Rick Allen (SE/CE ’11), Nick Gartmann (SE ’11), Josh Holtz (SE ’11) and Jason Stiebs (SE ’12) all took full-time day jobs in the software development field after their time at MSOE. Though they enjoyed the pay and most of the work they were assigned in their positions, a similar feeling among them was shared: there was something bigger they could be working toward.
Rick kept thinking back to the day he decided to skip class. A local company trying to initialize a “startup incubator” in the area was holding a presentation. Rick, already having heard about startups and finding himself very interested, had to attend.
In an interview with Forbes magazine, Adora Cheung said a startup is “when people join your company and are still making the explicit decision to forgo stability in exchange for the promise of tremendous growth and the excitement of making immediate impact.” Cheung is co-founder and CEO of Homejoy, one of Forbes’ Hottest Startups of 2013.
Learning more about this promising yet risky business opportunity is what inspired Rick to get Nick, Jason and Josh together to attempt to start a startup. They worked with a local business incubator focused on assisting startup and early-stage companies, which provided them and several other teams with $18,000 and connected them with investors. They worked hard all summer by moonlighting on top of their day jobs to build something that would pique the investors’ interest.
Although they were the only team to build a tangible product, investors were more interested in manufacturing and health care-related businesses than software. However, there was hope. The four founders had received practical knowledge about startups as well as a promising suggestion from a friend: start a consultancy that will assist companies, such as those built by the other teams, in starting themselves up and building products. From this idea, RokkinCat was born.
Looking to position themselves in the development market as craftsmen, RokkinCat’s slogan is “Hand-Coded Digital Products.” The company’s methodical process has four steps—Discover, Develop, Experiment and Transfer—that ultimately tie together software development and business. After being contacted by a company looking to have a product developed, the process begins.
The first step, Discover, involves connecting a company’s business goals with the product they are trying to build. In the second, Develop, RokkinCat uses the agile software development method to build the product. In the Experiment step, the group comes up with experiments to validate the product with potential users, then revisits step 2 to accommodate their suggestions and needs. The final step, Transfer, is what sets RokkinCat apart from other software developers. If the product requires it, RokkinCat will seek out, interview and train a team that can be hired on by the company capable of handling updates, maintenance and any other work related to the product in the future.
Three and a half years after Rick decided to skip his class, RokkinCat’s four founders continue to use their startup to flip the mindset in Milwaukee on how to run a business. They’ve accomplished their initial goal of getting out of their day jobs and then some. The company now has seven full-time employees and one intern. Together, they have developed more than 140 products! Their success didn’t come just from putting in long hours at their scenic downtown office, either. Employees have unlimited vacation days and are allowed to remotely work from anywhere they desire.
RokkinCat’s pure progressive energy shines through every aspect of the company. The enthusiasm the team displays when talking about all they’ve accomplished is electric. It’s clear that they take pride in their work. There are no cubicles in the office, but rather a collection of desks pushed together to allow for collaboration. The walls are painted an exciting and energizing red, and white boards are accessible everywhere to quickly jot down ideas. Natural light floods in from large windows that display gorgeous views of the city. A hammock is set up in front of a flat screen TV sporting an Xbox console. A friendly golden retriever greets visitors at the door.
Who wouldn’t want to work at such a fun yet innovative company? With a degree from MSOE, it is extremely tempting to take advantage of the high placement rate and immediately commit to a full-time job at a large company. However, Rick, Nick, Jason and Josh’s success is proof that alternative options exist. Starting a startup can be a risk. However, according to RokkinCat’s founders, the experience they gained, especially in business, even after their first attempt failed was an invaluable reward.