Ryan Schmukler is a 3 Day Startup Madison alumni and is the lead developer of one of the hippest Madison startups: WomStreet. Grey Hensley, 3DS Intern, had a chance to sit down with Ryan and ask him a few questions about working at a startup in Madison.
I’m here with Ryan Schmukler! Ryan, tell me a little about yourself!
I graduated from UW-Madison in May 2012, with degrees in Information Studies and Entrepreneurship, and a minor in Computer Science. Despite the fact that I went through the Business School, I still consider myself more of a Computer Scientist than a business person. Especially in terms of my interests and what I bring to a startup.
You’re working for a Company called WomStreet. What is WomStreet, and where did that name come from?
Excellent question! So, WomStreet is “The Competitive Social Stage”. What we do is we host contests for events and brands. Basically, people come on our site and compete or vote, and then the best entries usually win a prize. The name actually, Wom, stands for “Word of Mouth”.
And your involvement?
Initially, I came on to that project as a consultant, then later joined on full time with the team.
What are some of the contests you have run so far?
We’ve had a lot of success with the contests we’ve been able to run. We ran a contest for Freakfest (the Madison Halloween celebration), probably our biggest one to date, where the band that won got to open for Mac Miller*. There were also associated contests with that for things like best costume, so there’s a lot of really cool stuff on the site right now. We just landed some gigs in Philadelphia for this venue called the Blockley, that’s doing a 9 band showcase. We just got Pretty Lights’ opening DJ at the Alliant Energy Center.
How can startups like WomStreet smoothly make the transition from being a local startup to a global one?
That’s one of the biggest things: you just need to try. One of my co-founders definitely was doubtful about our ability to go outside of our network in Madison. With four years here, we have a lot of experience, and a lot of connections. We are starting to realize that we can successfully go outside of Madison to get customers. Especially once you have built a clientele, and you have these case studies of how people are using your product. If you believe in your product, you’re bringing value to people. If that value proposition is solid enough, you can take that anywhere. If it’s a worthwhile service, it doesn’t matter who you know.
What is is like jumping straight from graduation into a startup?
That’s one of the nice, and weird, things about a startup. The hours are more like school than work. So for me, as a stereotypical developer, I won’t start coding until about 11. But I’ll also stay up, do all nighters if I have to. I’m definitely a pressure programmer. So just like when an assignment is due in class, and you would stay up all night writing it in the lab, it’s not uncommon for a contest for me to be going live the next day with a feature that isn’t actually yet on the site. So there’s a lot of similarities in terms of the crunch and the deadlines. Startups are much more reactive.
What is a day in the life of a WomStreet developer, now that the site is live?
Basically, we have agile software development methodologies that we like to use. We plan out all the features we want, we prioritize what we think they are in terms of importance, then we allocate them a number of points based on how long we think they will take to implement, from one to three. Half of my time is spent planning this, figuring out what we have time for, and where a good release window is. The rest is, of course, implementing. So it’s a lot of grind, especially at first, because I’m the only full time developer.
Shifting gears a little bit, how is the Madison Startup scene evolving?
I would say it has come a long way, and fast. There’s certainly a lot of great companies starting to emerge. You’ve got Snowshoe, uConnect, all the Gener8tor umbrella companies that are all working together, and then of course Gener8tor themselves are pioneering the investment scene here. It’s way further along than it was. I would highly recommend Capital Entrepreneurs to anyone that is interested in this space. That’s definitely the entry point for the network that I’m connected into right now. Everybody seems to come together in that, so you can find the people that are most similar to you and go from that.
Money’s getting a lot smarter, at least in terms of people understanding your business. It was harder to raise venture capital before, it’s getting easier now. People are starting to understand the tech space, or at least are afraid of missing out.
What do you look for in a business cofounder?
This is actually a very important question. It’s one of these misconceptions that I had, especially when I was younger: If you build this project, everyone is going to want to use it. That’s actually not the case. What you want in a business co-founder is someone that’s going to grind. As a developer, it’s easy to see what our grind is, right? Our grind is sitting down at the keyboard and coding for eight hours, and then we have three to four hours of just miscellaneous stuff that just needs to get done. Well, with a business co-founder, they’ve got three to four hours of networking and just getting brand relations, but look for what their grind is. So, business founder grinds are writing up investment materials, for investors that want to see it, projections and analytics on the site, in terms of figuring out what we might actually be worth. If you come into an investment discussion you at least have some notion of why you might be worth what you’re asking for. Certainly makes it easier to discuss with them. Also, you want someone who’s just going to hit the phones. Do something that you can’t. You want to be with the guy that you go: there’s not a chance in hell I would have landed that deal without him. Get someone that can hustle.
*Cam Houser, 3DS CEO/rap connoisseur, wants to make it clear that 3DS in no way endorses Mac Miller or his bad music.