Founder Stories: MobileServe
Access Ventures wants to celebrate the entrepreneur’s journey. In this third installment of our Founder Stories series we talked with MobileServe. MobileServe is a software-as-a-service (SaaS) provider that is disrupting how individuals and organizations engage volunteers and community service, while empowering them to share their social impact. Their mobile and web-based platform facilitates tracking, verifying, and reporting volunteerism with an engaging process that easily allows users to share, connect, and challenge others. We recently caught up with co-founders Chris Head and Ben Reno-Weber to talk about how they got started, what obstacles they are trying to overcome and where they are heading. Here is what they had to say.
(Answers from Chris are marked CH and answers from Ben will be marked BRW.)
Describe your path to what you’re doing now?
BRW: There was no path; there were just a series of leaps onto moving platforms. I worked at a car dealership. I was an intern at the White House. I ran a youth group in a barrio in the Dominican Republic. I did web design. I worked for the World Bank in Bosnia. I got an MBA. I was a business consultant. I was CEO of a nonprofit. I consult for a policy think tank. Now I am the CEO of a tech start-up. Each time I leapt, it was to further a cause I cared about or to gain skills that would make me more impactful in the universe. I haven’t loved every place I’ve landed, but I have learned from all of them.I think planning a career too far in advance can blind you to the opportunities that are right in front of you.
What propelled you to create MobileServe?
CH: I was a volunteer with the KY YMCA Youth Association where we had 7,000+ teenagers across the state of Kentucky doing really cool things in their respective communities, but the organization was still relying on pen, paper, and excel to track their service. I thought their had to be an easier way, and when we couldn’t find one, we built one.
BRW: I was our target customer. The problems we solve were my problems, so I knew we had a market. MobileServe is also special because it addresses a number of things I’m passionate about. I love that we can make money by making the world a better place. I feel like technology can be so isolating, and I love that we use technology to bring people together. I think people need to be part of something bigger than themselves, and I love that we can help connect them to the causes they care about most.
What makes MobileServe unique?
CH: MobileServe is unique in the market because our entire development started with the end user in mind. We wanted to make it easy for individuals to not only track and verify what the good they were doing in the world, we encourage them to tell their story and lead others to do the same.
How would you define entrepreneurship?
BRW: Clearly identifying a problem and taking responsibility for creating a solution. That can be a market problem, a business problem, a social problem, or a personal problem. Entrepreneurship is more a state of mind than a state of employment.
CH: Entrepreneurship at its core is define as “the activity of setting up a business, taking on financial risks in the hope of profit.” In other words, entrepreneurship is taking a plunge into something without fully knowing the outcome, in hopes that the reward was worth the risk and that you (and others) are better off for it.
What are some of the benefits and challenges to being cofounders?
BRW: The benefit is that Chris is the yin to my yang. He has skills and views that are very different from mine, and saves me from the worst of my instincts. They say that nobody cares about your business as much as you do, but Chris definitely does. The challenge is that being cofounders is a lot like being married, and you are trying to nurture a small creature into maturity together.
CH: What did Ben say?
What’s a typical day look like for you?
CH: I typically start my day off sipping a 12 ounce of Red Bull, then I head to the gym and then to work. From there, I dive into catching up on emails, directing our product team and assisting our sales and support teams bringing on new clients and onboarding existing ones. After work, I enjoy long walks or working on my “Skoolie” conversion.
BRW: 6:15am: wake up, exercise for 30 min, 5 minutes of gratitudes
7:00am: check e-mail, set priorities for the day
7:30am: get kids dressed, fed, off to school
8:30am: in office for first meeting
Lunch: never eat alone- staff, investor, customer, potential customer, stakeholder, or event
6:00pm: home – no electronics kid time until 9pm
9:00pm: e-mail or quiet writing time
11pm: dead asleep
What kind of satisfaction do you get from working? What part of your job do you enjoy the most?
CH: I love problem solving and building things from scratch, and that is what building MobileServe has allowed for me to do day after day.
BRW: The thing I get most excited about is helping other people to reach their full potential. I love that moment when we really get to impact someone, whether that be a customer, a volunteer or an employee.
Considering everything you’ve learned as an entrepreneur, what advice can you offer to someone who is starting out?
BRW: Sell something first. You don’t have a product until somebody pays you money for it. Lots of people want you to succeed. Find them and ask for their help.
Have you thought about your own legacy or what you hope to leave behind?
BRW: The path to entrepreneurship is often murky. Particularly the early steps so often depend on relationships, access to finance, flexible work arrangements, a supportive home life, and knowing who to call for help. I hope that by working through these issues ourselves with this company, we can help to make that process more transparent for anyone in our community, but particularly non-traditional entrepreneurs.
What’s next for MobileServe? What excites you about the future?
BRW: As we grow, the power of our technology to help connect people more deeply to the causes and organizations that matter most to them really gets me fired up. I knew there was a problem- that’s why we started the company- but it’s great to see our solution actually working. We have fun partnerships in the works that will let us have even more impact.