionate individuals is huge. But I don’t necessary know if it is magical place that just creates entrepreneurs. It takes an entrepreneur to make another Entrepreneur. I got more from the mentors I seeked out and found then from my peers doing similar things around me. I believe you got to look up rather than to side to side. But I guess I’ve never done it anywhere else so I wouldn’t know.
Cristian: Coming back to www.operatorsue.com , what’s the revenue model? You told me it’s not advertising, so what is it?
Justin: Our primary goal was to build a product with great value that people wouldn’t mind paying a few bucks a month for their Team Line.
Cristian: And what developments are planned for the future?
Justin: Right now we are really looking for more feedback. Operator Sue was a PerBlue experiment. I want to see how people use it, how much they like it.
Cristian: You told me it’s not yet fully launched, so when can we expect to have everything rolling?
Justin: It rolls pretty well now, we had some hiccups in the beginning, but now the service is running pretty smoothly. Or so we hope. As far as when the beta tag comes off… we’ll see.