Helping people is what Zach Gray always wanted to do. He knows what it’s like to struggle and knows the frustration that ensues when a problem remains unsolved. His knowledge combined with his desire to help out, led to the creation of the social media app Strivr.
Since setting up shop back in April 2013, Zach has worked tirelessly to ensure the future of Striver. He understands that people have a hard time asking for help. It is his hope that Strivr can make this easier for them.
Here’s what Zach Gray has to say about the ride thus far:
What steps did you take and what requirements were needed to establish your business?
When I first came up with Strivr, I knew very little about technology and business. It started as more of a hobby, with me trying to figure out if I had conceived something that filled a need and wasn’t currently available.
I spent months doing research, gathering feedback, and determining exactly how Strivr could fit in the market. The more research I did, and the more people I talked to, the more I learned about the entrepreneurial process. I fell in love with the idea of making people’s lives easier, and decided I would do anything to make this concept a reality.
Starting a business is complicated. I wrote a business plan and shared it with as many knowledgeable people in this space as possible. I learned there is no science to starting a business. Each company takes a different path, and it’s all about finding the path that works for you.
What specialists did you need?
First we hired an attorney to handle our legal matters. We consulted an accountant on upfront financial decisions we had to make, spoke to several investors and venture capitalists, and talked to as many people who had started tech businesses as we could to learn more about the process. We also realized that in-house development would be more effective and efficient than relying on outside resources. Turnaround time increased dramatically; the developers are more committed to our app and we are constantly iterating.
What tools and applications did you use?
PowerPoint and Excel became my best friends. I created an investor deck that we constantly edited and improved after each presentation. We also consulted various online sites to connect with developers and companies that could help us get to where we needed to be. I also used Trello for project management and asked the staff to do the same. It’s made it easier for us to track progress and ensure tasks are completed on time.
Did you bootstrap your business or did you get funding elsewhere?
We raised a significant sum from family and friends through two rounds of financing. We are appropriately cautious with our spending and evaluate funding-related decisions very carefully. We’re in a good place financially, but we want to continue to be smart about our spending. That being said, our marketing strategy is very grass roots, which we take great pride in.
What about the online communities? How were they able to show their support?
Lehigh University’s Entrepreneurial Department was a huge help in getting Strivr off the ground. We received tons of support and guidance from the professors and other administrators in the department. We joined Ben Franklin Tech Ventures in the fall of 2015, which is a tech incubator located in Bethlehem, PA and other locations around PA. This provided us with access to other statups for collaboration. We’ve also gotten great business guidance and networking opportunities from Wayne Barz, manager of Entrepreneurial Programs there.
Do you struggle with work-life balance?
Finding work-life balance is something that I still struggle with. When you create something from nothing, all you want to do is work on it. It becomes a living thing – Strivr really is my baby. What I realized though is that ultimately, your business won’t succeed if you’re not taking care of yourself. If you’re not sleeping and living a healthy life, you’ll start to lose your drive, patience, and trust in the process, which will have a negative impact on your business. So even though you might think you’re working hard and furthering your business, you could actually be hurting it.
What are the things you wish you knew when you were starting your business?
Keep things as simple as possible. Whether it be the actual product, business processes, or whatever else, simple is better. When I first started Strivr, I was trying to build as much as I could, thinking I knew how users would use the app and what they would like. You can’t predict real-world feedback and the best way to learn is to get something out there and see how people react to it and use it.
What kind of company culture does your company have?
Strivr’s company culture is extremely collaborative and open. I firmly believe that you come up with better, more creative solutions when working with others. People see things differently, and getting different perspectives on various issues is very valuable. We try to reward behaviors that we want more of. Even if it’s as simple as social recognition, the work we do is hard and sometimes all you need is some affirmation. We always want to ensure our team is happy and feels valued.
What business management style did you apply?
Participative, in an early stage startup, it’s extremely important that everybody pulls toward the same direction. There will be times when things get busy and everyone is on their own; when those times come, I need to be confident that everyone will be keeping the same principles, beliefs, and thought processes. Having a participative style lets everyone be involved in decision-making processes and keep us on the same page.
What advice from other entrepreneurs do you remember? Did it help you succeed when you followed it?
I’ve been told that no one really knows what they are doing and I think there’s some truth to that. You take the information you have and make the best decision you can with it. That’s all you can do. There’s no roadmap and there are no correct or incorrect answers. Someone once told me, “I don’t have the answers and if you ever come into contact with someone who claims they do, stay away from them.”
What important lesson did you take away from your experience in starting a business that you want to share with other who plan to start their own business?
Don’t lose sight of why you’re doing what you’re doing. If it were easy, anyone could do it. Also – listen, listen, and listen. Listen to your friends, partners, users, investors – everyone you possibly can. Most of the ideas I’ve had or the changes that have been made to Strivr have come from listening to other’s opinions and perspectives. Everyone looks at things differently, and we can accomplish more together than we can individually.