The History of Approachable Geek
The Long Story
Bruce PeckFeb 14, 2023 · 5 min read
In 2016, my business partner and I stood before a random college guy's front door swiping his credit card on our square reader.
To be set up on four monthly dates, he paid us $15. As he closed the door, we remained professional, but moments later, we were pumping our fists and congratulating ourselves like we had won the Superbowl. I was even close to tears.
The reason? It was our first sale for our newly developed startup dating service, which set you up with hand-selected dates from all over campus for a small subscription fee.
We'd go to a bunch of college apartments, sign up willing participants, Facebook stalk them, and give them looks scores. Then our algorithm (my business partner) would sort them into couples that looked "cute together," and then we'd send them each other's phone numbers.
They'd date, tell us how it went, and then we would modify who we set them up with next.
Things were going great, but as the number of participants increased, our jimmy-rigged Excel sheet acting as our date-a-base showed signs of strain, so our next mission was to find a programmer who could solve our technical challenges.
My business partner searched the Science and Technology building on campus, asking TAs and random people in study rooms for the "smartest programmer they know."
Finding our CTO
And that's how we met Approachable Geek's current CTO, Garrett.
Garrett displayed his most salient characteristics the first time I worked with him. He is a technical wizard (he solved a bunch of our most technical problems in minutes), Garrett is fun to work with (we were laughing and joking while we were mapping out the code), and he is a workhorse (we basically started working that day together and haven't stopped since.)
Launching our First app
With him on the team, we could start pursuing our goal of building an app with a server. Garrett estimated it would take us about three weeks to develop it. Eight months later, we finally rolled out the app's first horrible-looking version (don't worry, we've gotten much better at estimating and UI design, haha.)
The first launch was both exciting and frustrating.
Almost every day, I called Garrett to ask why this or that was not working. Funnily, we made all the wrong moves, including building too much work at once, failing to test the code, not properly designing the app, and so on.
But, people were still enthusiastic about giving the app a try.
We continued to grow but started to make some decisions that changed the economics of the business.
The biggest of those was making the app free of cost to all users and providing places for people to purchase date night packages at a discount with local businesses.
As time passed, we began to see that our revenue model and setting up people on dates were at odds with each other.
On the one hand, you had the matching app, which focused on first-time daters. On the other hand, you had the revenue model of taking a percentage from businesses, so we needed as many people as possible to use the app. It was even better if people were in relationships because it was more consistent.
And the clock was ticking, and we needed to figure out how to make money with the app to keep the team together and working on the app.
So, in a significant change of perspective for the app, I wrote a 6-page paper on why we needed to shift the company into being a date planning app. Garrett and our other business partner were understandably frustrated because it meant adjusting our mission and scrapping a lot of code that we had worked on for months.
But it would also meant we'd survive.
Over Christmas break, we chopped up the app and left only the parts we thought would help people find cool things to do for date night at a discount.
The Idaho Entrepreneurship Challenge
And then, we went on to win the 2019 Idaho Entrepreneurship Challenge.
Using the prize money, we expanded our business from our small college town in Idaho to a second city in Utah. We signed up 70 businesses and reached something close to 10,000 downloads.
While we were undertaking, the largest dating app in Utah noticed us.
Both of their founders had used the app to take their wives on dates, and we began going back and forth about how the app might integrate into theirs.
Eventually, they decided it would be too much effort.
A few months later, they called asking if we might be interested in selling the app.
They had the scale we needed to make it a real business, and we offered them a way to continue their relationship with customers even after they had found a significant other.
Four months of negotiating later, we sold it. And it is now called "MutualDates"
Garrett and I were left with the question, "Now what?" We realized we both wanted to continue working together, and Garrett had the dream of starting a software development agency.
So we did.
In January 2020, we started the new decade by incorporating Approachable Geek as a company.
We began as just us two working on a project from Garrett's uncle. I still have our first check. Few things in an entrepreneur's life are more salient than the first time you get paid for a business you run.
We soon realized that there was a massive demand for people with both the skill set of a software developer and the mindset of an entrepreneur. Our rare advantage was we didn't just know how to build software; we also learned how to create a software business.
From Doorstep (the app for finding cool date experiences), we learned many things that helped us begin developing apps for others.
We learned about how to involve customers in the selection of ideas (we did hundreds of in-person interviews), we learned about how to find effective ways to market apps, we learned about how to build software in a structured way, and how to test things so they wouldn't break.
We also learned how to hire.
The first few hires at Approachable Geek were really taking a chance on us, and we appreciate them immensely.
We were an ultra-small company (3 people), with both founders in their 20's, who had never hired anyone full-time before.
We quickly learned how to screen for talent and slowly developed the hiring process that we use today, which involves more than 100 candidates for each position, a rigorous testing process, and a final interview with our whole company.
From hiring Garrett, we learned how much it can affect the trajectory of a business to hire the right talent and culture fit.
And so, each person on the team today is a rock star.
The main struggle in the early days of Approachable Geek was to develop a process that could reliably deliver apps for clients on time, on budget, and high performing.
Which is much more complex than it may sound.
Every app you build is unique, every developer you have has different strengths and weaknesses, and many things can affect the timeline of applications.
But we dug in, studied books, and took courses on software estimation, scrum methodology, agile development, UI/UX design, process management, product management, and on and on.
We refined our system with each successive project, marking on a virtual whiteboard which parts of the process were delightful for the client and which needed improvement. For example, we built our internal estimation software, refined how we prioritize risk and removed barriers to communication in the project.
Until we arrived at what we have today, a team of 15 competent professionals running a system that we have shown repeatedly to produce great apps that humans love to use.
That's a bit about who we are. Hopefully, we've illustrated our love for entrepreneurship and the drive to build excellent software.
We'd love to work with you on your next project if you share that same enthusiasm.