Serial entrepreneur Wade Beavers has built his companies. Now, this tech executive is ready to give back to the Rochester entrepreneurial community. After launching the mobile application development startup DoApp Inc. in 2008, Beavers and his leadership team sold the business off as three separate companies from 2012 to 2016. Beavers believes the Rochester community is ripe for growth and wants to share his unique experience and expertise with the startup culture emerging in this city.
While others in Rochester have certainly exited companies, and exited them successfully, the story of DoApp is truly unique and authentically Minnesotan.
Beavers himself began his tech career right at IBM in Rochester, working as a user experience architect in 1998. During his time with that company, he met visual designer Joe Sriver; the pair’s fate have been tightly linked ever since.
Beavers said that he and Sriver hatched several ideas during their early days at IBM, “but we had no idea of business. That wasn’t even on our radar. It was more of the creative juices kind of flowing,” he explained.
Searching for something a bit more, Sriver left IBM for a position with Google in 2001, at a time when the now tech behemoth was a relative unknown, becoming the company’s very first user experience designer. Google, of course, takes off; Sriver continued with the company until after they went public. He then moved back to the Midwest with his family, searching for the next challenge.
Cue old friend Beavers.
“We basically decided on a whim that we’re going to start a company,” Beavers explained.
With no real plan, except for the nagging idea that mobile technology was going to be the next big thing, Sriver, Beavers, and fellow IBM-er David Borrillo launched DoApp in 2008. From his success with Google, Sriver single-handedly funded the startup, preventing the team from bootstrapping or seeking outside funding. From the start, they focused on product development and growth.
“The idea of starting a startup in 2008, specifically in Rochester, the ‘DNA’ of that option was pretty limited,” Beavers explained.
He found few avenues for business assistance in Rochester, especially for a tech startup. It was also extremely difficult to convince potential employees to leave positions at established companies such as IBM.
“Most of my employees that we had during this time were engineers that had five years at a big company, at least. And wanted more. Wanted independence,” Beavers said.
Like every other tech business in the spring of 2008, the freshly formed team applied to become an Apple developer for the launch of the company’s brand new App Store later that year. Apple was only accepting 500 apps from 2500 companies. DoApp had absolutely no reason to succeed.
But they had not just one, but three apps chosen for the App Store’s opening in July 2008.
After that initial success, Beavers said the team was just burning through cash, trying to figure things out. “Figuring things out” included completing some demo work for Purina, landing a seven-app deal with Sony BMG, and creating an app for American Idol winner David Cook.
“We didn’t know what we were really doing,” Beavers laughed. “We just did it to keep paying the bills.”
To put a cork in the cash hemorrhage, they needed to focus on their core strengths, their “DNA”, and develop some sort of profitable business plan. Beavers had a hunch- which turned out to be remarkably accurate- that with the advancement of tech capabilities, consumers were going to want to perform the same activities on their mobile phones as they could on their computers using the web.
He thought these basic activities would include: transactions, entertainment, education, and added utility.
At the time, the software as a service (SaaS) model, where software is licensed as a subscription service, was not as ubiquitous as it is today. After surviving for one year, the team committed to SaaS and began developing mobile solutions for the news and broadcast industry, landing their first client in WCCO-TV.
“You have to have a business model in place. We didn’t initially. But then I realized, here’s how we’re going to make our money. It was all about software as a service,” Beavers explained.
This is where the story starts to get even more…intense.
As DoApp was building this first product for WCCO-TV, another portion of the team also began creating a mobile solution to tap into the enormous real estate market. The goal, Beavers explained, was to provide a SaaS product for every Multiple Listing Service (MLS) association.
They didn’t end up replacing MLS, but at its height DoApp’s real estate solution provided MLS subscription members with data-rich listings right on their mobile devices in ten of the top twenty real estate markets in the United States.
Then in 2009, Do App formed a partnership with Mayo Clinic and Dr. Amit Sood to launch an app teaching relaxation and breathing techniques. After completion of this product build, DoApp and Mayo continued the partnership to create additional health and wellness-focused mobile applications.
“So basically, I’ve built three companies, thinking one of these three is going to take off. In their own weird way, they were all surviving,” Beavers explained.
Check back in on Thursday for the second part of this story where Wade talks about successfully exiting all three companies that were built within DoApp and gives his insight on the Rochester entrepreneurial community.