Austin is a hotbed for startups, and not only when out-of-towners flood the city for SXSW. And if there’s one thing local leaders know, it’s that running a flourishing business requires more than just a great product idea — you also need tech skills to promote your company, connect with customers, make data-driven decisions, and more.
At General Assembly, we train entrepreneurs in skills like product management, user experience design, marketing, data, and web development, so they can take control of their vision and launch products people love. We also foster a community of thinkers and creators, providing opportunities to connect, share ideas, and learn from one another’s vast experiences. From June 5-8, we’re hosting Made in Austin Week, a celebration of the city’s best and brightest packed with workshops and panels about innovators in the outdoors space, art and design, food and drink, and music.
Read on to find out how three up-and-coming lifestyle and design brands — all of whom are part of our exciting events lineup — are leveraging technology to stand out from the pack.
The outdoor-gear company Kammok harnesses technology to inspire greater connection in the seemingly least connected of places: nature. Kammok’s technical camping equipment comes from extensive user research and product development, resulting in high-performance gear like hammocks that support 500 pounds and are armed against rips and tears.
“Technology is a means of designing technical gear to connect us with the outdoors, and also connecting us as individuals,” says CEO Haley Robison. To foster brand awareness and consumer relations, the team at Kammok leverages traditional and digital marketing tools. “There are so many outlets to connect with our audience — from social media, to live-streaming videos from inside the office, to picking up the phone and calling a customer to thank them for their order,” Robison says.
Kammok’s goals stretch beyond its bottom line: The company is a certified B corp — which means it’s required to meet rigorous standards in social and environmental performance. To this end, each year it invests 1% of its revenue to Kammok’s Give Adventure program, which grants outdoor adventure and mentorship to youth in the Austin area through Explore Austin.
For budding entrepreneurs, Robison says it’s essential to always remember the “why” of what you’re doing, and to find creative ways to execute on it. “Entrepreneurship isn’t for the faint of heart, and there are days it can be all too easy to throw your hands up and say, ‘Why the heck did I think this was a good idea again?!’ she says. “But for me, when I step back, listen to a customer story about being present with their kids outside again or engaging in community around a campfire, I remember to keep putting one foot in front of the other.”
For guitar players looking for a personalized instrument-buying experience, Moniker Guitars empowers users to custom-design their own gear through the brand’s website. The company looked to UX principles to create an intuitive, user-friendly interface that “allows our customers to see exactly what the finished instrument will look like and allows them to have fun with color and design,” says owner and founder Kevin Tully.
Moniker relies on the interactive nature of social media to market its instruments. “I'm not sure our business would have gotten started if it wasn't for social media.” Tully says. He notes that video is also key for the company, since selling guitars has such a strong audio and visual component. When it comes to the guitar production process, the company harnesses data — essential when creating such a customized product. “We have database tools that store the order details and generate reports that allow our team to produce a custom product in a cost and time efficient manner,” Tully says. “We also have tools like CNC machines — computer-driven routers — and UV-cured finishes that aid the manufacturing process.”
Running a business that relies on top tech talent for success has its rewards…and its challenges, which for Moniker means running into the skills gap that lies at the heart of GA’s mission. Tully says the company sometimes struggles to find reliable and skilled part-time tech specialists to work on one-off projects. “We often have ideas for tech improvements that are short-term projects and don't require a full-time employee so we look to hire someone with expertise to come in and help us,” he says.
Twyla is shaking up the art industry by making contemporary art more accessible to everyday people, and giving artists a platform to reach a wider audience. The company sells carefully curated, limited-edition art prints created with in-house technology that scans original artwork at a higher quality than the industry standard. “For our customers, that means they can own a fine art print that retains all the intricate details of the original for a fraction of the price,” says CTO Douglas Ferguson. “Our scanning and unique post-scanning process enable us to also transform 3-D and highly textured works into 2-D masterpieces.”
Rather than use an existing eCommerce outlet, the company developed its own platform to manage processes like artist onboarding, storage of print-ready files, accounting, and customer relationship management (CRM). “This custom platform leverages external tools such as Stripe, EasyPost, and Zendesk, while we concentrate on supporting our core business,” Ferguson says. “We can quickly adjust to changing business needs without being held back by the limitations of a third-party system.”
Twyla’s in-house tools are also essential to the company’s B2B component that services interior designers, architects, and developers. “We’re rolling out a suite of online tools to make it easy for designers to source quality art for their clients,” Ferguson says. “Twyla’s Project Boards enable designers to organize and share art selections with their clients, while the comment feature lets clients give designers direct feedback on selections.”
The company’s biggest challenge to date? Creating that in-house system in less than 18 months, while simultaneously running the business on it. Ferguson says, “We tackled the challenge by aggressively prioritizing and using a micro-services architecture that keeps us nimble and adaptable.”
Photo via Shutterstock
Join us at Made in Austin Week for expert-led panels and thought-provoking discussions about the city’s booming tech scene. To learn how to pursue your entrepreneurial goals and leverage tech in your own career, visit General Assembly’s Austin campus for courses and workshops in business, web development, design, data, marketing, and more.