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Inside the World of CROOW — Behind the Scenes of a Startup

October 26, 2020

During his 10-year leadership tenure since founding digital marketing agency Sparxoo in 2010, local Tampa Bay entrepreneur David Capece has built a team with a track record of success. In that time, the Sparxoo team has grown significantly, earning the distinctions of Inc. 5000 in 2017 and 2018, along with Tampa Bay Business Journal Fast 50 in 2018. Sparxoo is currently a finalist for Small Business of the Year, and is making a name for itself with market-leading creative digital capabilities.

Amidst Sparxoo’s growth, David recognized that one of his strengths was innovation. He also saw a problem in the market where creative collaboration within the agency and across clients was inefficient. Now, David is at it again, establishing CROOW, a creative project management software that has been operating in stealth mode over the past year. CROOW was recently named one of the 50 most innovative trailblazers in Tampa Bay.

Because David has historically led digital teams, development teams, and product teams, he was able to use his resources to embark on this project. “I set up CROOW in stealth mode,” David says. “Internally, I shared that I was going to work on a product initiative around creative product collaboration, and that I was going to pull a few team members. We agreed not to say much about the goal or anything at first, and that we’d report back in six months. In that six months, we got to our minimum viable product (mvp).” At the product MVP stage, David and his team shared CROOW with the rest of the Sparxoo team, collected feedback, and converted the app to an alpha product followed by a beta. Today, CROOW is fully active, and still being improved through updates based on user feedback.

How different is it leading a software company compared with a digital marketing agency? While the innovation and leadership translate, David says there have naturally been differences. “As the leader of an agency, you are leading services and teams and thought capital,” he says. “The biggest difference on a product like CROOW is that it’s really about the product and the software, and solving a problem in the market in a scalable way.”

The challenges associated with founding a startup are myriad, but David says CROOW’s biggest can be boiled down to two categories. “The first set of challenges came with starting from scratch,” he says. “Anytime you start anything from scratch, it’s a bigger journey and lift than you expect. We had to have a bootstrap, lean startup mentality while working within an established company.” So when you’re pulling another late night, preparing to pitch for a new round of funding, how do you stay motivated? “For that, you really have to have a passion for innovation,” David says. “You also have to have others around you who are great in the face of ambiguity, and willing to embrace the adventure.”

The other challenge David says CROOW faced was with user adoption. “Getting some initial traction was difficult,” he says. “We had to recognize that the initial product was simply an MVP, so sharing it with others was a leap of faith — especially from a Sparxoo perspective, where we were used to only bringing award winning work product to market.” Again, this was a challenge that turned out to be surmountable, with a little help from some friends. “I leaned on friends and relationships where I knew that they would understand that we were early, and they would be willing to give the feedback straightforwardly to me without sugar coating it,” David says. “It was important for there to be that sense of trust where they could give direct feedback, because it’d be the only way we could make CROOW better.”

And CROOW continues to get better. The latest update, for example, was to incorporate an image gallery directly into the tool. “As part of our creative collaboration, we’ve identified where there is a breakdown in creative projects between the systems and processes that creatives are using compared with where the project managers are,” David says. “One of those is during the stock photography selection process, which we are addressing through CROOWStock, a cutting-edge stock photo library with the highest quality images.”

David cites this continued transformation of CROOW as the startup’s biggest win to date. “The product is really great now, and has only gotten there through teamwork, creativity, and hard work,” he says. “We really couldn’t have improved without Sparxoo, Sparxoo Studios, and our alpha, beta, and pilot users. They’ve all been so giving of their time to help give the feedback to make it great.”

With project management application Asana recently going public, and other project management-focused apps making waves in businesses globally, David says he welcomes the competition. “The project management market is big, but manageable,” he says. “Asana is a $3.7 billion dollar company. They just recently went public, so while there’s a big opportunity and there are big players, CROOW has a fresh perspective. While Asana and many other products out there have varying degrees of strength in project management, with CROOW, we are almost inventing a whole new category, bridging the gap between project management and creative collaboration.”

Indeed, David feels CROOW’s biggest strength comes from addressing the entire creative collaboration process, from start to finish. “On the project management side of things, we’ve simplified and streamlined the process with typical workspaces, projects, and to-do’s, but we’ve also brought it full circle with requests to start a project, and approvals to get you to the end of a creative project.”

As a proud member of the Tampa Bay tech scene, David can remember a time before the startup boom. “In 2010, when Sparxoo joined the scene in Tampa Bay, there really wasn’t much of a tech scene, and Sparxoo was one of the only digital agencies at the time,” he says. “The great thing is, now there is a tech scene. There are tech leaders, there’s investment capital — the tech ecosystem in Tampa Bay has really blossomed, and it’s really exciting to be part of it.”

So if you’re thinking of jumping into the deep-end of tech startups, what do you need to do to find success? David recommends that you combine realism with idealism. “It’s fun, it’s exciting, there’s a lot of innovation — the possibilities are endless,”  he says. “But don’t underestimate the time, resources, and hard work it will take to get to something amazing. Recognize that so many will have to contribute along the way, so be appreciative of everyone who takes the time to help.”

David has big plans for the future. “The hope is we make millions of people enjoy creative collaboration, and in the process, get their projects done more efficiently with less painful rounds of revisions.” David invites you to reach out to learn more about CROOW.


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This post was written by Elevate, Inc.

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