A commercial litigation attorney turned software founder is getting her mobile app off the ground thanks to outsourcing development, leveraging interns, and bootstrapping strategically.
Rita Ting-Hopper spent 20+ years as a lawyer before she founded a software company. She can laugh at the fact that she’s a very unlikely tech founder. It’s not like she spent time coding in between cases, and her background is in commercial litigation, not in marketing or business development. The resourcefulness Ting-Hopper honed throughout her legal career has served her well as a founder. Getting her company off the ground has required the same tenacity and imagination it takes to win a court case.
INTERNS & OUTSOURCING
The idea for Festi, a mobile app that facilitates creating, booking, and paying for private events, was one she spent years waiting for someone else to develop. Ting-Hopper is a third-generation entrepreneur. She spent plenty of hours seeking advice from other founders and devouring material online about founding a company. Ting-Hopper is a beneficiary of software’s increasingly lower barrier to entry, but founding a company isn’t easy just because hosting fees have dropped and growth hacking playbooks are readily available. She had to get creative to come up with the manpower needed to get Festi’s MVP off the ground.
Multiple custom development shops in the U.S. submitted cost-prohibitive bids for a self-funded startup like Festi. Ting-Hopper realized the contractor she selected actually outsourced a good chunk of its development overseas to India. She quickly made the switch to working directly with the team in India, and has been working with five developers there ever since. The cost savings were worth the extra time and effort needed to communicate her vision to an offshore team.
She also looked to local universities for help. Ting-Hopper leveraged this readily available talent via a consumer behavior class at Georgetown University, a program at the University of Maryland designed to consult with local businesses, and interns from George Mason University. It’s a win-win, since students are getting hands-on experience on top of earning class credit and building their resumes. Hopper says, “From the students’ standpoints, they learn about challenges real companies face in today’s market instead of reading about it in a textbook.”
FRESH EYES ON THE TECH WORLD
Once the MVP was ready, Ting-Hopper started seeing early traction without investing a single marketing dollar. Early adoption came from word of mouth and rounding up beta testers in the District of Columbia metro area. Festi also picked up a few headlines when Ting-Hopper was invited by Arlington Economic Development to present at the 2018 Collision Conference. The average number of users and total events booked on the platform has increased month over month since launch.
Despite the steady user growth, Ting-Hopper knows the deck is stacked against her if she wants to seek venture funding. It’s not just because less than 2 percent of VC dollars went to female founders in 2017; it’s also because the success of raising money largely depends on who you know. In Ting-Hopper’s case, her network was built in the legal world, a far cry from tech circles. In her eyes, the traditional method of raising capital is a broken structure. “I had VCs tell me, ‘Contact me when you need a million dollars,’” Ting-Hopper says. “There is something illogical about this system. Sure, companies can take that million-plus dollars and blow through it, but I can get to the next milestone with less money and be more fiscally responsible.”
For now, Ting-Hopper is more excited about the $300 million event market she is trying to disrupt than she is about finding funding. As of June 2018, she was in discussions with tech companies and other individuals for them to work on Festi for deferred payment upon funding in the future. Her road to running a profitable software platform might be long, but it’s a realistic journey for many early-stage companies.
Users: 700+ Headquarters: Arlington, VA Year Founded: 2016
Honors/Awards: 2018: One of 5 startups chosen by Arlington Economic Development (AED) to present at the 2018 Collision Conference in New Orleans 2018: Will be featured in an upcoming documentary about tech startups