Mark Hendrickson – Plancast 1 of 2

“Launching a new product means defining your expectations.” Plancast is a web service that allows users to discover and share plans with friends.

Matthew: Hi, this is Matthew Wise with FounderLY.com. We empower entrepreneurs to have a voice and share their story with the world, enabling others to learn about building products and starting companies. So I’m very excited today because I’m here with Mark Hendrickson, who is the founder of Plancast. Plancast is the best way to discover events that your friends are attending.

Mark: Perfect.

Matthew: Mark, we’d love for you to give a brief bio for our audience.

Mark: Sure. So I am a California native. I grew up in [Menlo] Park and then I went to Maine to attend college at Bowdoin College and then came back pretty quickly afterwards to work for TechCrunch, which was an experience for me to really get involved with the tech community in the Bay Area. 

So I spent about a year and a half there as a writer. I also helped developed products there. So we built Crunch Space and rebuilt TechCrunch itself and then I decided after a year and a half to leave and go work on my own startup. So about two years ago, I began work on Plancast and it’s been just the ride since then.

Matthew: What is Plancast, who’s it for, what makes it unique, and why are you so passionate about it?

Mark: Plancast for us is really about raising the level of awareness that people have about things to do. So it really came out of this desire to have something better to tell me things I can go do with people I care about in my area. So it’s a location based service and there’s a lot of buzz around this these days. But really we don’t think of ourselves as just a mobile app. 

We think about Plancast is a way to connect you better to the community that you live in and the best way to do that, in our minds, is to let you know about things to go do. These things are usually events but primarily the things that your friends are going to be going to go do. 

So if you live in San Francisco, of the 50 people you may know in San Francisco well, what are they doing this weekend? What are they doing two weeks from now? You probably want to know about that because you might want to go too.

Matthew: What are some of the technology market trends that currently exist and where do you see things developing in the future for your space?

Mark: Well, so we’re in a space, very generally speaking, defined as social. There’s a lot of activity in the space. Of course you have the big guys like Facebook and Twitter but you have a lot of smaller companies like ourselves, really trying to push the limits of what social means. Trying to redefine or I should say trying to define new areas of social. It usually entails new types of information. So you’ve got FourSquare pushing the idea of the check-in. You have new photo apps pushing the idea of mobile photo sharing and you have us pushing the ideas of what events mean. 

So we really view ourselves as surrounded by other socially minded startups but not really directly challenged by any particular one, at least not yet, because there are so many different ways to spin social. So while there are apps that have come out that are event related, no one’s trying to do exactly what we’re doing. So it feels as though we’re sort of pioneering this space.

Matthew: We covered your background and an overview of Plancast. We’d love to dig into the story of Plancast. Can you tell us what inspired you to start Plancast? Was there an aha moment or did you do a bunch of research that led to the opportunity? What’s the story behind Plancast?

Mark: Yeah, so sometimes people feel like they have to have an idea in order to leave their job and go start a company and without that idea, they’re not going to make that leap. What I did was sort of the opposite approach. I forced myself to go do a startup and then came up with the idea. I had these ideas around what I wanted to sort of get out of it in terms of what would the product generally serve both for myself and others. But I was really thinking on this community level. 

How do I help build out a community and it was only through maybe three or four months of iterative brainstorming that I came onto the idea of Plancast and when I first started, the first couple of months I had lots of bloated ideas of what an application should do. And it was part Yelp and part FourSquare, part , part everything. And I sort of looked at it at a certain point and was like wow, this is too much and I don’t even know what it’s supposed to do for anyone.

And so what I did was I met up with some people that I respected and one person in particular, [Leah Culvert], who’s doing [inaudible 04:35] now. You’ve got all this stuff. How about that one thing about telling people about what you’re going to go do. And I was like good, that’s the part I liked the most anyways about this. That’s the one that seems to really carry the mission forward the best. So we just stripped everything else out and ever since it’s been settled on that one idea.

Matthew: Who are your co-founders? How did you meet? What qualities or skills were you looking for in a co-founder and how did you know they’d be a good fit?

Mark: So my co-founder is Jay Marcyes and the first five or so months of working on Plancast, I was totally solo. And I really had leaned on people that I knew to give me advice but I really was only working by myself and Jay and I met really over Twitter. So he happened to see a tweet that I sent out about the project. I was replying to an investor who ended up, someone who ended up being an investors of ours. At the time, we just knew who he was from the work he’d done and he saw what I tweeted out and just reached out to me. Jay took it upon himself to sort of look at what I was doing and say oh, I should be part of this. 

At the time, he was working on his own startup, sort of the same position where he was solo. He had been doing it longer and he was sort of tired of doing the grind all alone and he wanted to team up with someone. And we met. It clicked and we just sort of went out on a limb with each other. He was in Salt Lake City, even. I was here in the Bay Area so we had that geographic divide but really what I was looking for was someone who was really technically competent, who could program well, and who was really going to throw himself into the work and that’s what he did. And so, after about a month, we knew we had a good fit and we just decided to split the company and work together.

Matthew: From idea to product launch, how long did it take and when did you actually launch?

Mark: So if you really start things off by when we decided what Plancast was going to be, it was about five months from initial prototyping to the public launch. And that was after several months of just general brainstorming and I’d say even the first two months of that development was very rudimentary. Just kind of learning what kind of architecture we’re going to place for it and not really building out too many features yet. 

So the bulk of the actual features, that came together in a matter of a few months. And so we decided to move pretty quickly to launch that first version because we wanted to get people using it, see what people cared about, and what about it they didn’t. And we didn’t want to build too much up front. So that worked out pretty well. But conversely, by launching quickly, we also had a lot of attention on what we built so that added a whole dynamic to it as well.

Matthew: Are there any unique metrics or social groups about Plancast that you’d like to share with the audience?

Mark: Yeah. So social proof, I think we’ve done a good job really establishing ourselves among the Bay Area. Sort of the early adopter set, at least, in providing a tool that people use on a fairly regular basis to hear about events. From a metrics point of view, we’re most concerned about how people are engaging and if month after month, do they still care to come back to us and use us. I’m not sure we’re sharing particular numbers but we’re happy with our retention rates and our re-engagement rates. And that’s what we care about the most. Different startups have different metrics, page views or daily visitors, but for us it’s really do people come back?

Matthew: We know founders face unique challenges when they decide to start a company. What was the hardest part about starting Plancast and how did you overcome this obstacle?

Mark: For me, the hardest part was just psychological, of day after day pushing things forward. It’s a very trying process because you’re learning what you’re supposed to be doing while you’re doing it. And so just leaving my job and working out of my apartment just to start and come up with that initial idea. And when you get frustrated by things, you just feel things are going too slowly you can get sort of wrapped up in that idea not progressing enough to make this actually worthwhile. 

And really the only way to get through that it to keep going. And Paul Grant has the same when he says if things aren’t going well, just keep coding. And I think that’s related. If you run into difficulty, the most important thing is you should just keep working on it. 

It’s cliché but for me it’s all been in that insistence that no matter how things felt at a given time or disappointments or whatever, you just keep exploring your options and then learning from it. So it’s been like a continual process. Other people have issues with money when they started off but I had savings, so I didn’t have that.

 
 

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