Episode 194: Building An Engaging Startup Culture with Stan Zylowski and April Seggebruch

September 28 , 2022  |  By Matt Waller

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Continuing the Entrepreneur Series of the Be Epic podcast, Matt sits down with Stan Zylowski and April Seggebruch of Movista. To begin they discuss the start of Movista, which actually began in an MBA class at the Walton College. They then move on to discussing their technology pivot in the beginning of the company and how it effected their funding. They finish by discussing how they balance roles being co-founders for 12 years and the importance of building a strong culture and bringing in the right people to grow your organization. They also share advice for students on starting a company or entering into a startup. 

Episode Transcript

Stan Zylowski  0:01  
We hire for culture, we fire for culture, we coach for culture we promote for culture.

Matt Waller  0:07  
Excellence, professionalism, innovation and collegiality. These are the values the Sam M. Walton College of Business explores in education, business and the lives of people we meet every day, I'm Matt Waller, Dean of the Walton College and welcome to the be epic podcast. I have with me today, April Seggebruch and Stan Zylowski. They are co-founders of Movista. And they're also alumni of our MBA program here. So thank you both for joining me today. 

Stan Zylowski  0:41  
Thank you for having us.

April Seggebruch  0:42  
Great to be here. 

Matt Waller  0:43  
Of course, I want to get into how you started the company, why you started the company. But I still remember, way back when you all were first getting it going. I don't remember you had some kind of a check in kiosk idea if I remember correctly. But but now you've got a solution that is being used all over the world, by millions of users in retail, and so you've come a long way. But if you wouldn't mind, let's start from the beginning about how you all met, and then how you determined what the major problem was you were going to solve.

April Seggebruch  1:27  
So Stan and I met in actually a classroom down at the University of Arkansas in the MBA program. I was in the full time program, when we met the hard program Matt where I went to all the classes every day. And Stan was in the executive part time easier program. I'm just kidding, having a fun time. But we actually met in the only place where the two programs crossed, it was called New Venture Development. And I was a finance and entrepreneurship major. Stan finishing the executive one with less with a with a major more of a general of all of all areas. When we were in that class, Stan joined with an interest of you know, what could it be like to start your own business? What could it be like to to have the entrepreneurial bug if you will. And in the class, Dr. Carol Reeves was our professor. And it was all about writing a business plan. And to write a business plan, you had to first have an idea. And that was actually a struggle point in the class. And we actually did something cool, speed dating, folks with potential ideas would be stationary. And then folks without would walk you know, Spot the spot and see if it'd be a good match. And Stan had an idea. It was all about bringing command and control to this workforce called merchandisers in the retail industry. And when I got to his his spot, he pitched me on it. And I was again, bout two years out of undergrad didn't have as much work experience. And I was I don't quite know what this thing called merchandising is, it sounds like you'd have a real problem though, when I'm sure you could figure out how to how to fix it. But I'm gonna go over here and cure cancer. So I pass a week or two later, I came crawling back and said, you know that thing about bringing command and control and driving efficiencies and helping those in the retail sector drive sales, I'd really like to be on your team, I really like to help. And he led me back he was gracious enough to let me join. And it was there that we came up with a solution of how we were going to do that, solve the pain, wrote the business plan. We then competed in competitions across the country won a couple of bucks. And that was the the genesis of Movista.

Stan Zylowski  4:04  
Well, first of all, I think it's very noble of you to point out that you literally had no idea even though you were in the you know, full time program being paid to go to school. First of all, it was brilliant and and said lots of ideas, but we are some credit to Dr. Reeves, who we should all give credit to Dr. Reeves. If you don't know Carol, you're missing out. I've often said that if we could if we would ever consider building a statue to a to an athletic coach. It beats the heck out of me why we don't have a statue of of Dr. Reeves and if it was life size it would it how much could it cost? I mean she's not a large person. So I think we could get this done. But anyway, this is when she you know this was in the foundational timeframe of foundations of entrepreneurship and she came to talk to all of us back when back then it was called M MBA. You know, she said, look, this is this could be an opportunity. So it's kind of giving you the other side of the of the story. She came in and said, you know, if any of you would be interested, we'd love to have you and I was the only dodo, who who went over and when I walked in the class, sort of famously the first day, absolutely the truth, the truth. I was a little nervous, you know, because the, the MBA student for

Matt Waller  5:32  
I've known you a long time, Stan, I've never seen you nervous.

Stan Zylowski  5:35  
No, you've never seen me when you knew I was nervous. But I'm often nervous. Every time I'm around you. I'm nervous, Dr. Waller. So in all seriousness, I was a little nervous, because, you know, I was like, the old, you know, the old guy, and I walk into the room before class, I get there early. And there's only one person in the entire classroom. And I'm trying to like, you know, I'm the old guy, but I want to get along with these young whippersnappers. And I look over at the young lady, and I say, hey, is this management, whatever it was, you know, 4236. And she looks at me, and she says, yes, sir. And I immediately felt like I was 250 years old. And that was, and that was April. That's a true story.

April Seggebruch  6:22  
Let's just take a special note, to recognize that I was early.

Stan Zylowski  6:26  
I'm pretty sure she slept there the night before. She was falling asleep in her chair. But anyway, so the the genesis of the idea is, this will resonate with a lot of folks who are local, and you know, in retail, those companies spend an inordinate amount of money, creating a vision for what every store you walk in is going to look like what it's going to be. And I know, because you were my professor of logistics that you understand the, you know, so you got the vision building, and then you've got this incredible expenditure around logistics. And it's all about getting the product, off the end of the conveyor belt, right at the factory, and into the back door of that store. The challenge has been and continues in a lot of cases to be that once it goes through the back door of that store, man, is it hard to understand what's going on with that product. And that is a multi billion, in fact, some numbers around the world it's a trillion problem out of stock. And so where we decided to invest and work to to help was in that phase of the game at the tip of the spear, how do we get the right people at the right place at the right time, ensuring that the vision for a store is being executed. And there are people who live on the people side of that. There are companies that live on the people side of that. But the systems they used and particularly when we're talking now, 07/08. And then when we left and started the company in 10, there were no smart devices. Right. And so to your point, earlier, we started with this vision, we will put physical kiosks, think about like a bridal registry, right? Free Standing 75 pounds, aircard flat screen, the whole deal, we're going to put these in. And we the first year that's what we developed around with this idea that, hey, if I'm supposed to go to service, the store representing a brand, when I walk in that front door, I gotta go to this kiosk and check in to sort of be able to get paid for my work. And we were just at the cusp of create 2, 3, 5000 of these kiosk and distribute them. And the gentleman from AT&T came in to meet with us to talk about getting the equipment spun up. And he pulled this thing out, and he puts it in front of them. And it's this you know, from where I was sitting, it was like a panel a frame and I just didn't know what it was. And I said, hey, what is that? And he says, oh, this is the iPad. We just got the iPads in and they got the iPads I guess ahead of time I hadn't been able to get my hands on when we only read about them. And legitimately we picked this thing up and we kind of turned it over like you would see like, you know, wild nature shows when you see like some sort of a primate trying to figure out what something is. That's really what we look like. And but when we understood, or at least thought we understood what this meant in terms of hey, here's everything we're going to put in this kiosk. It weighs like two pounds, and it's the future. That's where we tossed the idea of the kiosk away. And we pointed all of our sales at get into smart device driven ah retail execution platform.

Matt Waller  10:01  
Thank goodness, you all didn't go through with the kiosks. But but it also points out something that's true in all, entrepreneurship is this idea that you have to pivot that goes on forever. But you've technologies continued to evolve from a software and processing power and a hardware perspective. So you all have had to pivot multiple times in that regard. That was the biggest one. Was it easy to pivot to that? How did you how did you make that pivot?

April Seggebruch  10:38  
Easy, was nowhere in the description of what it took to make that pivot. This was within the first 12 months of the company. Every dollar that we had raised from our investors had gone into developing that kiosk.

Stan Zylowski  10:58  
And we had and we had so few dollars, we had named each of them individually.

April Seggebruch  11:05  
That aspect of it, the financial aspect of it, that was that was that was a fun conversation to go, you know, back down to Little Rock and in share with our investors that these two first time entrepreneurs had spent every dollar in the first 12 months on something they now wanted to completely abandon. And then putting together the business case for them to write the next check to support us to basically back at square zero, to develop on on on this smart device platform. Then you had the technology challenges. We called the developers in the next day, and we had outsourced all our development to both do the front end designs, and then a different group to do the back end development. We call them in one day and said, you had the kiosks was there at our office. And it was again, it was just standing on the kiosks was sitting there and they've been working on this thing for again, eight 9, 10, 11 months, we had, you know, wheels iPads sitting there, and we said, pointed to it and said that's the future, make it work on that. And they've just looked at us Matt and said, you two are nuts. A those things will never stand up in enterprise. There are facts

Stan Zylowski  12:19  
Not true, not true. 

April Seggebruch  12:21  
And, and two it just technically cannot be done. What you guys are asking us to build over here on this, this kiosk cannot be built and ran in a scaled way over here on this this consumer grade device. I mean, when they left my we were bummed. And you know the the coders and left and the designer stayed back. But when we were we were visibly bummed. And the designer said I can do it. I can I can do that I can make it run on an iPad, he gave us the motivation to do it. And he got us, he got us down that path. You have all aspects of it, Matt, you had the financial parts of it, the technical parts of it, and then just the, you know, managing yourself, you're already stressed out and freaked out because you quit your great secure jobs to go chase this software dream. And you have to convince yourself that you're not crazy, because you're gonna throw away everything that you've been working on. So there's a lot of parts to it a lot of a lot of emotions and a lot of thoughts you got to balance.

Matt Waller  13:25  
How did you convince your investors of this pivot?

Stan Zylowski  13:30  
Was it easy? I'm gonna let you know we've been doing this 12 years, and three months and seven hours and 14 minutes. And I am fortunate enough to consider you a friend and have your phone number in my phone. And the next thing that happens here, that's easy I will immediately let you know. 

Matt Waller  13:54  
Thank you. 

Stan Zylowski  13:54  
None of it's none of it's easy. Actually, you know what I'm having fun, my normal way but man, our investors. You just appreciate over time what far more than you do in the moment the hutzpah of people like James Hendron, that fund for Arkansas' future. I hesitate to even start going down this road because there's there's just so many people involved. But Chuck, Cathy and Jeanne go at the state and and people who aren't with the state anymore, and Brad and so forth. They helped us so much financially. And, you know, it wasn't really about convincing them that changing direction was the right decision from a technology standpoint, because that wasn't the way that they went about their business. They, to their credit, said look, you guys understand this problem. We trust you to figure out the right sort of way to navigate this. And that's what they did. It's easy to say like, well, it, you pivoted, and you went to the smart devices. And that's made all the difference. So you know, you know, you guys have 100 employees, whatever wherever. Heck man, maybe if we had stayed in the kiosk vein, our early years of adoption would have been faster, and we would have ended up circling back, but we'd actually be twice as big now. So that's, that's the game that, you know, or alternatively, and the other in the other universe, we stayed on the kiosk and died on the vine. Right? You know what I mean? I don't know the right answer to that.

Matt Waller  15:29  
That's a great point. Stand in April, I know that you all have been co-founders from the very beginning. And but you clearly have different but complementary roles. April, I'll start with you. Would you tell me a little bit about what your role is?

April Seggebruch  16:00  
Ah, Matt, that's a good one. We always like to have good defined lines that constantly get blurred. And I say that, because there's both of us have strengths that we bring to the table. At the same time, there's things we naturally gravitate being better at, at one versus the other. Early, early on, there's the kind of fun, we would always say, if you need someone to talk about something, you'll go get Stan. If you need someone to go do something and like make something happen, you know, that's on April's side of the table. So we naturally broke up responsibilities between external facing customers, marketing, sales, and internal facing product, operations and finance. Now, we both took on those responsibilities early on. And then over time, as the organization grew, we had to find key leaders to take one bit or the other off of our plate just became too much for one of us to handle. But we also are very passionate about what sits on the other side, the other person's side of the table. You know, I'm very interested in how we're managing customer deliverables and setting expectations and Stan's very interested in how we're developing the product and the scalability of the tech. So we've got this primary responsibility. But then I think this is important for any founder, especially co-founders, and PSA sidenote public service announcement, get a co founder, I don't know how anyone would found a company on their own. But it's good for any any founder, co-founders to hear is having these these boundaries, but also respecting that the other person has as much to risk as you do. And they've made the sacrifices the commitments as you are so hearing them out and Stan and I have over the years have gotten to this really good spot where yes, things fall on one person's side of the table or the other. But we give each other the grace to share you their opinion, if you will, like you got to have that, that flexibility and working with one another. Which which brings us to like how we've now taken dismantled the responsibilities, the global responsibilities that we both had to bring other leaders into the organization to now run them. So as much as I had, you know, finance operations, product and tech, I now own none of those on a day-to-day basis. We've hired a Chief Financial Officer and hired a CTO and hired a Chief Product Officer and, and that was a big deal for us a super big deal finding the right people to you know, continue forward, carry forward and stay true to who we are as a company and, and honor and protect our culture, which is probably a topic that Stan could talk about at length. So we went through a pretty rigorous process, to find the right leaders to take over what had always been, you know, traditionally ours and Stan went through a similar bit on his side too. But from my side, it was you know, you break things down into people process and, and product or responsibility. And for us, the number one thing was people finding a leader that could connect with our people that that held similar values from a team and an organization standpoint. And then of course, the second one of processes. So, we like to say at Movista, the outcome is not to be sacrificed by the process. In other words, we have process to get us to an end. So it was really tough for us when we brought people in these these these outsiders, if you will, we didn't want to allow Movista to become something that it wasn't. So we were pretty rigorous and spent a ton of time with these these individuals Matt. So I would encourage people to do if you're looking to bring in leaders that are going to either assume some of your responsibilities and are going to have just an influence on the organization spend a lot of time with them and in multiple settings. And then of course, they just got to be excellent in their, in their craft and, and we had a couple of false starts. And we had a couple you know, folks we brought in that probably didn't make the most sense for us. And what we we always fall back on is recognize it early before you allow it to erode you know, the, the the core foundation or the strength of the foundation you've created. It's a big one for us, Matt. And I know Yes. Hey, you know, what responsibilities do I have at Movista? The shorter answer would have been none right now, you know, I've offloaded all of mine. onto other leaders.

Matt Waller  21:08  
Stan, let's hear from you on that. 

Stan Zylowski  21:11  
I don't have a lot of skills. 

Matt Waller  21:14  
Oh, yeah, right.

Stan Zylowski  21:15  
No, I don't I don't I this is the I'm gonna tell you why you think I do. The one, the one that I'm really good at is connecting with people, and helping them simplifying complex things sometimes to help them buy in. I never met a spreadsheet I liked. I love math, but financial statements and those sorts of things. They're just not my bag. April loves that stuff. So where it's come from me Matt is you know, there was a time when we did everything. Obviously, when you start a business, and there's only two of you, you literally do everything right, there's no one else to do those things. Over time, I was more involved in the go to market side of the business. Now, I think I have two jobs as, as the CEO of this company, I participate very, very heavily in the strategy development, but that that we do together as a c-team. And then my job is to ensure that investors understand how big the opportunity is, and why we're the right team to go and seize that opportunity. And so to fund the business to fund the strategy. And then the second thing is to because I think this is the lifeblood of everything at Movista to is to nurture our our culture. We have a very, very firm grasp on who we are, who what we are willing to do what we're what we're not willing to do. And you know, as April alluded to, we hire for culture, we fire for culture, we coach for culture, we promote for culture. It's the only way I've ever known how to be successful. And I don't really I'm too old to change the playbook. And I would summarize our culture in there's a sign that hung above my door when I was in the corporate world. And it hangs above our, our door here. And it's it's attributed to Hannibal. I don't know whether Hannibal said it or not. I never met Hannibal. But it is we will find a way or we will make one. And really that's it.

Matt Waller  23:30  
Especially for your business. That's a that's a good motto.

Stan Zylowski  23:35  
And I've done it all Matt like I've been a fast food worker, had a job one time putting boxes together in a warehouse. You don't want that job was using hot tape. I have loaded bags outside the home center. I've sort of infamously I guess sold a home cleaning systems.

Matt Waller  23:59  
For I think that experience may have been one of the best experiences. You've had 

Stan Zylowski  24:04  
no question

Matt Waller  24:05  
prepairing you

Stan Zylowski  24:06  
No quesiton, listen, and I tell my own kids, I have two boys and I will no there's no way I will let them get into the professional working world without having an opportunity to try to sell something that no one wants. It is just the best. I mean, you're not starting at zero Matt, when you when you knock on a door, and you have to first sell the idea of looking at what you have. It's a great education. You're right. And it toughens you up man it it makes you understand how to keep getting up off the off the mat because you know, life's hard man business is hard

Matt Waller  24:46  
Business is hard, but you learn so much about people and persistence and grit.

Stan Zylowski  24:53  
It's absolutely the case, but I'm just saying there is a process and it doesn't matter if you're trying to raise $50 million from a PE fund in California or if you are trying to get a family you know who's who's of middle means to purchase your book set they're still the same it's the same thing, it's the same thing. It's built you know selling yourself first selling the the company or the concept and then you know, and then the actual item. I think it's something that that is we need more training on it in school. I agree. We do you know, and I don't know how you do that. Dr. Waller? Is it a practical that you do over the summers or whatever's you know, sake does? st does this?

Matt Waller  25:47  
I agree. 

Stan Zylowski  25:47  
We do you know, and I don't know how you do that. Dr. Waller? Is it a practical that you do over the summers or whatever's you know, sake does? SAKE does this?

Matt Waller  25:50  
Yeah, that for those of you listening? S A Ke. We actually have a class where students sell product through a company, student run company called Forever Red. You can google forever read sake and Walton College, you'll find great, great class. But Stan was on the board of that for many years. Are you still?

Stan Zylowski  26:16  
No, but one of the things I look forward to is being able to get back into that service mode. I mean, if you think about April and I our experience, by the way, April is still on that board. But if you think about our experience at Movista to as sort of a bell curve, in the beginning, you know, you're ramping up, it's a little smaller, you can do more things. I was on the board of trike theater, I was on the board at SAKE and very fortunate. I mean so blessed to just even be invited, do those things. But there comes a point, Matt, where you don't feel like you you are earning the role, if that makes sense. You know, you go to the meeting. Sure. But what are you doing in between the meetings? And how are you truly contributing to the cause? I say I say that not really to do anything with me. I just encourage everybody get on a board of a nonprofit. It's unbelievably fulfilling. But then also, part B of that is like if you're gonna do it, do it. If you can't do it, you know, that's understandable too, stuff happens.

Matt Waller  27:18  
Stan, I one question I don't know the answer to is how you came up with the name Movista.

Stan Zylowski  27:26  
First thing for listeners when we were in school in 07/08. The company was called merchant eyes. Just think of the brilliance that merchant eyes sounds like merchandise. But apparently not everyone loved it. And so when we came back, what happens we graduate in 08. We actually started the company in 2010. And when we did that, we decided we would go back with merchant view. So after a couple of years, as a young company, we had not done a whole ton of work on trademarks and things like that, because that's, you know, that was a luxury. But we decided we should go trademark our name. And dad gamat, we found out that there was a company they weren't competitive to us but someone had trademarked the name. And so we said, well, how do you say, mobile because we were really into this whole fully mobile platform deal. And view, you know, because it's all about I want to be wherever I want to be, and I want to see what I want to see. And so literally we on the board, we put all of the synonyms for mobile, or braille or like partial words. And on the other side, we put everywhere we come up with for C or view or and I think, you know, most of you probably know that a vista is you know, obviously, a view it's a little bit different term of view, but a view and in espanol. And so Movista and the other criteria was we didn't want anyone to have it trademarked because we couldn't afford to buy it, we had to like come up with something right? It had to be the Xerox type solution. 

Matt Waller  29:01  
Well, your your whole company started with a problem. And you solved the problem and you continue to solve problems around that original problem which is common of successful companies. So Stan, I want to ask you a concluding question and I could ask you anything but one thing I thought of is maybe advice you might have for students that are considering going into either working in early stage company or you know starting a company those kinds of things. 

Stan Zylowski  29:40  
Yeah, well first I want to mention that that April has disappeared on us but she this is this is life in the big city. This is actually speaking to the students. We have a major client had a had a want need April went to go in and do that. I'd start there for what it's like to be in entrepreneurship, no matter how long you're doing it, but also didn't want people to think that we just sort of like stop talking to April, listen, I get the same sort of conversation or the same same words of wisdom, if you will, to every student group I speak to, you know, I alluded a little a little while ago to all the different jobs I've had. And I bet you had a bunch. And what I talk about is building your bat belt, about how Batman doesn't have any superpowers. All he has are the tools in his belt. And that's what you get when you learn how to sell. Or you learn how to read financial statements. Or you learn how to scrub a toilet. Or you learn how to deal with an angry client. Or you learn how to break down a project into its component parts into manage it through execution. And you learn how to deal with a an employee who, when you hire them tells you all the things that they're great at doing. And shortly thereafter, suffers deep in serious mental memory loss, they're no longer able to do those things. All of those components that go into your bat belt, one day you wake up, and you're a superhero, the alternative is you go in, and there's nothing wrong with the alternative. But the other, the other sort of path you can take is you go into a corporate environment. And what's going to happen is, you're going to end up being a foot wide and 50 feet deep in some area. And unfortunately, many times that means you're sort of stuck in that area. That's usually not, although can be the best path to, you know, professional freedom choice. Many times it can be depending on what your definition of fluency is all of those things that we work for, right? That's what I talk about Matt is entrepreneurship prepares you for any eventuality that comes later. And allows you to fill that belt that build up like crazy. And then when the battle starts, you're ready and man employers get excited about that. By the way, quick aside, April didn't tell this. When we graduated, when she graduated, we both graduated the same the same time, the end of 2008 or in the middle of 2008. She had a job at Walmart, she had offer. That's where she was going to go to work in Walmart, real estate. And she probably would have you know, who knows Matt, knowing, knowing April, she'd probably be running all of it by now. But I actually sat down and wrote her a handwritten letter. And I said to her, you can go do that. But you know what you can also get do that in one year, two years or three years from now. If you come over here, and we take this thing and try to run it up, you know, try to go whatever you end up doing, and whatever you end up doing, you'll be eminently more prepared for the slings and arrows. That's my advice, do it. Beyond that. And you know, look, once you commit to doing it, stay with it, because it's going to be hard. And people tell you it's hard. And they're right. But man I sure, I sure would like to be suffering, the slings and arrows that arise early in an entrepreneurial endeavor when you don't necessarily have the same level of responsibilities in your life just yet. Thank you for thinking of us, Dr. Waller and you always do and I can't tell you how much we appreciate it and how proud we are to be affiliated with the Walton School.

Matt Waller  33:55  
Thank you Stan. We are very proud of you, Stan and April. On behalf of the Sam M. Walton College of Business I want to thank everyone for spending time with us for another engaging conversation. You can subscribe by going to your favorite podcast service and searching. Be epic be EP IC

Matt Waller

Matthew A. Waller is dean emeritus of the Sam M. Walton College of Business and professor of supply chain management. His work as a professor, researcher, and consultant is synergistic, blending academic research with practical insights from industry experience. This continuous cycle of learning and application makes his work more effective, relevant, and impactful.

His goals include contributing to academia through high-quality research and publications, cultivating the next generation of professionals through excellent teaching, and creating value for the organizations he consults by optimizing their strategy and investments.