WELD Artist of the Week: Brandon Cotter

Career: Entrepreneur Extraordinaire
Website:  Zencash.com | Blinksale.com
Mantra:  Build products our customers can’t live without. Make a difference while doing it.
Interview by: Kristin Read

Where would you say you fall on the scale of artistry located within WELD’s walls?

ZenCash is a company comprised of very artistic individuals, even though our art might take a different form than most. As a company, we are really passionate about delivering this gorgeous and addictive user experience for our users. We’re building an app that helps small businesses collect payment. You would think of financial apps like that as being ugly, unfriendly, and no fun to use. So we want to stand out in that sea of grey. It’s important to us that we build something compelling that people love to use— something they love enough to talk to others about. That’s critical for us, and that type of passion is something we share with the other WELDers. Being at WELD is like living at the gym for someone who loves fitness. It’s nice to be around so many people who ooze creativity in various ways. We can connect to a lot of the WELDers on an entrepreneurial level. That’s a nice part of being here.

When you were young, what did you think you’d be when you grew up?

In the early days, I didn’t know what my “thing” would be. My first business idea was this pizza place called “Messa-Good” Pizza because it was going to be messy and good. And that was when I was 8 or 9 . . . So, I’ve always had a compulsive, problem-solving brain. Some people would call me a serial entrepreneur, but I would say I’m a chronic entrepreneur. It’s like my disease — I can’t really stop it. I always knew about that part of myself, but I had no idea how it would manifest in my life.

What did you eventually study in college?

I studied film production with a minor in photography. It was funny. At school, I was studying creative stuff, and was writing business plans / starting businesses on the side. Most people did the opposite, and got a business degree while doing the “fun” things on the side, but I did it backwards. During my senior year — so everyone will know how incredibly old I am — I bought the first copy of Macromedia Director for our film department. That was the first significant program allowing us to create multimedia. Pre-web! There was no such thing as web development yet. So my film production and multimedia development eventually led me to the web and everything that I’ve done in that space since.

Are you able to apply the things you studied in college to your trade?

I’d say what I studied in college was a catalyst for my career, but not a direct path. It’s hard to say that I’m applying it since much of what I do now, web and software development, didn’t exist while I was in school. However, the ability to tell a story or impact a user’s behavior has certainly carried over to what I do now.

What was the process that led you to where you are now?

In 2009, we acquired a small business that managed online invoicing services called Blinksale. We heard from many of those customers about the difficulty of getting paid. So we took some of our Blinksale developers and moved them over to work on solving that problem. Then, summer of last year, we split what they developed into its own company called ZenCash. That’s when it took on a life of it’s own.

What can one find you doing on a day-to-day basis?

Well, right now, I do a lot of fundraising for ZenCash. Dallas, as opposed to Austin or Silicon Valley, is a harder place to raise money for tech. So if you walk into my office, I’m usually beating my head against a wall. I also spend time working with Austin on WELD and its expansion.

If you were to hide from the madness of the day-to-day, where might one find you?

You’d find me wake surfing on a lake with my wife and kids. 

What is your favorite thing about your job right now?

I really love the process of bringing products to life. For example, we’re starting work on our iOS app right now and we’ve been thinking through big questions — mapping out an interface, brainstorming, and doing lots of white boarding. It goes on like that for days and days . . . I love every bit of that process of creating, building, and thinking through how we can make somebody’s life better. We take on these challenges that sound boring—like HR or receivables management. You wonder, “who would want to do that?” But look at it this way, when an agency is passionate about doing great work for its clients but the clients don’t pay, its totally defeating and kills your growth. I love that it’s a big deal for businesses, and a problem we can solve.

Would you have ever dreamt when you were younger (holding sweet baby Austin), that he would grow up to create all this? What types of businesses led you here?

I started a web development company in ‘96, and a Christian music site called Music Force in ‘98. I sold both of those companies soon after starting them. I also started an iOS type of business in 2000. We raised $15 million for that and lost all of it . . . So, in addition to making money and selling companies, I have the experience of losing money and know what that’s like. I’ve also run a number of different organizations/projects — a family foundation, and three different non-profit deals. Along with being on the boards of a few non-profit and some other web development projects, it’s a big blend of things.

If you could sum up Brandon Cotter in three words, what would they be?

Passionate, Builder, Work-in-progress

Doug Klembara