As Philip Percesepe was transitioning out of the Marine Corps he came up with an exciting tech startup idea. He realized he needed more specialized technical skills to build the idea, so he used the GI Bill to enroll at Sabio coding bootcamp in Los Angeles. Since he graduated in February 2017, Philip has continued to work on his startup, Knot My Yacht (like Airbnb for yachts), and has launched a couple of other businesses. Philip tells us how his military background was helpful both at Sabio and in a startup environment, and why going into tech through a bootcamp is a “no brainer” for other veterans.
Tell me about your background in the military and beyond, and how your path led you to join a bootcamp?
What is Knot My Yacht?
We created a technology solution for the recreational boating and yachting industry, which is currently extremely fragmented and archaic – they still use scheduling sheets and log books. So I came up with a web-based infrastructure to allow companies to run their businesses, check their metrics, and check fleet management. Then as a byproduct of that product, we created an “Airbnb for yachts.” All that data allowed me to put a list of all the available boats, yachts, and jet skis into an application where you can see boat availability in real time. So theoretically these products should replace yacht companies’ entire operating procedures with a tech platform. We did our hard launch on Veterans Day.
I personally learn the best in a hands-on environment. There are only so many YouTube videos I can watch, and only so many Codecademy exercises I can do to pick up everything. To become relevant in the technology industry, I needed to have a much more in-depth knowledge of software and web development. I realized that going through a coding bootcamp had to be my next step if I wanted to have any kind of credibility as a technical co-founder.
What made you choose Sabio as a way to upskill, rather than another bootcamp, going back to college, or teaching yourself?
I was living in LA, which is where Sabio is based, so that was one of the first things. Around the time I was shopping around different bootcamps, Sabio had just started accepting the GI bill, which was huge for me as a veteran. Because of the amount of time I’d served in the Marines, the GI Bill covered my entire tuition for Sabio. Sabio also had some really good reviews, and when I spoke to Liliana and Gregorio on the phone, I clicked with them both and knew it was the right move. I also considered a bootcamp in Colorado which also accepted the GI Bill, but logically it made more sense for me to stay right here in LA.
What was the application and interview process like for you? Did you find it difficult?
What was your cohort like at Sabio?
It was a very diverse melting pot of people from all sorts of backgrounds, and countries all over the world. There were 4 or 5 other veterans in my class, as well as people with math degrees, finance degrees, people from marketing, and people with no experience. There are no two people going through Sabio who have the same background.
What was the learning experience like at Sabio? What was a typical day and teaching style?
Once you enter the immersive bootcamp, you’re basically working a job and the typical day is modeled around startup life. We show up at 9am, have stand up with the lead developer who is our instructor and the other developers in the cohort, to talk about plans for the day, what we accomplished the day before, and iron out our tasks. Then we jump right into coding. We learn as we go, so every day we have a different task to be applied to the project we are building. We would get lectures during the day, but 90-95% of the day is spent writing code. We worked on a real project that got deployed and is actually being used right now.
Can you tell me more about the real world project you were working on and what that process was like?
Sabio students work on real-world projects with real clients. The lead instructor handles architecture and tasking; and us, the developers, take a piece of the puzzle and create it. The final result is an actual operating, deployed platform that is scalable. The project my cohort worked on was called Print Collab, an online marketplace where users can upload artwork, and buyers can search through the site, look at artwork and buy it.
How do you think your background in the military prepared you for something as intense as a coding bootcamp?
Being in the Marines, you’re always ready, so the hours weren’t very difficult for me – I was expecting it to be pretty tough. You do need to be resilient because Sabio is pretty challenging. Then, as a Junior Developer, you’re still in learning mode, so you really have to be humble, understand that it’s going to be tough, that you will struggle, and you need to power through. I think the resilience and persistence that I learned in the military definitely translated into tech.
Programming isn’t just sitting down, writing code and creating a product. There is a lot of problem solving, research, digging, and persistence required; it’s all about resilience. We had a “no fail” mentality in the Marine Corp, so when you’re programming, you need to have the same mentality. Probably the most important thing that transferred over was the ability to use critical thinking to solve problems. In the Marine Corp, I was constantly fixing problems and preparing for missions and tasks. When you’re doing web development, you’re critically thinking the entire time, and everything you do is problem solving.
How did Sabio prepare you for job hunting? Were they able to help you with your entrepreneurial goals?
They do spend a lot of time throughout the program preparing you for your career. They say, “Listen, you’re coming here because you want to be a developer and to get a job.” I wasn’t necessarily looking for a job as programmer, I just wanted more experience in tech. I saw myself more as an entrepreneur. Gregorio comes from a background of successful tech companies, and so his real-world experience was really valuable for me. We had one-on-ones with Gregorio and Liliana all the time, and they just made themselves very available. I can definitely credit much of my success to them.
In addition to Knot My Yacht, it sounds like you are involved in a number of different tech ventures. What have you been up to since you graduated?
I had some partners whom I linked up with before I went through Sabio’s program, and we set up a private equity fund focused on service-based businesses. I handle the tech portion, and we have a portfolio of companies like insurance brokerages, web development companies, corporate risk, a law firm, and other service-based companies. Knot My Yacht is part of that portfolio, and we have a few other side projects going on that will launch in 2018.
How is Knot My Yacht going and how big is your team now?
We’re bringing on a fourth member to our team soon for sales and marketing. We recently brought on our first developer, and our CTO is a Harvard computer scientist with almost 20 years of experience, who is currently a VP at a Fortune 500 company. He and our developer will continue to work on the project, identify bugs, and come up with plans for scaling. After the hard launch, we’ll go into implementation mode for the rest of the year. We are doing additional testing from now until February 2018. We are also working with some investors right now to close a series A round.
Are you doing any programming yourself?
I had to take a step back from actual development to manage the direction of the company. Right now, I’m sitting as CEO and sole founder. I’m not doing a whole lot of coding, but I did have a part in getting this platform online and getting it hosted.
Since you graduated and continued to work on Knot My Yacht, how do you feel your skills from Sabio have been useful in your role?
We built Knot My Yacht using the MEAN Stack, using Node, a Mongo database, Express for routing, and Angular JS, which is what I learned at Sabio. Even though I’m not programming day-to-day, the technical skills I learned at Sabio have been very important because I’m also running the tech portion of our portfolio. For example, we started another company for our portfolio called Acelly, which provides tech and business solutions like custom CRM development, and building apps for clients. Having these tech skills allows me to create the architecture needed to pass projects off to our in-house dev teams. That has been worth its weight in gold.
Wow, it sounds like you’re busy! How much time do you spend on each venture that you’re involved with?
Luckily the Marine Corps trained me to have a lot of bandwidth. I definitely spend most of my time doing Knot My Yacht and Acelly, then I have to have a hand in the basic operations of the private equity firm. I just hired a portfolio manager to run my operations during the day, so I can shift more focus to Knot My Yacht, as we prepare to launch. I’m also in the process of identifying some people who are strong in dev ops to help with some of the daily workload for these entities.
Do you think you would be where you are if you hadn’t gone to Sabio? How have you grown as a developer and an entrepreneur?
I do credit Sabio for much of my success. If I had tried to dive deeper into tech on my own, I would have faced many roadblocks. Having gone through Sabio and learned actual programming languages and actual problem solving, I look at things from more of an engineering standpoint now. A lot of problems that I solved have really seasoned me and prepared me to take on various challenges. I credit a lot of what has been going on to Gregorio and Liliana – I know I’m not the only one who had a great experience.
How do you stay involved with Sabio? Have you kept in touch with instructors or other alumni?
I definitely keep in touch with other fellows, and I still see Liliana and Gregorio on a regular basis. I’m actually in the process of converting one of my companies into a non-profit recruiting company, and we are going to focus on helping veterans find tech jobs. Once it’s fully up and running we will be able to help place veterans who are graduating, into tech jobs, all over Southern California. My goal is to help Sabio place veterans into some good gainful tech jobs.
I talked with the Sabio crew the other day, and right now they have an entire cohort of 12 to 15 people who are all veterans. Southern California is the most densely populated region for veterans in the country, and Sabio is the only one in the area offering a GI Bill-approved bootcamp. We have a bunch of military bases like Camp Pendleton, Miramar, 32nd St Naval Base, and El Toro out here, so service members are constantly transitioning, and Sabio is getting a lot of traction with veterans.
What advice do you have for other veterans coming out of the military who are figuring out if tech should be the next step in their career?
I’m definitely a big advocate for technology as a whole, because that’s the way the world is going. Tech is becoming the biggest industry and it’s just going to continue to grow. So when I talk to people who are looking to transition out of the military, I always recommend they look into getting into tech. Sabio has served me very well, and I recommend that transitioning service members at least check it out if they want to do something with tech or programming. One of the biggest things service members look for is a seamless transition into school, education, or a job. The way Sabio is modeled with the GI Bill to cover tuition, and actual job assistance; it’s a no brainer for veterans. I don’t know of a faster or more efficient route to getting into technology and becoming a programmer. Dollar for dollar it’s the smartest thing you can do, and down the road it will continue to benefit you.
No matter your background, you have to put in the time, focus, pay attention to what you’re doing, think critically like an engineer, and look for ways to solve problems. One of the best ways to solve problems is to take a step back, see the big picture, then fix things in a modular way. Plan everything you need to do, then pick it apart to come up with the best, most efficient solution.
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