Dr. Carmen April: Start off by giving me the names of the founders of Coffitivity……
Ace Callwood: My name is Ace Callwood and I’m one of the Co-Founders. Our Graphic Designer Co-Founder is Nicole Horton. The man with the plan and the brains behind the whole thing is Justin Kauszler. Then our heavy lifting web developer is Tommy Nicholas
Dr. Carmen April: Tell me a little bit about your educational background and then about your college major.
Ace Callwood: Justin, Nicole, and myself graduated last year from Virginia Commonwealth University in Richmond, Virginia. We did four years each and we all graduated in 2012. Justin and I both majored in entrepreneurship, which is where we actually met. I actually run the entrepreneurship program at the university now. It’s my day job. Justin and I majored in entrepreneurship at the Business School at VCU. Nicole is actually an interior designer by trade. She was in the School of the Arts at VCU and majored in interior design. Tommy Nicholas went to VCU his freshman year and transferred to the University of Virginia (UVA). He graduated in 2011 and he majored in business and African American Studies.
Dr. Carmen April: Are all of you guys from Virginia?
Ace Callwood: Yes, Nicole and Tommy are both Richmond born and bred. Justin and I are military brats so I’ve been up and down the east coast but did high school in the Hampton Roads area. Justin is actually from Hampton Roads as well.
Dr. Carmen April: This is the first time that I had ever heard of a university having entrepreneurship as an actual major versus Business, Marketing, or Human Resource Management. When did they put that program in place?
Ace Callwood: Let me clarify that entrepreneurship is a subset of Business Administration and Management. It’s a concentration of learning how to be a manager. The core of our curriculum is focused on entrepreneurship and small business management. There’s actually quite a few schools throughout the country with this major. More and more people are getting excited about this, I’ll put it that way. Here at the university, we teach disruption which occasionally gets people fired from a couple of jobs because they think too freely. But at one point, they’ll settle into a good fit if they go out and get the job. As the prime candidate for the job, they can go and shake things up to do some revolutionary innovations. That’s what we push for with our students.
Dr. Carmen April: So that’s what you do full-time. What’s your official title with the university?
Ace Callwood: I’m the Coordinator for Entrepreneurship at the School of Business.
Dr. Carmen April: Tell me where the idea for Coffitivity came from. Were you sitting around in a coffee shop one day and the idea came to you? How did it come about?
Ace Callwood: Yes. As I mentioned, Justin and I (I may refer to him as Jay here and there) work together on several projects now. Our first start-up actually conceptualized a self-working bike rack called CycleStay. That was a huge project for us to work on for a year and a half. Part of our curriculum is a business plan competition that is the majority of our grade. We hired Justin for this project in our senior year. After his graduation, we continued the project and ran it. We were getting a lot of work done in coffee shops. We brought Nicole on board to look at some of the designs that we were doing for CycleStay. We were in and out of coffee shops over the course of two or 3 months, looking at the brand, how that would fit, and what it would look like. We went through a sprint of four or 5 days in some of our favorite coffee shops. Justin went back to the day job the next Monday or Tuesday and according to him, it was dead quiet in the office. He was banging his head against the keyboard. He asked his boss, who is the mentor for both of us, if he could work in a coffee shop. She looked at him like he was crazy. Justin was in this environment where he couldn’t get the creative juices that he needed going and he realized, “hey, I can do some awesome work in coffee shops. If I can’t get into a coffee shop, I can bring it to me.” That was his inspiration for Coffitivity and coincidentally, because Justin and I both work in academia- we read a lot of research and white papers. I had just finished reading a white paper that indicates that playing a moderate level of ambient noise can produce creative cognition. Like with everything we read, we pass that information on to each other. Three or four weeks prior to Justin having his revelation, I told him about the research and thought nothing of it. Fast forward a couple of weeks, he’s in this environment where everything’s a shock to him and then realize that “hey, this is what I want to do. This sounds like a good idea at the time, there’s research to back it up, and we just need to run with it.”
Dr. Carmen April: How did you come up with the name Coffitivity?
Ace Callwood: The research actually cites creativity being boosted with ambient noise. It was coffee, and creativity. We did spend a day or two mulling over the spelling. Coffee, c-o-f-f-e-e or coffie with an “i”. We thought that Coffitivity would be a little bit easier to say, to look at, and understand phonetically. That’s a pretty simple ten second story there.
Dr. Carmen April: How do you plan to increase revenue from Coffitivity?
: An IOS app is coming out as well as our Mac app. We’re super excited to have those in the Apple store. We’re looking at a couple of merchandise options as well so people can have Coffitivity stickers to throw on their laptop, maybe a mug or two, or a thermos. It’s not quite up and ready yet, but those are in the pipeline.
Dr. Carmen April:
What has been the response to the website?
We officially launched on March 4, 2013. It’s just over three months old and it absolutely exploded. Our first day live, on the 4th, we had one hundred and twenty-ish views. I think 124, something like that. I joked that our moms looked at it 120 times a piece and that was it LOL! We told our friends and family, “Hey this is the thing that we built. We built it for us and we’re going to use it. If it works for you, that’s awesome!” The second day, we had 47,000 views and 49,000 views the third day. So yeah, it absolutely blew up! We got a call from our server saying, “Hey you crashed our server. You need to pay us more money to put the website online.” It was just a hectic day, that second and third day. At that time we didn’t even have a Twitter account yet. We got that geared up the second day. It was wild!
Dr. Carmen April: How did the word spread that fast? Because I was assuming that social media and Twitter may have been what spread the word, but you guys didn’t even have the Twitter account up yet.
Ace Callwood: Tommy Nicholas is our Growth Hacker. We call him that because he does the majority of web development now. He is awesome at connecting, at the right place and right time, and making posts count. We posted some information at the right time and it got picked up by the tech community. The Hacker News bumped it up to the front page for a day and a half, maybe two days. From there, I think Life Hacker picked it up first. Within the first week, we had Life Hacker, Popular Science, Mashable, The Net’s Web, and I think Gizmodo. We just had the big tech players pick this up. That drove a huge amount of our traffic. Our viral mechanics were built into the site. They were very calculated. That has been huge.
Dr. Carmen April: I also read that Time magazine recently ranked you guys among the 50 best websites of 2013!!!
Ace Callwood: They did! We had no idea. They never told us, nobody gave us a heads up. We were stuck in traffic and Reggie, who does our analytics stuff asked, “What is techland.time.com ?” We ended up following the link to Time magazine’s top 50 websites. It was a pleasant surprise, to say the least!
Dr. Carmen April: You mentioned a little while ago about a smart phone app that will be coming out. When is that set to launch?
Ace Callwood: No set date yet. We’re still working on playing the Apple review game right now so we could get it bounced back for any number of reasons. Fingers crossed that it’ll get out in the next two weeks and that’ll be for Mac and IOS. It’s all pending review, submission, and how fast we can get it hooked up.
Dr. Carmen April: Lastly, tell me what is next for you guys? You certainly shouldn’t reveal everything, but what else can you reveal that you guys have in the pipeline?
Ace Callwood: Somebody asked that the other day and I told them we were going to start a boy band. That’s actually not going to happen, but it makes for a great story LOL! Justin and I have cleared the dance moves. Right now, we’re going to sprint for the app. Getting that out is huge! Very soon and hopefully within the next week or when the app launches- we’ll be doing cool redesigns for the site. You’ll see more audio tracks.
Dr. Carmen April: Do you know where most of the traffic is coming from?
ACe Callwood: Yes. Our top listening city is actually Seoul, Korea. They’re number one on the list, followed by New York City. We have the usual suspects- DC, London, and Richmond, VA. We’ve got San Fran as a top city, I believe, so a bunch of awesome cities. Right now, the top listening country is the U.S. Number two is Great Britain and then Japan is number 3. But yeah, the list goes on. Korea, China, Canada, Great Britain, France, Russia. I think that we’ve been on every continent but Antarctica!Dr. Carmen April:How do you balance, since this is not a full-time gig for you guys yet, your full time career at the university with this venture?
ACe Callwood: Balance, that’s an interesting word. I can’t say balance because according to my life, there’s a lot of not sleeping. We’ll put it that way. Justin and I actually got our first vacation since we graduated last week. So it’s the first time we’ve been out on absolute leisure, but other than that it’s goes in circles all the time. Justin works in the entrepreneurial space at the university as well, so we work together in our day jobs very frequently. For me, being in the classroom once or twice a week- I got to use Coffitivity as a case study for my students. The fact that we’ve done so much with our start-up is actually beneficial to our jobs which is awesome, in the form of experience, in the form of publicity, and just a lot of things. It’s a great working relationship to be in the space we are in our day jobs and our site gig. Everything kind of balances itself out.
Dr. Carmen April: As a young entrepreneur myself, I know what you mean about balance and vacations. I’ve had to take my mini-vacations, which may be an extended weekend or something. But as far as the big 7-10 day trips to France, I can’t swing that because I’m not at the point where I can leave my business for that long.
Ace Callwood: Exactly, we didn’t even have Wi-Fi at the beach! The team was still back here working on the app releases and other stuff, so we ended up paying the next door neighbor at the beach for Wi-Fi. We had to be on one side of the house to be able to connect, so we made it work and it was good to almost be forced to unplug. Justin and I are type A’s who don’t unplug if we don’t have to, but we should. It was a good R and R for us to get our heads straight and have some time to think about where we’re going with the project and what the next projects will look like, whether it’s over the next couple months or the next few years.