By: Kathryn Todd
I sat down with Devin Turner and Charlie Beckwith, co-founders of FocalCast. This new app is available in the Google Store and App Store and is designed as “a catalyst for learning in the classroom allowing students and teachers to annotate and give presentations from their mobile devices while sharing the newly created information instantly through the cloud.” The Capital Innovators accelerator program brought this business to St. Louis and this interview explores what goes into making an app and what makes St. Louis unique.
What do you think sets FocalCast apart from other apps?
FocalCast was the first app that allowed users to conduct a wireless presentation from a phone. Now the app is the only one that goes cross-platform and is in the testing phases of connecting two devices to both annotate together on the same slide or whiteboard.
Tell us about the Capital Innovators accelerator program in St. Louis?
This program helped Charlie and Devin improve by requiring them to put in an incredible amount of work in a short time and forcing them to hear constructive criticism. Although they didn’t appreciate it at the time, looking back they realize the benefits. In three months, they created an entire iOS application. The program also helped them connect with wonderful mentors such as Dan Kish, the Founder, Chairman, and CEO of Panera Bread, as well as Carl Turza, a VP at Granger.
What inspired you to start FocalCast when your background is in aircraft technology?
Charlie and Devin met over Skype after being introduced by mutual friends. They noticed a gap in the wireless technology world and wanted to take advantage of it. Both wanted a career outside of the traditional corporate environment. They saw their age as advantage, saying “We’re so young. This is the time where you’re supposed to set your own path.”
How have you educated yourself on app development and business?
The two referenced Reid Hoffman, Executive Chairman and co-Founder of LinkedIn, who stated “Starting a company is like throwing yourself off the cliff and assembling an airplane on the way down.” With backgrounds in computer engineering, Devin and Charlie had the technology aspect of this business down, but didn’t know much about running a business. After taking part in the Rice Business Plan Competition in Texas, the two started working to grow their business outward instead of tailoring their business to their personal needs. One eye opener for this duo was when they realized they had 7,000 users and none of their email addresses. This didn’t allow the company to get information, feedback, or funding.
What brought you to St. Louis?
Capital Innovators reached out to the pair after their competition in Texas landed them the Gimmal Outstanding IT Prize. There had been other potential investors but none had terms they could agree to. They enjoy St. Louis as it is a growing tech hub and the “largest small community you’ll ever see”. Residents see the same entrepreneurs at many events, which are small enough to avoid confusion, but large enough to make a difference. These co-founders enjoy St. Louis’ mid-west charm and see opportunity in its many funding programs.
The two have found that people in St. Louis are willing to help and want FocalCast to succeed. Other professionals give up a lot of time and resources without asking for favors in return. This small community really proved beneficial after they spoke at a local Microsoft office in Creve Coeur. An executive approached the pair and asked if they would be attending Infocom, the largest professional AV trade show in North America. When telling the executive financial constraints would prevent them from attending, the executive offered to buy their tickets. While at the conference, the executives showed Charlie and Devin around and introduced them to other companies like Google.
What advice would you give to students interested in technology?
Do it! They say if there’s any time to take advantage of St. Louis’ resources, it’s now. Charlie and Devin were lucky to find partners who shared the same motivation and drive, and appreciated not having to take the traditional route of working up through a company. From the business side, this pair recommends finding either 10 people willing to donate $100 or 100 people willing to donate $10. This way, you know your product will have support and you have funding.
Entrepreneurs should also have a thick skin. Charlie and Devin were laughed at in the beginning, when this type of technology wasn’t as popular. They realized it wasn’t a reflection of their business or product but rather a lack of understanding of the growth of technology. They recommend knowing when to take feedback and when to stick to your vision.