Daniel Sullivan And Jonathan Fox 2 16 15

Host: Mike Cherveny

Daniel Sullivan and Jonathan Fox are recent graduates of John Carroll University. A little over a year ago Jonathan and Daniel founded Virtual Compass Productions, a startup that develops mobile virtual tours for colleges. Overview at Virtual Compass Productions.

Mission Statement:

Virtual compass productions is a small software startup. Our main product is virtual tours of college campuses. Our tours include GPS functionality for on campus self guided tours or to augment a standard tour for extra information.
The main purpose of our tours is to allow off campus potential students to learn about the college and its campus. Our tours include information about a colleges sports, academic programs, photos of campus, and an illustrated map of campus.

Bio: Jonathan Fox

Education
Jonathan graduated from John Carroll University in 2014 with a Bachelors of Computer Information Systems and a minor in Business.

Work Experience
Jonathan is the Cofounder of Virtual Compass Productions and notes that with a small staff (of only three full-time employees) everyone takes on multiple responsibilities. In addition to maintaining the companies' web presence and designing the user interface for the tours, Jon also utilizes his business school background to coordinate decisions relating to VC's growth and direction.

In addition to founding and running Virtual Compass Productions, Jonathan works at a data recovery firm, and is responsible for the development of small to midsize (usually 2000 lines or less) .NET Web Applications.

Skills
C# / VB / JavaScript / Java / MSSQL / Mobile Design / Business Planning / HTML / CSS / Graphic Design / Adobe CC

Jon's Résumé

Bio: Daniel Sullivan

Education
Daniel graduated from John Carroll University in 2014 with a Bachelors of Computer Science.

Work Experience
Daniel is the lead developer as well as the campus photographer for Virtual Compass Productions. As such, he is charge of the Architecture and implementation of the software as well as testing. Daniel notes that although he is the lead developer, Jon assists him in areas he is more familiar with, such as database design and web development. Daniel is also responsible for researching new technologies and purchasing necessary equipment. For example Daniel orchestrated the switch from Eclipse to Android Studio within Virtual Compass, and also purchased necessary Apple equipment in order to support iOS.

In addition to founding and running Virtual Compass Productions, Daniel works as a software developer at MVP Systems Software, where he interned for the past two summers. Daniel's responsibilities include implementing new features, and fixing miscellaneous bugs however, he is currently being contracted by one of MVP's clients to install their product and set up the environment.

Commonly used Languages
Virtual Compass Productions: Java, XML, SQLite
MVP: C#

Topic

Daniel and I are excited to talk a little bit about our tech startup, which we've had some success with, as well the relationship between Computer Science and entrepreneurship that we feel isn't explored enough. - Jonathan Fox

Presentation

Daniel and Jon's presentation can be found here.

Outline

Background

Daniel and Jon founded Virtual Compass Productions, LLC in February 2014 as a result of CS-445(Mobile Technology) taught by Dr. Marc Kirschenbaum.

Virtual Compass Productions is a B2B company that focuses on providing mobile virtual tours for colleges and universities. And while both Jon and Daniel admit that their idea was not particularly revolutionary, they felt that there was a market for a product that delivered a superior solution.

Challenges

Jon and Daniel noted that there were many more challenges than they had initially anticipated.

Some of these challenges included:

  • Deciding how to maintain the app in the long term.
  • Designing an app that is reusable/easily adapted for each client.
  • Working long hours
  • Setbacks with JCU pitch (noncommittal response)
  • Finding additional team members
  • Support for iOS
  • Determining a timeline that can be achieved.

Turning Point
Lifestyle commitment- apartment, personal investments (Both monetary and otherwise).
Jonathan notes just how important personal investments can be. For example, when designing the second version of the app, Jon and Daniel had to weigh the opportunity cost of hiring a professional illustrator rather than creating the map themselves.
In this case, it was worth it to pay someone else to do the work so they could focus on other aspects of the company.

Microsoft BizSpark partnership. BizSpark is "an international network of entrepreneurial startups and partners" that provides startups with free Microsoft software and support.
Ursuline College Pilot

Where we are now

  • Signed IOS and Web extension with Ursuline College
  • Signed contract with Morrison Institute of Technology (Morrison, IL)
  • Goal of 10 contracts by 2016
  • Accelerators/Outside investor early negotiations (An accelerator takes a startup and seeks to transform it into a fully functioning business within 12 months. They can provide a cash influx anywhere from $10,000 to $25,000)

What We’ve Learned
Jon reflects that his time with Virtual Compass has been a humbling experience.
Jon and Daniel found themselves doing a great deal of work on what they call, the “Last 10%” of the project. The last 10% is what separates their professional venture from some of the previous projects they completed while at John Carroll. The last 10% is everything that is takes to turn a piece of software into a market ready product.

What it Takes to Survive

  • Commitment
  • Personal Sacrifices
  • Cash Influxes- “pay to play”
  • Filing for a Business
  • Marketing material + Website
  • Hardware/Software
  • “Rolling with the Punches”
  • Being Okay with Failing
  • Solid network

The Value of a CS Degree
Both of our speakers and Dr. Palmer mention how there are at least 5 "business people" for every 1 developer. And how in the entrepreneurial community one of the most sought after skill-sets is that of a Computer Scientist.
CS is what makes an idea materialize, which is essential in the prototype phase and beyond.

Takeaways

You already have the skillset- why not give it a try?
Barriers and risks are low- rewards are high.
Your product might not be revolutionary just better
Dedication and solid team-most important components

Questions

Q: What is BizSpark?
A: BizSpark is a resource for small startups, that meet certain requirements (under net profit, under maximum employee cap, etc.) which provides free professional grade Microsoft software such as Visual Studio Pro, Azure, etc.

Q: What resources did you use when you didn't know how to do something?
A: We quickly outgrew some of the solutions on StackOverflow and other forums. As a solution we began to read some material at the sources such as the Google Blogs e.g. Android Studio. Android features sometimes just do not work. Research is the only solution. There are also Consulting companies to pair program with for a fee.

Q: Do you do other freelance work?
A: No, but we both work full-time jobs.

Q: What database do you use?
A: SQLite

Q: Do you enjoy your professional jobs or coding VC better?
A: There is a different level of passion.

Q: Has JCU since reconsidered its shortsightedness? Do they feel as if they have missed an opportunity?
A: We have disagreed about certain things in the past but have since talked. However, we are not sure where they stand.

Q: You mentioned a "Shark tank", what is that?
A: That is what the Muldoon center is. They have more of an academic purpose though. Virtual Compass was looking for more of a "development in action phase"

Q: How many hours a day/week do you work?
A: About 30 hours a week. Between the three of us we try to have someone working on the app 40 hours a week.

Q: What were some of the differences between version 2 and version 1?
A: Version 1 worked and that was about it. We found ourselves saying “good enough” a lot. The app had no animations, some low resolution images. The Back end was not as well developed. In version 2 we use fragments, which are kind of like user controls. We keep the outer UI and swap some of pieces on the inside frames. Each page is no longer its own page.

Q: Is your marketing person in charge of getting new leads?
A: Primarily yes, but I [Jon] help her when I can or with some of the local colleges that I know more about.

Comment: It is funny how some people within BSOB have a great idea for an app and all we have to do is build it. People in the business school are looking for partners, and CS skills are invaluable.

Q: What is the ultimate goal of Virtual Compass?
A: We are very attached to the company. As long as the market will have us we would like to stay. Eventually we would like to expand other product ideas and work on related products to Virtual Compass.

Q: Are you at the point now where you can swap out the database and be all set for a new client?
A: Yes. Currently we use the SQLite browser but we are starting to work on our own back end. We would like to eventually have a user portal. Once this is done a new contract would cost very little.

Q: There are only so many schools in this area. What can you do to stay relevant? Upgrades? Maintenance?
A: Initally we tried to sell our app for a flat rate of $8,000. When this did not work we offered our software as a service (SaaS). This was more consistent in the market.
We also offer multiple different packages (GPS for example). There is also maintenance that will need to be done. For example there are always new tablets that need to be supported.