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Recently, we spoke with entrepreneur and Member.buzz founder William Yeack to get some insight into what it takes to build a technology from the ground up, how he keeps himself on track, and the mindset required to keep pushing - even when no one else is paying attention.
frustrated at how difficult various gaps in the market were making his attempts to streamline the management of his university's alumni club, this hedge fund manager turned consultant turned software engineer and tech guru built a platform that now helps tens of thousands of individuals and organizations remove the instability and grind from their daily lives.
Beyond all of the late nights teaching himself how to code, the countless hours spent focusing on getting the details right from the start, and the periods of self doubt that accompany any creative endeavor, the thread has never been lost: how to create the best platform for people and groups to come together online.
What led you to this stage?
When I first left University, I was working in finance and as something else to do, I got involved with my alumni club for the University of St Andrews. It was a really small group of people, and as we tried to build it out and coordinate efforts I noticed there was a lot of difficulty around events and membership and just running the organization as a whole. People were really motivated and would do a really good job, but if they left they would end up taking all their knowledge and prepwork and logins and accounts with them. We saw as group this happening over and over again. I also started noticing that this was a common theme for ALL the membership based organization I was involved with. Without a consolidated platform, everyone had to use a bunch of single purpose tools, and the individuals involved would end up taking everything they built and used with them when they went. It was really difficult to build and maintain a real organizational structure and identity. So I started building a set of standards around managing the club and that turned into us building our own website. It got more and more custom until we noticed we had a unique product on our hands and I realized that this was something that could be useful for other membership organizations, not just us and from that initial realization, came Member.buzz!
What was the question you were trying to answer?
Member.buzz was designed to provide a unified platform that any membership organization could use as a group, rather than a collection of individuals all using individual platforms. I wanted a group platform that would live on as the group grew and changed. Something that would allow the group to develop and maintain a real identity.
What has changed since you decided to start your own thing?
I definitely had to learn a lot. I kind of came out of school in this weird place. I was super gung-ho about being a corporate person, working (at the time) for an investment bank at the time. Graduating during the financial crisis kind of thrust me towards the Entrepreneurial side of things early on though. I definitely credit my path as an entrepreneur with allowing me to experiment and learn a lot of new things that I wouldn’t have had any exposure to as a banker. It is really cool to be able to be able to be creative and learn something new every day.
"Spending the time to really nail the base level frameworks allows you to build out much higher level functionality and relationships much more easily."
What are some habits you think are invaluable to your success?
When you are running your own company, especially a technology company, you absolutely have to be a huge perfectionist. Everything just has to work well before you can move on. If you build something on top of something else that only kind of works, you make life much more complicated for yourself in the future. So fastidiousness and perfectionism is key to being able to build with confidence. Even the Member.buzz color pallet took a lot longer than you would think, but now that it's done I don’t have to worry about things looking off on the platform. Spending the time to really nail the base level frameworks allows you to build out much higher level functionality and relationships much more easily. It may feel like some of the simple stuff is taking a lot longer than it would otherwise, but I think that’s actually a good thing in the long run.
What does your best day vs your worst day look like?
Right now I still wear a lot of hats. My favorite days are when I get a little bit of everything in: programming, working with customers, dealing with production, infrastructure, marketing and managing employees. I still love getting on to support calls and helping customers as much as I love getting to sit and code for a few hours. Days where I get to do it all are nice because they help me feel like I have covered all the bases.
The worst days are the very rare instances when something hits the production environment and I have to dive into everything and figure out where the issue is. Those days can be super stressful but its worth it to make sure that everything is kept up to the really high standards we keep. I take it personally when someone isn’t having a great experience on our platform, so I want to do everything I can to fix the issue and give them the user experience they deserve.
How do you stay on top of everything?
On the site, we are constantly building new dashboards to help both ourselves and our customers manage and make use of the information being gathered. It's a lot of stuff to process, but we want everyone to have as much actionable intelligence as they can get.
Personally, I’m a big list maker. I also will admit to being a big list breaker. Some days, things happen, and I don’t get to everything I wanted to, but as long as I'm able to keep organized, it will get done. I always tell my team, if you need me to do something, send me an email. I might not be able to get to it today, but it will get flagged, go on the list, and it will get done. The biggest thing I endeavor to be is someone who doesn’t let things slip through the cracks, even if it is not something I can get to right away; If you ask me to do it, it will get done.
What is the most rewarding part of doing what you do?
I think that for all of our team, one of the coolest and most rewarding things is seeing people use our platform. Someone we have never met, organizing on Member.buzz. Its really cool to build some new feature that people have asked for and see them out in the real world using it. It's a really tangible outcome and it is really amazing to see that.
"The biggest thing I endeavor to be is someone who doesn’t let things slip through the cracks..."
What advice would you give to someone trying to follow in your footsteps?
In starting Member.buzz and getting to know other entrepreneurs throughout this whole process, I think the biggest point of success or failure is how well someone understands the product they are trying to build. If you are trying to start a technology company, and you don’t understand how to actually create technology, it probably won’t work. I know it must happen, but in all the companies I’ve known, and all the entrepreneurs I have spoken with, I have never seen that work. If you are starting a tech company and you don’t know how to create the actual technology and you plan to just outsource it, it will invariably fail. Creating technology is hard. You need someone on the founding team who knows what they’re doing to be successful. You need someone with real skin in the game to advocate for the company, otherwise you will blow all of your money on developers who don’t really get the vision and you will end up in a situation where you really aren’t happy with the results. I’ve seen it happen a few times and it always ends badly.
How do you handle adversity and doubt?
It's hard. For me, one of the big things is that Kristie, my wife, has been very supportive of me. She is very encouraging and she believes in the product. If she was a person who doubted it or me, I don’t think that I would’ve been able to be at this for as long as I have. It is really hard when you are sitting there, with no money coming in, building something alone, not sure if it is going to go anywhere. Even then, you just have to stick with it, and really believe in the product as a zealot.
What's next for you?
For us, it's really just continuing to build the product and working hard to make sure that we are positioned to fully take advantage when the times comes. We are still working on it, still focusing in on our niche, and getting that right set of features, functionality, and users so that when the opportunity comes we can accelerate into that next stage.
[Note: William Yeack is the founder and owner of both Member.buzz and this publication. Fuzzylogic.io is built on the Member.buzz platform. William Yeack was not compensated for this interview and did not participate in the transcription, editing, or publishing of this interview]