"Test your concept first. Make a landing page and grab email addresses. Try different ideas around your central vision to minimize pivots later."
Meet Richard Parks the founder of AfterVault, a new tech startup that will store your vital information in a secure private cloud-based vaults, then pass it on to loved ones after you’re long gone.
Q: Please tell us a little bit about your company – what is AfterVault all about?
Are there things your family needs to know if you’re no longer there? AfterVault securely organizes and stores that information and automatically delivers it if something happens to you. It provides highly secure cloud-based vaults that helps you organize your information so that everything is clear if the time comes when your family needs it.
Q: Please tell us a little bit about your background and how you started your company?
I was a C++ and Java programmer and architect for about twenty years prior to transitioning to director of engineering for two different companies during the past five years of my career. A couple of years ago, I was struck by the fact that my wife wouldn’t even be able to find the bills, let alone pay them, if something happened to me. I started a small project just to solve that problem but as I talked to people about this little side project so many of them became so interested in the idea that I decided to open it up in to a more comprehensive solution that would solve a wider set of problems for more people.
Q: What are some of the projects you are working on right now?
Right now, we’re working on 2.0 which does a couple of new things. First, it guides a new user through the initial creation of their vault and makes sure they understand the usage as quickly as possible before the whole system opens up to them. Secondly, we’ve introduced a dashboard that cleans up some of the things about the old interface that bothered us. It looks a lot better and I think it’s much clearer to use.
Q: Quickly describe what an average working day is like for you?
Lately, I’ve been working at home in the mornings where I can have some privacy for my Skype meetings with marketing, programming, quality engineering, or some of the other folks working on the project. Then I usually go into a shared office space for the afternoon to work on those things that take a lot of focus without interruption: writing, programming, analysis of metrics. Often, I have further meetings in the evening with people working in the other hemisphere or in their evening. At present, the contents of each day are completely different from the one before. I hope to help on some of the engineering for our new 2.0 release but there are a lot of outreach materials (blog, interview requests, marketing materials) and quality work (helping QE, addressing customer issues, keeping a tab on possible production issues) that are a better use of my time.
Q: What would you say are the top 3 skills needed to be a successful entrepreneur, and why?
Know that everything will take much longer than you think. Accept it.
Embrace the things you don’t want to do. I want to program. I don’t want to market. I’m uncomfortable with sales. I get frustrated with testing. Too bad.
Learn from your failures instead of getting discouraged by them. You’ll have many learning opportunities.
Q: What are your plans for the future, how do you plan to grow this company?
The answer right now is a simple one: traction. Everything is about getting enough people to sign up that I can keep growing AfterVault and improving AfterVault.
Q: How are you funded? What is your best advice to entrepreneurs when it comes to raising funds?
I am bootstrapping on my money.
Q: How many users or clients do you currently have, and when do you consider your company a success?
We have about 40 users. I will consider us a success when we have 50,000.
Q: What were the top 3 mistakes you made starting your business and what did you learn from it?
- Test your concept first. Make a landing page and grab email addresses. Try different ideas around your central vision to minimize pivots later. I did not. I jumped right straight making which is likely to cause an early, unnecessary pivot.
- Don’t take on a co-founder too soon. You need to have an idea of what kind of revenue you will see before you give up a percentage of that revenue. If you have to split it, you might find that a business which would have been able to support one of you can’t support two of you. Getting out of such an arrangement is stressful and painful. I did this. When push came to shove, the vesting terms weren’t attractive to my co-founder and so she passed. In spite of the fact that she was a terrific partner and we worked together well, that was probably the best outcome at the time.
- Don’t let a natural tendency to frugality cost you money. Going the cheapest route or trying to do everything yourself, especially if you’re doing your project full-time without another job, can be much more costly than hiring the right person the first time.
Q: How do you go about marketing your business and what has been the most successful form of marketing for you?
We’re still too early to answer this questions.
Q: What was the best business advice you have ever received and who gave you this advice?
Both my lawyer, Roger Rappaport, and prior VP of Engineering for LinkedIn and serial fix-up CTO for startups Bill Crane, told me to forget about funding until you need it. The more success (and traction) you can show, the better terms you can command.
Q: Say I was starting my own version of After Vault what advice do you have for me?
Start with marketing and outreach. Build some buzz and some presence online around your concept before you write a single line of code. Your time is limited, especially if you want to keep your day job, and if you focus on just ‘making’, you’ll find that you have no time for actually finding and knowing your customer and your team first.
Q: What are the top 3 online tools and resources you’re currently using to grow your company?
Q: What’s your definition of success?
A self-sustaining business that outlives me.
Q: What are three books or courses you recommend for entrepreneurs?
- The Lean Startup by Eric Ries. To me this is the ultimate template for how to tactically establish your startup. It is required reading.
- Disrupted: My Adventures in the Startup Bubble by Dan Lyons. An excellent cautionary tale.
- The Checklist Manifesto: How to get things right by Atul Gawande. I live on my lists. This book provides the underpinnings for creating a list system that helps everyone have a better chance of doing things right.
Q: If you had the chance to start your career over again what would you do differently?
I started a business in the very early days of the web. When the time came to actually push and find customers, I just stopped. I wish I had sought partners and kept plugging when I got to what was, for me, Terra Incognita. Otherwise, I couldn’t be happier with my career’s trajectory.
Q: What is your favorite entrepreneurship quote?
I really don’t have one.
Q: How can our community get in touch with you?
Ric.parks @ aftervault.com