Have you ever been stuck using an app and wished you had a live person to help? Showkit will do just that. A finalist at TechCrunch Disrupt NYC in May, ShowKit founders (and LA’s Product Management graduates) Emily Sipchen and Anthony Kelani are revolutionizing how companies are interacting with their customers. Since their debut, they’ve been making waves. Up next? They plan to roll out versions for Windows and OXS web plug-ins.
Keep an eye on this team; They’re going places.
Here’s a bit of background on ShowKit:
ShowKit is a software company based in West Hollywood, CA that is revolutionizing customer support and engagement technology for mobile. We bring the power of Remote Desktop to mobile. With ShowKit, any app can connect a mobile user to a support agent so they both see, tap, swipe and navigate as if they were standing next to each other—while also connected over video chat.
What were you up to before coming to General Assembly, and what brought you to us?
Emily: Before GA I was already working on ShowKit. We had incorporated about 6 months before the class. I’m a first-time entrepreneur and I thought GA sounded like a great way to accelerate my learning. In a startup, moving quickly matters and I didn’t want to only be learning on the go, I wanted more structure and guidance so I could move ShowKit forward.
Anthony: Prior to the class I had just become CEO of ShowKit. I was one of the lead developers and inventors of our technology prior to ShowKit’s incorporation in 2013. I had some previous project management experience; however looking at the curriculum of the GA Project Management course I had some gaps in my knowledge. I figured the class would be a great opportunity to fill in those gaps with skills I could apply to running ShowKit.
Have you both always wanted to start your own businesses?
Emily: Definitely. When I was a kid, my sister and I ran a sidewalk coffee shop during Christmas break. We pulled in about $30/day, which was really exciting for a 9-year-old.
Anthony: I’ve had the entrepreneurial mindset since a young age. My first business was in computer repair and web design. All of my friends and family were my regular clients and referred me to their friends. I was pretty much Geek Squad before it existed.
How did this company come to be?
Emily: The ShowKit team began working on real-time communication technology in 2012 while part of the West Hollywood-based incubator Curious Minds. At the time, another Curious Minds company, Ringadoc, had the idea to connect doctors to patients over mobile video chat. We quickly learned that existing communication tools fell far short of our need—so we built our own.
We created patent-pending technology to allow a mobile user to share his or her screen with a desktop computer, giving both users the ability to navigate the mobile app screen while talking over video chat. Our goal was a user/agent experience in which both parties felt like they were standing next to each other, interacting with the same device.
Any challenges that you didn’t expect?
Emily: To be honest, I was really surprised by how difficult it can sometimes be to figure out what to do next. There’s a little bit of paralysis that can creep in when you know that time really matters, that you only have so much of it, and that every effort has to count. Deciding which course of action, what set of tasks, etc., will make the biggest difference is hard.
Anthony: Fundraising is very time consuming. You hear all of these great stories on the web about startups receiving millions in funding, but there’s a crazy amount of work done by founders behind the scenes to close their rounds. It’s pretty much a full time job when you’re in fundraising mode and it’s a rollercoaster.
What’s the most surprising thing you’ve learned about yourself over the past year?
Emily: Turns out I’m pretty good at talking to clients and negotiating deals, when before I’ve always preferred strategy and operations. I definitely lean toward being pretty introverted, so finding myself on the phone, or in meetings for hours a day talking to clients (and enjoying it) really surprised me. I’m finding that to reach the goal of building a successful company, it’s surprisingly easy for me to step outside my comfort zone.
Anthony: It was pretty scary making the jump from a “safe” corporate job to being in charge of a company and employees. At first I thought I was losing my mind because there was so much to do and so little time, but I grew and quickly learned to just focus on what really matters. I’ve grown a lot over these past 11 months, and I absolutely love being an entrepreneur. I’m almost 100% sure I won’t ever go back to a corporate job.
What advice can you share to our community of aspiring entrepreneurs?
Emily: Try everything and anything. Test all of your ideas for reaching customers. Be aware of your assumptions and test those too. And definitely talk to people. You don’t have to take all of the advice you get, but look for patterns.
Anthony: If you’re a first time entrepreneur, build a team of smart people around you. If you meet someone that really is interested in what you’re doing, has great advice and has more experience than you make them an advisor. Don’t be afraid to have smart people around you. Also, don’t be secretive; share your startup and experiences with people.
I’m sure you’ve had some crazy stories over the course of your journey. Can you share one with us?
Anthony: Meeting the cast of Silicon Valley [at TechCrunch Disrupt] was a very exciting part of the experience because it’s one of my favorite shows. There were a lot of parallels between our experience that were really funny.
Emily: “Guilty” being the key word here, I would say Netflix/Hulu and TV in general, and guilty because I don’t like wasting time, I’d ideally be reading or learning something instead, but sometimes it’s nice to go home and binge watch television.
Anthony: My guilty pleasure is watching and sharing viral videos, so instead of doing it during my productive time during the day I dedicate an hour or so at the end of each day to get it out of my system.
Brianna Plaza is a Digital Marketing graduate turned Technical Marketing Producer for General Assembly.