From Startups to Whales – Don Bora of Eight Bit Studios

Don Bora, Co-Founder and Partner of Eight Bit Studios

Don Bora, the Co-Founder and Partner of Eight Bit Studios, grew his company’s revenue from $1.6 million in 2014 to $4.1 million in 2017, a 150% increase, and to around $5.5 million in 2018.  

Eight Bit Studios is a developer of mobile apps and websites.  

In this interview with Eversprint‘s Malcolm Lui, Don shares how he and his team accelerated their high value sales by:  

  • Initially focusing on startups and then pivoting to much larger “whale’ sized clients.  
  • Benefiting from the rise of the Chicago startup eco-system.  
  • Creatively finding quality programmers by hosting their own bootcamps.  

Computer generated transcript - Eight Bit Studios (transcribed by Sonix)

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Malcolm Lui: Welcome to the High Value Sales Show of I'm Malcolm Lui, the Managing Member of Eversprint, and today we're speaking with Don Bora, the Co-Founder and Partner of Eight Bit Studios, a developer of mobile app and websites. Welcome to the call Don.

Don Bora: Thanks Malcolm. Pleasure to be here.

Malcolm Lui: Don, you grew your company's revenue from $1.6 million in 2014 to $4.1 million in 2017, a 150% increase, and in 2018 you hit around $5.5 million. Before we talk about how you grew your company so fast, can you briefly share what your company does beyond my quick intro and how your company differs from the competition?

Don Bora: Yeah absolutely. So we we make web and mobile apps. So that's the core of the business is the design the user experience the business strategy and then the development and deployment of that where I think we shine a lot is on our brand strategy. We have a very very talented design and user experience team in fact we have some of the leading talent in Chicago at our company. One of the things that I think makes us unique and stand out from our brothers and sisters in tech in Chicago and I would say across the country is the fact that the founders of the company and the talent that runs the executive team we're all doers. So I'm a technologist. I've been coding in and around Chicago for about 30 years. Then my co-founders Steve and John have also been doing their craft for between 20 15 and 20 years as well. So when it comes down to it we can do the work. We know what it takes. We don't push our teams unreasonably. We have high empathy for for everybody around us. So at the end of the day we can be held accountable for that work as well

Malcolm Lui: All right drastic. Can you share with us how you grew your business from one point six million in 2014 and in four years later you hitting around five point five million. What

Don Bora: Yeah.

Malcolm Lui: Were the what were the three biggest drivers of that growth.

Don Bora: It sounds really impressive when you say it that way. We it's funny when we're on the road when you're on the roller coaster you really can't see what's going on. You really can't see the height of the curves why why you're taking them. You know I think the some of the biggest drivers for us were we're strategy the ecosystem in which Chicago is currently thriving and the talent around us. So we were I think we we were a bit uniquely positioned at the timing of when we started the company that was when Chicago's startup scene I guess it was like startup 2.0 was seen around 2008 2009 really started to take off and we got some world class incubators that that started around that time. Now I think we have twenty two twenty three world class incubators so houses of some of entrepreneurial cash and an infrastructure. So about that time is. And that's one that that's one that took off and that really helped us focus what we wanted to do around that time. It started a few companies already and a few consulting companies and getting into your Fortune 500 and 100 companies is pretty difficult. You had to be on a list you had no certain people you had to be prevented. And the when when we saw kind of ecosystem taken off around us we realized this that if we if we started if if we set our vertical to be startups we circle we we kind of circumvent all of that noise around working with larger companies.

Don Bora: It's a risky vertical to go down because startups are risky. Sometimes they're putting up their own money sometimes they're barely funded. Sometimes they don't know the product roadmap very well of where they're going. And some of those are kind of some of the bumps that we ran across along the way helping these entrepreneurs figure out what their product roadmap was going to be. And we got we got much much better at that as we went along. The third thing that allowed us to really take off on the resourcing and staffing side of our company was the talent pool. So around about two years into having started 8 studios we realized that there was kind of a dearth of developer talent and we weren't the only ones feeling that there were a lot of companies around town and we were all kind of fighting for resource thing. Groupon was just did it getting big at the time. And you know Groupon was using some of the similar technologies that we were using and it just became it became kind of a bloodbath out there a little bit because we all knew that we're going after the same people the same talent who was around that time that I was approached by who person who would be a co-founder and friend of mine and starting a boot camp and we started this boot camp teaching people how to develop mobile apps.

Don Bora: And we ended up hiring a lot of people out of that boot camp and surrounding boot camps that we became friendly with and mentoring at and helping set up. So it's moving between an existing pool of developer talent Chicago which is which is already pretty strong. We grew our own talent from boot camps and from boot camps that we that we frankly owned as well. So that was it's a very unique angle and it's something to this day like when I look out at most of our staff there most of the developers came from a boot camp the that they've been with us for like five years now and they're every bit as good as a CSI Major that would come out of school and full disclosure I do have a CSI degree so. So I'm very very cognizant the different cognizant of the difference between somebody with a CSI degree and somebody with a with a bootcamp background.

Malcolm Lui: Right. So you have a computer science degree too so I can kind of understand what you're talking about here. So you're the bootcamp are for non trained programmers.

Don Bora: That's correct. Yeah yeah. So you've got you've got people coming out of art school you've got people coming out with English degrees. We had one guy that kind of floated around went to the military did project management at one of the big firms here in Chicago and then made his way to the boot camp. So you name it we've probably seen it come through the boot camp as far as as far as their schooling went

Malcolm Lui: Wow. And these people before they started the bootcamp they really never work as a programmer or really self-taught to some degree before they joined the boot camp.

Don Bora: You know that's that's an interesting observation that I've just recently kind of intimated myself with is that it's they they were self-taught to a point and then they got stuck and couldn't push themselves beyond mostly because they didn't have any of the foundational work that computer science degree get you. So they were kind of starting from less than ground zero and they were trying to teach themselves how to code. And it's funny because when I look around at my crew and I try to get them to onboard their next technology. Some of them have problems getting to that next technology in their career because they tried it once and they had a hard time and that's when they went to the structure of bootcamp and I kind of realized this mid last year and went home. Now what do they do. They don't have a boot camp anymore. How am I going to get you know some of these developers to cross train. So it's actually a problem working on right now.

Malcolm Lui: So you're not doing the bootcamp process anymore

Don Bora: No so is about and I think 2018 was 2017 2018 was when the bottom fell out a little bit Dev Boot Camp shuttered we shut it we were mobile makers hack reactor sold. So there were a lot of it was a very tumultuous time. You know there were regulations were starting to come out of the states and your your placement your student placement started to get very heavily scrutinized with the with the robustness of your curriculum. So it wasn't a problem for us because we had we had a lot of education professionals in our company. That being said you're still at kind of the mercy of an adult ecosystem and kind of like they're feeling like they're getting their money's worth in college at college you don't have that you know everyone kind of is socialized to understand what that four year degree is like and what what. Getting a job after that is gonna be like when you're running a bootcamp those students feel somewhat entitled is too strong a word but they feel like it's there that this is the next natural step. And why the heck wouldn't I get a job. And they're out there competing with junior developers and actually has degrees as well. So it became I became a very high stakes very high risk game. So we ended the adult version of the boot camp and we turned our sights on high school. And so currently that presently model makers started into uncharted learning and we write curriculum and teach teachers how to teach Iowa's development at high school level which is so much fun

Malcolm Lui: Yeah. Let me ask it a bit more about your boot camp. This is gonna need to be I kind of heard

Don Bora: This year

Malcolm Lui: About

Don Bora: Here

Malcolm Lui: It but you know I'm like my computer science era is way behind me now now now. Now under these boot camps laughs and from how you explain it seems like people are paying to be a member of the boot camp really. They were when you had

Don Bora: Oh

Malcolm Lui: It for

Don Bora: Yeah

Malcolm Lui: The adult version

Don Bora: Yeah yeah. So boot camps can cost anywhere from at the time it was when we first started. We charge eight thousand and that was for eight weeks and then I think we wanted to 12000. And I think that boot camp hit around 16. And I think they were 16 week program as well. So you're paying a lot of money to go through these boot camps and one of the reasons that I wanted to push for high school was that I wanted to push the problem down the pipe a little bit. Get these kids exposed to technology how it really is in the real world and how much fun and creative it can be

Malcolm Lui: Right.

Don Bora: Before they get into college and decide that they want to major in theater or English and then come out and have no career.

Malcolm Lui: Right.

Don Bora: You know what I'm going to I'm going to put a plug in right here for I'm on a Advisory Board for Copel tune

Malcolm Lui: Okay

Don Bora: And cook co platoon's mission. They are a coding boot camp for veterans and it's I think it's a sixteen week program and I help mentor the teachers there and I help with some student placement but the whole idea is we get sponsorship from companies and the veterans have to pay almost nothing to go through the program. It's a very rewarding experience to be a part of that that organization

Malcolm Lui: Can you spell out the domain name again for code platoon

Don Bora: Absolutely it's code C ODP platoon p l a t o n. And I think it's dot org. And I really should know that off the top of my head.

Malcolm Lui: Right. Why don't you have three variations to try right. Not

Don Bora: Exactly.

Malcolm Lui: Combat or gotten it figured out I think

Don Bora: Yeah. Yeah.

Malcolm Lui: Now. Now because you were charging money for it. That's when you start getting the on the radar screens of the various educational regulators one because you're kind of competing against the institutions and two because people are paying and you know people want to be satisfied and get what they invested at. Right.

Don Bora: Yeah. Yeah. And you know it's there's there's a lot of fraud out there in the adult education space. There's a lot of companies that are charging money and delivering almost nothing. When Coach platoon and so coach platoons a nonprofit and when Copel tune decided to switch from a ruby on rails curriculum to a Python curriculum our lead instructor went and took a python boot camp and his stories that he told me just blew me away. It was kind of barely functional and the minor prep work that our instructor did put him leaps and bounds ahead of the instructor at the time and and our instructor was heavily utilized during class from the other students to try to like learn how to code. So there's a lot of and I'm not I'm not saying that this other this other boot camp was fraudulent but sourcing and getting developers to quit their day job and come to teach code is hard

Malcolm Lui: Yep

Don Bora: And you're not always gonna get top tier talent you're not always going to get somebody who knows how to teach you can have the best coder in the world but if they don't want to teach or or talk to people that are learning how to code in a productive way it's gonna be it's gonna be very very hard.

Malcolm Lui: Yep. I hear ya. I married my college days trying to help my my dorm my dorm mates who are taking the introductory computer science courses and they just didn't have the luxury of playing around computers for years prior

Don Bora: Exactly.

Malcolm Lui: To going to college right and then trying to figure out how to do looping and variables and then you start going into recursion going whoa.

Don Bora: Top 10 Things You Should Never do.

Malcolm Lui: Yeah. And it's it's difficult. Yeah. There there's a lot of that is this it takes a lot of skill to teach people how to program. No doubt about that.

Don Bora: Yeah. Yeah.

Malcolm Lui: Okay so you stop going to boot camps and now you push it down to the high school level and I can see us pretty innovative finding staff. So how are you finding staff now.

Don Bora: Pretty much the same way I always done. So I'm a chatty guy and I'd like to talk. I like to socialize and I've also been in Chicago for 30 years the entire the entirety of my career. So I'm pretty well networked throughout the city and that would that maybe puts us at a little bit of an unfair advantage over some of our competitors because if I need to go out and find talent I can ask like three or four maybe ten key people and then I'll start getting leads on people that are interested in us and plus we've been around long enough in the city in Chicago is pretty thriving and all ecosystem surprisingly small that people know us. So when I when I knock on someone's door and say you know that city is hiring that means something to a lot of developers right now which is very very flattering and heartwarming that we've gotten to that point.

Malcolm Lui: Right now if I'm working at Facebook or Google and then you come knocking on my door what was their reaction going to be.

Don Bora: Yeah I mean probably exactly what I just did to you.

Malcolm Lui: Oh

Don Bora: I mean

Malcolm Lui: And ask

Don Bora: You know it's a big big difference between first off you get to the small fish in a big pond scenario right and you've got all the the upward mobility and a company like Facebook or Google that we don't have. We're a small flat organization and our leadership and upward mobility opportunities come from once we create ourselves. We're very creative but you know when you're at 45 50 people there's only so much room that you can grow into. We would. We are seeing we're seeing ourselves double in size the next few years. But that said even when you do that you're adding maybe another level of hierarchy and it's like I said it's a pretty flat organization. So even the hierarchy that's in place right now is flattened as well because we do our best to push empowerment down the food chain so that everybody kind of feels empowered to do what they need to do or they feel is right for a product

Malcolm Lui: Right OK. So you talked a little bit about your third driver about talent around you and I understand his boot camp to begin with to find the talent which is pretty clever at the time right. Because you're not competing for the same people. And then now you're leveraging your network. Now how about the Chicago ecosystem how does that evolve. Now I know you said it beginning you start your business at the same time when startups are taking off and incubators are there to help you out. How is it today. Now in regard to the Chicago ecosystem for mobile app and website developers

Don Bora: Yeah. Yeah. So when when we started it that when we switched ape it was first going as kind of a nights and weekends fun project for me and my two co-founders. The Chicago startup scene really didn't exist and primarily one of the assumptions is because there wasn't a whole lot of there it wasn't a whole lot of ways to unlock the capital in Chicago. So Chicago's capital infrastructure is was at the time pretty old conservative money I don't mean politically conservative I mean I mean economically conservative money so it was very hard to get those people into a room seldom get them into conversations and even when you did. Chicago is a money town. You've got to show them where the revenues come from. You've got to show the revenue streams sources of income balance sheets projections. It's a very very different game than on the West Coast. When the pattern started to shift to unlock institutional money from institutional investors around Chicago some of the big money people started to get together and create tech incubators. And like I said we started with 1871 and we've got about 20 of them. Twenty two of them around the city right now. That just gets better and better and better. One of the one of the former co-founders of open table created a social and economic impact incubator in town called Impact Engine. So you've got a lot of these you got a lot of specialized funding sources now where entrepreneurs can go in the medical field in the mental health field in social impact diversity for diversity causes or mission driven causes. So it's a really really exciting time right now in fact we I'm I think I'm friends with about maybe six or seven of our main competitors in Chicago and we joke that there's just so much work it doesn't matter

Malcolm Lui: Yeah.

Don Bora: We're all competing. It's the same projects but but we're all we've all got way more work than we can handle most of the time.

Malcolm Lui: Yeah hi. The pie is growing.

Don Bora: Yeah for

Malcolm Lui: So

Don Bora: Sure

Malcolm Lui: When you take money from an incubator how big a chunk of your equity do they take or get.

Don Bora: You know that really depends on the incubator. And I only know some of the older stories so I probably shouldn't talk about that.

Malcolm Lui: No worries. But maybe give me a rough range of of what you think and I know I won't hold you to it but roughly

Don Bora: Yeah.

Malcolm Lui: Speaking

Don Bora: Yeah.

Malcolm Lui: What does that incubator put you know. A hundred thousand dollars in your business. What did they get in return.

Don Bora: Well so when any kid puts that kind of money they put one hundred thousand dollars into your business they're going to be some kind of free money valuation. They're going to do it against your company so they're gonna use that free money value in their their investment to do the math and figure out what percentage of the company they own

Malcolm Lui: Okay.

Don Bora: The. They always want more percentage. That's their that's their upside right. Because these investors are gonna get what they're going to do is going to invest in an entire portfolio of companies. So for every 10 companies they invest in one payoff and that one that pays off has to pay for their other nine.

Malcolm Lui: Yes

Don Bora: So they're trying to maximize their gain and that's their that's their business. That's their job. So they're trying to get you know sometimes I think I think a normal investment round would probably be around 8 or 10 percent but some of these people they're probably going for like 20 25 percent

Malcolm Lui: Okay

Don Bora: Which is huge chunk in any company

Malcolm Lui: Right.

Don Bora: Because then that really restricts your ability as an owner and founder to bring on more investors.

Malcolm Lui: Yeah definitely. I can see that. So it's a begin incubators. Yeah I guess I'm not super familiar with with how incubators work.

Don Bora: Ok.

Malcolm Lui: They know their investment size is usually a six digit size or can it really be. So talking about multimillion and kind of entering into the space

Don Bora: You know not really V.C. space. So let's talk about 1871 because that's the one I know the best. So 1871 is here in Chicago and they've got roughly gosh I think like 50 to 60 thousand square feet or two floors of one of the largest buildings in the world that happens to be here in Chicago the merchandise mart and they provide desk space meeting space networks telephone network networking telephone printers appreciate all the infrastructure that you need to operate a company and you basically rent space from them and it's cheap space it's coworking type space but 1871 is run as kind of like this company slash community so there's a constantly events going on networking events panels kickoff events when companies move out and companies move in. One of our we've had several startups that of that have started in 1871. Sure. I just found out that there's a company that's been in 1871 and they're still there pretty much when they started 1871 and there's still a resident business at 1871 which is pretty rare. Normally you get you know a couple of years under your belt you get some revenue and you move out and get an office space. So an incubator is really trying to they're trying to. Maximize the amount of infrastructure that they can lease these cheaply so that you can stay and then be part of the internal brain trust.

Malcolm Lui: Like

Don Bora: So all these startups are kind of talking to each other and find out who's doing what and where can I hire talent. I need a designer I need a developer that kind of thing.

Malcolm Lui: Okay so how does 1871 at the end that they pay their bills. I know they're charging some below market rates. They get people to be there as part of the deal that they get a cut of some equity stake as well or first opportunity to invest that sort of arrangement.

Don Bora: You know I'm really not certain about the entire revenue model but I know they make money off of the rent when they rent to there and when they rent to these companies there's also a lot of companies that sit inside of there that there are vendors of the startups so you've got like there's investment companies there's banks that sit inside of there for purposes of lending

Malcolm Lui: Right

Don Bora: And whatnot. So there is there's a lot of I think there's a lot of commercial real estate type business going on that drives it drives the funding

Malcolm Lui: Right.

Don Bora: Ratings everyone.

Malcolm Lui: Right. I can see that you

Don Bora: Yeah.

Malcolm Lui: Have a you have a marketplace of startups and you have vendors around them that can help them. So yeah I can see how they can generate some revenue from that. And. And number one your biggest strategy focusing on startups now is that something you're still doing today focusing on startups

Don Bora: Well what we realize is that once you get to a certain size it's pretty risky to do so. When we got to 30 people full time on a payroll with benefits. Then we realize this is not sustainable. And you have to you have to if they keep that pipeline pretty stacked and it's a constant hustle when when all the products that you're building are costing between 50 and hundred thousand dollars it's hard to run an entire company on that. So we kind of realized that we needed to go out there and fish for some bigger bigger whales. Our strategy was to go out and find three at the time. This is at the time three whales that could a sustain us and b kind of meet our criteria for clients so we like to work with. And one of our main criteria is they've got to love what they do. And finding that in a larger enterprise client is hard. So it took us a while to find our enterprise clients but we finally did and they come and go as well. But it takes longer for them to come and go and you can plan a little better. So right now we know we're out there kind of figuring out our strategy for the next round of bigger companies that we're going to try to engage with.

Malcolm Lui: So when you say that you went for the whale is how big a whale are you talking about. Talking about Fortune 1000 Fortune 2000 Fortune 500. Actually that's getting

Don Bora: Well

Malcolm Lui: Pretty big.

Don Bora: Yeah it is pretty big and if

Malcolm Lui: Yeah

Don Bora: We don't we don't tend to differentiate on that. So we're not I mean look I would love to work with the end of the year Boeing. Those are my dream clients. At the end of the day we're really not looking at that at that size differentiation where most of looking at are they a business. Do they have a sustainable business model themselves. Are they pulling in enough cash to be able to want to do product development over many years. And do they have really good idea of a product roadmap to sustain us for a while.

Malcolm Lui: Right.

Don Bora: So that's that's kind of like the nickel and diming of their criteria. It's like let's let's let's put some stakes in the ground and see if see if this is something that would work for a couple of years if you guys really become partners it's successfully done that would Underwriters Laboratories a bigger company was successfully done that with Echo logistics that I mentioned before there in Chicago we've done that with and there's a few others as well and the excitement level there is we found staff inside the company that's really loving what they do and are really excited about it. We found long product roadmaps they get our team jazz and we're excited to work on this stuff. And that recipe right there is really all you need to say you know lower turnover and keep excitement high and keep everyone want I mean in the morning.

Malcolm Lui: Right now do you have a minimum just to help you filter it down. There are tons of businesses out there. You have a minimum revenue requirement. You know the companies that are below this level generally aren't going to have the road map the cash flow the excitement

Don Bora: Well that's where it gets dicey because we kind of we kind of don't want to do that even last year we ran. We we worked with a startup the startup is called run better and they're their product is to help marathon runners use treadmills to train for marathons and so they get all this G.P.S. data. So GP X is why did you and longitude elevation. They've got all this data that they've collected from marathons around the world and they they needed some way to translate that to a treadmill to aid a marathon runner to train for let's say Boston when I lived in Chicago which is a very flat city. So. So they didn't have a lot of cash. It's three founders that came to us and that you know that hit a lot of buttons for us we're just like this is a great. This is it's health and wellness. It's fitness. We have runners in the company that are excited about this. That's gives us an opportunity to do something really neat in and creative in a space because they don't really have a brand presence yet so we can really like kind of open up the floodgates on creativity from the tech side and the design side. And if we put an artificial cap on the amount of revenue a company has to have we wouldn't work with.

Malcolm Lui: Right

Don Bora: If we had a minimum start we wouldn't work with them. So we've got to we try to be really careful about that because we don't want to miss out on opportunities that are gonna get us really excited

Malcolm Lui: Yeah. But in this particular case you know how can you sound like there a brand new company brand new product. Great idea

Don Bora: Yep yep.

Malcolm Lui: But. What about the cash flow situation cash flow side of things. How do you assess that that they have the you know the literally the cash or the cash flow to pay

Don Bora: Sure.

Malcolm Lui: Your pay for your team

Don Bora: Yeah I give you. So we're not cheap. We're not. And. And the people. People who can't afford us. We tend to see that right away.

Malcolm Lui: Nick

Don Bora: We see the sticker shock. We hear it and then and then. Look I'll be honest. Often there are. There had been times in the past when our prices were high enough to give those people pause. But at the same time we kind of realized that they think they'd opened up their coffers to us and said here's how much money we have we'd like to spend it all with you. And we were like How are we going gonna tell anybody about this how you going to market it. And those are companies that we kind of like turn not turned away but basically help them figure out other ways to get their product built for less money

Malcolm Lui: Right.

Don Bora: And come back come back to us when you know when things are going well and you're looking for. Looking down the road a little bit. The last thing we want to do is take everyone's money and then they don't have a way to talk about it. Negative way to market it and then they're on the hook for all this money and they've got an absolute they can't sell

Malcolm Lui: Yes. And then that no longer hits the criteria of a long term product roadmap.

Don Bora: Exactly exactly.

Malcolm Lui: Ok now I know you mentioned earlier in the conversation you looking at double the size of your company in a few years. But how about looking a little bit closer near term. What are your 2019 plans and targets you ended 2018 around 5.5 million. What's your sales target for 2019 and how are you going to get there.

Don Bora: Well I think our sales target for 2019 is gonna be right around the 7 Mark. We we've got a brand new. We've got some brand new talent on our sales team. We've introduced an accounts team so our sales team grew from last year. We had two people on the team and within the one we're back up to two. But with the other account side that's managing existing accounts and looking for opportunities there that we were leading on the table before. We've now got six people on that team. We've also got somebody that we put in charge of our internal products products that we've created or we own or we're partnered with that. We've never really put the weight of our company behind and so we've dedicated a full time resource to that as well. So between between the person responsible for growing our internal product revenues the people that are responsible for looking for opportunities growth opportunities with existing companies and then our staff that's going out and finding new opportunities and responding people coming to us. Those are those are kind of like boots on the ground way that we're we're looking to hit to hit quote unquote the numbers. But that's not really all we're trying to do. We're not just trying to the numbers. There's no bigger goals we had in place there is more product that we want to develop there's more more creative companies that we want to work with. We've got companies in mind that we're like how do we talk to these people without just showing up on their door and pushing an elevator button

Malcolm Lui: Yeah. So you're looking to grow your business about one point five million extra in addition over the 5.5 million last year. And you mentioned three sources. Right. Your internal products are doing more business with your existing clients and finding new clients to do new business. Where do you see that one point five million of additional revenue coming from across those three areas.

Don Bora: I think primarily it's going to come from the accounts and sales teams. We're putting together a pretty robust roadmap and strategy for the internal products but I'm not I'm not quite sure what that's going to do for us yet. We're ready. Almost halfway through Q1 and we've kind of get to take a step back a little bit and assess we'll get these products are ready to go. It's all a matter of like the marketing and marketing strategy is really kind of what for me is difficult to think about putting together and that's what these people are good at. So my pessimism might to step on their enthusiasm a little bit and that's the last thing I want to do. So I'm just in my mind I've got like a or I think the money's gonna come from. And if I'm wrong I'll be happy.

Malcolm Lui: Sure. Okay. And what do you see as your biggest marketing and sales challenges across these three revenue sources. I know for the internal product line I guess the biggest challenge is coming up with your marketing strategy.

Don Bora: Yeah

Malcolm Lui: And correct me

Don Bora: Yeah

Malcolm Lui: If I'm wrong but what are what other big challenges do you have in the marketing and sales front for

Don Bora: Yeah. I think the we've never really had much success in outbound sales outbound sales is kind of a pain you have to go to a company and you have to convince them to work with you. You have to convince them that they need you. You have to convince them that they need something that they didn't think they needed an hour ago and it's always been a it's always twisted my brain a little bit and it's always felt a little weird to try to convince somebody that's why inbound works so well. People come to you with a need now you have to do is say of course we can do this for you it's just a matter of how and when. So I think for us I think that one of the hurdles is going to be figuring out how we get ourselves into conversations that may not exist or may not know. You may not know that are coming. So

Malcolm Lui: Right

Don Bora: That that's one of our biggest hurdles. I think

Malcolm Lui: Okay. What if he tried in the past for your app sales and

Don Bora: Oh man.

Malcolm Lui: Did it work for you.

Don Bora: Man. What if we tried everything but T-shirt cannons I feel like we. We hired a client know about us money. We put them on the payroll and said go and work it off every lead you get we'll give you a certain amount of credit for and you'll pay off your debt that way. We've we hired somebody who was a CEO of a very prominent kind of like a tech networking company. And that was amazing. But it very yielded very little.

Malcolm Lui: What

Don Bora: We

Malcolm Lui: Was he supposed to do.

Don Bora: So she was basically connecting us to all the people she knew and she's got an insane network and I can't talk about her much because I didn't have her permission to do this. So

Malcolm Lui: Okay.

Don Bora: She got an insane network and it's it was you know basically whenever she saw me and she she threw us in front of them

Malcolm Lui: Right.

Don Bora: And nothing ever panned out of that and it wasn't her fault. It just like it's just a hard thing. Do we put on a podcast.

Malcolm Lui: Right.

Don Bora: Well bites over a bagel where we like bites over bagels where we interviewed Oh man everybody from like the founders of spot here to the CTO of the city of Chicago. It was amazing. We did get a few leads from that. It wasn't we weren't doing it primarily for lead generation. We were doing it primarily to scratch a creative itch that a few people inside the company had. But we realized the opportunity was there. We we co-host the GM podcast on technology and we need the amount of stuff we've done is kind of nuts

Malcolm Lui: All right.

Don Bora: And it feels

Malcolm Lui: Okay

Don Bora: Like very out of the box thinking. The only thing we haven't done is we haven't hired anybody liberal so we haven't said Come bring your Rolodex and go hunt. We haven't done that because everybody that we've talked to that fits that mold doesn't doesn't quite know it doesn't quite feel like the right relationship to us. Plus which in order to sell a company like us to clients you need to know a lot about technology and field a lot of questions especially when you're doing with mobile because mobile touches so many different platforms and audiences. So it gets it gets a little dicey and we're very cognizant of that.

Malcolm Lui: Right. Definitely. Okay. I missed. But if you if you if you did find the right person or the right way of doing your your outbound marketing and engineering leads what impact do you see. Can you imagine that this can give you for your business. Or would you be willing well past your seven not seven million dollar mark

Don Bora: Oh yeah Oh definitely yeah I can definitely see that happening I mean look the delta between five point six and seven or 5.5 rather and seven is small compared to know in years past I think 7 is a bit of a conservative leap when you're talking about growth so it's also a kind of like a realistic attainment as well. And that's one of the things I hit you know I'm I'm kind of a realist when I look at this stuff. So I'm you know I'm looking at historical data and I'm saying OK well let's. Like we've got some new talent on the team and they're not going to go as fast as quickly. I'm sorry as fast in a short amount of time. So we've got to give these people time to ramp up but yeah yeah

Malcolm Lui: Ok so are any other particular marketing and sales challenges on your mind beyond the one the road map for your internal product and to maybe figure out how to do some outbound marketing and outbound sales

Don Bora: Well I think the challenges that we we pay a lot of attention to our people what they like working on how they like working their lifestyle and the work life balance. We pay a lot of attention to that and we think we get a lot of things right. So part of what we get right is choosing clients and products to work on that energize our people. So our challenge is not just to get in front of the company it's to get in front of a big company that align with the values of our people. And we've sampled our people to figure out what those companies are. What's the profile and who maybe who some of them are by name. And so now the challenge is right now we've got the names that's the target. You're not just taking a shot going out into a Fortune 500 phone book and seeing what you hit your head with a terrible metaphor by the way man I was really really bad this gets the mileage out of that later. You're really going. You're very very surgical strike strategy. You're holding you're going after a certain company because you're really really believe in what they're doing and that that is where it gets really hard.

Malcolm Lui: Yeah. Yeah I think so. You might be 50 50 percent the way they if you already know which companies you'd be keen to work with. Now it's it's a matter of finding the right people within those

Don Bora: That's

Malcolm Lui: Companies

Don Bora: Right. Just

Malcolm Lui: And

Don Bora: A matter of finding the right people.

Malcolm Lui: Yeah. Oh of course so it sounds easy. Easier

Don Bora: Exactly.

Malcolm Lui: Said than done right.

Don Bora: Yeah yeah.

Malcolm Lui: So three last questions for you. First one in Chicago perhaps on a on a holiday when traffic is super light and people can speed along on the freeways. What would be your billboard message. Typically people only have six seconds to read and digest a billboard. So what is your six second what message.

Don Bora: 8 bit studios want to play

Malcolm Lui: Studios want to play like

Don Bora: That it's came up with that by the way so.

Malcolm Lui: Let's get

Don Bora: So my brand team is listening we'll talk we'll talk on Monday

Malcolm Lui: And then ask the questions Who are your ideal clients and what's the best way for them to reach your team.

Don Bora: Are ideal clients are startups and I would say mid level enterprise companies midsize enterprise companies. When you're a midsize enterprise company when you have kind of an entrenched team that's got some freedom to work and needs an entrepreneurial mindset. We've got your back on that. We have the technical prowess and expertise to help you navigate the sticky waters of your own I.T. and tech departments. And we're very good at that. We we talk we talk tech teams off the ledge a lot and we work very well with internal teams. So those are when we have internal stakeholders that understand technology and they've got freedom to move a little bit. That's when we do our best work with enterprise companies. If you're a startup love what you do love what you do be passionate about it. We're less concerned with your exit strategy we're at less concerned with how many companies you sold or what market share you can get. We're less concerned with that and we're more concerned with you love what you do because we're gonna have we're gonna be right there with you it's a road trip we take together and we've got to have a good time on this road trip. It's a three day journey across country and we're going to piss each other off and let's figure it let's let's make sure that we're both in this for the right reasons.

Malcolm Lui: Right. And you mentioned three day journey across the country. Is that also reflect how fast you want to move because that's a pretty pretty

Don Bora: No

Malcolm Lui: Fast

Don Bora: No no no it's that you know it's committed to a road road trip it takes about what five days to go across country. So

Malcolm Lui: And you had to do it in three.

Don Bora: I guess I just may. I just whip it off and have my hand

Malcolm Lui: Sure

Don Bora: So

Malcolm Lui: No trouble. And what's the best way for them to contact you and your team.

Don Bora: Sure you can visit eight bit studios that com. You can send an email to welcome to awesome at 8 this video Satcom or info at a big studios dot com. You can find us on Twitter a bit videos on Twitter and on Facebook and you can look up. You can look us up on LinkedIn a bit videos as well.

Malcolm Lui: All right fantastic. One last question for you in a bit. It's pretty old technology nowadays. So

Don Bora: Yeah. So

Malcolm Lui: You know we're in a 64

Don Bora: Might

Malcolm Lui: Bit world now.

Don Bora: Share. Yep yep yep. And someday we'll be in a hundred twenty that world. My my business partner. When he came up with the name one of his original thoughts about this was and I'm not sure I agree with them and we have a lot of philosophical arguments about this but in his opinion aim play hit its zenith with 8 bit technology. Everything else was just sound and graphics.

Malcolm Lui: I can see that. Yeah yeah I can and I can see his perspective on that point. Yes. Sound graphics have really been driving things where people want more realistic sounds more

Don Bora: Right.

Malcolm Lui: Impressive graphics

Don Bora: Right. Yeah. You can argue that that things like portal that are highly imaginative. We owe that to 64 bit technology. But at the same time you can kind of see that working in a bit. It just might not be as as engaging or as immersive.

Malcolm Lui: Yeah. And in the end not to get too geeky here. But can you imagine or think back about what people did in the 8 bit world like the adventure games you remember that one.

Don Bora: I mean it was great

Malcolm Lui: Yeah that is written in basic right. I mean it.

Don Bora: Was it really.

Malcolm Lui: Yeah I

Don Bora: Have

Malcolm Lui: Think

Don Bora: No

Malcolm Lui: So.

Don Bora: Idea. Wow

Malcolm Lui: I

Don Bora: That's

Malcolm Lui: Think I

Don Bora: Amazing.

Malcolm Lui: Recall look at the source code for that same basic

Don Bora: You know when you think about the you think back to like a pet technology I believe dragon slayer still falls in the ape category and use the laser disc to deliver its content. So very very simplistic programming very simplistic joystick control logic but at the same time they remove and they removed the laser on a laser disc and delivering pretty high fidelity content. And that was pretty low fi as well.

Malcolm Lui: Yeah. It's pretty impressive. Thanks so much for joining us today and sharing how you accelerate your company's high sales Don.

Don Bora: Now it's my pleasure Malcolm thanks so much for having me.

Malcolm Lui: We've been speaking with Don Bora, the Co-Founder and Partner of Eight Bit Studios, about his company's rapid growth. For interviews with other fast growing, high value sales companies, or to learn how we can accelerate your firm's high value sales through automation, visit

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