What To Know When Building An App For Your Business With Eric Colbert


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The Future Of Technology

There are so many factors that go into creating a positive user experience and visually pleasing design for a business website and e-commerce. It is  hard to know where to begin.

Recently, our CEO Stacy Jones sat down with an expert in e-commerce platforms and the future of technologyIn this blog post, Hollywood Branded learns how to find success with eCommerce marketing from Eric Colbert, the COO and partner of SPARK6.


A Little More About Eric

Eric is the COO and partner of SPARK6, a creative agency that specializes in leveraging technology to help drive business goals by designing and building websites, mobile apps and custom enterprise software. And he's worked with companies ranging from Sesame Street, that Getty foundation to the Bill and Melinda Gates foundation among many others.

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Interview Transcript Highlights

Question: I'd love to have you start off by sharing what got you to here today, where you're doing technology and app building and websites, and you're really helping drive how people see businesses?

Answer: Yeah, well, it definitely hasn't been a linear adventure to get here. So my background actually back in college was in psychology where I studied at UCLA and I graduated from there and made my parents incredibly proud by working at Tower Records right after that. That dates me a little bit. Maybe some of your listeners don't know what Tower Records is, but hopefully they do. Because I got into the music industry, I was a performer in a band and you get to travel all over the country and I needed a job that afforded me that kind of flexibility and I was in music. So it kind of made sense. So kind of after pursuing music for several years and kind of getting my taste of what that is like and kind of being on the road, I realized that really wasn't for me and decided to kind of go back to school and work on my masters.

And then shortly thereafter started a family. So being an entrepreneur or being in business was never really anything that was on my roadmap. I actually had planned on staying in academia and being a professor and all that stuff. But as a new dad and looking at the bills that are associated with being a parent and living in Southern California, and I was looking at that kind of trajectory of being a professor and how long it would take me to actually make any decent money. I was like, Oh my goodness, that's going to be a while. So one of the seven jobs that I was working at while I was working on my master's was in CD and DVD replication, when that was actually a thing as well, which is a thing of the past, but it kind of got me into business.
I was an account manager and the owner of the company, unbeknownst to me was kind of grooming me for sales and the biz dev world. And so I just transitioned from that CD and DVD place to a larger print and packaging company. And then I ended up having my own company that was involved in global sourcing and manufacturing. So we had offices in Brazil and in China and here in the US as well. So yeah, after I finished that kind of venture where my entity was absorbed by a parent company, I really wanted something that was impactful. I was helping businesses in that previous life, more on the manufacturing and making products and goods, but I definitely didn't really feel like I was saving the whales and I wanted to get something that was a little bit more meaningful. So obviously technology was touching all aspects of our life, whether we wanted to or not, and saw a great opportunity to do good with technology and SPARK6 was at that time, about five years old and came in and became one of the partners over there.

Question: When you're working with a company. And you've certainly ... Sesame street or Melinda and Bill Gates foundations, you are certainly working with companies that are a little different than necessarily your brick and mortars, who do care about perception and who do care about how they too are impacting the world. How is the approach different for you when you're looking at how they can develop technology, websites and apps, and what is it different versus the general normal? Or is it not?

Answer: Yeah, I mean, I think so many companies whether it's their main objective or not obviously have an awareness and to it's in a box of like greenwashing, when being environmentally friendly was a huge initiative for a lot of companies and they just kind of had this checkbox. Like, all right, we recycle our office paper and stuff like that. But I think as companies mature and as public awareness is becoming more keen. And obviously with some of the cancel culture, I think companies are really afraid to make some missteps. And so they take their values seriously and where they can obviously make an impact they do. But for us, it's a little easier cause we go after and try to work with, or attract clients that are just already doing that.

And we just say, well, through the lens of technology, how can we help your initiative? A good example, I think would be like the Getty foundation, which you had mentioned earlier. So we were working with their education department and they were trying to help disadvantaged youth tell their story through the lens of photography. And so they wanted this mobile experience. So they're all carrying around these cameras that are better than the best cameras that were around 10 years ago. And so we built this really beautiful experience for, again, more of the disadvantaged youth, but to kind of broaden that horizon of how do we tell our story through photography, through color and light and perspective. And so it had all these wonderful skill trees and videos and tutorials and it was a great group to work with. So yeah, that was a fun one.

Question: So when you're working with one of these companies, what's your first step, what's your first approach? How do you start off the relationship?

Answer: Well, we really want to understand the business objectives, because we are entrepreneurs at heart, both myself and my business partner. We really just take a very collaborative approach. We treat our clients like our partners and obviously they have their domain expertise and have an idea for what this digital product is going to be. And then we just try and massage that and try and draw out like, well, what are the business objectives? How are the users, the people that are going to be on your platform, how are they going to want to interact? And so that's really important. We take a lot of time when we're designing and building a platform is to really get inside that user's head, the personas. And that's where I get to geek out from my old psychology days of behavior and understanding the motivations and how someone's going to feel when they are interacting with your digital product.


Question: What are some of the biggest mistakes that you see people make when they're like, Eric, I want to make an app. I want to build a website. Where does it kind of go off the rails?

Answer: It goes off the rails with just so many assumptions that go untested. So, again, it kind of goes back to let's scale back to what is an MVP, what is the challenge or the problem that you're solving and testing it even before we move into building or designing, there's a lot of ideas that are out there that people think can be solved. If I just had this mobile app, it would be great. And we encourage people to like to go out in the real world with just a pen and paper and try and accomplish the same thing, whether it's like, oh, I want to build like a dog-walking app for example.

If only I had a dog-walking app and I could get a bunch of business. Well, how many dog owners would really hand over their dogs to you? Why don't you go around and actually try and get somebody to give you money to go walk their dog? And technology would make that process easier, but is there a business for that? I think a lot of entrepreneurs just kind of, they get excited and think that it'll all be solved as long as it's just in a mobile app. And there might not really be a business there, there might be too many roadblocks.

Question: You have your own app that you've designed as well. So of course you're the tinkerer, you work on everyone else's, but you have to tinker away at your own. How has this been a different experience for you, because it is different working on your own versus on a client's?

Answer: It is. This is my very first product taking it from ideation all the way through development and through launch. It's really exciting. It kind of humbles you in terms of the painstaking of getting your ideas onto paper and in design. Then we have clients obviously that are changing their minds all the time, even when we're in development, which is the wrong time to do that. But I find myself doing that too, because it's different once you start using it. That's the whole thing about being agile is like, just get it out there, start trying it. You will come up with different ideas and ways and things don't always materialize the way you thought they would once you're actually out there. 

Vouch was very much a scratch our own itch for my business partner and I. We realized for lots of other people. It's really a mobile platform to allow you to keep track of recommendations that you and I probably get every single day and that might be for a book or a documentary or for a podcast that you have to listen to, or a new restaurant that just opened up. The list goes on and on. And I had all these lists, these disparate lists all over and I often give the same recommendations to people over and over again.
We decided to create this kind of, it's called Vouch Vault. And it's a repository basically for all the things that you actually do want to try and it has a really fun discoverability as well. So you don't have to know the people personally, although the whole thing is about personal recommendations and having the same taste. And if someone that I know has the same taste in books as I do, and they give me a recommendation, I know I'm going to love that book. So it's kind of, it solves that use case.

Check Out The Podcast!

Eric has SO MUCH great information from his experience with leveraging technology to help drive business goals, so check out the full podcast below to learn more about how to drive your business from his advice and expertise!

Every week we have a marketing professional on our show to share their tips, tricks and lessons learned from their professional experience. Check out some of our other podcast blogs from earlier this year: 

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