Taking Risks and Facing Fears – Gabe Cooper of Brushfire
Gabe Cooper is a founding member of Perk Software (later Brushfire Interactive and Shotzoom Software). After receiving his MBA from Arizona State University in 2002, he became Vice President of Software at Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF). Since then he has gone on to build highly successful digital properties in both the non-profit and for-profit sectors.
1. How did you first get started in the software industry?
After graduating in the late ‘90s from the University of Arizona with a degree in Management Information Systems, I started working in the Phoenix tech scene. I started as a software developer and jumped between several Phoenix technology frontrunners including Cobalt Creative and Tom Cain’s Distribution Architects. I later returned to ASU to earn my MBA and took more of a leadership role in tech with a focus on matching software with business needs. In 2006, I caught the entrepreneurial bug and worked with two friends (Josh Baker and Craig Prichard) to start the agency that would later become Shotzoom Software and Brushfire Interactive.
2. What would you say is the most important aspect of your corporate culture?
We want to exist at the intersection of service and excellence. We create a culture where team members are encouraged to serve one another, serve our clients, and, ultimately, serve the world around us by creating world-class products.
3. Where do you see the most growth in your work and your software over the next few years?
We feel that the growth of mobile, location-based services, and social media have created a massive opportunity for highly personalized products that span multiple devices. We feel like the education, fitness and healthcare, and non-profit sectors in particular, will offer a lot of potential for personalized technology over the next few years. Also, to be honest, we’re big fans of Phoenix and we’ve been doing too much outside of the Phoenix market. We’re hoping to be expanding our local client base and really pour into the local economy.
4. What are the biggest hurdles for growth?
Client education. Right now mobile, web, and social technologies are really the Wild West. There’s a lot we don’t know, and even more that our clients don’t know. Finding the best result-based solutions and then communicating those solutions to our clients will continue to demand a tremendous amount of effort as long as we are in technology.
5. How much is cyber security an issue for your business and what precautions do you take?
Security is always top priority for Brushfire. We are committed to taking every precaution to protect our clients and their data. That said, many of the security concerns that existed five years ago have been solved by great third-party service providers. Rather than reinvent the wheel for each client around issues like PCI compliance, we are quick to leverage existing solutions which ensure security and decrease development time.
6. Tell us some of the best advice you have ever received.
I’ve had several friends along the way encourage me to take risks despite my fears. My co-founders, in particular, really pushed my willingness to take risks. I’m grateful for those who pushed me out of the nest at different points in my journey. Every risk hasn’t paid off… I’ve had plenty of failures along the way… but I don’t think I’ve ever regretted learning to take risks.
7. What are the biggest mistakes you’ve made during your career? How can startups avoid making the same ones?
There have been several occasions where we have trusted core aspects of our business to “outside experts”. We’ve found over and over again that a single outside expert will always fall short and that nobody understands our business as well as we do. At this point in my career I believe it’s important to surround yourself with multiple wise advisors inside and outside of your organization as you navigate key decisions.
8. What should a startup be prepared for that they might not expect?
Entrepreneurship is one of the single hardest things an individual can take on-it is also one of the most exhilarating. Many startup networks and publications glamorize entrepreneurship-but running a great business is often not sexy and completely thankless. That said, if you stick with it, starting a small business can be incredibly rewarding. The faster you set aside your own fame and agenda… and find a trusted, talented team ready for battle… the better off you’ll be.
9. What is next for you?
We live and die by the quality of our team. As we attack the next couple of years, I’ll focus much of my time on recruiting new talented team members and pouring into our existing team. We’d like to double or triple the size of our business but we know that we’re only as good as the team that walks through our doors every morning.