Hi Justin, and welcome on board. Tell us a few things about yourself.
Justin: Thanks for having me; my name is Justin; I work for a startup from Madison, WI called PerBlue, where we are building some exciting technologies and products, and we’re having too much fun doing it.
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 investor or an entrepreneur?
Justin: I would say probably on a day-to-day basis, I consider myself more an entrepreneur more than an inventor. I never really bonded with the word “inventor” I think everyone is an inventor in their creative outlet. But true entrepreneurs are rare. I don’t even know if I deserve that title yet.
You actually won a $10,000 prize on the 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 the University of Wisconsin – Madison has these great competitions for innovation, business, and engineering. I had participated in that contest for my entire college career. This last year all of the past experience paid off because as a team and product, when we submitted a Proactive Sleep, we had an excellent idea, prototype, and plan. It does feel good to get recognized for your product/idea. But it’s just a contest; making something successful in the marketplace is the next milestone of achievement.
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 replied all for texting. So organizing sports practice, getting group feedback, running an event like a wedding or bit party is easy.
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. It’s not about mass messaging but rather staying connected with a group of friends or co-workers. Operator sue is completely implemented via Texting, no application install, no smartphone required.
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, sports teams.
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 3:00 pm -> 3:30 individually when the time changes, everyone just knows. Operator Sue is an amazing system for syndicating information quickly between members of a group.
How did you come up with the idea on this one?
Justin: We started off trying to build some smartphone app to help people get and stay connected. We’re thinking of campus student orgs and groups. But one of the biggest challenges is that not everyone has a smartphone. We realized we could do it with text messaging; we knew we had to give it a shot. Operator Sue was the result.
You worked as an intern for Google, Microsoft, Mechatronics, and Cuna Mutual Group. So you could see a glimpse of how it is 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 woodwork, 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; it’s 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.
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 question; 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 collect entrepreneurial startup stories. Almost every entrepreneur has one; it’s 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.”
Do you think the school has something to do with your “entrepreneurship career”?
Justin: School being classed, the answer is for sure No. School being all of the extra group, Innovation Contests, business contests, and whatnot, 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 entrepreneur. I am a connector. I love salesmanship. I have a natural knack for business. I love to build things.
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 groundwork 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 necessarily know if it is a magical place that just creates entrepreneurs. It takes an entrepreneur to make another Entrepreneur. I got more from the mentors I sought out and found than 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.
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.
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.
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 initially, but now the service is running pretty smoothly. Or so we hope. As far as when the beta tag comes off… we’ll see.