Interview With Bill Freeman: Co-Founder of PureSkill.gg

Interview With Bill Freeman, Co-Founder of PureSkill.gg

Tell me about your business, PureSkill.gg. Can you describe it in 2 sentences?

PureSkill.gg is an automated AI videogame coach. We help players get better by telling them what they’re doing wrong and how to fix it. 

When did you start PureSkill.gg and why?

It started as a project to get myself into Data Science after graduating with a Ph.D. in physics. This was in late 2018. I wanted to explore data that I enjoyed working with (video game replay files). On the side, I was helping players who were struggling to get better with their play. The combination of these two is basically where PureSkill.gg came from. I met my two co-founders in graduate school and we had stayed connected through playing videogames.

Now, what’s one thing we should know about Bill Freeman that most people don’t know?

I played the saxophone for 10 years and at LSU during my freshman year.  I also played Rugby for LSU my sophomore year! 

Has  PureSkill.gg  made any pivots recently due to COVID-19?

Gaming is one of the industries that is increasing during this time. Our business plan has not fundamentally changed but we are moving faster. The NC IDEA Micro grant came just at the right time to help us do that. 

Congrats on the NC IDEA Micro Grant (1 of only 16 companies to be awarded $10,000)! Can you tell me a little bit about your application process and how you plan to use the grant money?

This is the third time I have applied for a grant from NC IDEA. The first time was in 2018 before the business was fully formed. The second time was the fall of 2019 when we were further along. Those first two were applications to the SEED grant ($50,000) and then we switched to the Micro-Grant for the third time. It was helpful to go through and answer the application questions. It teaches you what you don’t know about your business. Each time, the application process got easier and we were able to complete it faster.

We are using most of the funds to update the frontend of our application. Right now we have built a lot of the backend software but the frontend is not where we want it to be. The microgrant will help push us forward. 

What does your team look like right now?

We have three co-founders. Me in Mooresville, Evan Sosenko in San Francisco and Ethan Batson in Seattle. From the beginning, our company has always been remote so that has not changed with us. With the funds, we are bringing in a front-end contractor. 

Have you leveraged the Hurt Hub’s network during this time? If so, how?

Yes, I have used a lot of resources out of The Hurt Hub. I attend Startup Grind Meetings, Pitch Breakfast, and 1 Million Cups. We also have two business mentors from The Hurt Hub Mentor Program. Additionally, I participated in a panel about esports investing at The Hurt Hub and I have leveraged the surrounding Charlotte entrepreneurial ecosystem.

I think I found out about the NC IDEA grants through something at The Hurt Hub!

How have you or your company grown since entering The Hurt Hub Mentor Program?

It was a very easy process to get mentors through The Hurt Hub. We have had a few meetings with them and they have helped advise on a few tricky business problems.

What are the next steps for you? 

The end result of the front end revamp will be a “pay what you want”, Kickstarter style of monetization. This will help us understand how much people will pay for our product at an early stage (when we don’t have a complete product yet). We believe this will be a good indicator of our long term success. 

What keeps you up at night these days?

The level of power that game developers have. Game developers have shut down similar companies for helping players while they are playing the game (which gives them an unfair advantage). We always help after they’re done playing, and we are confident that the symbiotic nature of our product with the game developers will only lead us to a good relationship.

What is one of the best or most worthwhile investments you’ve made for your business? (Could be an investment of money, time, energy, etc.)

I think our WordPress developer is our best investment. We lucked out by finding a low-cost overseas contractor who did really high-quality work to get some of our very early work done. 

What is a common advice, business philosophy, or metric that you do not subscribe to or actively advocate against? Why?

I think I might be against most advice in general. You know your business the best so be careful about taking advice. Feel free to not take everyone’s advice. 

Anything else you’d like to share?

Even though two of our co-founders are not in Charlotte, this is very much Charlotte-based company. A ton of resources have come of Charlotte and that is from all the networking and connecting that I’ve down here. The Hurt Hub has really helped out.

Emma BalinInterview With Bill Freeman: Co-Founder of PureSkill.gg
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A Quarantine Business?

Written by Lauren Wolfe ’20 (Failure Fund Recipient)

Last spring while browsing the internet for a birthday present, I found the perfect gift on Etsy—a customized bracelet with my friend’s initials. After I saw her wearing it, I realized I could make the same bracelet for a fraction of what I paid. I started researching exactly what I needed to make and sell stamping jewelry myself.

Serendipitously, I learned about Davidson’s Failure Fund at the same time. I wrote up a proposal to cover the cost of the materials (steel block, hammer, stamps, ink, bending tools, bracelets and discs) and was thrilled when they approved my idea. I ordered all the tools and started making jewelry.

One thing I learned running my Etsy shop was how quickly expenses can add up. I originally thought I only needed the tools previously mentioned. As an inexperienced seller, I never thought about things like jewelry boxes to put the finished pieces in, jute twine to wrap the boxes, poly mailers, packing tape, jewelry pliers, shipping label pouches. Or the cost of the wasted raw material I had to discard when the personalized pieces I stamped were not ‘perfect’ enough to be sold.

With the support of the Failure Fund, I learned to think more thoroughly and comprehensively about running a small business, from how one should request samples of the raw material before purchasing in bulk to packaging and shipping, and the importance of carefully budgeting for every step in the process.

Now that everyone is in quarantine, I noticed that loungewear is really popular. My Instagram explore page is inundated with expensive (and mostly sold-out) tie-dyed sweatshirts and sweatpants sets. Based on my jewelry-selling experience, I was pretty sure I could run a profitable tie-dye loungewear business. I bought a few crewnecks and some Rit dye in colors I thought would be popular. I loved the way they turned out! I thought other people would too, so I applied for the Failure Fund again. I’m unbelievable grateful Davidson offers a grant like this that encourages students to explore their dream business opportunities by offering start-up capital. Thank you so much, Failure Fund!

Emma BalinA Quarantine Business?
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“I Began to Work for Myself”: A Profile on Award-Winning Entrepreneur Katie Hotze

Katie HotzeKatie Hotze, founder and CEO of Grocery Shopii, is dedicated to helping working parents prepare dinner.

Hotze—former digital marketer for a global consulting firm—understands the burden of cooking each night after a long day of work, especially after having her first child: “It was exhausting,” she writes, “This daily battle with dinner was a commonality among all of [my] ‘mom friends’…I knew there had to be a better way…”

Hotze accepted the challenge: she envisioned different ideas, tested them with friends and family, and soon began to “flesh out” her idea with a mentor, all while working full-time and pursuing an MBA from the College of William & Mary.

Then she was laid off from her job.

“I decided that was the day that I began to work for myself,” Hotze says, “I had the time and energy needed to figure it out. I immediately applied to the Ventureprise customer discovery startup incubator with UNC-Charlotte and began my journey to creating the ideal product/market fit.”

Grocery Shopii is a “digital meal planning application that allows grocery shoppers to manage their meal planning, online grocery shopping, and check-out in five minutes or less,” says Hotze. The consumer selects a recipe that the app delineates precise amounts of ingredients and then automatically places in a shopping cart.

After a year, Progressive Grocer named Grocery Shopii the industry’s Best Tech Application of 2019.

Since last May, Hotze and her team have used the resources at the Hurt Hub, including the newfound Gig-Hub program. “The intense support system at the Hub was the greatest surprise,” Hotze writes, “through events, ad hoc introductions, and in-house mentorship…there is always someone available to answer a question, offer advice, or dial-up support.” 

When asked what advice she would give to an aspiring entrepreneur, Hotze suggests “find a support system…don’t try to build a company on your own. Groups like LaunchLKN and Ventureprise exist so that people with an idea and a dream can dial-up the support systems needed to find their momentum.” She emphasizes “these programs are designed to support your exploration.  No one expects you to have a fully fleshed idea when you walk through the doors to gain support.

Her next steps? “We gained the attention of Mercatus, one of grocery’s largest eCommerce platforms headquartered in Toronto, who offered us a partnership agreement and immediately began introducing us to their stores,” Hotze says, “We now have a rich pipeline of grocers and a very busy schedule as we close out 2019.” 

Emma Balin“I Began to Work for Myself”: A Profile on Award-Winning Entrepreneur Katie Hotze
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You’re never too young to found a business (or two).

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Meet Dan Murphy—class of ‘21, economics major, founder of Rize Solutions Inc, founder of In-Connect, partner at HeliumIQ and partner at Gusher. Murphy transferred to Davidson College this spring semester after a year and a half of building some exciting entrepreneurial achievements during his freshman year of college at Susquehanna University. During his freshman year there he became the CEO and founder of In-Connect, a social network where entrepreneurs can find resources and other like-minded entrepreneurs.

Soon after the start of In-Connect, Murphy met the CEO of HeliumIQ, Steve Boerner. After realizing their two companies shared many of the same goals and interests, the two entrepreneurs merged their companies. From this merger, not only did Murphy get an exciting new opportunity but also a mentor who became an integral part of his success.

“[Boerner] helped mold my first experience as an entrepreneur, and that’s when I think entrepreneurs are most fragile;if they don’t have a good experience the first time then they are unlikely to continue,” Murphy said.  “He took a chance on me and ever since then he has really helped and advocated for me. Without him I don’t think I would have continued.”

With the help of his new mentor, Murphy followed his passion of finding innovative and seamless ways for entrepreneurs to network, connect and develop their ideas into businesses. This led Murphy to found his second business—all before sophomore year of college—Rize Solutions Inc. This network connects entrepreneurs with service providers.

What does the future look like for Murphy and his partners? They will continue to expand their  businesses, especially into universities and internationally. Now, just as his team advanced their international networks in places like Amsterdam and Israel, Murphy advanced his education by transferring to Davidson College.

Not only was Davidson one of Murphy’s top choices while in high school, but he also believes such a rich ecosystem could help him to expand his business by generating great new ideas.

“By coming to Davidson I am hoping to meet more like-minded people in a rigorous academic environment. With these different passions surrounding me and my experience as an entrepreneur—fingers crossed—I think some pretty awesome things could happen,” Murphy said.

By Lucy Fasano ’21, Resident Storyteller at The Hurt Hub

ermoreauYou’re never too young to found a business (or two).
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Andrew Ashur, Mike Murphy, and Bill May were wrong, and that’s what made them right.

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Like any career, being an entrepreneur has a bit of a learning curve. As new entrepreneurs  become accustomed to their new work and decide on a business plan, making a misstep or two isn’t out of the ordinary. When entrepreneurs face these missteps they have the opportunity to “pivot,” or flip their company in a different direction from what they had originally intended. Three entrepreneurs at The Hurt Hub@Davidson — Andrew Ashur, Mike Murphy and Bill May — shared their stories of when they had to pivot and what they learned.

Andrew Ashur, CEO and co-founder of Lucid Drones— a student-founded company which uses drones to clean buildings. Their pivot was a response to information they were receiving from the market.

“Without getting too far into the weeds of our specific business, we had spent half a year targeting one specific type of customer, only to realize that these individuals did not reap the benefits of what our product/service offers, and the benefits carried over to third-parties.” Ashur said.

This lead Ashur and the rest of the Lucid team to change who they were targeting their business to. Now, their company is working on continuing to grow their business and incorporating what they learned from their pivot into their new business plan.

One of our biggest learning lessons was the need to regularly schedule opportunities to reflect upon the trajectory of the company in order to garner a more profound understanding of whether or not the current course of action will be the most successful.

ProctorFree, a company that provides proctors for online education to prevent cheating, went through a similar process as Lucid. The CEO and co-founder of ProctorFree, Murphy, described its pivot and how — like Lucid — one of its original assumptions failed.

ProctorFree is a company that provides proctors for online education to prevent cheating. Murphy explained, originally, the business didn’t want to integrate with the learning management systems, or softwares which helps school manage their online education, the schools already had in place.

“It only takes the first 90 meetings of people asking ‘Do you integrate?’ to realize that there needs to be a change. The assumption that we made was wrong,” Murphy said.

It’s these early stages  companies should think about the different directions they can take their companies. Murphy says that pivoting is something that most early entrepreneurs should be thinking about,

“If you are pre-revenue, the stakes are lower, pivoting is fine. Those are the times you should be poking holes in your theories and assumptions.”

Bill May, founder of Sweet Relish (a company which helps other businesses book more appointments), also commented on the value of pivoting.

“Some people think pivot is a bad word, however, through the evolution of any company you have to pivot. The secret of pivoting is that you don’t want to do a need jerk pivot. You want to be strategic.”

Sweet Relish went through its pivot early in the establishment of the company. May found his company not only needed to provide the software to achieve its goals but also had to open a call center as clients were having trouble following up fast enough with these new needs.

Ashur, Murphy and May all used these “failed” assumptions to pull their companies in directions that promised more revenue and growth.

One of the ways to have the most productive or strategic pivot is to make sure you’re taking the right information away from the experience. For those who need to pivot, Murphy suggests looking back and asking , “How did we get to this point? Why did we get this wrong? Is it an ineffective management team? Am I lacking expertise?”

By asking the right questions entrepreneurs can be more effective in the future to avoid having  any pivots.

Pivoting can seem very discouraging. For those entrepreneurs thinking they might need to pivot, Ashur has advice.

“As a young entrepreneur, you will face a lot of challenges in the business world, as it is impossible to be in expert from the start in marketing, product development, raising capital, etc. However, with a growth mindset that is grounded in a voracious appetite for learning and a love for working through challenges, the obstacles can seem less daunting.”

By Lucy Fasano ’21, Resident Storyteller at The Hurt Hub.

ermoreauAndrew Ashur, Mike Murphy, and Bill May were wrong, and that’s what made them right.
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The Value of Mentors in Entrepreneurship — Lucid Drone Tech

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Over the past year, Lucid Drone Tech, a student-founded company which uses drone technology to clean commercial skyscrapers, has gained significant attention. Adrian Mayans ‘19, Andrew Ashur ‘18, and David Danielson ‘19 started the company on a futon in one of their dorm rooms.

Danielson originally came up with the idea in response to the precarious current methods of window washing skyscrapers. The company’s goal is to use drone technology to improve industry safety and “relocate those cleaning workers who used to be suspended up in the air to back on the ground.” To achieve this, Lucid has developed drone technology never before designed to clean dirt, mold, and other stains off a variety of building types.

Lucid Drone Tech is currently raising their initial round of funding and building a company portfolio. But how did this idea, drawn up in a dorm room, become a reality? Lucid says they owe it all to their mentors.

In the spring of 2018, Lucid won the 2018 Davidson Venture Fund—a Davidson-run pitch competition that funds aspiring entrepreneurs, open to current Davidson College students and recent alumni,  and provides them with valuable mentors to help them develop their ideas. While Lucid was beyond grateful for the financial investment they received from the college after winning  from the Davidson Venture Fund, they could not stress enough how important the mentors gained from the competition were to their success. “That was honestly the biggest win for us in the competition,” Danielson explains, “We absolutely would not be in the position we are in without them.”

Three of Lucid’s mentors from the Venture Fund now sit on the Lucid Drone Tech Board of Advisors:

Louis ForemanCEO of Enventys Partners

Jim PattersonVP/ GM, Flash Wireless at ACN

Mike MarvinManaging Director at MDM Advisors

Craig Yoder, an independent consultant and former tech executive at Landauer, Inc., was the fourth member of Lucid’s mentor team during last year’s Davidson Venture Fund pitch-competition.

Through dinners at Brickhouse Tavern and late-night phone calls, Lucid and their mentors built a solid relationship that developed the company into what it is today. Lucid’s mentors laid out tasks during the team’s first steps in forming a company, motivated them to improve their ideas, and actively helped make decisions for the betterment of the company. Mayans says, “When we showed up to the Venture Fund, all we had was an idea. They helped us put our idea into a business.”

Lucid’s mentors have also connected the Lucid team to opportunities that are helping  build the company’s portfolio.team By cleaning different buildings and treating different stains, Lucid can show what their drones are made of. Ashur explains that Lucid hopes, “to further prove the efficacy of what our drone system is capable of doing.”

Through the step-by-step guidance of their mentors and their own hard work, Lucid Drone Tech has gained the confidence in their product and expertise in their field to continue pushing forward. Ashur puts it best: “We know this is the future of cleaning, now we just need to get out there.”

Watch our vlog on Lucid Drone Tech, produced by Resident Vlogger @ The Hurt Hub, Jessie Epstein.

By Lucy Fasano ’21, Resident Storyteller at The Hurt Hub.

Julie GoffThe Value of Mentors in Entrepreneurship — Lucid Drone Tech
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Hub Happenings: Episode 10

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Students, time to take advantage of The Hurt Hub@Davidson while you are studying for finals. Checkout how in our 10th and final episode for the semester!

We can’t wait to get back to Hub Happenings starting in January 2019 for the spring semester! Don’t forget to like this video, comment what you would like to see, and subscribe to our YouTube channel so that you never miss a Hub Happenings upload! Thanks for watching. Have an great break!

By Jessie Epstein ’21, Resident Vlogger at The Hurt Hub.

Julie GoffHub Happenings: Episode 10
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