by: Megan McPherson
This past November, Fearless Founder alumni Aaron Pludwinski ’16 and his co-founder Derien Scott ’17 launched Kanvasroom, a cloud-based communication tool that’s optimized for digital media creatives. The idea for Kanvasroom took shape three years ago while the founders were exploring their own creative pursuits—Aaron in video post-production and Derien in music production—and realized a niche for a website where creatives from around the world could come together and collaborate on projects. Rather than looking to replace existing tools such as Adobe Creative Suite, Skype, Paypal or Basecamp, they envisioned a website where many of the most basic needs these applications provide could exist in one space. The result would maximize efficiency and improve communication, leaving more time and energy for content creation. Eager to act on their idea, they joined the Spring 2015 cohort of Idea Shell, ultimately moving through Fearless Founders on to Hatch in Spring 2016 until Aaron graduated and moved back to his hometown of Miami.
From the moment he graduated, Aaron has been singularly focused on gathering customer feedback to make Kanvasroom the best product it can be. At commencement, he hustled his way backstage to pitch Kanvasroom to UMD alumnus and keynote speaker Marc Greenberg, the Vice President of Finance and Strategy for Pixar Animation Studios. Before getting kicked out by staff, Aaron was able to take a selfie with Marc, who seemed intrigued by the idea. Later, Aaron found his contact information on LinkedIn and sent an email with the selfie attached. Before long, he was invited to the studio to meet with Marc as well as animator Bobby Podesta. The experience proved invaluable to Aaron’s vision for Kanvasroom: “I always say you can get advice from anyone—even the mailman can give you advice on how to make your product better—but you should get valuable advice from the people leading the industry.”
Though Marc remains an informal advisor, through a lot of cold-emailing and persistence, Aaron was able to attract some impressive beta-testers, including an Adobe Community Professional as an official advisor to Kanvasroom. An Adobe Community Professional is a licensed beta-tester for Adobe products, and acts as a voice in the broader creative community. Earning such a contact has allowed Aaron and his team to gain a “global perspective” on where to take the product. The Kanvasroom team itself is global as well. After receiving a mountain of customer feedback post-launch, they expanded their main team, based in Florida, to include members hailing from Maryland to Oregon to Mexico City. To maintain effective communication remotely, they use Kanvasroom themselves. “It wouldn’t be right if we didn’t use our own product to try to make
what we’re trying to make,” said Aaron.
Currently, Kanvasroom is working to incorporate the feedback they received from beta-testers to further improve the functionality of their platform. The beta-testers are using the site to coordinate on a wide variety of projects, such as TV pilots, marketing and advertising campaigns, and an animation script. Each of these customers has specific needs they would like addressed, and Aaron and his team feel it is fundamental that Kanvasroom continues to iterate to be receptive to those needs.
“We have to be responsive to our market. We asked all these people for feedback and they were very generous and gave us a lot of feedback. So we have to give them some ownership of their insight and actually implement what they want.”
Aaron and Kanvasroom’s strategy for early growth is driven by a focus on creating a positive relationship with early adopters. Their team strives to “[treat] early adopters like they’re family,” which has involved not just implementing their feedback but promoting their work and traveling to meet them. By putting in this time and effort toward developing a strong sense of community, Aaron theorizes that the product will scale itself naturally as users retain their brand loyalty and recommend the product to peers.
Kanvasroom’s inclusive approach to handling user interactions extends to its overall work culture as well, with an emphasis on “treating [their] team like family, not like they’re below you.” Aaron went on to explain:
“We have a philosophy at the company…whenever we bring someone on the team we always make it clear that we’re not above them. The only reason we bring someone on the team is because they can do something we can’t, and they add some value and we can learn from them.”
As a relatively young entrepreneur, Aaron has amassed a mature level of knowledge about the process of creating and building a startup. Here are seven lessons he’s learned that may prove useful to aspiring entrepreneurs and Fearless Founders:
- “First, see why you’re really doing this. Are you interested in entrepreneurship because you want to make money, or are you trying to solve a problem?”
- “Don’t be afraid to share your idea.” Customer discovery is key to early stages of creating a startup, so don’t be afraid to tell people about your product. No one is going to steal your idea—it’s too much work!
- “Don’t think you really need money to do this.” Aaron and Derien were apparently “broke” when they started Kanvasroom, but through developing their idea were able to gather funds and support from the Dingman Center and other channels.
- “Being a young entrepreneur…you can email someone at a Fortune 500 company and say, ‘Hey, I’m a young kid and I’m looking for advice,’ and you might have to send out 50 of those emails, but the fact that you can get 5 replies and get on a phone call for maybe even 5 minutes, which could be your shot, is something that you get being a young entrepreneur. You should not let that opportunity go to waste.”
- “Find a good mentor, someone who can really guide you.”
Aaron has put each of these lessons into action to create a promising trajectory for Kanvasroom’s growth. We look forward to see what’s next.