Learn about Florida Entrepreneur Frank Valcarcel and Emily Morehouse-Valcarcel:
The Cuttlefish can replicate the texture of nearby coral and also has the ability to change its skin color to match its surroundings," Frank said. "It's also color blind!" Did you know this? Neither did we, but it's interesting, it captures your attention and you're left wanting to know more. That's exactly how we felt when we interviewed Frank Valcarcel and Emily Morehouse-Valcarcel, Founders of Cuttlesoft. Their passion is real and authentic and their journey from idea to a two-location creative product development agency that puts its employees first, while maintaining a focus on diversity and inclusion, is truly inspirational. You're left wanting to know what's next for this dynamic duo.
Today, Frank and Emily operate out of their downtown Denver office, but Cuttlesoft has its humble roots in Tallahassee. Frank took us back to the beginning, "I first met Emily in a programming languages course in 2013," he said. "I totally would have failed without her help. She's the smart one in this relationship."
Fast forward to October 2014 when the idea to launch Cuttlesoft came to fruition. "It was my last semester in Computer Science at FSU," Frank said. "I was working for a FinTech startup out of New Jersey. Emily was in her first semester of graduate school." Emily jumped in, "I finished my undergrad that summer in Theater, Computer Science and Criminology and I wasn't sure about my next step. That Fall, when I started graduate school in Computer Science, it felt like undergrad all over again. I really wasn't feeling it. I got job offers from tech companies in San Francisco and Boston. I strongly considered moving, but ultimately decided to leave grad school and to pursue our own idea. Frank stuck with his day job for six months before committing his full attention to Cuttlesoft. We got involved in our local incubator and as time went on, we learned that people would pay us for the fun projects we were doing."
Those fun projects include mobile applications, web applications, RESTful API Design, Systems Architecture Consulting, Interface Design and Software Prototyping, just to name a few. Business is conducted out of two offices. Their main office in Tallahassee employs four people with more in the works for this summer. Their Colorado office currently has one other employee, besides Frank and Emily, but had up to six at one point.
The bold decision to expand to Colorado was driven by market conditions, human capital and an opportunity to experience something different. Frank explained, "We were approaching year two and we were happy with what we had accomplished in Tallahassee. Unlike some other firms in town that focus on the public sector, our niche is the private sector. We worked with a lot of early stage companies and even had some big enterprise-level software jobs with large companies, but we felt like we hit our ceiling in terms of what we could do in the Tallahassee market. At the same time, we started to gain clients outside of Florida." Emily jumped in and explained how they selected Denver, "We looked at favorable metrics and amenities that certain geographic locations would give us. It was down to a handful of cities and then eventually Denver and Raleigh. We visited Denver in March 2016 and completely fell in love with it. Six months later, we moved out there."
According to Frank and Emily, the Denver job market is very different than Tallahassee. Even though Denver is more open to collaboration and the sharing of ideas, Frank and Emily find themselves competing for talented employees more so than competing for clients. "We didn't move out to Denver to get Denver clients," Frank said. "We wanted a westward footprint and access to a deeper talent pool. Regardless, hiring is tough. Now that we've grown, bad hiring decisions have a stronger effect." A big reason why Frank and Emily don't find themselves competing for clients is because the nature of their services allows them to go after clients anywhere in the world. The opportunities are endless. They also do a great job of differentiating themselves from other agencies.
"We're very product focused and user-centric," Emily said. "We've created some fundamental policies and values, most important of which is empathy. To build great digital products you need to be empathetic to the user and put that before process, board members, etc. No matter what problem we're trying to solve, we put that first. We're not just a software company, we're a digital products development company and that shifts the focus to the users." Frank added, "People still use us to pump out code, especially for a specialty need they can't find in house, but our best relationships now are where we're product owners in addition to software engineers. Clients will come to us for our expertise in implementation processes or testing before they roll something out to their user base. We even assist some clients with setting pricing guidelines."
Frank and Emily also believe in transparency and seeing their employees as valuable team members and not just coders. "If you're an engineer with Cuttlesoft, you can work in different languages and different frameworks," Emily said. "You get to see how projects are developed and maintained. For me, this represents the 'why' as to why employees stick with Cuttlesoft when times get tough. Everyone is part of the process. I value being able to have a huge impact on the daily lives of people and I believe that culture comes from the top down."
As Frank and Emily look to the future, an additional location is already in the works. They anticipate opening a third office somewhere in the Southeast during Q3 or Q4 of 2018. They also look to expand the reach and the impact of their podcast. Startup Capital, based out of Tallahassee, has partnered with WFSU and The Democrat to focus on spotlighting North Florida's startup and tech community. Episodes can be accessed through the Cuttlesoft website or through the NPR1 Podcast App.
Frank and Emily both offer up some great advice for aspiring entrepreneurs. "Start now," Frank said. "If you can't find time after work hours or on the weekends, then you'll probably never find time to do it. Identify who your champions are. This includes attorneys, accountants and other 'force multipliers' that can act as business mentors and champion your efforts. Emily added, "I echo those thoughts. Finding mentors and a support system is very important. Also, do your homework. People don't realize that when you start a business doing what you love you don't always get to just do what you love. There are other things like bookkeeping, accounting and taxes that are essential to the success of your business." The pair recommends the book E-Myth by Michael Gerber and Masters of Scale, a podcast out of Silicon Valley that exams how tech leaders scale in ingenious ways.
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