Onboard clients and train them. Make sure clients know the power of the product you’ve sold them, how to harness it, and how to optimize it for success. To us, dormant unused apps represent failure. To that point, during a recent client training, we learned that our client was not getting the user traction they’d hoped for and were considering dropping their app. We worked with them to hone their message, expand their database, and offer sales promotions to increase usage.
As a part of my series about “Lessons From Inspirational Women Leaders in Tech”, I had the pleasure of interviewing Denise DeSano, CEO and Founder of enCappture, the affordable SaaS mobile application platform that drives customer engagement for companies of all types, no matter the size. After working with companies like GameTruck, Bricks for Kidz, and Think Zero, Denise saw the need for small to medium-sized businesses to have access to the same enterprise-level software platforms that large companies have to help grow and market their businesses — while also filling the gap for women entrepreneurs and enCappture was born. Launched in late 2019 enCappture has to date helped thousands of SMBs increase engagement and grow their businesses by driving both customer and employee engagement. Prior to founding enCappture, in 2012, Denise co-founded Marked Private LLC and conceived Marked Private’s first engagement was platform product, Invite Bandz, connecting physical bands to partygoers’ online party portal. Invite Bandz is available at over 500 retailers, including Amazon and Party City. Before entering the tech world Denise worked for over ten years in the Briarcliff School District, where through numerous grants I was able to bring technology into the classroom. Her efforts drove the development of the first school-wide technology curriculum. She was also an advisor and evaluator of technology and was key in fostering young female students in the STEM program. As a leader in the field of technology, her mission to not only inspire girls to create new ways to disrupt small, developing businesses with innovative technologies but also to help make programs accessible to women and girls at all ages.
Thank you so much for joining us in this interview series! Before we dive in, our readers would love to learn a bit more about you. Can you tell us a story about what brought you to this specific career path?
I’ve always felt that technology should be accessible!
I started my professional life as an educator and, through numerous grants, was able to bring computers into the classroom and spearhead the development of the first school-wide technology curriculum. I was also very interested in encouraging female students to pursue a STEM education.
While on hiatus from teaching to care for my three young children, I began exploring technology even further and in 2012 formed Marked Private, a company that develops accessible technology to help businesses engage with their communities. Marked Private’s first software platform, Invite Bandz, a hybrid of a physical product and an online platform, launched in 2013. While marketing Invite Bandz, I saw the need for small to medium-sized businesses to have access to the same enterprise-level software platforms as large companies do. This led me to develop Marked Private’s most recent market entry, enCappture, an affordable, branded mobile application platform for companies of all types and sizes.
Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you began at your company?
I was introduced to an entrepreneur named Chris McMahon who was seeking a way to aggregate unused baseball practice fields and make practice time available to parents, coaches, schools, scouts, etc. His three sons all played and were often at a loss for somewhere to practice. After Chris went down the rabbit hole of native app development, and the time, money and frustration that goes with it, he came to us and together, we created an app solution that is now a thriving business for McMahon. The app is called Cager. Cager offers access to practice and playing fields up and down the east coast and, with its booking and payment features, eliminates the need for sports facilities to spend money on customer acquisition, payment software, and reservation agents. It’s all done through the enCappture app. It’s very satisfying for my company to be a part of Cager’s “necessity is the mother of invention” success story.
Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?
Well, not that it’s funny per se, but when we were in Beta test mode, and went out with our first round of pricing, we learned very quickly that our prices were way too high for the small and medium sized businesses we were targeting. Humbled, we were schooled in the value of value. Now that we’ve been out in the market, we often hear, “I can’t believe launching an app is so inexpensive!” I much prefer that reaction.
Can you tell us a story about the hard times that you faced when you first started your journey? Did you ever consider giving up? Where did you get the drive to continue even though things were so hard?
While I never considered giving up, it’s not in my nature, I struggled with transitioning from teacher to business woman. I had mastered the classroom, it was my domain, and where I was entirely comfortable.
When we first launched Invite Bandz and then moved into developing enCappture, I felt a bit like a fish out of water on some days. Managing coders, developers, software engineers and then selling, marketing, hiring, promoting, it was uncharted territory, overwhelming, and taxing…heady stuff. Look, it’s hard enough to learn all the lingo but harder still to initiate sales calls and meetings where I was unsure about whether I’d really be able to answer questions. I was especially hesitant because many of the people I was calling on were men.
Several things gave me the confidence to power through. One, my family was, and is, my backbone, especially my daughters, both high achievers and very motivated. Having them aspire to own a business one day after watching me do it, is really cool. Two, I really believe in what I’m selling and it helps to see people benefitting and prospering from what you’ve created. Lastly, I threw myself into learning; podcasts, webinars, reading, googling, studying, and asking for help. Also, I learned the hard way to back away when something doesn’t work and it’s time to move on.
None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story about that?
Someone smart once told me to have 5 key supporters around you when launching a business. In my case, my five are my husband who is my biggest cheerleader, my first client, who is also a friend and a critic and helped us develop enCappture by challenging me every day, my attorney (every new business needs one right off the bat), who helped me structure for success and kept me from making bad moves, and my business network has been been instrumental in feeding me potential clients and a tremendous source of support. And finally my best friend who, when we launched, was going through a personal crisis of her own and who showed me the power of resilience and belief in oneself.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
I think everything I did before launching enCappture informs where I’ve landed in so many ways… mom, educator, advocate, techy, doer, etc. are all “invested” into enCappture, which is why I think we were able to be successful so quickly. There is a solid, proven foundation beneath it. My life lesson quote, and what I always tell my kids is, “What you put in is what you’ll get out.” Sounds simple but it’s true and applies to all aspects of life, from business to relationships to sports, to anything, really.
Ok super. Thank you for all that. Let’s now shift to the main focus of our interview. We’d love to learn a bit about your company. What is the pain point that your company is helping to address?
With enCappture we are democratizing technology — specifically mobile apps for SMBs. It’s not lost on me that people in the U.S spent an average of 3 hours using mobile apps in the 2nd quarter of 2020 (App Annie)!
It used to be that only large companies were able to have great apps. With mobile app usage surging, and everyone constantly on their phones — there are more connected mobile devices in the world, 7.94 billion, than there are people according to BusinessofApps — we’re giving companies the opportunity to engage, poll, transact, market, and optimize their messaging right in the palms of people’s hands.
We launched our business right before the start of the pandemic, and while I’d met a few of our people in person beforehand, the majority came onboard after March 2020 and so we’ve never met. We app! Even hosted our company holiday party on our app. That’s where the world is today.
I almost feel a sense of duty to spread the word about the power and efficiency of mobile apps. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard friends and colleagues talk about the apps they or their companies’ were developing and how they either didn’t work or were never finished because native development was so expensive or didn’t really work. We have made apps, which are a necessity for almost all businesses, available to all businesses while making the process fast, affordable and fully functional. I’m very proud of that.
What do you think makes your company stand out? Can you share a story?
We do our homework. I think our success is partly due to the fact that we’ve engineered our products to anticipate needs rather than respond to them. Yes we’re a savior for companies who have gone down the costly path of native development, but we’ve also become an in-house marketing department for companies seeking more streamlined and effective ways to communicate with stakeholders both internally and externally.
Case in point is CNY Group, a NYC-based construction firm with major projects all over the tri-state area. Ken Colao, CNY’s President, told me that having a mobile app breaks down barriers and allows for organic connectivity and collaboration, which became even more important during the pandemic. When they originally decided to launch an app, Colao and CNY Group VP People & Culture Katie Urtnowski had a challenge: find a way to foster better, faster, and deeper employee communication within their 160-person construction company. Upon launching their app in 2018, the CNY team discovered having an app not only improved company-wide communication but also increased employee morale and camaraderie. As a result, the company has experienced increased productivity, with less reliance on emails and phone calls. CNY’s management was also seeking ways to further reinforce and foster a “family” vibe. Through their app they organized and promoted CNY’s social events and town hall meetings and found that using the countdown clock feature before events was key in building excitement and fostering participation.
But, like it did for all businesses, the COVID-19 quarantine presented unique communications challenges for the team at CNY. The team collaborated on using their app in more imaginative ways to connect teams working from home including app hosted contests and content about everything from best quarantine exercise photos to most creative work from home environments. They used their app to share tips for healthy living and found that it helped bind the company together while they were sheltering in place apart.
Are you working on any exciting new projects now? How do you think that will help people?
Because we’re about democratizing mobile apps, our customers range across a wide swath of business verticals. More recently, we’ve been asked to launch apps for foundations and associations and one I’m quite proud of is the app we’re launching for the Crohn’s and Colitis Foundation to connect the 200 support groups that work with the 3 million people in the US who are symptomatic. These diseases are tough to handle and made tougher by the lengths people must go through to manage them. In addition to delivering information and support content, the new app will make it easier for those living with IBD by providing searchable maps so that users can quickly and easily locate restrooms.
I’m also excited about the several Chamber of Commerce apps we’ve launched that have helped local businesses stay afloat during the pandemic by facilitating real time communication between shoppers and stores and restaurants and diners as well as communicate important COVID-19 information to their Chamber members.
Let’s zoom out a bit and talk in more broad terms. Are you currently satisfied with the status quo regarding women in Tech? What specific changes do you think are needed to change the status quo?
There’s still a big gap for women in the tech workplace. Just look at all of the female-focused incubators that have started! That wouldn’t be the case if things were humming along from a hiring, investing, mentoring and educational standpoint. And, let’s face it, technology is a field made for women. We’re solution oriented, problem solvers, and multi-taskers which are really good qualities for the tech industry.
I was an advisor and evaluator of technology and a mentor to young female students in my school district’s STEM program. I know that encouraging, supporting, fostering, and pushing tech careers and study works. But all of this has to start early and parents, educators, advisors, funders, HR, hiring, and recruiting professionals all must play a role.
I would say to women, embrace being a female in this industry and allow yourself to shine. Don’t think you have to have all the answers, just ask the right questions and then give yourself time to find the right answers and process how to apply them. Use your ability to multitask — this business requires us to process and implement a lot at once.
I would also say, be inclusive and supportive. Support colleagues, mentor those coming up, encourage women to think about careers in tech, whether they’re your daughter, her friends, or that friend who’s thinking about a second act. Be collaborative and jump at quality networking opportunities.
In your opinion, what are the biggest challenges faced by women in Tech that aren’t typically faced by their male counterparts? What would you suggest to address this?
As discussed earlier, my biggest challenge was pivoting from teacher/educator to techy/business owner. Being an entrepreneur for the first time, the learning curve, long hours, wearing many hats, fundraising, etc. was difficult. I was completely out of my comfort zone; navigating the ins and outs of starting a company from scratch was often a head-scratcher. I also had trouble initially finding balance between home and work and I still found myself doing everything at home and everything for the business. It was (and still is) exhausting at times.
Several things saved me. One was that I made a conscious effort to focus on one day at a time. Two, I stuck with our business plan. (The marketing plan changed with market conditions but the business plan was a constant.) Three, I tried several CRM tools until I found the right ones for me and our business. Lastly, I do everything I can to stay healthy. I try to get my 8 hours, eat properly, and work out, even if it’s just a 30 minute at home session. I know this may sound simplistic, but it’s true what they say about your health, especially as a mom of teenagers.
Look, tech is still an industry dominated by men. I didn’t think about that when I launched Invite Bandz, but it’s a factor. Thankfully, I’m surrounded by women who have major roles in my company, including developers, sales and marketing leads, customer service specialists, copywriters, content and social media experts, attorneys and others. Our instincts lean toward inclusivity, collaboration, and getting things done. We support each other and our customers with equal passion and really care that our product delivers. Not to say men wouldn’t, I just think it’s a different energy.
What would you advise to another tech leader who initially went through years of successive growth, but has now reached a standstill. From your experience do you have any general advice about how to boost growth or sales and “restart their engines”?
We’re still revving our engines as a young business so no standstills yet. But I am a strong believer in constantly innovating and adding to our core business as there are always new products to offer the market and new enhancements to offer our clients. In technology, things are constantly changing so we have to be out ahead of that.
One thing we do regularly is check in with our clients to find out what kinds of product features and benefits they’re craving and also how we can improve. I’m a believer that more client contact equals more client business.
Also, the team makes it a priority to stay up to date by speaking at and attending panels, taking courses, networking, and being well versed in industry developments.
Do you have any advice about how companies can create very high performing sales teams?
At some level, sales is basic; to be a strong seller you must believe in your company and the products and services you are selling. You must also have a firm grasp of what your product does, have an innate sense of who its potential users are and how to find them, and be able to succinctly convey why they need and want what you have i.e. what problem you’re solving. Knowing who your competition is and what they’re doing is also critical.
In your specific industry what methods have you found to be most effective in order to find and attract the right customers? Can you share any stories or examples?
As a Saas platform with a deep and broad range of potential users and consumers, we know that there is literally no person or business that wouldn’t benefit from having a mobile app. Trading on that, our first tag line was, Because everyone needs a mobile app, which we launched with Facebook and Instagram ad campaigns to draw the top of the sales funnel. We got tons and tons of leads, closed a few and learned a lot. We learned that we had to segment better, message more clearly, and key in on a price structure that was palatable across the board. Finessing this is something we do every day.
CRE is a sweet spot as properties are searching for creative and clever ways to engage work from home tenants and those who are returning to their offices and need to feel good about safety and security. Last year our team collaborated with Marx Realty to create Marx Connect, which became Marx’s prototype app for launching apps for each building in its CRE portfolio. Building on that, Marx used enCappture to launch an app for its Cross County Center to bring customers back to that shopping mall. The app provides store hours, sales, promotions, event news and facilitates curbside pick up for mall restaurants and has kept retailers and restaurants open and busy during these incredibly challenging times.
Based on your experience, can you share 3 or 4 strategies to give your customers the best possible user experience and customer service?
We’ve made it a priority to personally check in every month with our customers and have a dedicated team whose only job is to help clients optimize their apps, share new updates and how to use them, and be ready to troubleshoot at a moment’s notice.
Following the notion that knowledge is know-how, we use webinars, videos, blogs and white papers to educate and train so that people using the platform are using it to its fullest.
As you likely know, this HBR article demonstrates that studies have shown that retaining customers can be far more lucrative than finding new ones. Do you use any specific initiatives to limit customer attrition or customer churn? Can you share some of your advice from your experience about how to limit customer churn?
Thankfully we haven’t lost any! Again, we have multiple client touch points and are always checking in. Also, if we can help our customers keep their customers we’ll stay ahead of the churn. We spend a lot of time assisting our clients with best practices and help them use features, with marketing, with data, etc.
Here is the main question of our discussion. Based on your experience and success, what are the five most important things one should know in order to create a very successful tech company? Please share a story or an example for each.
- Start with good tech and hire the strongest development and tech team you can find. Build your team with people committed to exhausting every pathway to finding perfect solutions.
- Innovate, add new features and optimize them. Don’t stand on your laurels, ever! Some of our best features, like the booking capability, we added in the 4th quarter of 2020. It will likely be among the most popular features.
- Beta, beta and more beta. We tested the enCappture platform extensively before its official Q4 2019 launch. We did this by inviting a select group of early stage investors to launch “free” apps with us to work through all of the kinks and provide objective feedback about what worked and what didn’t.
- Talk to clients and users constantly. By listening to client feedback, we arrived at the need to launch a booking feature. They are our eyes and ears, windows into what’s going on.
- Onboard clients and train them. Make sure clients know the power of the product you’ve sold them, how to harness it, and how to optimize it for success. To us, dormant unused apps represent failure. To that point, during a recent client training, we learned that our client was not getting the user traction they’d hoped for and were considering dropping their app. We worked with them to hone their message, expand their database, and offer sales promotions to increase usage.
Wonderful. We are nearly done. Here are the final “meaty” questions of our discussion. You are a person of enormous influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂
I’m not sure I’m going to start a movement but I do know that the kids I taught, and my own kids, have benefited tremendously from being fed a diet of science and math from an early age. They’re fortunate to have had that training and study. I’d like to see STEM studies become a mandatory and integral early part of every curriculum in schools nationwide, especially in rural areas. The world of possibility and curiosity that it can open, particularly for young women, is limitless.
We are very blessed that very prominent leaders read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US with whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might just see this if we tag them 🙂
There are so many! Of course Michelle Obama, Oprah, Dr. Jill Biden top the list as does Sheryl Sandberg. Sheryl would be my choice because she is an amazing leader; a business and philanthropic pioneer who puts her money where her influence is. She’s someone who has accomplished so much, overcome real tragedy and seems to never lose her passion for learning, doing, giving, and mentoring. She’s my role model plus I’d love to learn the secrets about how she organizes her day to get it all done!
Thank you so much for this. This was very inspirational, and we wish you only continued success!