Aaron Deskins is a technologist by nature but also an entrepreneur. He likes solving spatial problems with GIS tools. And has a passion for Geology and Physical Geography. To keep life interesting and fun he owns a back country Yurt rental where people can go get close to nature and be warm and comfortable. He is the last in our Connect 2 Founders series, enjoy getting to know him!
Q: Let’s start with your name, age, business name and location.
A: My name is Aaron Deskins. I am 44 years old and the name of our business is Cartalytics and we're based out of Missoula, Montana.
Q: Tell me a little bit more about Cartalytics.
A: Cartalytics is a web based mapping and analysis platform. We aim to make complex data analysis easy and intuitive. We kind of empower the GIS specialists and the business decision makers to work together faster and smarter through our cloud based platform.
Q: Tell me about your role specifically in the business.
A: Currently I am the acting Chief Operating Officer, and that's mostly because I'm kind of a jack of all trades. I'm digging into the code a little bit and a lot of the business development. So I ended up doing a little bit of everything.
Q: Tell me a little bit more about yourself.
A: I guess I sometimes like to maybe call myself a bit of a Renaissance man. I love exploring and building as well as producing art and making connections with people in general.
Q: Tell me a little bit about how you got into Cartalytics and what was that moment that you decided to go for it?
A: That's a big question, but I have been kind of a spatial data GIS enthusiast since the late '90s. I discovered GIS while working and have always found a lot of enjoyment and interest in that field. So in school I studied as a geographer and also as a geologist.
A few years back, my business partner and I were exploring some methods to start to leverage big data analysis for spatial data. We came up with our own method of doing that, we sort of pitched that idea to some other colleagues in the geology field and they thought it was cool and sparked an interest in them right away.
We quickly ran into the barrier of lacking the deep programming skills that we felt like we needed to actually do what we wanted to do. So we turned to some skilled coders that we knew here in Missoula. They didn't know anything about GIS, but they understood the concept that we were getting at and they took it and ran with it. And as a small group we were able to build out what we have now. No one else is using the approach that we use and the platform that we developed, it is truly cutting edge and I think it actually will become a standard in spatial analysis at some point in the future.
Q: Tell me more about that first year of Cartalytics, what was that first year like?
A: It's kind of a blur. The first year we had a minimum viable product of what we were working on. It was a little clunky. There was a lot of fine tuning and massaging that had to happen.
But I feel like that first year really ended up being a lot of business development, a lot of meetings that went nowhere, but it was also really fun and exciting to work through the whole process just trying to bring it to the market. Then it was especially exciting when we landed our first contract that first year. But it's really kind of a blur. That first year just flew by. It was amazing.
Q: Was there anyone in particular that inspired you or encouraged you during that time to really get Cartalytics going?
A: I couldn't pick out a specific person during that time, but I always like to give my mom a shout out. She ran a successful business in Missoula for 40 years. She had a Montessori preschool. I just have to give her the hat tip. She is inspiring.
Q: Talk about success for a minute. How do you define success for yourself professionally and personally?
A: I think being true to your core values, being honest, fair, and dedicating yourself to the task at hand. It's kind of cliche, but it's just staying true to your word and completing your goals. I think that's really what it boils down to, both professionally and personally.
Q: What's been your most important skill that you've developed to become a Cartalytics business owner?
A: I would say that just boils down to communication. I'm always having to work on that. It's really, really an important part of business at every level, internally, externally, financing and everything. You need clear communication, I just can't emphasize that enough. So that's what I've gotten better at and I'm continuing to develop.
Q: Speaking of developing, what are some of your resources when you say you want to develop these communication skills that you rely on?
A: I have a hard time finding time to dive into training, although I dream about doing it often. I think that really to keep developing myself, I find a lot of benefits in meeting other business owners, and other business owners that are in different types of businesses. I think that getting to know them, and interacting with them and maybe even working on a small project with other business owners is actually super beneficial because you can get a sense for how they approach things and use that as some guidance or at least just a test to kind of see where you're at. But yeah, at some point I would love to dive into more training stuff, but there just don't seem to be enough hours in the day.
Q: Have you ever thought about quitting? And if so, could you maybe tell us a little story about that?
A: No, I haven't ever thought about quitting. I'm always checking in with myself and I'm always ready to pivot if necessary or make a decision and maybe move things in a slightly different direction. But quitting is not an option. I think I get that from my mountaineering experience. Simply said, quitting is not an option.
Q: With that and the mountaineering thought, when you hit the wall, what do you do as a business owner? What do you do as a business owner when you hit that wall?
A: Honestly, I just take a break. I'll go ride my bike, I'll go skiing. Actually recently, I'm learning how to meditate. There's no doubt that being a business owner is hard. It's constant pressure. I think the key is to always weigh your position or your risk position and make sure that you're always in your comfort zone.
Q: Was there a struggle or any moment of adversity that made you feel like you needed extra support doing your business? Or could you identify one single moment where you thought you might need some additional support?
A: Well, there's always too much to do. I think in this particular endeavor, we especially needed and continue to need help with marketing, and advertising and just getting the word out. I find that to be really challenging. And so that continues to be a little bit of a thorn in our side. But we're working through it and getting better at it.
Q: What expected value did you gain from going through the C2M Accelerator Program?
A: I would say the experience helped our teams strengthen. It helped us define each other's roles in the business more clearly. I think when we entered the C2M accelerator program that wasn't really on the forefront of our minds. But I would say, in terms of an unexpected outcome, that would be something that we really benefited from.
Q: What's one big accomplishment your company has had since going through the accelerator?
A: Well, I can't praise or emphasize enough how proud I am of the software development and all the new features and functions that we've been able to achieve within the platform. That's amazing and it's constantly growing and getting better. So I think just the execution of the software pieces, is definitely something to be really, really proud of.
Q: What's the piece of advice that you'd give another business owner that's about to join an accelerator?
A: I would say, get the most out of it that you can, ask dumb questions, connect with other participants, and trust the group so you can be open, and honest and really dive into what you're trying to accomplish and get the most out of it that you can.
Q: Last question. Any last words on C2M startup life or life in general?
A: I don't know. That might be too philosophical for me but- be true to yourself. Follow your passion. Have fun.
Thanks for sharing your story with us, Aaron!
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