An exclusive Tech Tribune Q&A with Dan Antonelli, the founder of ImaginationSpring, which was honored in our:
Tell us the origin story of ImaginationSpring – what problem were you trying to solve and why?
The origin of ImaginWOW goes back all the way to the 1990s when I was a Youth Counselor at the AE Finley YMCA in Raleigh, NC. One afternoon, our schedule was interrupted when lighting struck outside and forced the pool to be shutdown for 2 hours. I was challenged to come up with an activity very quickly with only a room, some markers, and paper. For some reason, I started to tell a story and at different intervals, I would instruct the kids to draw a scene from the story. We timed it and made it a game. Ever since then, I realized I had figured out a way to spark the imagination and initiate creativity.
The cool thing about that day was that even the children who weren’t typically creative responded really well to the activity. I explained the activity to my good friend John Fox and we both decided that we could use the principles of that activity to create an engaging, rewarding, and fun app for kids. We believe that children are being mesmerized and becoming addicted to the technology of today. At ImaginationSpring, we are creating responsible technology that inspires children to do and make things, while entertaining them as well.
What was the biggest hurdle you encountered in your journey?
The hurdles are still coming, but for me, the biggest challenge is/was balancing diving all in on ImaginationSpring with being able to pay the monthly bills. Both John and I would have loved to make ImaginationSpring our only priority, but we also realized that we weren’t 22 years old who can bunker up and sleep on blow up mattresses any more. We decided to just take a workmanlike approach to our dream and show up everyday and create opportunities to work on our project when we could. This approach, in hindsight, was a good one, because it didn’t put pressure on our creativity and allowed us to support ourselves and our families while pursuing our goal. It made for some long days, but I think it was the best approach.
What does the future hold for ImaginationSpring?
The future is bright for ImaginWOW and ImaginationSpring. We are currently working on the next version of ImaginWOW. The first version was an MVP (minimum viable product) just to prove our theory that our idea would work. The response has been great and we gained a ton of knowledge to make the next version even better.
What are your thoughts on the local tech startup scene in Winston-Salem?
I’m super impressed with the tech startup scene in Winston-Salem. This market has a lot of great things going for it. First, Winston-Salem is a great and affordable place to live and work. That’s huge because when you are starting out, you can’t blow tons of money just to keep a roof over your head. Also, I have found the city really wants to support the startups here and it’s really a collaborative feeling. We are so lucky to have found the Innovation Quarter! We need to get the word out how incredible the IQ really is. The offices are beautiful and provide an outstanding place to work and host clients. The IQ is a big reason for our success.
What’s your best advice for aspiring entrepreneurs?
I would say there are two things I would tell anyone who wants to start to follow their dream and start a business. First, make the commitment to keep showing up. For me, showing up is the first rule of the universe and the first rule of starting a business. It may sound simple, but everything starts from there. Keep getting up and doing the things that make your business move forward. It doesn’t matter if one day it is 15 minutes and the next it is 10 hours. Just keep showing up. It’s not as easy as it sounds, but it is the only way to do it.
Second is to learn how to not take things personally! Trust me – it’s way easier said then done, but it is essential. It will be very rare that you find anyone as excited about your project as you are. Your family members will promise one thing and then not deliver. People will never email you back even when they seemed very into your pitch while you gave it. And way more things will happen that can hurt your feelings. In the beginning of my journey, things like this would crush me and my momentum, but not anymore. The key thing is to understand it’s almost never about you or your product/idea. This is when I refer back to my first rule to just keep showing up. Believe in yourself and your business. Keep moving forward. It doesn’t mean that you don’t evolve your products or change your pitch. However, it does mean that the most important thing you can do to make your business a success is to believe in yourself and your creation. If you don’t believe in yourself and your idea, you should stop right then and go find a regular job.