June 17, 2022

#31: How to build a successful MVP & company brand ft. Dana Wiggins


Transcript

Dana:

I was just saying, you know, I had, I had this idea, where you can get a photographer anywhere you are. And, you know, I feel like, I feel like I want to sell it to Instagram. That's that's exactly how the conversation went. I was telling her I wanted to sell my great idea to Instagram and she goes, why would you sell it? This could be a whole business. Like, this is amazing. Like, this is a business don't, don't sell it.

Hello. And welcome back to another episode of the black enterprise network podcast. The podcast that shares the stories of black professionals in tech and entrepreneurship. And this episode, I'm joined by Dana Wiggins, the founder and CTO of CS. I like to think of it as like Uber, before photography. And this episode, we talk about how Dana went from being a software engineer to being a full-time founder. And we dig into entrepreneurship as a whole, in which Dana shares how to successfully build an MVP instead of shooting to appeal to so many different markets at once. I hope you enjoy.

Kimmiko:

First I just wanted to start with how you got interested in computer science and engineering.

Dana:

I got interested in computer science, engineering, tech, and a very like strange kind of way. So basically my entire life, I wanted to be a lawyer. Uh, so since kindergarten, up until about junior year of high school, I was always going to become a lawyer. My parents were like, oh yes, you'd be a great lawyer. I had cousins that were lawyers and they were like, you're wonderful. You the way you're always able to like turn situations and like find a different outlet of how to explain and argue your point. You're just so creative when it comes to that. And I was always going to be a lawyer, but I always really enjoyed math and science. And I kind of like suppressed my love for math and science, because I knew that if I wanted to be a great lawyer or at least I thought if I wanted to be a great lawyer, I needed to love history. I needed to love government. I needed to love English and all that. And because those were like my favorite topics or favorite subjects, I would always suppress my love for math and science and try to give better at the other stuff. Um, so up until, so junior year, when it's time to start applying to colleges, I applied to all of my school, all, all of my schools, um, with a major in economics, because I was like, I can get a little bit of math. It's very small amount of math and economics involved, but I was like, get some statistics in there and do some math, but then also, Like just learn about the economy and it'd be great to apply to law school as a non, like poly psy major provide like some uniqueness, because I'm not just poly psy as my, uh, undergrad. Um, so yeah, I applied to all my schools, economics with the hopes of becoming a lawyer. and then during that time, I was like in AP calc two, so, oh, calculus, BC. Um, I was like a part of the honors, um, math honors club and a part of all these math things. And I was like, I'm really gonna be sad if I don't continue with like something in this area. So I thought about doing like a math major and all of that, a math minor, But I also found out about patent law. And so a patent law is it deals with just like the inventions that people are making. So technical inventions, um, and just like intellectual property. And I did some research within patent law and apparently to become a patent attorney, you have to have a technical background. So they want you to have like a degree in, some type of technical major. So computer engineering, chemistry, something technical. Right. And so that's when I was like, oh, okay. I like engineering. I'm not sold on the economics, but I still want to be a lawyer. So maybe I'll become a patent attorney. And so at that point, I, I w I wanted to be a pen attorney. And so I was looking at all the different engineering majors and areas that I could study. And I thought it was just like, I just chose one. I was like, oh, electrical engineering. That sounds fun. I hate it. I did not like chemistry, um, in high school. Uh, yeah, I did. I did not like that. biology. That was a lot of fun. Um, but yeah, I honestly just chose one. I did, I looked, I looked up all the engineering types did some research. It was like civil engineering. Huh? That's interesting. And then I was like electrical building stuff, you know, voltage, current that's cool. Um,

Kimmiko:

I recently did learn about how much patent attorneys may get. They make a ton of money. So I mean, engineers make a ton of money too, but I guess what really steered you into, because clearly I don't, you did not turn pan out to be a patent attorney. You turned out to get into software engineering and now a founder, but we'll get we'll get there. So I guess what steered you away from pursuing being a patent attorney to just being full on software engineer?

Dana:

Yeah. Yeah. So my freshman year of college, I was major majoring in electrical engineering. I took my first computer science course, and fell in love. I loved everything about computer science from staying up all night, debugging a program, and then getting it to run that first time. You know, that was just so exciting to me. And it just made me so happy when I was able to. To create something and spend hours on it. And then for it to actually work and do what it was supposed to do. I love that it was like a thrill. Every single time I got my re my code to run and to work properly. I was like, yes, yes, yes. I love this. Um, so yeah, my first computer science class that really opened the eyes, me of computer science. Prior to that, I had some experience. I was in, Mesa, which is like math, engineering, science, and arts. Um, it was a club in elementary school and I did scratch. so I don't, I think that's still around today. Um, yeah. Yeah. So it's basically, you just use like building blocks to code and make animations and stuff. So that was like my first exposure to it. But at the time, I didn't know. I didn't know. That was like fundamental parts of computer science, you know, I, it was Just fun. but yeah, my first. Coding class freshman year of college, it opened the doors to computer science for me, and I never looked back. In fact, I changed my major from electrical engineering to computer engineering. Um, the following semester.

Kimmiko:

and she never considered being a patent attorney ever again.

Dana:

Well, I wouldn't say that

Kimmiko:

Oh, okay. Okay.

Dana:

what will happen in the future? If my, my com

Kimmiko:

Hey, we had one of those guys present at the student serve center and he said how much they make. And I was like,

Dana:

yup. Yup.

Kimmiko:

I forget what he said, but I think it was like upwards to 300 K or up to three to 500 K per thing you get done. I don't know. But it was some crazy numbers.

Dana:

it's a lot. Um, it's a lot. And I mean, you could still do. Make that with computer engineering, absolutely. Like especially tech or have a startup, you know, the exits. So, you know, it's just a matter of, do you want to do the studying, pass the test and all of that, right?

Kimmiko:

yeah, but before we get into CS, I just want to talk a little bit about your software engineering career, because I felt that that was pretty cool of like, and I'll, I'll get a little into more intricate details, but when we first interviewed together, you were working at Microsoft full time. How many years were you out of school during the time.

Dana:

Yeah. Um,

Kimmiko:

this was last year, by the way.

Dana:

this was last year, so I started, I graduated from university of Maryland college park, December, 2020. I started working my first full full-time job. March, 2021. And I went full time on C's November, 2021.

Kimmiko:

Oh, whoa. We can sneak it. Let's start there. So a lot of people our age and it's probably probably going to do the same thing, cause I like a little stability, you know, but it's very, you know, it's, it's a pretty easy path to just do an intern, do internship or to, you know, get a full-time job offer after you graduate, you go to set job and you just chill there for a few years, but yours is just like, bam, bam, bam. I graduated got the job. Quit the job. And full-time entreprenuers so I guess, how did you, what did that transition look like for you? Exactly.

Dana:

yeah, yeah. So, um, I. I can't really tell the transition without talking about seeds first a little bit. So I started Working on seas, summer of 2020. Uh, I was having a routine pandemic check-up call with my co-founder now out here, Jen. And I was just saying, you know, I had, I had this idea, where you can get a photographer anywhere you are. And, you know, I feel like, I feel like I want to sell it to Instagram. That's that's exactly how the conversation went. I was telling her I wanted to sell my great idea to Instagram and she goes, why would you sell it? This could be a whole business. Like, this is amazing. Like, this is a business don't, don't sell it. Like you gotta go and work on. And so that was the start of CS. and we started working on it. It was kind of like a side project. I was still in college, you know, so I would do my coding assignments and do all my schoolwork, but then part-time like still do CS. and so I was working on it and then I graduated and I still love CS. Um, but it, like, we didn't have any customers. It was just kinda like, oh, let me code this app, see where it's going. And then we got accepted to UC Davis plasmas pre accelerator program. And that's when we started thinking more business side of CS, like, okay, what, what is going to be our take rate? Like, how do we sell this? What's the go to market strategy. So that's when we started having those conversations. And then I started working my first full-time job and March, 2021. So at this time I had CS and it was like passion turning into a business. Still didn't have a customer, but I still loved working on the app each and every day. and then I started my full-time job. It was great. I met some amazing people. Um, honestly it was, I'm so grateful for my time there. but then at some point we got like, C's started, I started to see CS beyond just passion project until I started to see the future of it. And the future was so great. And as a setback and I said, you know, I'm 23 years old. I don't, I don't have too many responsibilities right now. And I'm going to take a chance on myself. And when we got accepted into tech star Seattle, that really was, um, what pushed us to finally take that chance on herself and be like, you know, we would regret this if we don't go full force full time, and see if, put our all into CS and just see what happens when we put her all in to see. So that is how we went about the transition and why we moved. Just a matter of, we just didn't want to regret not having taken this great opportunity to be a part of a tech star, Seattle, um, accelerator. but I will say it wasn't easy. It is being an entrepreneur is challenging.

Kimmiko:

Yeah.

Dana:

not for the weak,

Kimmiko:

going to leave,

Dana:

but it's, it's something about just taking a chance on yourself and when you truly believe in the product and how great it can be, being able to just go full force on it, put your all into it. I'll say I've never worked harder than I've worked at. C's. You know, this is, these are the hardest hours I've ever worked, but I'm passionate about it. Um, so every single day I'm super excited to be staying up late and coding. Like I'm super excited to be giving my all to this because I know the future is great, so

Kimmiko:

it's a very good answer. And I think the way you phrased it was very well in the sense that knowing how a passion project just becomes more than that, or rather a side project becomes more of a passion project is the way I kind of think about it in my head of just, I don't have the energy to work on two things at once. And I really just have more passion and energy for this one thing, even if it's not making me so much money.

Dana:

Yeah.

Kimmiko:

And like you said, when you're in your twenties or maybe probably even into your early thirties, if you're not married, he don't have kids. Or I guess if you're married and you talk about it with your partner or whatever, Now's probably the best time to take those risks. And just, if you fail, you fail, but you can always try again because you're so young. So I liked the way you said that.

Dana:

Yep. So I have this thing mentality that where I basically like failures. Okay. You just got to fail fast. So you got to give it your all, you know, I could, I could have spent the next two years still working on CS. Right. And not fully committing to it, but let's say if fails, I would have wasted five years versus now I'm giving my all to it. I might, if it succeeds, I'll succeed, I'll see it succeed faster. And if it fails, I'll see it fail faster, you know, um, without wasting so much time. So yeah.

Kimmiko:

I feel you. I feel you, but I just have two questions. They're kind of combined, you know, they're kind of combined. So could you kind of just actually we'll do one at a time. I don't wanna confuse you. So could you just kind of describe what seizes and what inspired the idea

Dana:

Yeah. Okay. So CS is the world's first marketplace for smartphone photography. so similar to how Uber connects people with drivers, we connect people to smartphone, photographers for quality photos and videos. that's what seizes, what inspired the idea? Um, in 2019, I was at a internship, um, at Zillow and San Francisco. And it was my first time in San Francisco. So I did a lot of, a lot of solo traveling. and with that, I did a lot of asking strangers to take my photos and I got terrible photos. And so I was like, you know what? I don't understand why I can't travel by myself and still get great photos. And I was just really sad because I'm also a photographer. And I know that I know what a great photo is. I know basically I know rule of thirds, I know, um, the importance of lighting. And so I've always been able to get great photos of people and capture their moments. Um, when I'm at these tours, attractions like strangers will come up to me and they'll be like, oh, can you take a photo for us? And I make sure they get the best photo ever. Right. I put my all into it, but when it came to me, I never was able to get someone who could take a good photo of me. And, to me, like it's really important to capture, capture these memories that you make, you know, throughout your life and these moments, because they're very precious and you. Often have this, that same exact moment, multiple times in your life. When you're traveling to let's say Paris or traveling to even like San Francisco, you may not go there a lot of times. So, what I love is CS. CS is, um, vision is to, um, capture your life well. So it sees a life well captured. So we want to make sure we're capturing our lives and beautiful way, because at the end of the day, once we leave and our time here on earth is over. We only have the photos and videos of people, and our memories. And so photos and videos have helped you with those memories too. So yeah, that's what CS is. That's kinda how it got started, or I guess that's the vision, um, of CS and then also the initial. pain point of it.

Kimmiko:

Yeah. Yeah. And I remember the, our last conversation. I w we talked about it for 10 minutes. Cause, cause I was so confused as to how it all worked and I'll, I'll, I'll give my, my idea of what I know it is now. So then I can kind of paint the picture for people. So as a solo traveler as well, you don't always have a friend there to take photos with you. And even if it is you and your friend, again, you, you might want a good photo, but one of you has to take turns or whatever. So. Let's say I'm oh God, this is probably the worst tourist place. But I was going to say, let's say, oh no, I was going to say I'm visiting the Eiffel tower, which I've seen photos of just hundreds of people wanting to get photos. But that's beyond the point. I want a photo in front of the Eiffel tower, but I can't, I don't want to take it by myself because if I do, I'm not going to get my entire shot. I'm probably just gonna get my face

Dana:

Yup.

Kimmiko:

weirdly angled in a giant building. No one can see. So I go to CS in which I can find nearby photographers. Like it's finding like a nearby Lyft or Uber. Right. So I find nearest photographer. I see. I believe you do have, or the future features to have a rating feature to see their qualifications and stuff.

Dana:

Yup. Yup. Yup,

Kimmiko:

So I see someone. Pretty decently qualified. I can see that we might be a good fit. So I call him over there probably near the tourist site. Cause again, speak to her site. I remember that you explained it and the photo is taken from their phone. It's not taken from my phone

Dana:

exactly. Yep. That's you, you got it. You remembered it. Well, You are at the tourist attraction. You say, Hey, I want to phone a photographer. we send you a photographer. They take the photos on their device. in real time you are seeing the photos that they're taking appear on your device so that you can provide feedback. so you can say, Hey, I don't like this angle. Can you do, maybe a landscape picture? And then you, that's how the photo shoot happens. you get a certain amount of time based on the package that you select, and then that's kind of how it works. You get your great photos, you save them to your device. You post on social media. That's how it works now. Um, And the real, the real difference between C's and some of the other competitors in this space. So snapper or, um, shoot is that we're using smartphone camera technologies. So over the past few years, you've seen an increase in smartphone cameras, quality, um, and it's starting to rival, some of the more expensive cameras. So DSLR, Nikon, all of that. Um, and because the quality of the camera is getting better and better, you're able to, we're able to make the, photos that you're getting affordable. So you're getting quality photos, but it's affordable, because you're using a smartphone and you're in smartphones. The pockets of millions of Americans, right? So there's more, there's a larger supply of smartphone photographers compared to, um, like expensive camera photographers. And we've seen a trend where a lot of photographers, they are getting rid of their expensive equipment. They were like, you know, I can get a great photos with my smartphone. people will be happy with the photo that I take on my smartphone. So they're getting rid of their expensive equipment and transitioning to exclusively, smartphone, camera, uh, photography. So that's kind of how seeds fits in.

Kimmiko:

that kind of goes along with this, a followup I had about that because you know, when it he'd been to Disneyland, right.

Dana:

I have, yup.

Kimmiko:

Yeah. So, you know how

Dana:

not Disneyland Disney world. Sorry.

Kimmiko:

a tomato, tomato, they probably still have the same business model for their photos, but

Dana:

Yeah.

Kimmiko:

the way it works is I think because I haven't been in a few years, but I think the way it works is throughout the day you can take, they have their little photographer people, uh, placed around the parks. And then you also can have your photos taken on the ride. And I don't know how all the saving, whatever, but they say they tend to save and compile all the photos. So at the end of the day, you and your family can purchase your memories for 60 plus dollars.

Dana:

Yup. Yup.

Kimmiko:

But the thing is I wouldn't pay that much for a Disneyland photo, but I would pay nice money for a nice taken photo in front of me in the Eiffel tower. And if it was slightly edited so that I don't have to kind of. Quote, unquote, edited myself on Instagram with filters or whatever to make it look nicer. So long-winded way of saying, is it possible at I'm probably, maybe not at this stage, but is it possible for those photographers, with their expensive gear to, I guess, take a photo with their deals DSLR and I don't, I don't know if I'm phrasing it right. Am I was what I'm saying? Making sense a little bit of like, if I just want a really high quality photo that isn't taken by the phone, basically,

Dana:

no, it's definitely possible. a lot of our photographers are experienced in both, smartphone, photography, and, DSLR, Nikon can all those, uh, cameras. so there is a future where we will have the option of you being able to select the device you want. so whether it's a pixel and with the pixel, they can wipe away, photo bombers, they can actually do that with the pixel is really cool. I think it's like one of the newer releases. so whether it's a pixel or it's the $5,000 camera, um, there is the possibility of you being able to select your device. But right now we're primarily focusing on smartphone photography to make it more affordable, for people to get these quality photos, wherever they go. and like you were saying with Disney a I think it's called Disney PhotoPass. Um, and so we're like the modern day Disney PhotoPass, and everywhere you go is within our seizes amusement park. Right. And so wherever you go, you'll be able to get these great photos taken of you. So that's a way you could think about, uh,

Kimmiko:

I know I'm on the, you know, I work at the SSE, so like I get it thinking like way too far ahead. So always start with baby steps, Uber and Lyft for, you know, baby steps before you get into the bigger packages. So love to see it, love to see it. So just kind of getting into your, into what your day to day operations look like as a two engineer co-founder system. Like it's just, it's just you and Alison still.

Dana:

um, so we have, or, or growing people really want to be a part of seizes team. Um, so we have a, another engineer that works on. The application, we have, an intern that does marketing for us. and then we have a few like launch people that are helping out with, the launch of seas. So, like finding different, events and festivals and places where people would want to UCS or would want their photos to be taken. Um, and they're helping with outreach and planning the logistics behind the launch. So, that's kind of the team and where he stands now as far as day to day Al and I she is she's CEO, so she primarily focused on fundraising. and. Helping us get money. and then I'm the CTO focusing on the tech, making sure that our customers are happy with the product that we're giving them. Um, I will say it's early we're, we're still very early. and in that there's so many other jobs that are getting done beyond just tech or beyond just fundraising. So hiring photographers, helping them onboard, still doing some social media stuff there, you know, attending different events, to make sure the customers are happy. So, yeah, there's a lot of work that we do beyond just our specific roles. Um, as a founder, you, you wear so many, so many hats. there's so many hats you wear, but. That's where CS is in our team. And I guess the day to day.

Kimmiko:

People fall in love with the idea of being a startup founder. And it's easy for all of it, the idea, but man, it's so hard.

Dana:

Oh, yes.

Kimmiko:

even if you just want to be the quote unquote. Engineering co-founder or if you want quote, unquote, wouldn't be the non-technical founder. You still have to do a lot of different things. And even as a non-technical founder, you still have to learn a little bit of code to understand how things work, especially if it's just you and one other person. So definitely wearing a ton of hats.

Dana:

Yeah. I will say of us being technical founders, both being technical helps tremendously. Because we both understand what's required for certain features and certain things to be built out. Like time-wise. So, um, I've seen in some cases where if one founder is in technical, they'll be like, oh, this can be done in a week. And then the technical founders, like, ha you thought,

Kimmiko:

you wish.

Dana:

you wish, yeah. So many other things need to be done. Um, and so in, in this early stage of a company, there's like so many things you're trying to balance, right. You're S you're trying to balance like efficiency. You're trying to make sure that, you have PR products that people like actually like, features that you want. So you have to be able to be efficient. time-wise but then also, like you have to constantly be iterating. So you, you have, we will have like a sprint right. Plan for the week, but then on Saturday, if we have an event. And they're finding bugs in the product on Saturday. We then have to put all these bugs back into the new sprit, you know, so it's like a balance of fixing all the bugs, fixing all, all the things that the customers want, but then also trying to move forward with the product. Um, so that's kind of where we are now. It's like, okay, we gotta make sure the customer has a wonderful experience, but we also need to move forward with features that will, help us scale the business. So,

Kimmiko:

I mean, people always say that getting started is the hard part and I've come to disagree with that now. I mean, at least once you've done enough side projects, whether it's code content creation, whatever, getting started, isn't actually the hardest part. It's just keeping the momentum going or keeping your mindset strong is probably what's the hardest, because it might take a few years before you can just take a breather, you know? So, so yeah. Kudos to you and any other new founders.

Dana:

Yeah. It's, it's hard. It's it is, it is hard, but there's so much reward, you know? Um, this, especially for me, when I find like the customers happy and they're like, this is so awesome. Like, I love that in real time, I can see these photos, and they're just satisfied with their photos and like super excited about the product, like that is such a reward and it makes it all worth it when someone's like, I love CS. I can't wait for you guys to be here, here. And we're like, just wait, just wait. We're coming.

Kimmiko:

so where are you guys? Cause again, it's, you know, small startups, small team. It takes a while to expand to different cities and stuff because of, I F I forgotten my technical nomenclature. So deal with me.

Dana:

Oh,

Kimmiko:

It's hard to just expand to all these cities because of the. I don't know, database management and all this other stuff with your servers, whatever.

Dana:

Yeah.

Kimmiko:

Well, what cities are you currently functioning in right now?

Dana:

Yes. Okay. So we, like you were saying, um, you can just expand to every city, especially when you're a marketplace. So we have a chicken and egg problem where, um, there is photographers and then there's the, the models or the demand side. Right. And we have to make sure that they meet at the same time. So, um, because if, if someone is looking for a photographer, but there's no photographers in their area, they're going to be. unhappy and they're going to be dissatisfied with the product and may never come to seize its app again, you know, and never want to request one. Cause they'll be like every single time I go on here, there's no photographers available, so I'm not going to use it. So we are, having a hyper-local launch, um, with CS and that we're only going to be in one place at one time. and we're going to focus in one area and that's similar to how, Uber got its start. They focused in one area for a very long time building up their supply and their demand. and then that's when they started to go to different cities. So as of right now, we are available in the DMV area. So DC, Maryland, and Virginia, we have a partnership with, one of the largest self. museums in the world, um, selfie world, specifically, selfie world Nova, where we have been having CS Saturdays every, every Saturday. And the guest can book on demand photographer, to take their photos. And let me, let me step back. I'm not sure if you know what a selfie museum is do.

Kimmiko:

I mean, I've seen, I've seen ads for these weird things in San Francisco.

Dana:

Yeah,

Kimmiko:

yeah. I kind of it's like the little ice cream museum thing, right?

Dana:

yeah.

Kimmiko:

just go and take really nice photos in environments.

Dana:

Yep. Yep. So museum of ice cream is a selfie museum. Uh, it's basically a place where people go. Just to take photos. they have different rooms, different setups, cool, lights, cool colors and themes. And you just go there and you take photos of yourself. And so what we found is that the target demographic, our beachhead market, the people we're trying to, address a lot of them are going to these selfie museums. There are, they're like, this is so much fun, you know, they're they want their photos taken. They want to be able to post on social media. So, We are targeting self-exams as our first place to, kind of sell sees. Right. And then from there we would go to, branch out outside of the museum to nearby tourist attractions. Um, so that is kind of, that's been our go to market strategy. we've also been doing, pop up events in the DMV area. So this past weekend we had a Valentine's day, theme, photo shoot. So basically people booked for a 30 minute photo shoot. we brought like flowers, roses, all that good stuff. Um, chocolate. And they had a photo shoot at, the national Harbor near, in Maryland. So we've been doing pop-up. We've been at the museum and we're gearing up for, the spring, because we know that will be another great time for C's when the weather starts getting warmer. so with that, we're gearing up for, I guess an official launch, this spring, but we have had, reoccurring events of seas in this area. So yeah.

Kimmiko:

Hmm, this is very interesting. I just want to say, I, I just appreciate how intricate and strategic you guys are being with this because I'm currently a mentor for plasma this quarter for the first time ever. I mean, I know what, how plasma is and how it runs because I've worked there. But as a mentor, And you did the program. You kind of just see people saying, okay, this is my go-to market strategy. We're going to start with UC Davis and expand to this. You see in this UC, right. Especially if they're making a product meant for teachers, for example, or whatever,

Dana:

Uh, huh?

Kimmiko:

but with CS or like an app like CS, I would kind of just assume the same thing of, okay. Obviously my go-to market strategy would be to hit the major cities and hit the major, like tourist attractions of those cities. Like for example, pier 39, a lot of people take photos there. Right.

Dana:

Yup.

Kimmiko:

Or I don't know where else people go to SFO and visit there that much. So pier 39 the aquarium. Yeah, the golden gate bridge. For example, photographers probably hanging out there a lot. Maybe. I don't know. And same for New York city. I would just assume go to market strategy. It'd be hit all the largest cities. Let's launch marketing. But the way you're doing it is very smart of like, you're not thinking too big yet, but you're just taking the baby steps to kind of test out the waters of things. Kind of get not a fan base going, but in not an audience, something content, I'm sorry, customer base going

Dana:

Yeah.

Kimmiko:

just kind of work your way up. So how did you guys go about thinking? Not smaller but smarter.

Dana:

Yeah. Yeah, that's a excellent question. we kind of had no choice. Um, so I'll just start and say that we, we thought it was going to be super easy for this product to, to like jump off like, and kickstart, we both being technical. We were like, okay, we just build the app and then people use it. Um, unfortunately that is not the case. There are so many apps that live in the app store and go there and die and are never used. so with that, we were like, okay, well, we're going to have to market this. And so the real, the real, thing that we hurdle that we have to get across is how do people know that. I need a photographer, for spontaneous photo shoots or even sometimes booking in advance, how do people know that they should go to seas? Right? So we have to build that brand awareness, just like Uber, when you're at the airport, you know, okay. If I don't have someone to pick me up, I'll just take Uber to my location. It's fine. Uber has automatically like, it's built the brain awareness. and you're aware that whenever you need a ride, you call Uber or you call Lyft. And so what we're trying to do is, get people to, to have that brand awareness of whenever I need a photo shoot, whenever I need a photographer, I go to CS. And so we initially went about it with, we thought that we could just set up. photographers towards tourist attractions, and just have them wear a sign saying, like, ask me to take your photo. And then they can just be like our ambassadors or guests, and like be telling people about seas, but then also having them on board. And we did do that. So we did it at pike place in Seattle. We did it. And at the national Harbor in DC, we did it at pink, the pink wall in LA. We did it at LACMA, um, in LA and we got kicked out. We got kicked out. Um, and, and every single

Kimmiko:

you, before you continue, would you consider that your MVP right.

Dana:

yeah, I, I guess, yeah, I would consider that MVP. Um, yeah. Yes, yes. Uh, And so, yeah, we got kicked out and we were like, okay, we can't just like tell people about our product, get them to use it. Who knew photos were so smartphone photography was so regulator. Right. and so every time we were at the locations, people loved it. People were, once they found out what we were doing, they were like, absolutely I'll pay. Um, in fact that the pink wall, we had 70% conversion rate. so we stood out there one Saturday and 75, 70% of the people who came to the pink wall that day use CS. So people were loving it. Um, and they were paying for it too. and so. That that right there helped us prove that okay. People are going to pay, but it also made us realize that, okay, it's not going to be as easy as setting up telling photographers to be at this specific location and having them like, just sell seeds to people. We're going to have to be more strategic with, our go to market strategy. And with that, we thought, okay, where are people at that we know for a fact they're going to want photos. And so we said, okay, people are all, they're all going to these selfie museums. It's our target demographic. gen Z, I guess like younger millennials, they're, they're going to this and they love it. So we said, okay, let's start out at selfie museum that will help us build brand awareness. People have a great experience there. And then they'll. Come back to the app and say, okay, where can I use this again? and so that's kind of the approach that we're going with now. so we plan to be at festivals where people are going to want great photos. so the cherry blossom festival is coming up very soon, in the DC area. so we're planning to be there and just, just about anywhere that people are going to want photos, we are going to be in one area so that it's concentrated and focused, in that area. And that we're building our supply for that area. And also focusing our advertisements for the demand side in that area.

Kimmiko:

So at these selfie museums, you obviously, you can go by yourself, but is there, I'm trying to phrase this. Is there someone there to take photos of you? If you go by yourself at one of these selfie museum museums, if not, then you kind of struggled by going there first.

Dana:

Yeah, yeah, yeah. So the ways the selfie museums are set up, it's like a do it yourself. So DIY um, you,

Kimmiko:

Oh my bad. Oh my bad. Oh God. Common sense. Sorry. Yeah,

Dana:

yeah, yeah,

Kimmiko:

it's a selfie museum.

Dana:

no, it's totally fine. It's do it yourself. You you're taking the photos. some of them have tripods that you can use, but even with the tripod, you won't get the same type of angles that you're looking for. Um, and so what we found in. Guests are always asking, asking employees to take their photos. They'll be like, oh, can, can you take our phones?

Kimmiko:

I meant.

Dana:

Yeah, yeah. They'll ask employees. But, what we found with, business owners of the selfie museums, they don't want their employees to be taking photos of the guests because it's a liability. If something happens to their phone, the, the selfie museum, would then be responsible if one of their employees was dealing like holding the phone when the phone like cracked or something. So there's a liability with them, exchanging devices and taking photos. Um, so it's, self-aware has been going really good. People have been booking in advance. People have been, doing on-demand photo shoots. and it's, it's been really good for us. We've been there. as of right now for the past, Three weeks. and then we did a pilot event, a month or so earlier. Um, so yeah,

Kimmiko:

So you just a little bit on Techstars. So just for you feel free to correct me. For anybody that doesn't know Techstars is basically started accelerator program. Like Y Combinator. They just gave you some starting money for your startup and they just give you a bunch of resources, like mentors and workshops and stuff like that. Did I summarize that? Well, I

Dana:

you sure it, it, um, it's great. Wonderful. I love Techstars. It's awesome. They're great.

Kimmiko:

so. Why did you choose to do the Techstars program over bootstrapping and doing things on your own? Because a lot of founders, they kind of opt out of these programs, just so I don't know. Maybe they can, I don't know how it works, but I think when you do stuff like Techstars or Y Combinator, they take a percentage of your equity or something like that.

Dana:

they do. they take, so they get some equity, for the money that they're giving you. the alternative is like, bootstrapping it, you getting doing pitch competitions, just winning non diluted funds, you know, crowdfunding, that's the alternative. we decided to do Techstars because the business that we're building demands capital, it demands money. Like advertising is not free. Uh, we have to be, very, very, strategic, and we're going to have to put a lot of money into ads because like we said, like I said before, People don't know about CS. So we have to put a lot of our intention or a lot of our efforts into people knowing about CS and the M the heart though, E the best way to do that is through ads through billboards, through being at events and being, spending a lot of money, basically. so most of our money will be going to advertisement engineering and all the other stuff. but we decided to take the, um, funding from Techstars primarily because we know that our business demands capital and that we need money. And prior to Techstars, we, we ha we were starting a raise, kinda like we were getting ready, gearing up to raise money. And then we found out we were, we got into Techstars and we were like, okay, tech stars is great. we were already kind of struggling with raising anyway. So we were like, okay, let's do Techstars. Let's go through their coaching. Let's meet the best of the best, get their mentorship, get their, thoughts on how to build, a marketplace. We, we have, four awesome mentors that have helped us with crafting CS and, um, just change our perspective of how to think about things, when building this type of business. Uh, so

Kimmiko:

no

Dana:

Techstars really helped us, especially as like first time founders, we were very new to this. we, we've never done this before, so there's a lot to learn and being a first time founder. and so. That's why we decided to take the money. short answer. We are building a company that demands capital. It needs money to, to thrive, um, early on, early on.

Kimmiko:

As all companies do. And to your point, the startup ecosystem has changed so much

Dana:

Yeah.

Kimmiko:

to the point where let's just go back probably 10, 20 years where we're just preteens or whatever, where it's, it's not easy, but we'll say it's easier than today to just kind of create the, one of the hardest, not the hardest, one of the hottest startups out there raise capital and just launch it. And people just know about it through word of mouth, but I've noticed that as technology has improved and social media has become a really big thing. And there was always a new startup coming up every single week and every single day, it's, it's crazy to think. If I build this startup, that is actually a good idea. How do people even freaking know about it? Because the market for almost everything is so saturated, like you want to build in health, it's saturated. You want to build for, I don't know, real estate, it's saturated. It's it's like, how do I stand out compared to 10, 20 years ago? Where startups as the older mentors, I know no offense to them not calling you older, but seasoned me. They tell me that it's building a startup was not popular when we were younger. So today is the most popular thing. And like I say, just over saturation. So to your point, marketing and ads, people, don't put a lot effort into that. And that's kinda my problem with how. And we'll probably update the students, our center content, but that's probably my problem with how startup content and courses are marketed because they market the baby steps of okay. Problem solution. You've got those two things. You're good to go. Just build it, find your customers. No, have to build a brand. You have to build your personal brand on top of that, and you have to get the word out there and all, and a pretty good way of doing that is content creation, buying ads, and just getting out there and meeting your actual customers.

Dana:

Yeah.

Kimmiko:

kudos to you guys for focusing on the important bits of nobody even knows who we are yet.

Dana:

Yeah. Thank you. Thank you. Um, I would agree. I'll echo that, like they don't talk about the go to market that much. It's always, what's your problem. What's your solution. Okay, great. But going to market and people finding out about you for a B2C, business to consumer company that is challenging, that is very challenging. and that's something that you have to, to like be thinking about always because you're, you could have this great product, but if no one knows about it, You don't have a company, so yeah.

Kimmiko:

B to C, B to B nonprofit. It's all hard,

Dana:

yeah.

Kimmiko:

Would you say it was easier to be a founder while you were a full-time student or while you were a full-time employee? I'll preface this by saying, if you have a. Promote job of remote full-time job. It can be a bit easier to manage being a founder with a passion project, because you don't have to commute. You don't have to do all this other stuff. And again, if you're like a single household member, it's pretty easy to manage things on the side. Whereas like a student, cause I D I have side projects, but they're not like a startup as a student. I feel like it's really tricky, especially if you want to graduate on good marriage, good grades, and you always have these assignments and tests to study for it. But at the same time, I feel like your response, your level of responsibility is lowered because you're a student. You just have to get the assignments done and move on. But I just want to preface that to help you phrase your answer.

Dana:

Yeah. Yeah. So, so I was, I was, um, I guess a startup founder, um, and school during my last semester. So in college, your last semester is usually, it should be one of your easier semesters. But it, it not, that's not always the case, right? They say, oh, you want to, you want to save the, some of the easy courses where your last semester, just so that you're not relying on this one class to graduate. And there aren't like, if you, if you fail a class, like you'll still be able to graduate. You know, that, that's what they'll say. Um, but I took operating systems my last semester. it was super hard class, but also one of my favorite classes. So my last semester was not easy. It was very challenging, but in that I was also remote. So I attended the classes. Um, I did my work and then I had free time. So I could work on CS and do other things. with work. I was also remote. Didn't have to commute. I clocked in, I did my work and then I had free time. So I would say they're challenging in different ways. I don't know if I would say one is easier than the other. I will say school is something it's, it's not a nine to five school is you're constantly like going to have assignments. You're constantly going to, um, be studying for a test. You, you don't just get to turn it off at one particular time, because you not only have to watch the lectures, you also have to, do your homework study for the next class and, prepare for the next lecture. Right. Uh, so I would say was more challenging,, being a startup founder while in school, then, while working,

Kimmiko:

Yeah. Yeah. It was just kind of a random, subjective answer question. I'm excited to be a full-time worker because these assignments

Dana:

Oh, well, well, you know, I still do miss. I still miss my college days. Um, I, I too was super excited to graduate, but then when you, when you leave college, everything changes, you know, it's, it's cool to be full-time, but then you're like, wait, I don't get summer break. I don't get this.

Kimmiko:

well, similar to you. I will be a founder just in a, just in a different way. So just go save some money.

Dana:

Yeah.

Kimmiko:

what are some things that you're looking forward to as a founder? Like, are you looking forward to pitch competitions? Maybe you're looking forward to building out more cool features. You don't have to share those features live or just more cool networking events where you get to meet more potential customers and mentors.

Dana:

yeah, I'm super excited about continuing to meet more customers. so with this spring coming up and us being, more focused in DMV area, as far as like events to go to, it's going to open up a lot of opportunities to see, um, our customers interacting with the product. see what they like, what they don't like. B I'm excited to be capturing, um, moments for our customers and having them just be super excited when may see their pictures and, you know, post them. Like, I love that side of the business talking to customers and, engaging with them. That is, I love that part because that that's when you know you're doing something that's really great. And it's, really, your, your customers love what you're doing and it's valuable to them. Um, so I'm excited for that. I'm also excited for us to be, starting our first round, like institutional round coming out of Techstars. So tech stars is going to end mid February and then March, we're going to begin to raise, and I know that's going to be challenging and I'm sure. Founder, listening to this will be like, why is she exciting, excited about having to raise buddy? Uh, you know, no one, no one says that's exciting, but, I am excited about that because there's so many great things in store for CS. and the only thing we need is some money to make it happen. So, um, after we close our first successful round, I'm, I'm excited for the world to see what seizes our customers to see all that we've been building. And, um, yeah, that's, that's what I'm excited about.

Kimmiko:

I'm excited for you guys, but yeah. Dana, thanks for coming on. Really just sharing your story and just really sharing a lot of really good nuggets about what it really means to be a startup founder, because I think it, again, I kind of touched upon, I think most of the information out there is just kind of watered down and a bit outdated and you, you gave people a bit of a refresher, so appreciate it.

Dana:

Yeah. Yeah, absolutely. Um, I'll end with this. it's not easy, but there's, there's reward in the end and you just kinda go for what you're passionate about. And I always say this, work down to fund your passion and then one day your passion will pay you. So, uh, to those that are still working their nine to five and they have their passion pro product project on the side work now fund that passion and one day your passion will pay you. So, yeah.

Kimmiko:

and where can people find you in CS?

Dana:

Yes. Um, so they can find me, I guess on LinkedIn data Wiggins, uh, Instagram. Oh, H H my Dina, and then they can find CS at CS, the app on all platforms. So we are on Instagram, Twitter, Tik, TOK, Facebook, LinkedIn, all that good stuff.

Kimmiko:

Yeah, thanks for coming on.

Dana:

All right. Thank you.

Thank you for listening to this episode of the black enterprise network podcast. If you enjoy it, then be sure to leave a review. the next episode, I'll be sharing the conversation with echo, the founder of what you could call black glass door. See you then