Startup Q&A with Sonar Founder, Brett Martin

Last month, I had the pleasure of sitting down with Brett Martin, CEO of the hot geo-based mobile application Sonar. Take a look at our conversation, as we dive into several topics including:  becoming an entrepreneur in the New York City startup scene, hiring for a startup, and experiences along the journey…

What has been your experience as a startup in New York City? What are some of the great things about it, and what are some of the challenges?

Every day is a new challenge. As a startup, you start from scratch where nothing exists, and everything needs to be looked after and fixed daily. New York is an amazing place with a small community where everyone is very supportive, and you can get advice from anyone. Sometimes the beginning of the startup process can feel isolating, but here in NY…there’s a whole community doing the same thing. Everyone is in it together.

What was the transition like coming out of the incubator?

Sonar was started out of the incubator, Appfund, which I helped set up. When we got off the ground and got funded by a west coast VC, that’s when Sonar became its own company. Today we are still tightly connected to the incubator, and share an office with another company that’s also part of Appfund. It’s a collaborative environment and Sonar is tuned in with “sharing the knowledge.” We occasionally pull people out from other teams to help get stuff done.

Mayor Bloomberg is proactively trying to make NYC the biggest tech hub. Have you seen any changes yet from your perspective?

The NY startup scene is not this “top-down” mandate from the government wanting a bigger startup scene. Quite the opposite – it emerged organically, because New York City is a perfect petri dish for mobile innovation. The high density of users–everyone’s on their cell phones, everyone’s trying to find stuff, and your friends are almost always nearby–that’s why Foursquare works, and Gilt Groupe works because all the fashion companies are here, and Etsy because there’s a cool DIY culture. So I wouldn’t say the startup scene is taking cues from the government, but the government is wisely looking and seeing what’s happening, then doing their best to accelerate and facilitate it.

It seems like you’ve had the entrepreneurial spirit for a long time. At what age did you start thinking about becoming an entrepreneur?

For me it was pretty early. Growing up in Ocean City Maryland off the beach, I would sell sea shells to my sister at a high cost to earn a few bucks. I always liked the idea of side hustles, and seeing the opportunity to make a quick buck and then capitalizing on it. Building companies has a much longer term view. Over the next few years, everyone is going to become increasingly networked with everyone else around them. We’re going to be socially networked just on the basis of proximity and location. That’s all Sonar is…this is how we’re going to position ourselves to take advantage of it.

I see that you were very active in sports in high school and led your teams as captain…would you say that being involved in sports was a major catalyst for your drive today?

Absolutely, but I think it’s the teamwork part of it that can’t be underestimated. Some people can come into the workforce without experience in a coordinated disciplined effort. Like we are all going to get to practice on time and run laps… because if you’re not there, the rest of the team can’t get started practicing. Similar to people who are only used to working individually–they don’t understand the need to follow a time table, because they have little experience with someone counting on it. But in a startup, everyone counts on everyone else, and if any one person stops, then everything falls apart. Understanding the need for and the power of teamwork is probably the biggest gift sports gave to me.

Who has been your role model to help guide you in the startup process?

I always wished I had a mentor or a role model, but my dad was an entrepreneur always building his own things. For me, it was more of solving my own problems…I just wanted to connect with people where ever I go, and Sonar is the tool that helps you do just that.

At the NYU Startup Week Panel, you mentioned that when you look at someone’s resume, you look to see if they’ve developed anything on their own. Aside from that, what is the biggest hiring attribute you look for: a hard skill or a soft skill, to hire in a startup?

Do they care about my startup? Are they interested in it? Have they downloaded and tried the app before walking into the door?  Are they self-starters? Have they already come up with ideas for what they’re going to do here?  I’m not in here in the business of telling people what to do….everyone I hire needs to be able to figure it out, what they need to do to make the product better. I am hiring them to figure out the problem, not just to do the work. Everyone is doing their best, so if I pull someone in, I expect them to make it better than what we’ve done by ourselves. The ability to come in with ideas and a plan for what you’re going to do the moment you walk through the door–that’s what you need to be successful at a startup. Big companies already have the processes in place and only need the human capital.  Startups don’t have any processes, so there’s nothing in place to ensure there’s a uniform output and no system to make sure they got it done. I look for people that will build their own processes to help themselves excel.

Your career page on your website is very unique and different from the standard job page, listing all its perks, focusing on company culture. Is the company culture something that evolved naturally?

We thought, “what would the person we would love to hire like?” Then we thought about some of the cool things we’d want to do and just threw them all up on the site. So it’s basically a reflection of what the team thought was cool and what we thought would interest people that we’d like to work with. It’s more like a wish list: if you come here, we’ll give you all of this.

The word “entrepreneur,” sounds like a very lonely word every time I hear it. After my talk with Brett, I realized just how much deeper it can be interpreted, based from his experiences. An entrepreneur intertwines their ideas within the startup community to help develop better processes…then hires the right people who can execute the idea beyond the entrepreneur’s wildest expectations. In the end, it all comes down to teamwork, dedication, and communication for a startup to persevere.

 

Brett Martin is the Co-Founder and CEO of Sonar. Prior to founding Sonar, Brett conceived of and built game-changing mobile technology companies as the Director of K2 Media in NYC. Prior to K2, he and a college friend moved to Austin, taught themselves how to code, and built the Data Owl, the world’s first automated social media monitoring service for small businesses. Before that, he researched start-ups as a Fulbright Fellow in Milano, Italia.

In his previous lives, Brett has worked at VBS.tv as an Internet marketing associate and on Wall Street as an equity research associate. Other things he is proud of include getting published by Harvard Business, founding a rock band, starting a non-profit, earning a B.A. in economics from Dartmouth College, and sailing thousands of miles from Maine to Dominica in a 30ft ketch.

Oh What a Night!

"Whiting Consulting", "Chernee Vitello", entrepreneur, "female entrepreneur"

This weekend we had a wonderful time hosting our first ever open house! It was a wonderful evening in our new space and a time to show our colleagues, friends and family all the hard work putting it together.

I have to say I was a little nervous…this is the first time we have had a huge company event. I wanted to make sure the space looked perfect! There was food and of course…wine and beer!!  The set-up took a little longer than I thought it would, and we ended up cutting it a little close before everyone started to arrive.

That day we hung the final sign, which was my Grandfather’s main sign that hung over his cabinet shop. My parents have been storing it in their basement for over 20 years! My mom is quite the saver, and keeps all our papers, notes, etc…over the years, I do have to say last evening I saw the sign in a new perspective. I am so lucky to have over my desk a sign that is over 100 years old, and has been in family ever since! To me it represents how strong the Whiting name is, and the heritage and strength of how entrepreneurship passes down from generation to generation.  Also, this week by chance my mom was cleaning out an old box, and found all my notes and receipts for my first business called, “The Wedding Day.” The box contained everything since I started it, when I was 12.

I have written in previous posts how I always wanted to be an entrepreneur, but seeing it on paper and from such a long time ago…it reiterated my passion for being a woman business owner!

More importantly I am so grateful for the turnout the other evening! To have such a great team and to see all the smiles, laughter and excitement about the space and the business as a whole, makes me very excited for what is to come!

Thank you!!!

P.S.- Go to our Facebook page to view additional photos from our event.

Startups: The Rising of Women Entrepreneurs

"Rosie the Riveter", "We Can Do It!"More and more women are being called entrepreneurs in today’s marketplace. Last week I was able to attend the NYU ‘Women in Startups’ panel, which featured four NYC based entrepreneurs who shared their experiences and advice with an eager crowd of students. Speakers from startups included: SpotOn, Go Try It On, aut faciam, and Rent the Runway. It was a phenomenal panel, packed with stories, advice, and enthusiasm for the love of entrepreneurship.

Here at Whiting Consulting, we are approaching our 10 year celebration of entrepreneurship as a woman owned business. Along with celebrating our 10th anniversary soon, we are celebrating the ideas and inspirations of female entrepreneurs in the startup space. During college, I never would’ve thought that I would be working in the startup space. Once I fell into working with startups, I had never seen so much passion before for an idea someone has. It’s very refreshing to see and hear everyone’s enthusiasm, especially attending startup events down in New York City. Many of the women within the startup space have inspired me and helped me come to the realization of the difference we can all make in the economy for pursuing a small spark that’s burning inside, eager to make a difference in the tech community.

In a recent Fast Company article, Women-Led Startups are the Key to New Job Creation, only 35% of startup business owners are women. Marissa Evans of Go Try It On, stated that more and more women are becoming business owners, and becoming better at what they do.  Rent the Runway’s, Jennifer Fleiss, believes that this percentage will increase to over 50% in the next five years.

In the article, it stated that women don’t have the same network and role models as men do in the steps of starting their own companies. I asked some of the following panelists who their role models were when they were going through the startup process.

Gauri Manglik of SpotOn, said that Art.sy founder, Carter Cleveland, was her role model. She found some inspiration from him, because they are around the same age. Gauri was also looking at Apple and Instagram products as guidance, and how they’ve become established in the marketplace.

Marissa Evans sees any entrepreneur who contributes and gives back to the community by speaking to alumni as a role model. Her top pick is Twitter founder, Jack Dorsey, because of the great success of growth in his company.

Jennifer Fleiss was very fortunate to have great mentors along her journey which include: Carley Roney, founder of TheKnot.com, Dan Rosenweig, CEO at Chegg, and Marc Lore, Co-founder of Crunch Base. What helped made Jennifer’s journey a success was teaming up and having a great partner along the way.

All of these ladies had someone that inspired them. I believe anyone can go where they want to go, as long as they have some sort of inspiration to help them along the way. I also think that having the same network as everyone else isn’t going to make or break your startup. It’s how you leverage your network to get where you need it to go.

At the NYU panel, I asked these ladies what advice they could give to other women who want to start their own courageous path. Everyone’s overlaying message was: Learn everything you possibly can, and just go out there and do it. The best thing is to expose yourself, read blogs, and be open to new ideas.

Alexis Goldstein of aut faciam, told the audience that if you have an idea and see a particular need not being fulfilled by anyone else, give it a shot. It’s okay not to succeed at times, but you have to be able to make a decision to believe in yourself.

Other times you need to make risks, and think how it’ll benefit you in the long-run. Jennifer Fleiss and her co-founder, agreed to never write a business plan, because starting a business should be about tests and risks, then growing from what you’ve learned:

“In my opinion, there are four keys to success that I discovered early on that were fundamental to Rent the Runway’s launch that can easily be applied to other business models: (1) Test the Marketplace, (2) Show by Example, (3) Build a team, and (4) Realize that “No” means “Not Right Now.” …Starting a business is a series of iterative tests. Each test eliminates some of the risks of starting one. It is best to just believe in yourself and jump right into it, test it out, and grow by learning.”

The experiences and advice the ladies on the panel shared were very captivating and inspiring for the audience. The tech scene is a welcoming community, and will be seeing more and more women take the stage in startups. Any woman who has an idea should let their dreams run wild with it. Estee Lauder summed up her experience that can apply to any woman with a spark for an idea to pursue: “I didn’t get there by wishing for it or hoping for it, but by working for it.

Photo credit: Wikipedia.com

Post written by Julie Skowronek, Assistant Marketing Manager at Whiting Consulting.

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