Founding a Successful Startup with Stephanie Hurlburt
Stephanie Hurlburt is the Co-Founder of Binomial and a successful Engineer and Entrepreneur. While she began as a Graphics Engineer at companies like Oculus VR, she discovered a problem and decided to make a business herself to solve it.
I’ve been lucky to get to know Stephanie while in Seattle for the summer. I admire not only her technical and business intellect but her passion for assisting underprivileged communities. One way she grew her Twitter following to over 43,000 was by creating a collective list of people in Tech who were willing to offer mentorship to those in need.
She and her company partner Rich Geldreich created Basis, an image and texture compression product compatible with web applications, video games & streaming services, mapping applications, and more. The product addresses the dilemma current imaging formats present- choosing between storage or speed in terms of CPU and GPU formatting. With JPEG today, encoding to a GPU format at runtime can be very slow and result in lower quality graphics. Additionally, multiplatform games have single GPU format capabilities, for example, PVRTC on iOS, or BC6–7 on high-quality desktops and consoles. Basis, a supercompressed texture is the only GPU product on the market that is multiplatform. This new .basis formatting is generalized to be transcoded for fast GPU formatting because of its block-based nature.
Stephanie bootstrapped Binomial with graphics consulting work, and this gave the company the freedom to create a product outside of a VC’s personal interests. Now the company has big customers like Netflix, which utilizes Basis on its varied pipeline for console and mobile platforms. Currently, Stephanie is working on closing deals with some big name companies as the manager of business relations.
As a Business to Business company owner, Stephanie narrowed down the scope and features of Basis by speaking directly to the customer. Before even starting building a product, she strongly suggests interviewing targeted customers, whether that be Devs, PMs, or Sales. Getting this information early on can save lots of time modifying a product to adjust the needs of the market later on.
One of the risks of bootstrapping is getting permanently sucked into consulting. One of the ways Stephanie avoided this was by requiring financial incentives for prioritizing particular features companies wanted. The product was is in such high demand that other companies essentially financially supported Binomial to build and improve the product along the way.
Binomial gained publicity and popularity because Stephanie established her presence as a speaker about Graphics Engineering early on. Creating a strong network before launching a product is vital to gaining traction and credibility. If you have an idea or passion for a field, start now by writing and talking about it. There are often times local Tech meetups that are eager for speakers.
Finally, although it may seem like an intense work life at a startup creates a faster moving successful company, this is not always the case. Stephanie has been able to find a great work-life balance as an entrepreneur by regulating her own schedule. While she could’ve worked 60 hour weeks to crank out the product faster, the long-term success of the company would have suffered. A bad work-life balance not only burns people out but also damages physical health.
One of her exercises that she had me try was creating a list of what is important in life. This includes values, passions, and career and personal goals. She asked me what I couldn’t live without, and she said she cannot live without being free. Mapping out the things you cannot live without not only helps you discover your true career goals but personal aspirations and how to achieve happiness.
Finally, Stephanie left me with an important piece of advice for me and other students and younger professionals. Never undersell yourself as a Junior Dev. Even if you are just beginning in industry, know your skillset and never underestimate your abilities. This especially applies to women in the industry who are afraid of overselling themselves.
Stephanie is an incredible Engineer and Entrepreneur. She worked with the resources she had and now runs a highly profitable and successful software company. The only way to be like her and other successful founders is to take a risk and build something, it doesn’t matter how old you are or how much experience you have. It’s time to ask yourself, What would you do if you weren’t afraid?