A Conversation with Victor Cho of Evite & Paul Doersch of Kespry
A Conversation with Victor Cho of Evite & Paul Doersch of Kespry.
BT: Could you tell us about what led you to take these opportunities at your respective startups?
PD: I studied computer science in school, and always had a passion for physics, computer science, and flight. I first worked at research and development for BMW—I was initially excited, but after three years I realized my work didn’t incorporate my passion for flight. I sought to challenge myself and believed the world is technologically read for drones, so I decided to start Kespry.
VC: When I was young, I knew I wanted to run a software company. Throughout my career, I made well-planned choices to expose me to different roles and key industries. Prior to this job, I took a year and a half off to spend time with my kids. When getting back into work, I wanted to join a company that had an intriguing position in the startup world. I chose Evite because it was almost anti-technology—it used tech as a platform for bringing people together in face-to-face meetings.
BT: What value do you see in retaining a relatively small, startup culture at your companies?
PD: There are now 30 of us at Kespry; it’s a small but growing team. One of the values is that we have members of different teams working together – all our desks are intermingled in one room and all employees talk throughout the day. They automatically understand issues throughout the company, which leads to great efficiencies that happen organically.
VC: Evite currently has 70 people—it’s a 16-year-old startup, but we’re still small. We are annoyed with any barriers in our office, as we feel a non-structured environment better leads to innovation. We realize that teams that work together are better at problem solving—our developers have to understand our entire staff, which encourages them to think more creatively in the coding.
BT: In the startup world, I heard that every time you double in size you need to reorganize management. What challenges do you expect to face as you continue to grow?
VC: The biggest challenge for size is scaling ability. The minute you add organizational complexity, roles often change from being solely a talented engineer to one who has to balance technical projects with team-building responsibilities. These jobs require different skill set, so we focus on leadership maturity and training to make sure our team members are prepared.
PD: At Vestry, we’ve grown quickly. I agree that a lot of engineers are great engineers, but struggle to manage effectively. We are lucky as we have a few key individuals who are both great engineers and great leaders. We’ve greatly benefited from having high caliber people who can cross the bridge.
BT: How do you both think about scalability and its subsequent challenges?
PD: One challenge to scaling a drone company and sales process is that something needs to operate the drone, though our clients only care about the data it provides. Some companies send a person to each site indefinitely to fly the drone with a joystick. We’ve designed our system to be as automated as possible – you can plan out the flight on an Ipad and have it go. That way, we can sell our products across the country without requiring employees with each project, which removes costs of service providers.
BT: Did you ever see adjacencies that you considered going into then decided to narrow in?
PD: Originally, we started in agriculture and looked at high value crops in the area. But we found the farmers were hesitant to bring in new technology and realized agriculture wasn’t the right first step. We tried a lot of things out to see what would stick, and eventually moved onto construction. We felt construction utilized our technology most beneficially. It was the right first industry to add value and encourage growth. I learned the importance of exploration and importance of saying no to an industry that just wasn’t worthwhile.
BT: How do the two of you think about distinguishing yourselves from competitors, and being a driver rather than responder of innovation?
VC: We did a market analysis and look at competitors. We found the main competitor was not the similar, smaller companies (such as paperless post), but instead Facebook events and group chats. So we strive to offer a service that’s a more appealing experience than the most facilitated means of invitations.
PD: Right now, the drone industry lacks people who work with various industries and understanding their demands—not just the superficial requests but what people actually are interested in paying for. Most drone companies try to be a platform off the bat, but the industries usually aren’t ready, or companies cater to industries, but lack the innovative technology. It’s an emerging industry, so we’re not too worried about competition because there’s so much anticipated expansion.
BT: What specific challenges have you experienced as a hardware company in the valley?
PD: Most software companies are able to grow very, very quickly. Hardware causes a delay to that growth, because manufacturing and sales of physical objects take time. But with 3D printing and other technologies that make manufacturing faster help speed up the process. Drones are able to help solve more and more problems and are becoming essential to projects. As people seriously need this hardware, we haven’t seen too much pushback from investors.
BT: How do you see marketing changing with technology and how do you apply it to Evite?
VC: Traditional marketing, at least for a subset of tech companies, is mostly irrelevant for us. We don’t go through retailers, but instead rely on the network inherent to our product. With companies that connect each other, most marketing comes from user experience and making sure Evite is a positive experience.
BT: Looking back, what advice would you give your 20-year-old self?
PD: Follow your passion, don’t something just because someone said so, and don’t worry about building a resume. Do what you want to do, and then you’ll be great at it.
VC: That’s great advice. One of my mentors at Microsoft sat me down and said, “Victor, you do amazing work. I know this, the other guy knows this, but nobody else does. When I leave, you will lose your equity and you will need to rebuild credibility.” That inspired me to communicate more with the company, and demonstrate my value to the company. A lot of people assume that good work will be noticed, but you also need to do your own PR and make sure your company recognizes your worth.