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Exclusive interview with Tampa tech start-up founder Justin Davis of Drawer app

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For April's tech startup interview, we have Drawer app founder Justin Davis. The Drawer app is a cool little app that lets you share your favorite venues with your friends as well as keep track of places you want to check out.

Jon: How did you get started in this industry? Tell us a bit about yourself.

Justin: Growing up, I was always interested in technology. I went to school for audio engineering to be a record producer, but quickly changed my mind (I wasn't crazy about the idea of being in a studio at 2 a.m. with a pile of cocaine next to me). I later got a digital media degree. I worked for the United Methodist Church for 4 years, doing web production and user experience design work. During my time there, my boss really brought me up into being a serious technologist. I left that job to start my own user experience design company (Madera Labs), spent a few years teaching myself to build full web applications, and ended up here today. I still run Madera while building out Drawer.

Jon: What benefit do people have with using your service vs the current alternatives, if any?

Justin: As opposed to review sites like Yelp, Urbanspoon and Tripadvisor, Drawer is all about personal curation and connection. We allow people to put together curated ists of places they want to try, as well as places they want to share with others. It's much more an evangelism platform in that way. Also, everything on Drawer is positive. Because the places that people add to their drawers are the places they're interested in or recommend, it naturally gets rid of the "bullhorns" problem of review sites (where most things end up with one or five stars).

We're trying to help people get back to discovering places in the way that matters the most: between friends and family.

Jon: Why Tampa Bay?

Justin: I moved from Nashville to Tampa because it's such an incredible place to live, and I've never been happier. From a quality of life standpoint, you can't beat this place. Tampa has such amazing diversity, there's always something to do and incredible experiences to be had. Plus, you can't beat the weather and scenery.

(I'll be honest, I'm a total Tampa Bay fanboy). Our tech scene here is growing incredibly fast, and the community is becoming more and more knit together. With successes like Wikipedia and Wufoo, we also have a past that includes some inspiring examples of excellent technology venues.

Jon: What has been the most difficult challenge thus far?

Justin: I think the most difficult challenge thus far has been making sure we're developing a sustainable business model around the startup. We're not funded, so resources are critical at this stage. With our app and service completely free for consumers, it places a lot of pressure and importance on making sure we can monetize the product in order to fuel growth. That product development challenge has been our most consistently challenging piece.

Jon: Tell me a little more about how you financed this start-up? Bootstrapped it? VC?

Justin: We're currently completely bootstrapped. I made sure that I had the technical skills to bring the product to market to minimize the amount of financial resources we'd need to develop the product. So far, so good.

Jon: What are you doing to gain exposure?

Justin: We have a couple strategies for this. We're aligning ourselves with events that are in our sector (travel, dining, entertainment), where we feel like we'll get the biggest bang out of marketing dollars we spend. Additionally, we're developing a brand strategy where we partner with travel- and entertainment-related brands to provide them with a fan engagement platform, which gives us access to their channel and audience.

Jon: Where do you see your company a few years down the road?

Justin: In a few years, we'd like to be a viable and competitive alternative to traditional review sites. I think we have a chance at introducing a new way for people to socially interact online, by having conversations and connecting around the places they love. We'd like to be the catalyst in that.

Jon: For aspiring entrepreneurs or those in the same boat as you, do you have any words of advice?

Justin: My biggest words of advice are to rely on yourself to get things done. I know many, many entrepreneurs who are never able to ship product because of excuses. Whether it's not having enough funding, not having the technical skills, or something else, these folks never get off the launchpad. Do whatever it takes to get your product out in front of people as quickly as possible, and as cheaply as possible. If that means sitting up until midnight learning how to build the thing, that's what it takes. Also, never underestimate just how dirty this stuff is. We see articles online and folks in the news that make entrepreneurship look like a glamorous, red-carpet affair. The truth is, it's a messy, dirty, thankless job for a long time - be OK with rolling up your sleeves and doing anything it takes to get something out the door.

Jon: Awesome advice, Justin. I'm sure readers will have gained a thing or two from this Q&A - I know I did. It's not easy being an entrepreneur, but when you have a solution to a common problem, it's harder to just stand by and do nothing. Thanks for your time and good luck with Drawer!

Tampa Bay's IT Examiner

-Jonathan Tavarez

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