A Discovery App With A Mission: Interview With Brad Zellman, Founder Of Sortie

I pity the fool trying to enter the discovery app space without a plan, without a draw as shiny and impressive as the jewelry around the neck of Mr.T of the A-Team. Even choppers and high jinks probably aren’t enough anymore if you’d care to have your users hang around longer than an opening action sequence.


Sortie (mysortieapp.com) attacks the problem of keeping excitement in the discovery/check-in experience by offering missions to complete. Blending social sharing, lists of actions to complete, and fun, Sortie looks to both entertain and inform. Who doesn’t appreciate deeper connections or everyday activities turning into more of an adventure?






Founder Brad Zellman tells us more about having his plan come together:


What’s your company about? What do you do? Who are your customers?

Sortie allows people to discover new experiences and learn more about current ones through real world missions that the user completes with their iPhone. The purpose is to drive deeper engagement beyond a level that current apps provide. With existing solutions, the check-in/discovery is the end of the user experience, with Sortie it’s just the beginning!


What’s the greatest thing about your company/website? Why is it better than the competition?

We’re looking to make discovery an immersive and fun experience, and we want it to be useful as well. There are tons of apps where you can find more or less the same stuff, none of which offer a lever of interaction beyond a few common feature sets, i.e. reviews, specials, check-ins. We go beyond that with missions that helps narrate and guide the end user experience from discovery to completion.






How’d you come up with the name for your company?

Our users complete missions. To go on a sortie is to start an adventure, or go on a mission. Plus there wasn’t an app called Sortie, so we have that going for us. And it’s got a cutesy little ending to it (ie), which I hear is all the rage in startups these days.


What was your first computer? How old were you when you first got on the world wide web?

It was a laptop. I was probably about 4 or 5, and the only thing I can remember about it was the fact that it had Lotus Notes on it. My dad’s into tech as much as I am, so I got a bunch of hand me downs, remember Packard-Bell. MY first computer was an HP tower that I got around 12. I remember it was a family holiday and I got in trouble for spending the entire time in my room setting it up.


What time do you usually start work each day? How many hours a day do you usually work?

I have a unique work situation. For now, I have a 9-5 at a commercial music house that requires few hours of actual work – just A LOT of diligence. My boss knows about Sortie and supports it. It’s a great arrangement, because I can use our office and its resources AND still get paid. Normally, I’m at the office around 9 and stay till around 7. Then I’m on my laptop working at home. I have made it a point to disconnect for a few hours every night. A startup is hard work and is all consuming, but life is long – and if you’re capable of starting, taking to market, and scaling a company, you should be able to maintain somewhat of a work/life balance.






When’s the last time you went on vacation and where did you go?

My girlfriend and I went to Puerto Vallarta in January. It’s beautiful there, although the beaches are rocky. We stayed at a beautiful new resort and had some much-needed R&R. We spent some time in the town, went and toured tequila factories, and did other cool touristy stuff. I wish we did more eco/jungle stuff, but, lesson learned. I’ll do that next time we go.


What’s the very first thing you do at work every day?

Make bulletproof coffee for breakfast. That keeps me going until noon or so. 2oz coffee, 2 tablespoons of butter, 2 tablespoons of coconut oil. Don’t knock it till you try it. (I still haven’t gotten anyone to try it.)


When do your best ideas come to you? In bed in the morning? During dinner? On your third beer?

If I could tell you, I would be there now.


How many people did you start the company with and how many people work for you now?

It’s just me and contractors now. Developers, consultants, designers, etc. Sortie’s a big concept. People get very excited about it, and that’s what keeps me going. I need my team to get just as excited, and I’m looking for them now. The current situation is manageable enough, where there isn’t a need to bring on anyone else, but I’m looking 6 months down the line and I see a need for a staff of 5 – 6 people.







A lot of people have big ideas. What gave you the confidence to actually go after yours?

Somethings just feel right. I’ve been involved with a few ventures in the past and all of them seemed to need to be pulled. This idea pushed me.


Remember the early days of starting up? Describe the struggles you went through.

I didn’t struggle with idea validation. The toughest struggle was… whether or not this is the life I want. A startup is all consuming – emotionally, time, resources, etc. Those aren’t really negatives, they’re the ingredients to a great company.


How do you handle frustration? What has been your biggest professional frustration?

Trying to get someone to read your mind. When it’s your vision, you want to execute it perfectly. That said, there are areas where you need to compromise for whatever reason. It could be cost, functionality, aesthetics, etc. When you come to these crossroads, think long and hard about it, but also be pragmatic.


What’s your office environment like? Do you listen to music? Watch movies? Play video games?

Of course I listen to music, this isn’t Nam! I like working out of the lounge. It’s nice to just sit on a comfy couch and grind out whatever it is I’m doing.


How do you picture your company in 5 years?

I don’t know. Sortie can scale quickly or grow slowly. I’ve got a few visions in my head, and I have growth plans on paper for a few different scenarios. I can tell you this… I’d like my office to be like Roger Sterling’s from Mad Men or an Adirondack Lodge.


Who or what inspires YOU? Role models? Quotes? Running? Video games? Snack food?

Teddy Roosevelt. A great balance of political savvy and executive drive. Not to mention, he had open leg surgery and the only anesthetic he had was one shot of whisky.


How’d you fund this venture? VC? Self-funding? Crowdfunded?

Me. I’m putting it all (mostly all) on the line to build our MVP. We are in talks with a few people, and by the time we get onto KillerStartups I hope to have some backing.






What other advice do you have for other entrepreneurs struggling to get started?

Reach out!!! Get help. People are generally receptive to answering your questions or helping you out if they can. Also, people want good content. Tell a story with your marketing channels.


What would you do if you had a year off and $500,000 to spend (on something other than work)?

I love flying. I spent time in the Civil Air Patrol growing up, so I would probably take the money and get some private pilot lessons, rent a plane and “bum” around a bit. There is something beautiful and liberating about flying that goes way beyond just having increased access to distant places. It could be the perilous feeling of every bump and crosswind in a small plane, or the man conquering with machine factor. I don’t know, but give my 500,000K and I’ll find out.


Do you consider yourself a successful entrepreneur? If not, what’ll make you feel successful?

I think a successful entrepreneur is someone with the guts to actually go out, be one, and stick with it. There are courses given at top schools by top people that people pay top dollar for, and none of those can guarantee success. So, just rolling the dice is the first step. Where you go from there is up to many factors, some are in your control and others not so much. Learning is the second factor. Learn from your customers, your team, your successes and failures, other’s successes and failures. There is so much out there, this should be a no-brainer.


Top websites you couldn’t live without?

Gizmodo, Reddit, oh and Google – that’s a good one.


Top 5 mobile apps you’re in love with and why?

  1. Level Money: It doesn’t yell at me as much as Mint does.
  2. Google Drive: I love Google Docs.
  3. Words With Friends: Kicking people’s mental ass feels good. Also, its a good reminder to never become Zynga.
  4. Flipboard: It’s easy to consume the news.
  5. Foursquare: I’m the mayor of my apartment and my office. It shall remain that way.


Three people (other than you) we should follow on Twitter and why?

  • @ModernSeinfeld – It’s funny because it’s true
  • @NewMastersounds – Because they’re a great funk band and you should know about them
  • @neilpatel – Or anyone with news about growth hacking and growing your company


Where else besides the website can our readers find you?

On Facebook and Twitter.


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