I have always been an entrepreneur, and I have always loved technology. I had my first “business” in elementary (no, not lemonade — I sold wood carvings). I learned BASIC in 5th grade, then C++ and Java in junior high. I wrote and sold small programs throughout junior high and high school. I took Java classes in high school and developed my AFJROTC website. Then some C++ classes in college. I’ve only had one “real” job (actual employee), where I was a software developer.
When I resigned from my job to focus on finishing school, I made heavy use of DreamSpark to learn outside of class. Given the power of Visual Studio Professional for free was amazing and allowed me to work on the project that, to this day, I’m most proud of.
I’ve always loved video games. One of my favorites is World of Warcraft, where I had a large guild. We had multiple nights a week where we would get on voice chat and play together (raiding dungeons!). One of our group members had no use of his legs and very limited use of one hand. His girlfriend would use the keyboard and mouse to play, while he would talk to us in voice chat while telling her what to do. One day some of us were in voice chat just hanging out. I was waiting for the next semester to start and asked if anyone had any ideas for a project. My guild mate jokingly said to make a program that would enable him to play while his girlfriend was at work.
I didn’t have the foggiest idea how to make such a thing, or if it was even possible. So obviously I said yes, I’d do it! My friend said he was joking, but I knew the need was real. I researched hard and came up with ideas. Windows has speech recognition built in and it’s accessible via C#. It’s also possible to send keystrokes and mouse clicks to a window. After learning how to do the hard parts, the rest of the prototype was easy to piece together as a console application. I will never forget when I gave him the first version to try. Although limited in capabilities, it worked — he could cast spells in the game to kill his enemies without help from another person. He broke down in tears. That’s when I started planning out how to expand it to do even more for him.
3-Day Startup events seemed interesting. There were a mix of business and tech people, all students, with a limited number able to participate. Everyone was broken into groups to come up with ideas and then as a larger group we voted on which to work on that weekend. Somehow my speech recognition idea was picked, and before I knew it, I had a team of 6 discussing what I’ve done and how to push it further. I brought my desktop with three monitors and the work began!
Saturday was crazy! We had mentors coming and going that challenged everything and offered ideas and advice. We had to go out and validate the need, research competition, and put together a pitch. We made a Twitter, YouTube, and a quick website. We posted a questionnaire on the official World of Warcraft forums and other places online. Surprisingly, we ended up with over 3,000 responses. The problem and need for our solution were much larger than we thought! Saturday night we had to do practice pitches with some of the real judges, whose feedback destroyed everyone’s pitches and ideas.
Sunday morning, I was still awake and working on getting everything ready for the final pitch. While revising the slide deck based on feedback notes from the night before, one of the judges walked in. He loved how emotional our project was and wanted to help redo our pitch. Another mentor came to our room and said he talked to Microsoft, who wanted to offer BizSpark to us. BizSpark gave us five Visual Studio Enterprise and $150/month in Azure credits for three years.