Tuesday, March 26, 2013

Expert Tips for Saluki App Competitors and Student Entrepreneurs

As part of SIU's Saluki App Competition currently underway, successful app developer Mike Philip, CEO of Rovertown.com, engages in some Q&A and offers to help out competitors with one-on-one meetings.  

Mike Philip is the CEO of Rovertown.com, where 1.4 million college students have enrolled and downloaded the app to access to the RoverTown.com  Student Discount Program at more than 68 colleges and universities. Mike and his team developed their app over several years while enrolled as students themselves at Southern Illinois University

Q: RoverTown has come a long way and has overcome a lot of obstacles.  What were a couple of your biggest challenges early on, and how did you overcome them?

A:  When my partners and I first started Rover we envisioned renting a party limo and driving up and down the Carbondale strip after the first week of sales.  You know, reward our sales employees.  The limo will need to have the Rover logo on it.  Should we use magnets or custom vinyl?  Who cares, we will just pay the limo company to figure that out.  After all, money will be falling out of our pockets after 5 days of sales.

Four years later, I’m pretty sure I haven’t ridden in a limo once.  In fact, the harsh reality, according to one Harvard Business Professor, is that 95% of all startups fail.

The biggest challenge you will face as a student entrepreneur is ignorance.  Luckily, the fix is easy.  Talk to as many people as possible.  Tell them what you are doing and ask for advice.  Don’t be afraid that they will steal your idea.  People are busy (and lazy).  The benefit of speaking to people and correcting your ignorance will outweigh the slim chance that someone might  steal your idea.  Ideas are nothing without execution.

Q: RoverTown has been very successful in building a strong following on Facebook and other social media outlets.  How important has this been to your business?

A: Social Media is an important tool for building a following around your business.  As our company has grown from one city (Carbondale) to 68 it has been a challenge to consolidate our social media into one voice.  My suggestion is to build a strong local following and use that as a fire for a national roll out.

In your app, build social into the core utility of your app.  For example, rather than “click here to share with your friends.” Do something like “share with your friends to reap the benefits of my app.” How you accomplish this is up to you to figure out.

Q: A lot of aspiring app creators have problems finding developers/programmers.  What advice would you have for them?

A: Creating the right team is crucial.  You need to have the right mix of personalities and skills to effectively move your company forward.  A programmer, graphic designer, and a sales person would be my minimum recommendation. 

If you are having trouble finding a partner to fill any of these 3 positions, learn how to do it yourself.  I have had to teach myself how to do just about every position within our company.  You don’t need to be an expert, just figure out how to get it done.  Then eventually you will find a specialist to come in and do it really well (and fix everything you screwed up!). 

Don’t waste time thinking “if I only had...”

Q: Once you have your app developed and working, what would you say are the most important things to consider in order to ensure a successful rollout?

A: Determine who your users are and where they hang out.  Get out there and tell them all about it.  You don’t need to spend a bunch of money on advertising.  Be creative.

Q: What is the one thing that you can recommend to any aspiring entrepreneur?

A: Focus.  As your business grows, ideas and opportunities will start coming your way.  You will want to grab them all and run with them.  The right thing to do is to stay focused and do one thing really well.  Don’t start a new project until you have completely dominated your current focus.

Thanks to Mike for his app endeavor insight!  Mike has offered to arrange one-hour meetings with individual Saluki App Competition teams to go over their idea, give them pointers, and serve as their "entrepreneur-in-residence."  This is a great opportunity for teams to work with an existing local business who can show them the ropes.  All you have to do is make your submission to the Saluki App Competition at http://siu.launcht.com - do it now!  Deadline March 29, 2013.

Questions about the Saluki App Competition? Contact Amy McMorrow Hunter, techtran@siu.edu, (618) 453-4556.

©2013 SIU Board of Trustees

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