Vizify on beta testing, early users, and Techstars

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Paul Coelho and Will Shatner use Vizify, so it must be kicka$$ right? Well, we’ll let you be the judge of that because now you can use it. Vizify just announced that they are out of beta and that invites are no longer required. Luckily we got to catch up with co-founder Todd Silverstein right before Vizify ended their beta run. During our interview he introduces us to Vizify and shares with us some lessons on beta testing, early users, and his Techstars experience. Vizify is a Techstars company-  an early stage accelerator that has locations in Boston, Boulder, New York City, Seattle, London, and San Antonio.

Vizify’s 30 second pitch….

Vizify helps you look your best online. We do this by summarizing your social media content into a graphical bio; a series of interactive info graphics that tells you story, from your most tweeted words to your career history. Use your bio as you would a personal website and impress impress potential bosses, client, or even dates. Here’s mine:https://www.vizify.com/todd

TeamHow did you come up with the idea for your company?

We were inspired by the growing importance of your online presence, when it comes to finding a job, succeeding in business, even finding a date. When you look at things from the side of the person Googling you to find out more, you realize that there aren’t really great solutions out there for pulling it all together into a constantly up-to-date, comprehensive, and engaging whole.

Can you walk us through some of the early stages of starting Vizify? 

Vizify grew out of our frustration with the hiring process at a previous company. We found reading resumes incredibly boring, and the pictures we’d form of candidates in our heads never seemed to match up with the reality. 

So our original idea was to help people get hired by giving them a tool to build a colorful infographic resume that would do a better job of expressing their personality, leading to a more successful job hunt for everyone. In order to validate it, we decided to put our prototypes to the test, so we actually began applying to jobs on Craigslist with fictional pairs of people that we more or less matched education & skills-wise. Unfortunately, the traditional resumes outperformed ours several-fold.

That was obviously incredibly disappointing, given that our early interviewing had suggested they’d do better. So we went on to speak with 200+ people involved with HR, and that’s ultimately what led to today’s Vizify– what we found out is that traditional HR players (not to mention automated keyword systems) prefer traditional resumes because they’re great at parsing them. But, what they really needed help with was determining cultural fit. What’s the story behind the resume; which was the same problem we’d experienced ourselves. We realized, in fact, that the broader opportunity was about understanding someone more broadly and deeply, and that a lot of the inquiry around that was moving from face-to-face first encounters to online Google searches.

How’d you gain traction initially?

Initially it was through the press; we had really great coverage on our launch; those initial users translated to great Word of Mouth when people started their sharing their bios on social media. We also required an invite code on launch. I think the scarcity helped drive demand; it led to a lot of online word-of-mouth.

You’re part of Techstars, how have they helped you? 

Really in three significant ways:

1) The quality of the mentor network was simply incredible. For anything we were struggling with, there’d be someone with deep experience who had faced the same problem before. We also met a number of the people who ultimately became ongoing advisors and investors through the program.

2) We went through the program with an incredible cohort of fellow entrepreneurs, mostly at the same stage of development as we were. The camaraderie & encouragement really help with the rough moments, and make the whole journey a little less lonely. That’s continued post-program.

3) Finally, the sheer number of reactions you get from people involved with the program is incredibly helpful in refining your vision & forces you to test it against reality. 

 Vizify

Why did you pick Techstars? And, what are reasons founders would want to be part of Techstars, and possibly some reasons it might not be a fit?

We spoke with people from a number of the highly-regarded programs, and really appreciated TechStars emphasis on a smaller group of companies in each class. As well, we had some geographic constraints due to families, etc on the part of my cofounders. Each TechStars program has it’s own personality, so you should definitely investigate if there’s a fit. Also, the program’s generally organized around companies looking to raise angel/venture funding, so you should be aware of that if you’re planning on bootstrapping.

Any do’s or don’ts you’d recommend for those trying to get funding?

Nothing that hasn’t been better covered elsewhere by others with way more experience that I have. My big three are:

1) Fundraising always takes 2x the time and is 4x more difficult than you think it will be.

2) Put the time into building relationships; investors are much more comfortable saying yes when they really know you and have seen you moving the business forward.

3) You have to be able to explain your what, why now, & why someone should care about your business in less than 10 seconds. It takes a lot of iteration to really distill it.

Did you beta test Vizify? How so and how do you feel it affected your relationship with those who were testing it?

Yes– we ran weekly cohorts of a mix of new testers and previous testers, with the pool growing week over week. We made remote screen recordings of their session and also did follow up surveys and conversations. There’s no substitute for  seeing where your usability is falling down, and gauging someone’s emotional experience of the product.

What advice would you give to an entrepreneur looking to get their company into Techstars?

Definitely attend the TechStars for-a-day program, and it always helps if you can build a relationship and get recommendations with a previous TechStars founder. More importantly than that, show that you can ship things, think the fundamentals of the business through, and build traction.

What advice would you like to give to an entrepreneur thinking about writing their first business plan?

Unlike a lot of people, I think it can be a helpful clarifying exercise. But I’d keep it super short (which is hard)– bullets describing the key attributes of the opportunity, why now, how you intend to win. Then go talk to people and find out.

What were some mistakes that you learned from?

Don’t assume you know how your cofounders are feeling about something; it’s hugely important to overcommunicate, find healthy ways of dealing with conflict, and making sure you’re aligned, expectations-wise around the business. I had an earlier startup fail because of founder issues, and I think it’s one of the biggest causes of failure for startups.

What progress do you hope to make in the next year?

Vizcards!

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A massive thank you to Todd for taking the time out of his busy schedule to put down some awesome answers to our questions. We look forward to catching back up with Vizify next year to see how things are going. You can also follow them on twitter!


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