Two years before Pokemon GO! got everyone talking about the potential for video games to help kids live more active lifestyles, Mike Kauffman founded MoVi Interactive, a company dedicated to leveraging the health potential of games.
Mike has worked with Checkmate Creations to develop MoVi’s first game, Fitness Faceoff, and to build the company’s website. We sat down with him in August to pick his brain on the challenges of startups and entrepreneurship.
When Mike first started MoVi, he didn’t have a technical co-founder to help him to build out their first app. To try to keep costs affordable for his bootstrapped startup, he decided to offshore development to a freelancer in Romania through a project manager based in North Carolina. “It was a nightmare,” he says. Deliverables came late when they came at all. Communication was spotty at best, with the other parties often refusing to take calls or respond to texts.
After his experience, Mike says he’d never offshore development work again. “It’s just such a gamble. They can keep your source code and never give it to you. They can stop responding.” Even though it’s possible to get good work from offshored labor, he feels the risk is too great for him to try again.
Before MoVi, Mike started his first business during a year off from college. He had designed a detox beverage meant to prevent hangovers, and was selling it out of his apartment in Boston’s North End (“I ate great Italian food every day,” he says with more than hint of longing). Though he ultimately decided that the beverage industry just wasn’t a good fit for him, the experience taught him the value of building and leveraging a strong professional network.
Unlike most, Mike didn’t rely much on social media or large networking events when he made his start. Instead, he simply spoke to the people he already knew about the people he wanted to get in contact with. Before long, he was in touch with the founders of companies like Sobe, Arizona Iced Tea, and Bacardi USA. He refers to them as his “mastermind group,” and they helped to teach him the ins and outs of running a beverage company.
“I don’t know when entrepreneurship became cool,” Mike says, referring to the contemporary mythos of the bold, visionary young founder that pervades the popular consciousness. He warns young would-be founders that the startup life isn’t all about funky offices and fun perks. “Honestly, it can be it’s own certain kind of hell for some people,” he says. “There’s new problems every day.” For Mike, it’s a question of personality. If the idea of putting out fires and hacking solutions appeals to you, though, then entrepreneurship just may be the right course for you.
Mike started both of his companies without having a great deal of prior experience in either field, and so has had to learn as he goes. He notes, however, that this path is necessarily full of surprises. As a new face in the beverage industry, he found out that many of his “colleagues” in the business were more than willing to take advantage his inexperience. He describes the field as “cutthroat”, and says that he was ripped off.
Despite the hostile nature of the industry, Mike did learn some valuable experiences from his first business venture. Early on, a potential investor asked him for a business plan. Mike told him he’d send him one right away, then promptly Googled “business plan” to figure out just what it was that he needed to write up. Now, having learned about business plans and much more, he has been able to get MoVi off to a much smoother start.
When you present your business idea to potential investors and partners, you need to be ready for every detail to picked apart by people who don’t place any sentimental value in your business or its success. For many, it’s difficult to endure, and even more difficult to actually listen to and learn from. Mike recalls some of his first pitches, when his first reaction was to just brush off criticism. He soon realized that this was the wrong attitude to have, and that he stood to gain more from listening carefully and making the appropriate changes.
In its two years, MoVi’s focus has changed considerably. Mike’s original plan was to develop fitness games and market them directly to consumers. After meeting with advisers and people in the healthcare industry, he instead shifted his focus to designing and creating custom games for organizations associated with pediatric care. Now, he’s pivoted to more of a consultancy role, focusing on identifying needs and conceptualizing how health-focused games can meet them. Mike considers this kind of evolution to be a vital process.
While offering his story and advice, Mike also gives a word of caution. “Every startup, every venture, is different,” he reminds us. What works for one may not work for another, and it’s crucial to take the time to understand the unique needs of your own business.
Follow Mike Kauffman on Twitter.