From student entrepreneur to founder and CEO, Rob Carpenter has always embraced a “never quit” mentality. The business for his mobile app and software development company, AppIt Ventures, took off when he won THE CLIMB | Jake Jabs Business Plan Competition in 2012, and AppIt has since been featured in top business journals and magazines, won industry awards and even expanded its offices to London and India. We met up with Carpenter to see how far AppIt has come since the competition.
Q: Rob, tell us a little about yourself!
RC: I was born and raised in Alaska, and after I finished by undergraduate degree in entrepreneurship at Northern Michigan University (NMU), I moved to Florida in 2008 in search of warmer weather. I stuck it out there for two years doing commercial real estate, but it was one of the most difficult markets and industries imaginable. So after two years, I decided that was enough for me. I still didn’t know what I wanted to do, but I had a friend from NMU that moved out to Colorado and told me to come check it out. I literally slept on his couch for a couple of weeks until I got a job and started working. I then got accepted into the CU Denver MBA program, met my now-wife, completed my MBA in 2016 and started AppIt Ventures.
Q: Can you tell me about AppIt in your own words?
RC: AppIt is a custom software development company. We partner with individuals and firms to help them conceptualize, strategize, develop and deliver software. We’ve developed over 350 custom software products in the six years we’ve been in business. We primarily focus on mobile applications, web applications, and databases. But recently, we’ve started branching out into virtual reality and artificial intelligence and Internet of Things (IoT).
Q: Who are some of AppIt’s clients?
RC: We’ve done development work for Rocky Mountain Health Plans, and we’re doing a preliminary project right now for the state of Colorado with the Governor’s Office of Information and Technology. We’ve also developed some pretty innovative products for some local companies like General Air, where we built them a IoT sensor platform for all of their gas tanks spread out around the entire Front Range. In addition to that, AppIt has been doing a lot of work a project with Valiant.
Q: Very cool! So, while you were a CU Denver graduate student in 2012, what made you want to apply for THE CLIMB?
RC: I applied for THE CLIMB because I wanted validation, capital and exposure for my company. We had already started the company and were making revenue, so we had more than just an idea – we had already proved that we could execute on it. We participated in THE CLIMB because were looking for help in starting to scale the business.
Q: What did you do to prepare for THE CLIMB?
RC: We did a lot of practicing. Writing our business plan was a big part of it, but for the presentation itself, we really dialed in what we wanted to say and made it so that it became second nature. We got lots of feedback from other people, made tweaks to it over time and practiced without cue cards so we could be more relaxed and engaged with the audience.
Q: How did winning the competition [AppIt tied for first place] propel you & your company forward?
RC: What was really helpful for us after winning was the fact that we received so much media and publicity. While winning the prize money is nice, participating in THE CLIMB gives you leverage and increases your exposure, which in turn can lead to more revenue, mentors, investors, and partnerships. After THE CLIMB, we interviewed with Fox News, Denver Business Journal, The Denver Post, CBS Channel 4 and more. The amount of coverage we got made us look like a real company, and it kind of had a snowball effect. From the coverage, we were able to land a client that we still work with to this day and have done more than $100,000 of work for them over the past six years.
Also immediately after the competition, we got to meet a ton of people we wouldn’t have gotten to meet otherwise, such as the mayor and Jim Deters, the founder/CEO of Galvanize. One of our current advisors and in fact, one of the guys who is running one of my companies, was one of the judges during the Elevator Pitch Night. You just never know what’s going to come out of it!
I’m also not from Colorado and hardly knew anyone when I moved here, so participating in THE CLIMB really helped me build my reputation and brand and helped me meet some fantastic people. There’s a plethora of value that comes out of participating and winning the competition.
Q: What was the biggest challenge or obstacle you’ve had to overcome for AppIt?
RC: You know, it turns out that building a company is hard! You read Entrepreneur Magazine or Inc. and hear about all of these people making millions of dollars…but it takes a tremendous amount of grit. It’s a mindset of never, ever quitting. You have to be so extremely focused on your idea and believe in yourself that you will get there because you’ll never stop facing obstacles. You have to get comfortable with feeling uncomfortable and constant problem solving. The biggest and most important thing I do as a business leader is strategy. It’s figuring out how to handle challenges when they come up, whether it’s the market, the cash flow, the competitors, staff, partners or customers. There’s always issues that come up and you have to trust yourself to mitigate situations.
Q: What advice do you have for THE CLIMB participants?
RC: One piece of advice I always give is that it’s always helpful to do whatever you can do to make your business more viable before the competition. I really believe from a competition stand point, the judges are looking for people who are actually going to execute on their business. Ideas are a dime a dozen, but execution is where businesses are built, or fail. If you can do market research, get a prototype of a product, get some customers…best case scenario get some revenue, I think that is going to give you a huge advantage throughout the competition. You also need to practice, practice, practice, so you can nail your presentation and become comfortable with all of the types of questions you could get asked in order to provide quick and insightful answers.