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Joe Armstrong

What is your official title?

I am the Co-founder of Startup Zoo with Carl Brown and Ryan Goins, and the VP of Technology at 8to18 Media.


What’s an average day in the ‘Zoo look like for you?

I usually wake up whenever I wake up, I don’t like to use an alarm. Then I always make a fresh pot of coffee – I’m a bit of a coffee snob. After that I check tech news and get to work. I often have a few web meetings in depending where I’m at. I get my tech news from a bunch of blog feeds; I was a huge Google Reader guy until they canceled it.


What is your background?

I went to school at Western and got my Computer Science degree, and by my junior year I started doing all of the IT work for Western’s Athletic Department. I ended up staying on and did the same thing as a grad assistant and got my MBA as well. I did tech support for the coaches and athletic staff, and maintained all of the video systems and event support for about four and a half years.


Tell us about the business you started, Sportech Labs.

I started Sportech Labs when I was in grad school; it’s an inventory management system for athletic organizations. Being in the athletic department I saw a need for this, and what I saw out in the market as far as competitive products just wasn’t cutting it. The products weren’t doing what these collegiate programs needed them to do. I built the first working product and launched it three years ago in June.

Last year, we started talking with 8to18, which is software for all of the extracurricular activities that are run at a high school level, and they officially acquired Sportech Labs a few months ago. We’re still running that system within their company and have several Division I colleges that work with us. The transition’s been pretty smooth; we’ve integrated into the company and figured out our roles and the new responsibilities that come along with it.


Are there any upcoming events that you’re particularly excited about?

We’ve been talking about doing a new event for Startup Zoo that we can hopefully get on the books soon. We want to do a showcase for a few local startups or well-developed ideas and help share them within the community.


What do you love most about Kalamazoo?

I love the summer in Kalamazoo. I love going to every single festival; if I can, I go get lunch there every day the festival’s running. I’m a big beer guy, so I also love every single one of the new breweries that are opening up. I’m pumped for Arcadia to open soon.


What can be done to improve our beloved Kalamazoo?

I’d love to see more people getting their ideas out there and starting companies. There are a lot of idea people, but it’d be great to see more “doers” out there getting things moving.


What have you been jammin’ to recently? What’s on the iPod?

I listen to everything except country; I live on Spotify. Lately it’s been a lot of indie folk, and a lot of electronic music because of Ryan Goins’ fiancé; she got us all really into it.


How do you take your coffee?…or do you?

Always black. I literally have every kind of coffee maker and grinder. I go super hard core and weigh out the beans and everything. I usually go between Waterstreet when it’s freshly roasted and I really love Intelligentsia when I’m in Chicago. Every now and then I’ll order a few online.


What is your favorite app to use?

Spotify and Evernote are my favorites.


When you were a kid, what did you want to be when you grew up?

I wanted to build stuff. I never thought that I’d be outside of engineer or design school. My dad’s an engineer, a bunch of my uncles are engineers and programmers so it made sense. They gave me all of these cool toys when I was young and I just created. I was a rock climber for awhile, and when I was 13 I built a climbing wall in my backyard; made my own hand holds and everything.


If you could bring any national or international event to Kalamazoo, infrastructure aside, what would it be?

Something like the new version of South by Southwest Interactive that they did in Vegas would be cool. The music and the venues have the perfect mix of something we could do here as well.


What has been one of your biggest learning moments?

I think it was the inflection point we had last October. We were either going to raise seed capital to keep the company going or sell the company. We debated about that for weeks on what would be the best way to go about it. It was difficult; we walked away from the deal once. At the time, it felt like the right choice, but we continued to discuss it and came back around and decided that the acquisition was the best choice.


If you could give a piece of advice to your younger self, what would it be?

It’d probably be to start writing software earlier. I didn’t start programming until college; looking back I wish I would’ve gotten that going sooner and start building sooner.


If you could have one cup of coffee and one beer for the rest of your life, what would they be?

Waterstreet’s Kenyan AA and Bell’s Two Hearted.


What advice could you give to those people who wanted to start coding?

I think nowadays it’s so much easier to find the resources to start coding, there are programs out there like Treehouse that walk you step by step through things like building your own app, that can get you started at a basic level, and it doesn’t matter what age you are. It was a big deal back when I was younger to be able to find the tools you needed to learn how to program at a basic level; it’s nice that the types of resources needed to get you started exist.


What is one of your favorite books you’ve recently read?

The Hard Things about Hard Things by Ben Horowitz. It’s great. Essentially, it’s telling you that when you start a business, or when you go to work, or when you’re doing something you love, it’s not going to be easy – it’s going to be hard and it’s going to suck, but you’ve got to keep going.


Joe, thank you for taking the time to meet with us and sharing your thoughts! Keep up with Joe on twitter if you dare. Also, be sure to follow us on facebook and twitter for updates.