Assembling the right team for your startup is essential for its success, which is why most founders will want to know about your previous experience, how you handled pressure situations, an example of your problem-solving skills, and maybe your philosophy on teamwork.
But Ashley Crowder wants to know what you did in high school. “We want to find out, what were your childhood interests and how did that get you to where you are today?” she says.
In this edition of UpTech Report, Ashley talks about the rigorous process she uses to find the people who will create the right culture at her company, Vntana, an imperative that she says outweighs experience.
More information: https://www.vntana.com/
Ashley Crowder is the co-Founder/CEO of VNTANA, the world’s first 3D Collaboration Platform. The platform makes it easy to create 3D web and AR experiences, proven to increase sales and reduce returns. Their patented optimization algorithms automatically reduce file size by up to 95% while maintaining high visual fidelity, allowing all stakeholders to visualize 3D models through a plug and play web viewer and gives marketing teams the 3D files required for e-comm and advertising in seconds instead of days.
Crowder has worked in the mixed-reality space for over 10 years helping Fortune 1000 brands including Adidas, Lexus, AT&T and more launch XR applications to increase sales and improve training. She has 14 patents on mixed reality technology and has given talks on the future of mixed reality at prestigious venues including SXSW, Augmented World Expo,Dx, World Economic Forum and more.
DISCLAIMER: Below is an AI generated transcript. There could be a few typos but it should be at least 90% accurate. Watch video or listen to the podcast for the full experience!
Ashley Crowder 0:00
At the end of the day, customers are king. So, you know, I think you kind of hear these stories of Silicon Valley and like raising these rounds and like, raising round of funding is necessary to grow your business. But I don’t think it’s the definition of success.
Alexander Ferguson 0:24
So I’m excited to continue our conversation now hearing more about your journey. How did you get to where you are today? And where did you begin?
Ashley Crowder 0:33
Yeah, I don’t even know where to begin. I guess I’d say, you know, I always wanted to start moving companies, those kid you know, selling granola bars, the bike trail, always had something going on. I actually met my co founder, after college, because we both were importing classes from China and reselling them, and our mutual friends, like who does that for fun, you need to meet each other. And so, obviously, we both always had the entrepreneur bug. And at the time, I had just gotten exposed to ICT. So ICT is a partnership between the military and USC engineering school that does research and 3d AR VR. And that’s when I was like, you know, this is the future, this is what I want to do. Also, at that time, you know, Ben had hated his job and quit and bought a one way ticket to China. And I was like, you know, what, you should come back and help me start this company. So, you know, timing was everything. And, yeah, we just kind of jumped in and said, you know, we, we can we started with events, which investors hate, but events are great, because people pay you 50%, up front and 50% of the day of the event. So we were able to really self fund the company by creating these unique mixed reality event experiences. And every one we did, we learned so much and continue to evolve. And that’s really how we ended up building this really valuable software.
Alexander Ferguson 2:04
Did you sell for the entire time? Have you completely bootstrapped? Or do you get funding at any point?
Ashley Crowder 2:11
Here, we bootstrap for a while, and we got a little bit of seed funding, and then we operated profitably for about three years, until we really thought you know, last year really, you know what it really is the right time to fully launch this software platform. So we did raise another round at the end of last year and officially launched the platform in February. And then COVID happened in March, which was wild. So it was really good timing for us.
Alexander Ferguson 2:38
It’s, it’s interesting, where it where COVID, either is an accelerant. Or if it can pull back and it looks like you guys were definitely on the on the accelerant side, would you recommend your kind of process of first more service based and getting kind of self funding your ability and then billing it? Some seed funding, and then building MVP and getting bigger round? Would you recommend that? Or would you do anything differently?
Ashley Crowder 3:01
Yeah, you know, I think everyone’s journey is different. At the end of the day, customers are king. So, you know, I think you kind of hear these stories of Silicon Valley, and like raising these rounds, and like, raising round of funding is necessary to grow your business. But I don’t think it’s the definition of success, the definition of success is growing your client base and revenues. So I would always look at it that from that perspective. And, you know, the more clients you have and revenue you have, the easier it is going to be to raise money. So
Alexander Ferguson 3:37
speak speaking of clients, what did you do to really get the first few clients and then scale from there, were there any tactics or even campaigns that you found were most impactful to be able to grow?
Ashley Crowder 3:52
LinkedIn is amazing. I mean, I started using LinkedIn when it first came out, and you’d be shocked direct messaging people, if they’re interested in your products, like they’ll respond. So I did, don’t be afraid to reach out to people directly. But don’t be annoying.
Alexander Ferguson 4:10
They’re very, and I think people will have now cottoned on to the LinkedIn craze. And it can be overwhelming the content going through there. But it’s your interesting point of don’t be afraid to reach out. And that initial connections, that’s Is that how you were able to get your first few clients and grow from there.
Ashley Crowder 4:27
A lot of it and you know, at the time, I would go to one or two networking events a week. You know, and that’s, you know, Mercedes with a client that became because I went to a dinner and met someone at an agency and like, you never know where were some of these relationships will come out. But networking is so important. I think when people a lot of people when they have an idea for a company, they want to keep it secret and you don’t want someone to steal it and it’s like look, execution is everything. Talk about it with people. Like no one wants to be juicy Xero right like that company. They have weighs like $100 million. And then once they finally gave it to a customer, they’re like, Oh, we don’t need your machine, we can just like, pour out the juice from these packets, right? Like, you want to be getting constant, like feedback from investors and clients and things to help shape your idea. Because what you initially think might not be what people need.
Alexander Ferguson 5:20
How do you get people’s attention in this kind of overloaded constant or structural world that we’re in right now? Have you seen a diff perspective? Or even recommend something based off of our current environment?
Ashley Crowder 5:36
Yeah, I mean, I recommend 3d and health to reality to get people’s attention. I mean, I always, you know, I love Gary Vaynerchuk. All this talks, he’s like a really great marketer. And you know, what he really did was leverage technology before it became popular. So he started with his, you know, family’s wine business was a $5 million a year wine business. And when email marketing or when email first came out, he did email marketing. And it was when people got one or two emails a day, so everyone opened the email, because they were excited to get an email right now. Like, everyone hates emails, but like, at the time that was innovative and new, and, you know, I think, don’t don’t be afraid of like new marketing and technology tactics, like, try it out, because you’re gonna get so much more engagement, because it’s new.
Alexander Ferguson 6:33
As you interact and talk to people, obviously, the conversation is alright, we think we’d like to use your service, what’s the price? How do you determine your initial price? And that that whole pricing structure?
Ashley Crowder 6:46
Yeah, I mean, pricing. It’s an art not a science. You know, if you’re start just starting a company, it’s like, well, what does it cost to do and you need to mark it up to cover your overhead, that’s kind of a basic way to start. It really depends on your business model as as a SaaS company, you know, we price based on users and number of products on the platform, which is equivalent to kind of like storage space. So you can think about people know that storage cost money. But yeah, it’s all dependent, really on the type of product you’re selling.
Alexander Ferguson 7:21
You’re also, as you just mentioned, very excited about an already have multiple integrations with other applications, that could be a big differentiator, and really help streamline and experience, anything you can share of that process of what is it like to build multiple integrations and lessons learned there that you could share with others?
Ashley Crowder 7:41
Yeah, I would always say, you know, walk before you run. We’re working with a lot of different clients, you know, the SAP integration, well, that that took a fair amount of engineering time to do, right. So you can’t, if we had tried to do all integrations at once, it wouldn’t have been possible, you know, who you are, as a startup, you only have so much bandwidth. So we chose to do that full on integration of SA P, which has been great. Sandwich Shopify, but then the advertising networks we’re working with, like Google and Facebook and unity, it’s more of just a relationship right now saying, Hey, we know, you have tons of brands who don’t have the right 3d files, we can help send people our way. And then, you know, if we have clients on our platform, we’re letting them know, by the way, you can advertise in 3d and Google do you want to meet so and so. So starting that way, was an easier way to just kind of get a relationship going versus, you know, spending a lot of engineering time before something really had legs,
Alexander Ferguson 8:43
managing a team and that team’s timing and time, as you just mentioned, like that development time? What does it been like to build the right team in the right culture? Over these years? And now also in this everyone’s distance in separate spaces, anything you can share?
Ashley Crowder 8:59
Yeah, I mean, it’s, it’s so important, I would say early on, I learned the hard way. It’s called your head is everything, you know, it’s not that perfect resume. I would 100%. For us, it’s like we want someone who’s positive, you know, hardworking, and nice. And like, the positive optimism is the number one thing because we are building something that’s never been built before. If you’re a pessimist, like, you’re not gonna enjoy it, because like, constantly like, well, what if we did this? That’s not possible, but like, we can make it possible. You know,
Alexander Ferguson 9:38
you don’t have to keep hitting hitting ads on that is speaking of that, that whole point, if beyond the resume, what methods do you do or use to assess the potential then of other candidates that come through?
Ashley Crowder 9:49
Yeah, I mean, we have a pretty rigorous interview process. So we do our first interview, we start and like, ask about your high school and college College and it like throw some people off. But so that that’s been helpful, and it’s kind of surprises people.
Alexander Ferguson 10:08
curveball there. Yeah. Going into this next year and two to 2021. What kind of hurdles Do you see that you’re gonna need to overcome to be able to keep growing both externally reaching out to clients building up the customer base and internally with your own team?
Ashley Crowder 10:26
Yeah, I mean, I think recruiting is so important, which you kind of just touched on is we are scaling up pretty quickly, it is pretty amazed, like we’ve been growing an average of eight to 10% month over month in sales. So you know, recruitment is really important. And then that onboarding process of getting people scaled up quickly, I would say, you know, we’re also continuing to expand markets that we’re in. So we started with apparel and footwear, and now we’re starting to do furniture and home goods. But we’ve even you know, medical devices have 3d models, like it’s amazing, the different industries that all like this 3d transformation is happening, like, globally, and not just any commerce. So we’re really excited to continue to expand. And I say, just like Amazon started with books, we’re starting with apparel, and gonna conquer the world from there
Alexander Ferguson 11:20
are any books, podcasts, audio books, or journals or blog posts that you really have enjoyed and would recommend or enjoying reading right now?
Ashley Crowder 11:32
Um, yeah, I would say, you know, I, the founder of Basecamp, wrote a pretty great book about just kind of being able to structure your time better, and you don’t have to necessarily be working 100 hour weeks, you know, get cut where you want to go, it’s not sustainable. And then yeah, an app I really recommend is like the five minute journal, I love it, it just like you start your day and end your day with it. And it starts, you know, what you’re thankful for, and how you’re gonna make today, great. And at the end of the day, like what happened today, that was awesome. And kind of just like, keeps you focused and on and celebrate the wins.
Alexander Ferguson 12:15
Talking about a power of credit, good routine. So last question I have for you, what kind of technology innovations do you predict we’ll see in the near term next year, so and long term? 510 years?
Ashley Crowder 12:29
Yeah, I mean, I’m just so excited about where the entire XR space is going. I mean, I am part of a group that meets in VR every Wednesday night. It’s really fun. And we test out all the latest. And, you know, there’s lots of issues right now, like, the other week last night, one of the people sat in a chair and couldn’t get up and it looked like he had flipped upside down. And like he was in the underworld. Wait, it was just hilarious. We’re all dying, laughing like there’s so many glitches right now still. But like it’s getting better and better. And there’s haptic suits now. So I can be wearing haptic suit in VR feeling, actually what I’m looking at in VR. And when you look at like the medical advancements, and combined with 5g, you could have a surgeon in New York performing surgery on someone in Argentina through VR and haptic gloves, controlling a robot like it’s insane what is going to be possible, and so super excited.
Alexander Ferguson 13:29
That concludes the audio version of this episode. To see the original and more visit our UpTech Report YouTube channel. If you know a tech company, we should interview you can nominate them at UpTechreport.com. Or if you just prefer to listen, make sure you subscribe to this series on Apple podcasts, Spotify or your favorite podcasting app.