Say Yes, Then Learn – Dev to Founder – David vanBlaricom
My path from developer to founder was both ingrained in my DNA and formed out of opportunity. In 1977, I was born to two parents who owned their own architecture and interior design firm in Roanoke, Virginia. As I grew older, I helped out here and there, installing and drafting. As I look back, I realize I was learning lessons about running a business: the value of taking risks when most people won’t, and the importance of holding your reputation in the highest regard.
After working as a front-end developer for many years, in the late 2000s, I found myself as the Marketing Manager for a nationwide dot-com. The company didn’t have much of a front-end development team, so I quickly injected my skills as a designer/front-end developer. One of the main projects I was working on at the time, was the iOS mobile app with a small team of developers. Much like my architecture/interior design past, I noticed that I was yet again finding myself as the translator between the technical side of development and the creative/business side.
We finished the iOS app and launched it in iTunes with great success. I then joined the business executives in their efforts to sell the company. I learned a lot about negotiation, but I also decided this would be the last time I made someone else rich off of my hard work.
I always knew I was meant to run my own company. I had tried in the past, but quickly realized I needed to learn more about how. In January 2010, I had decided I had learned all I could from the “man” and after a few conversations with my wife, I decided to take the risk. It was a big one. At that time, I was making a good salary. My wife was pregnant with our first child. I had very little money saved up, and the economy was in a recession. It was probably the worst time to launch a company.
One weekend I decided to take a drive and think about it. I was driving on a back road in Mathews County, Virginia when I saw a sign on the side of the road that read, “The Computer Guy”. I looked up the driveway and saw a large house on a lot of land. I was sold. I said to myself, “Stupider people have pulled it off.”
That has become my personal mantra. While I understand that statement is not necessarily politically correct, it proved invaluable at the time and several times since. Sir Richard Branson said it more elegantly: “If someone offers you an amazing opportunity and you’re not sure you can do it, say yes – then learn how to do it later.”
Armed with my mantra, I headed home, told my wife I was going to jump and started my development shop. For the first year, it was just me at my dining room table. I made a tiny fraction of the money I had become accustomed to, and I was taking it on the chin from clients just to build a portfolio I could then turn into bigger and bigger projects.
The next year, I called a mobile developer I had worked with at the dot-com and convinced him to join me, along with another developer. We then stumbled into a huge project that offered us equity because the client couldn’t pay the entire project fee. I remember that as the three of us walked down the sidewalk from the initial meeting, I stopped them in their tracks and said, “You two tell me right now if we cannot pull this off. Speak now or forever hold your peace.” They both said we could, no problem.
So I said my mantra and we added five more developers to our team. We built the largest software product I have ever been a part of – in 9 months. It was launched in April 2013, installed for the first client in June 2013, and is still growing to this day. All in all, we initially wrote more than two times the lines of code used on the Apollo 11 mission to the moon.
That project allowed my home-grown development firm to pivot and become a true company. In the years since we’ve had many more moments when I considered the risks and said yes to challenging projects. We currently have a team of 12, and the products have their own teams within.
I owe it all to my mantra, the hard work of my team, and that sign on the side of the road.