Inside the VentureSpur Experience: An Interview with Zalongo’s Hal Gatewood
Hal Gatewood is a dynamic, Oklahoma-City base software developer and entrepreneur:
Inside the VentureSpur Experience: An Interview with Zalongo’s Hal Gatewood.
What was your favorite part of the VentureSpur Accelerator experience?
Hal: I was part of the JumpStart program, so I got to be in on a part-time basis. One of my favorite parts is just being around other entrepreneurs and just the overall excitement of working on your product, building your product and critiquing. I enjoyed being around other like-minded people actively looking to succeed.
What kinds of challenges were you facing when you decided to join the accelerator?
Hal: When I joined I was really looking for validation on my idea. I was seeing if there was a market for it… if people were interested in it. I had some signups. I had things going. I just wanted to get some more validation. After getting that, it was time to work on it and figure things out and make the product the best it could be.
How did you use the accelerator help to overcome some of these challenges?
Hal: Well, getting accepted into the accelerator fixed that problem. It validated my idea. The rest of the time was great for networking and meeting other people and gaining business knowledge that I didn’t have – coming from a technical background. It helped me maintain focus on my product.
Who was your favorite person that you met through the accelerator?
Hal: I enjoyed working with a lot of people… Each person had a different prospective on my product, on my business and it just helped in a lot of different ways. One of the main ones that jumped out at me, just because he was pretty straight with me, was Mike Whitaker. He’s one of the mentors there and he had a no-nonsense way of working on our product and offered some genuine feedback. He’s a nice guy to hang out with and to have on your side.
Was there any particular problem that he helped you to think about?
Hal: He questioned my idea pretty well. He helped me get an overview of my competition and the landscape of what was going on and helped to find some holes in the market that I could try to fill.
What changed about your company as you went through the accelerator?
Hal: Well, the mission always stayed the same; which was good. It was more the little features and the details that got shuffled around – like for pricing and marketing, how to approach people and what to really spend my time working on; brainstorming through all of that and developing it and eventually changing things and launching the idea. But, my main mission of helping families share online stayed the same… which was interesting. We’ve actually, since the accelerator, started working a lot on content marketing. We’re doing a lot of videos and blog entries… trying to build some more knowledge and get our name out there.
Hal: Yeah, while we were in the accelerator we had some nice press articles and blog posts that were written about us that gave us hundreds of signups a day. From all over the world too! So, it was really interesting to watch that and get the feedback from those people that signed up. It was great.
What changed about the operations of your business through the accelerator?
Hal: A lot has changed after the accelerator. When I was going through the accelerator I was working a full-time job and doing Zalongo on my nights and weekends. It was tough on me physically and mentally. It was a lot trying to keep a regular job going, a family, and side projects. But now, I’m happy to say that I’ve kind of switched my roles. I’ve taken a part time job and I’m going to be doing Zalongo a lot more often and pushing it a lot harder. And, that’s just happened a month after getting out of the accelerator. It’s going to be exciting.
Did you have a favorite workshop?
Hal: I had a couple favorite workshops. Piyush Patel gave a great one about his experiences being an entrepreneur – about starting up and bootstrapping. Unfortunately, I didn’t get to be there, but I watched it through the live conferencing. It was great. It was funny and had a great flow to it. There was one: David Matthew’s “Go to Market Strategy”. That was an interesting one on getting your product ready for launch and getting all of your ducks in a row. Another one was about branding about brand promise, brand personality, and brand attributes. And, just really giving your product a voice and how it can relate to people.
What was your favorite part of Pitch Day? What did you get out of the Pitch Day process?
Hal: Pitch Day was a great experience. I got to meet a lot of very excited and very interesting people from the technology space. It is really just one of those once-in-a-lifetime situations where you get to stand up and someone is going to pay you to talk in front of people and pitch your idea. It allows you to raise money in front of people who are excited about what you are doing. Getting to do it in Oklahoma City and Dallas was a bonus. I enjoyed the whole experience of prepping it and doing it and just going through that process was just a good experience personally and for the business as well.
What advice would you give to someone considering going into an accelerator?
Hal: Some advice I’d give future entrepreneurs trying to get into the accelerator would just be to go all in. Go for it. Go to everything. If you can, just switch around your schedule to go for it. It may be the only chance you get so you’ve got to take it and see what you can do with it.
To find out more about Zalongo, visit www.zalongo.com.
Watch Zalongo’s presentation from our 2013 Pitch Day!
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