Handmark founder Grasis gives view from ‘the bleeding edge of technology’
August Grasis (left) and Larry Lee shared a word after Grasis' presentation Tuesday night at KCNext's Technology Entrepreneur Speakers event. Photo by Royce Haynes.
Handmark founder and chairman, Augie Grasis knows a thing or two about staying on the bleeding edge of technology. Back when the Android Marketplace and Apple's app store didn't exist, Grasis was making a living on $29.99 apps like Tela Atlas and app suites such as PocketExpress. Nowadays, I would think long and hard before paying $29.99 for a map app, but with any bleeding edge technology it's easy to pay for a glimpse of what the future holds in the Information Age.
Founded in 2000, Handmark is a leading developer and distributor of mobile applications. Grasis spoke Tuesday night at KCNext's Technology Entrepreneur Speakers event at Polsinelli Shugart's offices about his successes and shared his "pearls of entrepreneurial wisdom," which shaped his entrepreneurial career at Handmark.
8 Pearls of entrepreneurial wisdom
1. Get yourself fired — over the phone, preferably.
"Get yourself fired, is the first thing you do (to become an entrepreneur)… and what that does is acts as a catalyst for you to start your own thing," Grasis said. "After I got fired … I started a business because, well, I got fired and I had seven months of severance pay."
This was a perfect opportunity for him to try out new things and create a business, specifically in the mobile development space since PDAs were hot.
2. Vitamin or Painkiller?
"We had a vision that we were going to make software for these PDAs," Grasis said. So, Grasis and his partner were faced with a question that helped identify their unique value proposition: "Is the idea a vitamin or a painkiller?"
"When you start a company or product, you have to ask yourself this question, and it can become a very quick elevator pitch that describes your product," Grasis said.
Grasis and his business partner, Doug Edwards, ended up starting Handmark in 2000. In the beginning stages, they created two popular apps: Road Atlas and Dictionary. But as funds got low, developing a product became a little harder. "We didn't really have a lot of money," Grasis said, "so that was a problem."
Networking preceded Augie Garsis' talk Tuesday night at Polsinelli Shuggart. Photo by Royce Haynes.
3. Be on the dock when your ship comes in.
"Developers don't develop as fast as you want them to," Grasis said. "Because they don't really go as fast as you want, we had to be frugal with our money."
4. Technology is adopted slower than you think.
Grasis showed a graph starting around 1995, illustrating how software technology reached a high point and then hit a slope. You have to survive those product cycles where technology may be at its peak, he said.
5. It's easier (and better) to be cheap
"Cheap is good," Grasis said, giving several reasons why it's beneficial to be frugal:
- It helps an emerging market catch up
- It makes it easy to focus
- It forces innovation
- If forces efficiency
- It drives product development toward a legitimate business model
- Profits will set you free
"When you don't have any money, you stay focused," Grasis said. "It helps you focus your efforts on one thing and it forces you to innovate and be efficient."
6. Paradigm shifts create new leaders
Grasis used the example of ESPN banning contributors from using social media outlets to break sports news, describing it as ESPN losing track of its purpose. "The problem is that they are going against what they are about, and this creates a paradigm," said Grasis. That creates opportunity for startups.
7. You must eat your young to survive
"Sometimes you have to break or old business model to reinvent your old business," Grasis said. "We've reinvented Handmark at least three times." Handmark started out selling branded games and apps on Palm PDAs. Now, the company focuses on social media app products while also undertaking some other projects.
Handmark Version 3 now has three main areas of emphasis: carrier services, mobile publishing (selling back to founders) and social media.
"Sometimes you have to break your old business model to reinvent your business. We've reinvented Handmark at least three times."
"One of our board members challenged us to sell our mobile publishing piece to its founders, which completed about a month ago," Grasis said. "With that money, Handmark plans to invest that in their social media space."
With the sale of the mobile publishing piece, which is a big part of Handmark's business, the company enabled an investment in and focus on its new company, OneLouder.
"Twitter is clearly on the early market stage because 70 percent of Americans know about Twitter, but eight percent use Twitter," Grasis said. "So, at OneLouder we are creating 'killer socially powered mobile apps.' One is SportsCaster, which "combines old and new media consisting of NCAA and NFL football, but additionally adds tweets from people who tweet."
8. It's about people
"It's about the people — the people that cross the board," Grasis said. "As an entrepreneur, you create relationships that sometimes convert to partners and customers." Grasis cited the example of Paul Reddick, the current CEO of Handmark, who was a customer of the company before becoming an employee.
"Building relationships," Grasis said, "is extremely important."