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The VendorHawk team: Brian Geihsler, Patrick Lowndes, and Ben Stephens. (VendorHawk Photo)

Mid-sized to enterprise-level companies rely on an increasingly wide array of software products to keep their businesses efficient. But, ironically, relying on a big pool of different SaaS applications can be inefficient in and of itself.

VendorHawk, a Seattle startup that helps companies understand and streamline their SaaS licenses, sees that inefficiency as an opportunity. Essentially, it’s software product to help companies make sense of their other software products. So meta.

“As SaaS applications proliferate across the enterprise — from marketing and sales to HR and basic office productivity — companies are increasingly wasting huge amounts of money on unused licenses and misallocated budget,” said Patrick Lowndes, the startup’s CEO. “VendorHawk solves that problem.”

Lowndes and his co-founder Brian Geisler started VendorHawk as a side project. After seeing early interest from customers they decided to commit to the startup full-time.

VendorHawk is currently working through the Techstars Seattle 2017 accelerator. Lowndes shared what the startup is working on for this Startup Spotlight, a regular GeekWire feature. Continue reading for his answers to our questionnaire.

Explain what you do so our parents can understand it: “Companies buy a lot of software they don’t end up using. We help companies use what they bought, save money where possible, and plan smarter for the future.”

VendorHawk CEO Patrick Lowndes. (VendorHawk Photo)

Inspiration hit us when: “I was testing our first integration with a customer’s Google Apps account during a call early in our development. He thought he only had 140 paid licenses, but we revealed he was paying for nearly 250 licenses instead! We saved his company $2,500 in one phone call. He signed up as a paying customer the next week.”

VC, Angel or Bootstrap: “We bootstrapped a small amount of cash while keeping our day jobs to allow us to work about 20 hours a week on VendorHawk. When we got enough traction with paying customers, we joined Techstars and 9Mile Labs Fund III joined in with some additional pre-seed capital. After Techstars is over, we plan on seeking VC backing – this opportunity to save our customers money is massive and requires some serious technical investment. We feel like this approach has given us time to prove out some meaningful traction that validates our hypothesis, while also de-risking the investors we’re approaching.”

Our ‘secret sauce’ is: “VendorHawk is able to find thousand of dollars in savings from popular SaaS products that you might normally overlook on your own.”

The smartest move we’ve made so far: “Adding Ben, our third co-founder (second developer), was a big win for us and it helped us build much faster. We figured out pretty quickly what we needed to build, but literally didn’t have enough time at the keyboard. Bringing on Ben increased our development velocity, which allowed us to accelerate our business goals and roadmap planning (especially now that we’re a part of Techstars Seattle).”

The biggest mistake we’ve made so far: “In our zeal to see some early results and expand our limited efforts, we spent a good chunk of money on an outsourced appointment setting model that didn’t produce the results that were promised.”

Would you rather have Gates, Zuckerberg or Bezos in your corner: “Bezos represents the kind of customer-focus, versatility and innovation that VendorHawk is all about. He is incredibly versatile – moving from selling books, to all things online, to cloud infrastructure and devices. I am a big fan of semi-autonomous teams working in a highly empowered fashion, which I see a good amount of in Amazon’s culture. A favorite Bezos quote is this: ‘f we can keep our competitors focused on us while we stay focused on the customer, ultimately we’ll turn out alright.'”

Our favorite team-building activity is: “We’re fans of Ping Pong Wars. We’ll definitely plan on having an awesome ping pong table some day!”

The biggest thing we look for when hiring is: “We value teammates who are able to handle ambiguity at a fast pace. We also look for someone who’s eager to receive feedback and can provide open actionable feedback to the team in real-time. This is critical for staying responsive to customer needs and adjusting our focus as this is demanded.”

What’s the one piece of advice you’d give to other entrepreneurs just starting out: “I would start with customer discovery before you build anything. Interview twenty or more potential customers to hear what they think about your idea. Ask them if they’d buy it, or participate. If you can sell a mockup or prototype, you’ve probably got something worth building.”

Editor’s note: GeekWire is featuring each of the companies in the Techstars Seattle 2017 accelerator as they prepare for their Demo Day April 19.

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