November 11, 2014
Mark Cicoria has been writing code, creating startups, and hacking out innovative processes since high school. While still in school, he and classmate Mark Johnson created a private blog to share long-form content with friends. He and his fellow creative classmates moved on to college, graduate school, and first jobs in development studios, but the idea to build this platform into something bigger continued to nag at them. Eventually, they convinced a third former classmate to help them build what would become Ayloo, even though it meant that friend would leave graduate school at Cal-Tech.
The Lonely Hackers
The early team continued to hack away at Ayloo, meeting at Starbucks and feeling like they were the only people in Las Vegas who were working on a startup. They had actually had serious conversations about moving to San Francisco in order to be around like-minded individuals, but that all changed when one such like-minded individual walked in to their Starbucks wearing a Startup Weekend T-shirt. This interaction got Cicoria and his cofounders engaged with the local Tech Jelly meetups and eventually led them to meet other future founders, mentors, coders, and friends.
Cicoria would go on to compete in several different Startup Weekends, and gained practice at being a cofounder, a developer, a hacker, and a market analyst. He and his fellow team members were having fun trying to build various startups that came out of Startup Weekends, all while still building Ayloo and holding side gigs to pay the bills. Managing Ayloo with team members who had asynchronous schedules and couldn’t agree upon which “ugly task management tools” to utilize inspired Cicoria to create WorkingOn out of necessity.
A Shift to a New Team
But #startuplife is always a longer process to profit than hoped. “At some point, we couldn’t keep Ayloo going without revenue,” said Cicoria. One by one, his team members had to look for paying gigs with other startups, although they still remain friends to this day and support each other’s endeavors. Cicoria met up with Thomas Knoll, with whom he had previously created DoneMet at a Startup Weekend to “humanely schedule meetings”, and found that Knoll was ready to hire a developer for his startup, ClippPR (later Primeloop, VegasTechFund portfolio company and a 500 Startups graduate).
As Cicoria and Knoll developed the culture at Primeloop, they found that productivity, transparency, and happiness were the key driving factors in choosing tools and processes to run the business. As such, implementing WorkingOn to complement their communication and status reporting structure was a no-brainer. The use and evolution of WorkingOn at these early startups, and the experience of running teams with various members who make up the who’s-who list in VegasTech, laid the fabric and foundation upon which Cicoria could truly iterate on this product and his vision to turn it into a major player in the world of productivity tools.
Early Validation for WorkingOn as a Progress Tracking Tool
“People have meetings and get pulled away from their work. They write emails the rest of their team can’t access. I’ve talked to 400+ teams who need to know what’s going on without being distracted,” Cicoria explained. “Many times, resources are buried in private one-on-one conversations or chat rooms you can’t remember, emails, tweets, Github commits, and code comments. Teams spend a lot of time tracking down information or just haphazardly ignoring previous decisions.” Cicoria believes that status reporting integrated right into your workflow and resources that replace your standup meeting are key to increasing productivity, and he has a long list of major companies using the product to prove it. “So far,” he says, “95,000 activity updates have been shared on WorkingOn.”
WorkingOn went through VegasTechFund’s The Mill idea accelerator, accepting a $5,000 micro-investment to help ideate and study marketing tactics. During the 60 days spent in this program, Cicoria tested both paid and free marketing resources and focused on the conversion funnel. He announced upon graduation from The Mill that he was looking for a cofounder and would be applying to major accelerator programs.
Expanding the Team
WorkingOn did in fact find its cofounder/CTO in fellow developer and Mill alum George Diab, who brings experience not only in having helped build startups, but also a wealth of knowledge in enterprise development teams. In addition to duties that he will have in writing the code that makes up WorkingOn, Diab hopes to focus on evangelizing the API (nurturing relationships with developers who will find the most value in the product), and continuing to help build company culture.
“Having managed multiple development teams at once while working at enterprise companies, I was always looking for productivity tools that wouldn’t interrupt the workflow,” says Diab. “Cross-company teams would often fail to be up-to-date with each other, and too inundated with work to create status reports.”
The WorkingOn team will also benefit from the hire of Jeffrey Glusman in the business development role. Glusman previously was COO and Cofounder of Boston customer service startup Joust, and will bring with him the lessons he learned about gaining traction and customer development. “At Joust, I managed an international distributed team of over ten people,” he says. In order to achieve scrum standups, “I literally had to cut and paste a pre-made template into a Google Doc everyday so that people would have blank fields to fill out in order to answer: ‘What did I do yesterday,’ ‘What do I want to accomplish today,’ ‘Are there any obstacles in my way.’”
He adds that it was Cicoria’s previous startup cofounder Thomas Knoll who turned him on to WorkingOn. “I probably spent about 25% of my time either in email or in a chat client, following up with my employees in order to make sure they were working on the proper tasks. This is probably the main reason why when Thomas told me about WorkingOn, I immediately fell in love, and knew that no matter what I had to do I would find a way to be a part of it.”
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