I interviewed Spencer Fry the first time a couple of years ago. Since then he’s moved on to a new company and has added a major new skill to his arsenal. Here’s my second interview with Spencer, now of Uncover.
Me: How did you know it was time to move on from Carbonmade?
Spencer Fry: If you’re having a great time at your job as I was, deciding to leave a company is a really difficult decision. It’s even more difficult having been the CEO and having been there for four years. For me, I was twenty-seven years old and I simply wanted to do something new. By the time I left, Carbonmade was a mature company. Meaning, we had employees, our own office space, healthcare, benefits, steady revenue, and so on. I wanted to get my hands dirty with starting something new and I wanted to learn to program. Programming was something I had always wanted to spend time to learn, but never had time to until I left Carbonmade.
Me: Why did you decide to transition from being a “business guy” to a developer? How has the transition gone?
SF: The main reason I wanted to learn to program was to be able to build the ideas I had in my head. As an entrepreneur, a day doesn’t go by when I don’t think of a new idea. Most of them are terrible, but every so often you think of something great that you can’t get out of your head. I wanted to be able to take these ideas I came up with, and also be able to build the first prototype. It hasn’t been a complete transition for me. It’s more that I added an additional skill to my resume. I still spend as much time on the product, product management, design, and business side of Uncover as I do on the programming side. I’m fortunate to work with three other talented folks, and two of them happen to code as well.
Me: Tell me about your new company, Uncover.
SF: Uncover has been ten years in the making. Co-Founding TypeFrag in December 2003 was the first time in my life that I began to see the operations side of a company. I knew from when we hired our first employee that I wanted to build a company around trust, communication, respect and openness. Uncover was founded to help companies address those areas of their businesses. Uncover is everything you need to start and run an employee recognition program for your company. What does that mean? With Uncover, you can customize a selection of perks for your employees from Music to Fitness. We have twelve different categories to choose from. It was released in April 2013 and what you see today is only the beginning. In the near future, we will help companies get insights into what areas of their company need improving and then help them address those issues. We’ve seen amazing uptake since our launch and are really excited about where we’re heading. 85% of employees in the companies signed up with Uncover are actively using it, which are numbers that have never before been seen by any other perks companies. Our customers are telling us how much they love it and how happy their employees are since they’ve signed up with Uncover.
Me: What’s your role at Uncover? Do you still work on the business side?
SF: My formal title is CEO and at this stage of our company that means that I do everything that needs doing. During the first four to six months of Uncover, that meant mainly product building leading up to our public release. I had my hands in everything product: design, wire framing, frontend development, and backend development. Since our release in April, my main role has shifted more into sales and marketing. I’ve spent a lot of the past few months working on getting as many companies as I can to use our product. At the same time, though, we’re very concerned about not becoming stale, so along with my team, we’ve been working on the next iteration of our product. For me that’s a lot of product management, some wire framing and design, and some frontend development.
Me: How much development do you personally do?
SF: In total, I’d say I spend about 20% of my time on development during this phase of our company. That number may go up or may go down over the next six months. When I learned to program, I knew that I didn’t want to be an engineer all day every day, I wanted to be able to prototype ideas, help with code here and there, and understand what went into building things.
Me: You learned programming in 2012. How did you do it?
SF: Learning to program at the beginning required a lot of online tutorials and books to learn the syntax of the language. I started with learning Ruby on Rails as that’s what a lot of my friends code in, so I knew I could ask them for help if I ever got stuck. However, I didn’t truly start learning to program until I began building the prototype of what would eventually become Uncover in February 2012. I’ve gone on to preach this approach to many people who want to learn to program. You need to first have an idea that you want to see through. I’d stopped and started learning to code a dozen times before, and it wasn’t until I had a burning desire to see Uncover through to its completion that I was truly motivated to keep on learning. The process would go a little bit like this: (1) I’d come up with a feature that I wanted to add, (2) I’d learn how to implement that feature through Google, StackOverflow and other resources, (3) I’d try and implement it, (4) I’d fail once or twice, and (5) I’d finally get it working. I truly believe that you can only learn how to program by building something you care about or else you’ll lose your motivation halfway through.
Me: How has your newfound programming knowledge impacted how you build new companies?
SF: From here on out, I hope that any new company I found will begin with my programming the first prototype. I think you learn so much about the product that you’re trying to build if you’re the only one actually building it. I know I did when I built Uncover. I also have a much better understanding of what goes into building every aspect of a Web application. It’s a lot more complex than most people understand, and knowing how things work and potential ways to implement features can drastically increase your ability to manage your team. Product management is something I care deeply about, and I know that I’m a better product manager having learned to program.
Me: What have you learned about marketing while launching Uncover?
SF: I’ve learned a lot and I’m continuing to learn, as Uncover is the first enterprise company that I’ve started. All of the other companies have been consumer. With a consumer company, all you have to do is to convince one person to use it whereas with an enterprise company there is usually a minimum of two people that you have to convince. In our case that’s the human resources person and the CFO. Companies also care a lot about their bottom line, so if you can convince them that your product will help them increase their bottom line, they’re much more likely to sign up with you. We know that offering perks and rewarding your employees for their hard work goes a long way toward improving employee happiness, and that’s the outcome of our service that helps a company’s bottom line. We simply need to do a better job at getting that across to the companies we approach.
Do You Have Any Questions For Spencer?
If you have any questions for Spencer or me then leave a comment below or catch up with Spencer on Twitter.