While noodling on startup ideas last year, Brad Heller and Alex Bilmes made a serendipitous discovery. They realized they were independently developing front and back-end technology for the same product. They knew they had to run with it, and Reflect was born.
The Portland startup, now working as part of the Techstars Seattle cohort, makes data visualization software for developers. In the year since they launched, Bilmes and Heller have developed an end-to-end system for designing and deploying visualization-backed interfaces.
“We learned a lot about how people wanted to consume and interact with data, and the technical challenges in getting there,” said Bilmes. “We solved a lot of difficult problems during that time and wanted to turn that into a product that other people could use.”
We caught up with Bilmes for this Startup Spotlight, a regular GeekWire feature.
Explain what you do so our parents can understand it: “Reflect makes it easy for developers (people who build software) to add data visualization (charts + graphs) to their web and mobile applications.”
Inspiration hit us when: “It slaps me across the face every morning. In all seriousness, I was working on a front-end component of what is now Reflect and called Brad to get his input. Brad was working on a backend for what would be the same product. We were trying to solve the same problem in different ways. We knew we had something.”
VC, Angel or Bootstrap: “It depends on the company, but for us, it’s VC. We’re going after a massive market and want to build a huge business. VC provides resources and partnerships that significantly increase our chances of success.”
Our ‘secret sauce’ is: “We can build a great UI. You see data visualization in just about every application these days. It’s not just for analysts or data scientists anymore. Because we’re engaging such a broad audience, the user experience is crucial. That’s where we shine.”
The smartest move we’ve made so far: “Getting closer to our customers. We spend just as much time meeting with clients as we do work on the product. It’s paying off.”
The biggest mistake we’ve made so far: “We had an expensive technological pivot that could have been avoided. As product guys, we wanted to build something, but we should have spent more time talking to people before we built anything.”
Would you rather have Gates, Zuckerberg or Bezos in your corner: “Elon Musk. Because he’s a badass and I’m contrarian by nature.”
Our favorite team-building activity is: “Tequila. Mostly tequila + code. We’ve talked about taking some actual time for activities, but that will have to wait until after Techstars.”
The biggest thing we look for when hiring is: “Competence is table stakes. If you’re a master of your craft, you also need to mesh well with the team. We spend a lot of time together (too much), and if we didn’t have fun, it would suck.”
What’s the one piece of advice you’d give to other entrepreneurs just starting out: “Listen! Read between the lines. You’ll save yourself a lot of heartache and time. We didn’t listen to things our customers, peers, and advisors would say, and it was painful to correct later. We make a very conscious effort to pay more attention now.”
Editor’s note: GeekWire is featuring each of the companies participating in Techstars Seattle’s class of 2016 in the lead up to Demo Day on May 18.