Monthly Archives: September 2020


Starting Out: What’s It Like to Work in a Startup?

Once again, Embarc Collective had the opportunity to partner with the Ryan Nece Foundation, a youth leadership program, on a workshop with high school leaders about technology startups.

With guidance from members of the Embarc Collective community, these students learned about what it’s like to work in a technology startup in Tampa Bay. At Embarc Collective, we create opportunities to attract, retain, and develop startup talent in Tampa Bay. Ensuring that high school students like those affiliated with the Ryan Nece Foundation are excited about the opportunities they can build or join in Tampa Bay is core to our mission.

The insights during the panel came from three startup team members relatively early in their careers and are already making a tremendous impact on their teams:

  • Charlie Bissell, Web Developer at Chattr
  • Emily Cartafalsa, Product Owner at SiteZeus
  • Dillon Culp, Fullstack Developer at Grifin

If you weren’t in the Zoom Room, here are the key takeaways from the conversation:

  • The path to a startup is not standard. Each panelist took a different route to get to their current startup role.
    • After community college, Charlie joined St. Pete-based Suncoast Developers Guild to train as a web developer where he learned the basics of web development, including HTML, CSS, and JavaScript. At Suncoast Developer Guild, he not only learned the foundations of coding but also developed connections with local businesses, which ultimately led to his introduction to Chattr. In the interview process, he learned that when he was authentically himself, he had the most success.
    • At the University of Florida, Dillon got involved with teaching web development as a student and joined a development shop in Gainesville, which gave him exposure to several local early-stage startups – including his current startup, Grifin.
    • Emily moved to Florida from Philadelphia to attend the University of Tampa. She found out about SiteZeus at a UT Intern Fair and started as an intern before earning a full-time offer. She leveraged the support of her career office to prepare for interviews and be job-ready.
    • Dillon recommended taking advantage of whatever opportunities come your way and suggested identifying a set of mentors can help you find opportunities that you wouldn’t have access to otherwise. And when you learn about opportunities, make sure you’re excited about both the product and the founding team; the team matters a lot when you’re in a startup.


  • There is a lot of learning on the job, prioritizing, and doing more than your job title dictates when you join a startup.
    • In a startup, there is not a lot of hand-holding and formal training because a team needs to move quickly. That means that members of a startup team have to be quick studies when learning from senior employees and be self-directed to learn new skills on the fly. Dillon mentioned specific skills like development workflows, including Agile and Scrum, and understanding how to collaborate with other developers without stepping on toes.
    • As Product Owner at SiteZeus, Emily gets to decide what feature to build next on the platform. This requires a deep understanding of the pain points and needs of customers. Each day, she works closely with the sales team and the development team to prioritize that list of product enhancements. While she doesn’t code, Emily has to be able to write the product requirements for the developers. As developers, Dillon and Charlie are acutely aware of the need to prioritize.
    • The roles in a startup often creep beyond the title. As part of a smaller team, Dillon also has to make sure his work is well documented and keep tabs on what competitors are up to.


  • Sometimes the most rewarding parts of working in the startups are the most challenging as well.
    • Charlie talked about how coding, in particular, is both rewarding and challenging because you’re learning and building new things each day.
    • Dillon noted that it’s fun to see what you’re building be implemented right away (developers in larger organizations may see this payoff but more slowly). But there are consequences to that speed—technical debt. Sometimes you build so quickly that you have to refine your current version a few months down the line.
    • Emily needs to communicate with a variety of stakeholders each day and has to be able to “speak code” while not being a developer.


  • Startup life is not 9-5, but the panelists shared their tips for managing intense days.
    • Time Blocking
    • Taking Breaks
    • Making Time for Fitness
    • And Standing Desks (each office at Embarc Collective is equipped with this!)


Interested in startup life? Bookmark to keep track of new opportunities – the site is updated daily.


Featured Founder: Troy Bravenboer of Brave Freight

Welcome to our Featured Founder series, where you’ll meet startup founders from Tampa-St. Petersburg who are building and scaling their ventures to solve some of the world’s greatest challenges. We interviewed Troy Bravenboer, President of Brave Freight, a data-driven trucking company that provides gamified income opportunity for owner operators.

What were you doing previously and what inspired you to launch your company?

While launching Brave Freight I was actually in full-time ministry in Fort Worth, Texas. We were pumping out huge block parties for the inner city, doing big giveaways, preaching Jesus, finding the pulse of the people, and stepping in where the need was. A few months prior, I had retired from several successful summers of door-to-door sales with a great home automation company, Vivint. So there was this massive desire to help people, make money, and help people make money. I knew I wanted to do something that would give me the freedom to travel but also build something meaningful to provide opportunities.

What pain point is your company solving? What gets you excited to go to work every day?

The carrier side of the freight industry is hand-to-mouth. Predatory carrier companies abuse truck drivers, bad. Thousands of owner-operators live hand to mouth because they are classed as independent contractors but don’t have the tools or information to thrive within that structure. These drivers have massive responsibilities (monthly/quarterly/annual government regulation reporting, calculating & forecasting income/expenses, planning vehicle maintenance, accurately managing their books, etc.) - it’s nuts. That's all on top of their day to day responsibilities of finding loads, updating customers, invoicing, managing accounts receivable, managing fuel cards, etc. It’s wild. So Brave Freight handle's ALL of that for them. With us, all they have to do is drive. Initially, just knowing that we were an honest company that really cared about people gave us a huge competitive advantage and motivated me to grow. Well, that and needing money. Now, with the help of the Embarc Collective team, my mind has been blown with how we can simply create some tech solutions that will help us “lean our growth” and provide some serious value to serve the gaps in this industry.

Name the biggest challenge you faced in the process of launching the company. How did you overcome it?

Cash flow management, for sure. I did sales and thought I was a “business owner” because I had an LLC. I found out quickly it's not the same... at all. I had like $40k or $50k saved from sales when I started the company, and also a really great friend who let me copy his business model. The problem was that I would make $5k in a week, pay my driver, pay my fuel card, and because I had a little chunk left over thinking it was profit. I had no clue how to anticipate vehicle repairs, IFTA tax, fines, etc. I slowly dwindled my reserves down and prayed… “God, there has to be a better way.” Shortly after, I was introduced to someone I have come to highly respect. He owns several successful companies with thousands of employees. He donates 50% of his income, reinvests 33%, and lives WELL off of 17%. He challenged me that more money was not the answer. He advised me to not take loans but to find a way within my own business to meet the need. About a year and a half later I met another person who has become one of my best friends, and he showed me an excel spreadsheet he called his “cash flow budget."  It’s a tool I still use - a yearly projection of week over week income and expense. That tool gave me a crystal ball and helped us to properly manage our cash flow. I was able to leave my part-time job in 6 months and then hire my first dispatcher in 9 months.

Where do you see your company headed next?

When people ask me about how I see autonomous vehicles changing the industry I always chuckle…most of that is just hype. The idea of 80,000 lb unmanned vehicles swarming the highways with hazardous material probably isn’t going to pass regulation until after we see that en masse with personal vehicles. However, there’s a lot of opportunity for automation in this industry beyond 18 wheeled cyber trucks. Embarc knew that, specifically my coach Fabio. He saw potential in me, my business, and this industry, long before I did. So now we are taking on our first developer and building out a SaaS platform that’s going to aggregate and augment actionable data to create massive efficiencies and workflow automation. The best part is that thousands of other carriers and owner-operators will benefit from it. I’m beyond grateful for Fabio and the entire Embarc team.

Give us a tactical piece of advice that you'd share with another founder just starting out.

Learn to sell! Not just a course or book, but sell your own product/service. Generate your own revenue ASAP. Find some way to provide value to your market and monetize NOW. Build from there. Revenue is the life-blood of a business. If my arm is chopped off but I can produce more blood than I lose, I’ll stay alive (I think). Don’t rely on investors and OPM. Often times, the abundance of money will create inefficiency blind spots and hinder the best growth. Plus, if those sources dry up, you are sunk. If you can generate your own revenue, when you do raise money, you'll take on boatloads. Investors will see you already have a lean, profitable, proven model whose founder is a gritty, make-it-happen, CEO beast!


Learn more about Brave Freight on Twitter, Instagram and Facebook


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The Glaring Gap: Women-Led Tech Startups in Florida

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