About Chris Schroeder

From lifeguard to entrepreneur — how Chris got to where he is today.

Chris Schroeder, CEO App 47

As A Kid, Lifeguarding Was Probably My Highest Aspiration

My Lack Of Motivation And Drive—And Solid-C Grades—Didn’t Suggest Anything Better

My early years were filled with playing sports, working paper routes, and lifeguarding at the local pool. I had no clear vision of what I wanted to do. I felt like the need to define my future was externally motivated, and not my own. Without a passion, what was the point? It didn’t seem worth getting out of bed.

I went off to college thinking I’d take a photojournalist major. As I learned more about the career itself, it became obvious that my ability to advance would depend on the subjective criteria of taste. I can’t control taste, and I wanted to have more control over the outcome. That got me rethinking my options.

Computer Programming Is Objective—If It Works You Did It Right

If It Doesn’t Work You Did It Wrong

I had dabbled in computer programming in high school and appreciated that technology is objective. Working in technology promised tangible success metrics linked directly to skill levels. That resonated with me. I decided to declare a Computer Science major, and with that decision, it was as if the floodgates opened.

That uninterested student transformed into a driven, determined, passionate individual. It is one of the most significant defining moments of my life. My mindset changed—from waiting to see what would happen next—to a determination to discover, explore and learn everything I could about technology. I consider myself very fortunate in that my passion aligns with ease of learning these skills—which are also in high demand in the market—a trifecta of wins.

Life Seems To Be A Series Of Choices Between Risk and Security

But It’s Not Always As Black And White As That

My father was a helicopter pilot for the Navy. It was important to my parents not to uproot my older brother, younger sister, and me. My father would go on deployment and rotate through various jobs, squadrons, and roles, all while stationed in the same place—to give us stability.

After 22 years in the service, Dad retired. He hadn’t engaged in the hardship tours that are integral to rank promotions. He had instead made a conscious decision to give us a stable home. I know he would have liked to serve longer. I was left with the impression that the safe route isn’t always the best route.

Getting Out Of College, I Faced My Own Version Of The Choice Between Risk And Security

That “Drive Home At The End Of The Day” Influenced My Choice

I could have easily found a safe, stable, secure career working with the federal government or at a large corporation. What got in my way was the drive home at the end of the day. On that drive, I always ask myself, “Did I move the ball forward today?” Working at a large company or for the government isn’t going to give me a satisfying answer to that question.

Even if you’re putting in 80-hour weeks, the probability of your actions having an impact on the public stock price of your company is negligible. That led me to dive into the risk of smaller, entrepreneurial startups where I can have an impact on a daily basis. As I go through my daily end-of-day list, I know I’ve moved the company forward—and that matters to me.

Yes, there’s a lot of apparent “risk” that comes with that, but to me the greater risk is in not growing. You have to believe in yourself and your ability to bounce back, even if things don’t go as planned.

Fostering Independence And Independent Thinking Builds Confidence And Self Reliance…

Being Forced To Make Our Own Decisions Can Feel Scary

My parents encouraged independence in their children, which sometimes frustrated me as a kid. It’s easy to feel fear when you’re faced with bigger decisions and have to take responsibility for the results of those decisions. Now of course, it’s obvious that helped me develop a sense of self-reliance and confidence—perfect preparation for entrepreneurs. Thanks mom and dad!

Toward the end of college courses at Radford University, I struggled through 400-level computer science and mathematics courses. That made me question for a moment whether or not I should take the “safe path”. I considered joining the military and flying helicopters like my father. But, I’d already invested four years of my life in computer science, and I decided to stand by that choice.

Systems Management Wasn’t My Plan From The Beginning

But It Sure Turned Out To Be A Perfect Fit For Me

Right out of college, I was lured into a systems management position at a government contracting firm. I had hoped to become a user interface programmer, but it turned out that systems management is perfect for me. It’s relevant and lucrative, and it’s something I understand and am passionate about. That accident of fate was a career-defining twist in my life.

I became a systems administrator, and spent the next eight years working in government contracting. I learned how to manage servers, build and manage networks, and detect and address security intrusions. The job involved building small networks and large network operation centers for three-letter organizations (NRO, CIA, NSA). I earned top security clearances and returned to school to earn a Masters in Telecommunications Engineering.

Building And Managing System Manager Platforms Opened A New Career Direction

The Challenge Became To Channel Massive Numbers Of System Events Into A Manageable View

My next move was to work at UUNET, one of the largest Internet service providers at the time. I helped build and manage their system management platforms. With one of the largest networks in the world, there were tons of devices that needed to be monitored. We had to collect all the events that were occurring and channel them into a manageable view. We needed to be able to determine if the network was healthy, and to troubleshoot any problems.

The next four years, I worked as part of a team of 60 people spread among the U.S., the UK, and Amsterdam. I quickly learned, through many failures, how to manage a large team. Worked with teams around the world, as well as teams outside of the organization. We were all contributing to make UUNet the best ISP it could be for the customer. It was a great proving ground for my career.

This experience set the path for my near future—both professionally and personally. On this engagement, I met two people who would change the course of the rest of my life.

Shared Nerdiness Brought Me The Woman Of My Dreams

And We’ve Built A Wonderful Family And Life Together

One was Kim, the friend of a friend I met one evening at a group dinner at Plaza America in Reston. As nerds are known to do, we were all playing word and number games on the paper tablecloth. Someone wrote down a series of numbers that Kim readily identified as a famous sequence of numbers that links directly to the golden ratio.

We always joke now that she had me at “Fibonacci series”. We got married in 1999, and I couldn’t have done all of this without her. She’s always been supportive and rolled with the punches of living in a startup world.

Another Important Relationship Led Me To Make The Leap To Startups

It Was An Ironic Combination of Technological Success and Marketing Failure

Also at UUNET, I met Sean McDermott, the CEO of Windward IT Solutions. UUNET hired Windward to help my team build its system management tools. Sean was heavily involved in the startup world, and over time the lure of the startup culture was irresistible. I took a job as the VP of Engineering at Statusphere and was charged with building a new product. Sean was to become very significant at RealOps later in my career.

We hit every engineering milestone we laid out—on time, feature-complete, fully-tested. It was awesome, but we closed the company doors because the sales and marketing weren’t aligned with the product. The lesson learned was that engineering is the easy part; it’s sales and marketing that are hard. Those areas are where investment dollars should be channeled.

Imagine Welcoming Your First Son Into The World At The Same Time…

As You’re Trying To Figure Out How To Close Your Company

I vividly remember standing outside the hospital the day after our first son was born. I was on the phone discussing who would pay the lawyers to close Statusphere since there was no money left in its bank account. Imagine the mix of feelings ranging from the joy of a new baby to the fears about the source of my next paycheck.
I realized that stability is—more than anything else—the product of our networks and capabilities. Once bitten by the startup bug though, I was a goner. Even despite the late nights, hard work, pain, suffering, and sacrifice—the Statusphere experience was fun to me. I realized I’m an entrepreneur at heart.

The Startup Bug Had Bitten Me And I Loved It

There Was No Turning Back From Bringing New Technologies To The World

Next was a series of short-term startup ventures from VC-backed to bootstrapped consulting companies. As I look back on this time, it was both experimental and full of experience—and evolved my understanding of startup success.
  • Served as the CTO of a company called Approva and then left in 1992.
  • Launched Vanward Technologies with Andy Glover, the current CTO of App47. Vanward was a bootstrap consulting company focused on automated software testing and could reduce the platform development cycle of their clients by weeks, or even months.

RealOps—Our Next Venture—Was Significant

It was a VC-backed Venture We Founded—And Sold Profitably

Sean McDermott—met in the UUNET days—asked me to come to Windward. The objective was to help productize a piece of intellectual property. The product was spun off into its own company, RealOps, Inc where I was CTO. The product automated the troubleshooting and recovery of failed systems. It was the natural evolution of my systems management skills.
RealOps, Inc. was sold to BMC Software in 2007. The sale resulted in an exceptional exit that generated a three-fold return for its investors in less than three years. That’s one of my proudest business ventures.

Well We Just Had To Do It And Couldn’t Resist The Temptation

When Challenged With, “You Can’t Do It”, We Had To Try Our Hand At The Consumer Market

The day after the RealOps check cleared, Sean and I looked at each other and asked, “What’s next?” We knew two things: we’re serial entrepreneurs, and whatever we wanted to do, it’s not in the enterprise space. We’d had enough of enterprise software’s long sales cycles and wanted to do something in the consumer market. Our reasoning was that it’s easier to sell to consumers.

Everyone said we were two enterprise software guys who didn’t understand the consumer space. As is typical of engineers, we decided to figure it out ourselves. When we wrapped up our time on BMC’s M&A team in 2009, we got a severance package. This allowed for our next leap into entrepreneurship. Sean and I began pitching a number of consumer-based product ideas.

Doing systems management for systems apps started because we couldn’t get the answers we needed. We didn’t have any analytics on mobile apps. If we got a sudden surge of thousands of downloads in South Korea, we didn’t know why. We wanted to provide the answers to all the questions we’d ask about app performance.

BizzyTime, Inc. was our bootstrapped startup to break into the consumer market with consumer apps. Our idea was to do enterprise software in the mobility space, combining it with systems management. With that, we built several mobile apps to serve as testing platforms to understand how the consumer-based market worked.

After making the apps available to the public, we analyzed the data. The data did not support continuing. We concluded that, yes, we were two enterprise software guys who didn’t understand the consumer space. We realized that consumer-based marketing is really hard. Our inside joke is, “But we learned a lot about mobility!” We couch it as a joke, but that experience was very relevant to our next move.

That Experience Led To A Real Breakthrough—System Management Tools For Mobile Apps

And We Got Our Idea Funded Without A Lot Of Fuss

That experience was the genesis of our next idea. We realized a series of concepts and this idea was born. It wouldn’t be hard to design an app to incorporate system management tools into mobile apps.

System management tools for mobile apps would provide the answers we’d want to know for any IT asset. There were no system management tools for mobile apps, so we returned to a space where we were experts. We went back to the Series A investors who had funded RealOps. Though we didn’t have a line of code written, they funded us—two guys and an idea.

App47 Was Born In January 2011—And Has Been Growing Ever Since

All Those Previous Experiences Led To An App That Deploys, Configures And Secures Enterprise Apps

With that, App47 was born in January of 2011. Our product was built by June. Within three years, we had over thirty customers, including Bed Bath & Beyond, AmerisourceBergen, GE HealthCare and Bristol Myers.

The company now sits at the inflection point of any seed-stage startup, poised for the market to take off. With its main office in Herndon, and with a team of employees, it helps to deploy, configure, and secure apps, moderate their performance, detect their faults, and measure their usage—often for companies who have written the app for internal employee use to streamline business practices.

My Bottom-Line Desire Is To Create Opportunity And Jobs…

That Spark In Others—The Same Passion That Led Me From Lifeguarding To Startup CEO

I like to build companies that create opportunities for people to come in and grow themselves. I’m always emphasizing the importance of finding something that speaks to your passion, and to be prepared to work hard for it once you find that passion. I love taking someone fresh out of college, or wanting to switch career fields, and give them the support they need to follow their passion. When they fail, we teach them how to correct their errors and grow from it.

Now on the drive home each night to the family, I don’t have to wonder if I’ve moved the ball forward that day. I review the App47 team and clients, employee opportunities, our children, and my own future. That steady moving forward, strategically taking the next move gives me a lot of satisfaction.