This is part two in a series of blog posts and interviews about Microsoft BizSpark companies that will be presenting at TechCrunch Disrupt NY. Here is an interview with John Bracken, CEO and Co-Founder of Speek, one of the easiest teleconferencing apps you will ever use.
This interview was conducted by Neha Bhaskar, SR CHANNEL & ECOSYSTEM Marketing Manager at Microsoft, in NYC.
Tell us a bit about your app and company?
Speek plans to permanently rid the world of PINs and elevator music. Since its beta launch last year, Speek has experienced rapid growth and we quickly saw the need to reach business users who were on-the-go, whether taking a meeting while stuck in traffic or on vacation.
The Speek Windows 8 mobile app allows users to choose an easy-to-remember username, instead of fumbling around for a traditional phone number and PIN. Participants talk instantly with one-click calls and no elevator music. Speek also makes it easy to add the contacts already in your phone to the call via text, email or a calendar invitation. Once on the call, users can see who’s joined, who’s talking, share images from their phone, as well as mute and remove participants.
What came first for you-the team or the idea?
A little bit of both! Speek.com started as a way to permanently rid the world of PINs and elevator music. As corporate employees, my co-founder Danny Boice and I were fed up with how stale business communication was, and set out to re-think an industry that hasn’t seen innovation in over 20 years.
What inspired you to work on this idea and how do you see yourselves evolving?
The process of starting a business from scratch is both challenging and fun. The opportunity to build something that can change the lives of millions of people for the better is very motivating.
Speek is being built for massive scale. We fully expect Speek to be used regularly by 10s of millions of users and for it to reach hundreds of millions of participants on calls. Virtually all business professionals use a phone number and pin for conference calls and only a small slice of this market will get us to those growth numbers.
What was the most difficult challenge your business faced this year?
Not a problem, but more of a challenge for us. We have dramatically improved the conference calling experience by removing the phone number and pin but many people are used to the old way of doing things. Once on a call, users often have that “a-ha” moment but moving people from the old way to the new way can be an adjustment and a product marketing challenge.
How do you know when you are failing in product development and how do you make a correction – do you make the decision on your own, or do you consult your team?
The wonderful aspect of having a web based product is that there are excellent set of tools and services available to see how your product is performing for your customers. We also give our customers easy ways to engage with our product and support teams to get real-time feedback and we really like to engage with customers on issues they are encountering. Decisions are almost always based on data, customer feedack, and discussion with team members.
Who would you like to be your mentor, and what would you ask him or her?
Very cliché, but, Steve Jobs has always been a great influence on me. His ability to connect with people, his amazing product sense and ability to provide products that are simple and innovative have always been an inspiration. Beyond these qualities, I most admire his ability to walk his own path and let fears and the world around you define who you are and what you do with your life. At times I have lost this mindset and have regretted it. You need to walk your own path and trust that the journey will lead you to a much better place.
When was the last time you fell in love with a product?
I have become a big fan of my Nike+ Fuelband. I purchased it last November and have used it everyday for the last 5 months. It is super simple to use, the user experience is outstanding, it provides motivation via competition (with myself and others), and it doesn’t try to do too much. It has one core value proposition which is to help me stay active or burn more Nike “Fuel Points” each day. It works, I love it, I talk about it and have bought a few for my friends.
What advice do you want to give for any founder who wants to build a startup in rapid time?
I often tell other startup founders that if you are not moving forward, you are moving backwards. The point is that many startups need to measure their progress in various ways from month to month to make sure their company is on a trajectory to succeed. Metrics to monitor include the pace of product development, new customers/revenue gained, partners and investors signed, and adding the right talent to the team which impacts all the above. Startups need to understand which metrics are most important for their business now and dedicate resources towards those goals. Many startups don’t progress fast enough or focus on elements of their business that may not be important (e.g. selling a bad product or not selling a good product) which unfortunately leads to a slow death.