Working with designers is hard, especially now that projects are regularly outsourced to contractors. Collaborating on visual projects via Skype/email leaves a ton of room for interpretation, which often leads to misinterpretation and wasted energy.
Brad Heller and Clifton B are the founders of Revisu.
“Revisu is a communication tool that makes it easy for designers to share their work, collect feedback, and track revision history.”
But this elegant solution didn’t come from a stroke of genius, it was forged from necessity. Brad and Clifton were originally working on a version control system for Dropbox. It was a solid idea that got them into the Portland Incubator Experiment, a highly competitive startup incubator in Portland. Just weeks before the program started, Dropbox released an update that negated Brad and Clifton’s entire project. They needed to find a new use for the technology they were developing, otherwise they were dead in the water. Says Brad, ”We quickly identified that there’s a lot of pain involved in communication between design teams and developers. From there, we pivoted our business to address that problem.”
The Portland Incubator Experiment (PIE) helped them launch their new idea by providing a collaborative work space, mentorship, workshops, and an opportunity to pitch investors. Their beta product is already being used by industry giants like Wieden+Kennedy, the largest privately owned advertising agency in the world, and Revisu is positioned to take over a very profitable market.
What contributed to Brad and Clifton’s success? It seems like a combination of technical brilliance, flexibility, access to a startup incubator, and proximity to a city that has hundreds of creative design agencies. Their ability to adapt their ideas and technology for a new purpose is typical of the most successful startups from the last few decades.
When asked what advice they’d give to startup wannabes, Brad dodged the stereotypical answers, and insisted that the most important thing you can do as a budding entrepreneur is to interact with other entrepreneurs – that’s the only way you’re going to learn and get ahead.
“The community is your biggest resource.”
Amen. Do you have an exciting startup idea bouncing around your cranium? If so, you should look at startup incubators like Portland Incubator Experiment, Y Combinator, and TechStars. These programs give entrepreneurs the tools and resources they need to succeed. Have questions or need advice? You can find Revisu’s co-founder on Twitter: @BradHe.
Here’s an interview transcript for the hardcore readers:
What is Revisu?
Brad: We’re a communication tool that makes it easy for designers to share their work, collect feedback, and track revision history as that project goes on.
We have some really, really interesting things coming up in the next few months, but we can’t really talk about them yet. We do have a couple of interesting integrations planned though. One of the integrations we recently did was with Basecamp because most of our creative teams use Basecamp internally – so plugging into that was really natural. Our goal is to figure out how to address and improve team workflow, so a lot of the features and things that you’ll see coming out of us in the next six months are going to be around helping teams work.
Was Revisu a fully formed idea from the beginning or did it grow organically?
B: The technology we originally applied to PIE with was just a version control system for Dropbox files. This was just a few weeks before the revisions API got released by Dropbox, which totally negated the need for our product. But I’m a technologist so I built this technology and then I said “Well, who could use this technology?” and I thought “The design field is always using Dropbox to store their files and move things back and forth.” Then we quickly identified that there’s a lot of pain around communication between design teams and developers. From there, we pivoted our business to addressing that problem and it’s just kind of grown that way.
Anyone famous using your product right now?
B: Wieden+Kennedy, Tangible Worldwide, and Grady Britton all fell in love with the idea and validated the fact that this vision makes sense to the agency world. So now it’s a process of just refining the vision in terms of this product.
Revisu was a Portland Incubator Experiment (PIE) startup. Can you tell us more about incubators?
B: Every incubator is different. TechStars is different from YCombinator, which is different than PIE. They all are different in the philosophy that they take and how they approach – I mean, the core of an incubator is to take an idea from one stage to the next, so for TechStars it’s more about taking an idea that’s already in the market place and moving it to the next level. Whereas YCombinator is known for just getting a team together and then making a product from there. So PIE falls more into the YCombinator bucket. It’s more about taking an idea and turning it into a product. It’s heavily team oriented, but it’s also product oriented. When I say that, I mean they focus more on creating a great product and less on “How do I raise a million dollars.” There’s nothing wrong with having an incubator that’s focused on that, it’s just a different philosophy.
In terms of our experience with PIE, when we first thought about applying to PIE we working on what would eventually be the prototype of Revisu as a side project and we thought “This is awesome, we should apply to the PIE Project and see if we can turn this into an actual business.” So we applied and got accepted. It was a whirlwind for the first four weeks or so. Going through the initial meetings with the core mentors of PIE, polishing our vision, and coming up with a go to market strategy. The first four weeks were a total blur.
When it comes to actual programming, PIE is pretty loose. At its peak they would have like two to three people come in to talk about running and launching a software startup. For instance, James Keller from Small Society (recently acquired by Wal-Mart) came to talk about usability, and Alan Wizemann came in to talk about product pricing, and there were some people who came and talked about financing – all of these different areas. But it kind of had this bell curve to it. In the middle we had the most people coming in and towards the end of the program most people had a product on the market place, so the last quarter of the PIE experience was about getting ready for Demo Day and really nailing your pitch.
Are there benefits to being in the same space as other entrepreneurs?
B: Yes! Oftentimes, when we talk about incubators, this issue of co-location comes up. Some programs don’t co-locate their startups, but having the startups in a room together every day is a critical component of the incubator experience because you get way more out of the interaction between these people than you do in your mentor meetings. PIE did a really good job of selecting the startups that came in. I think we had some startups that were ahead of us, and I think there were even some startups that were behind us. So for the latecomers, we were able to say “As you’re growing your business, this is going to come up and this is what you should probably do.” And for the startups that were ahead of us, we’d be able to say “Oh crap, our accountant is really screwing up and what should we do?” and they’d be able to help us through that sort of thing. So I think the interaction between startups is really critical.
You’ve been living in Portland since starting Revisu, but were you from there originally?
B: I guess you could say that. I had lived here since before the program started. I had also worked for a couple of other Portland startups – About.Us, WebMD, and JivSoftware.
Is Portland a good location for startups?
B: We normally tout the capital efficiency we have here. Rent is cheap, you don’t have to pay developers as much as you would in the Bay Area, and there’s a good amount of talent because we have OSU, PSU, University of Oregon, and people from Seattle who come down. So Portland is good in that regard. We talk a lot about how Portland can be the next Seattle, or the next Silicon Valley, but that conversation happens in every city across the United States.
I think what’s really important is this notion of playing to your region’s strengths. Like in Portland, startups should conform to the lifestyle of people who live in Portland. The 80 hour work week that they do in Silicon Valley doesn’t necessarily fly up here. Also, in terms of markets, we should address regional strengths. Like with Revisu, the design community in this area is massive. There’s like 120 design agencies in Portland – which is crazy huge density. So it makes sense to do something creative in Portland. Or things that are based around food and hospitality makes sense for the Portland scene.
That’s a really roundabout way of answering your question. I kind of got sidetracked, but Portland is a great place for startups.
Do you have any advice for people who want to launch an innovative idea?
B: The most important thing you can do as a budding entrepreneur is to interact with other entrepreneurs. I think that’s the only way you’re going to learn and get ahead. The community is your biggest resource. Almost every single city has some kind of startup community these days, so participating in that community is really important if you’re a budding entrepreneur. The Startup Weekend system is an awesome thing. Even established entrepreneurs should be attending Startup Weekends.
I think getting engaged in the community and connecting with the right people is the most important thing.
That wraps up this week’s interview! You should take a look at Brad’s product and send him your feedback via Twitter: @BradHe. Next week we’ll be interviewing an expert from the retail industry, so check back on Wednesday for exciting retail strategies and ideas!