Accept that your startup idea will evolve. Change is the only constant. No story here — just understand that what you imagine for your company may not be what’s ultimately best for your customers. Ask yourself do you want to be successful or do you want to be right?
Identify your monetization model early and who you will make money from. Startups without business models are just hobbies.
As a part of my series about “Lessons From Inspirational Women Leaders in Tech”, I had the pleasure of interviewing Amanda Spann, an innovation strategist, serial app entrepreneur and podcaster with a background in brand development who has a professional focus on helping individuals and institutions, both domestically and abroad, design, launch and grow new products, incubation programs and entrepreneurship ecosystems. She is the founder of the The App Accelerator, a program to help non-technical entrepreneurs build their first mobile apps within their budget from anywhere in the world. The Florida State & Georgetown grad has coached, consulted and created content for over 30,000 entrepreneurs around the world and has had the honor of being named one of Business Insider’s 30 Most Important Women in Tech Under 30.
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 had a passion for entrepreneurship but I was apprehensive about venturing into technology because I wasn’t a coder. I spent years on the marketing, operations and ecosystem development side of the industry before gathering the gusto to jump into the founders seat myself. Despite my years working in and around the space, building my first app as a non-technical founder was a very lonely and costly process for me. There was a big learning curve in building the product itself on top of overcoming feelings of self doubt. I remember resolving “You have to stick with it Amanda”. I knew I was capable, I knew I was competent- I just didn’t know what I didn’t know.
My first app took me a year, the second took me two months. And by the 6th I was like you know, I think I’m onto something here. While I was building I would constantly get emails from people all over the world who would say “Hey, I have an app idea too but I have no idea where to start. Please help me get it off the ground.”
It really dawned on me that the next big game changing idea could be in the mind of someone who doesn’t have the knowledge or resources to build it. As a creative and entrepreneur, I know what that frustration feels like so I decided to address the problem by creating the App Accelerator.
The App Accelerator is an online program and community that provides a framework for non-technical entrepreneurs to build their first app. We pair an online curriculum with group and 1:1 coaching and add an additional layer of support with our resource repository and developer directory to provide you with every asset you need to make your app business a reality.
Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you began at your company?
The decision to build an app really transformed my life. I’ve flown all around the world to speak about them, met my app users and had drinks with them, some of the users of my dating app even invited me to their wedding. And now I have the pleasure of paying it forward and seeing my participants birth their apps from concept to creation, it’s truly rewarding.
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?
It certainly wasn’t funny at the time but one of the biggest hiccups I’ve had was an app crashing because my team and I simply failed to update some software. It ultimately was a good thing because it made us stop, pay attention to our management practices and build a better app for our users.
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?
I bootstrapped all of my apps and there were times where it was a huge uphill climb to self-fund all of my projects. While I never considered giving up completely, I had to learn the hard way that there is a difference between quitting and walking away. Not all ideas aren’t meant to last or are viable enough to continue. I had to learn to rest, reset and reassess why something didn’t work, what I could do differently next time and how this could serve me in the future.
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?
Absolutely — I’d like to thank people like Erin Horne McKinney and Sian Morson for not only always being a sounding board for me and always making the time for my crazy ideas but also for being sponsors, for advocating for me in rooms where I wasn’t present and uplifting me with new opportunities for advancement.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
“And as we let our own light shine, we unconsciously give other people permission to do the same.“
Your gifts are magnified when they are backed by authenticity. I am a better founder, friend, sister, daughter, and person because I strive each day to be the truest, most self-actualized, ever growing version of myself and in doing this I show other people that it’s possible to live in their gifts too.
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?
There are great business ideas that fail to exist because of technical overwhelm and intimidation. The App Accelerator seeks to bridge the knowledge gap, connect the dots and build confidence for non-technical founders who are ready to execute their app ideas.
What do you think makes your company stand out? Can you share a story?
The App Accelerator stands out because it leans in to and embraces the fact that our customers don’t know what they don’t know. We strive to not only be a resource for you but a safe place to not just help you reach your goal but be a proactive partner in providing you with the education, insights and info to feel empowered during this process.
Are you working on any exciting new projects now? How do you think that will help people?
The App Accelerator is it for now. With social distancing becoming our new normal the program is particularly beneficial right now to those who want to make their businesses accessible and available to everyone, everywhere while still following health and safety guidelines.
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?
Right now, I think diversity in tech is a buzzword, but it’s not a best practice. If only a fraction of the population is represented through new products and services then we’re doing ourselves and the general population a complete disservice. In order to bring true diversity of thought to the industry there must be intentional and thoughtful ACTION at every level of operations as well as a willingness to admit knowledge gaps, an effort to make outreach to those can fill them and restorative investment into the policies and practices that will transform the space.
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?
I think men seldomly have to debate whether pursuing both a career and a family is feasible, and if they’ll be punished for aspiring for both. I’m hoping that being home in the pandemic changes the outlook on this — that people will have much more respect and empathy for women and male parents alike. Hopefully this will be the push to make family as much a part of our workplaces as affinity groups.
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”?
Embrace stillness. “Standstills” can often be a matter of perspective. Perhaps this isn’t a setback …but a time for you to rest, rejuvenate, and recharge?
Do you have any advice about how companies can create very high performing sales teams?
First,iInvest in a diverse sales team that can view your customer from varying perspectives. Secondly, continually strive to enhance your emotional intelligence and lastly make it a habit to audit the clarity of your scripts,web copy, online and offline communication.
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?
In the beginning phases of every company I’ve built I make a point to reach out to my early adopters and learn more about who they are, what brought them here and how I can make the experience better for them. Sometimes this is in the form of a survey but I often prefer a 10–15 minute phone call. Yes, this is time consuming and no, it doesn’t scale… but it does increase buy-in with my users and enables me to better understand their problem and who they are as people so I can create a persona profiles around their identity and better target people like them in the future.
Based on your experience, can you share 3 or 4 strategies to give your customers the best possible user experience and customer service?
- Prioritize making customers feel like you are on their side. Too often customer service can feel like it’s us vs. them. Most customers just want to feel heard and that something is being done to rectify their issue.
- Strive for transparency at each stage of the buyers cycle. A knowledgeable customer will take the stress off your support team and empower them to become advocates for your brand
- Watch what they say but also what they do. Matchmake your feedback with analytics on how they are actively using your tool.
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?
I think retaining customers is all a matter of mixing emotional intelligence with hard data. I make a point to reach out to my participants weekly and give them various touchpoints to express their thoughts and concerns. I pair this with assessing analytics surrounding their usage of the platform and tools. I want to not only know how they feel but how they are leveraging my services as a result of it.
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.
- Be clear on the problem you are solving. Focus on that problem and know that sometimes the best problems to solve aren’t always sexy.
When I built my first app Alchomy, a cocktail exploration and bar locator app, I tried to solve 5 different problems for 10 different customer types. Not only was my focus spread incredibly thin but so was my marketing budget. By attempting to be everything to everyone I did myself and my most loyal customers an incredible disservice.
2. Accept that your startup idea will evolve. Change is the only constant.
No story here — just understand that what you imagine for your company may not be what’s ultimately best for your customers. Ask yourself do you want to be successful or do you want to be right?
3. Identify your monetization model early and who you will make money from. Startups without business models are just hobbies.
Back to my app Alchomy, I built the app without a clear path to revenue. While this concept can work well for some models of startups, it left me bleeding cash and without much runway to make the best decisions on behalf of the company.
4. Focus on growing and grooming your customer base as opposed to seeking funding. You’ll better position yourself for funding once you have a steady customer base and recurring monthly revenue.
For my first app I pursued funding aggressively. I mistakenly thought this is the way it HAD to be…you build a product, get it up and running and then pursue investors. WRONG. Courting investors is a full time job and can distract you from the time and energy you could be pouring into making your product better, making your customers happier or increasing revenue.
Set benchmarks and hold yourself to them. Assess why you did or did not meet them weekly.
I think when you’re building a product you can get consumed in the brand or even superficial elements surrounding promoting the company, but ultimately one of your top priorities should be setting real and measurable goals to discern whether your business is actually working, moving forward and making progress.
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. 🙂
Self-discipline as a form of self care. Have the resolve to not only prioritize your work, but your mind, your health, your spirit and your faith as religiously. You’re a better founder when you’re at peace.
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 🙂
Myleik Teele & Oprah. Myleik shares a similar journey to me from transitioning from being a publicist to a founder, I’d love her mentorship and guidance on growing and scaling a company as well as balancing personal and professional life. Oprah is well..Oprah. I’d love to have a conversation with her about maintaining your prospective and purpose as you deal with the triumphs and traumas of success.
How can our readers further follow your work online?
Thank you so much for this. This was very inspirational, and we wish you only continued success!