Category: Startups We Love
Julian Posada may not work in tech but throughout his career has always been the type of leader to embrace technology. He says having an open mind about bringing tech into the myriad of businesses he has worked with has been key to his success.
During his keynote speech at February’s Technori Pitch, Julian shared a few themes he has consistently seen when building businesses. His robust portfolio includes a stint as President of the Chicago Fire Soccer Club, Founder and President of Café Media, Director of Marketing for Hoy Newspaper and as board member of several non-profits.
Julian’s biggest takeaway from his diverse career is that alignment creates momentum. He discovered that the key to success is alignment of people, capital, ideas and pace. “Every time I have come to a critical point I have always sat down and asked myself ‘Where is there alignment?’ and ‘Where is there not alignment,’” he said.
His experience showed him that in addition to creating alignment, leaders also need to understand the self-interest, power and motivation triggers of the people they are working with. Julian says a successful leader takes it one step further by catering to these needs without waning on their principles.
Alignment of people: When Hoy Magazine hired Julian in 2004 he was tasked with creating innovation within the Tribune Media Group. An outsider coming in, he knew the fastest way to succeed was by focusing on people, understanding their self-interest and finding alignment. Realizing early on that the team is what makes you successful helped Julian transform Hoy into a cash-flow-positive business in only 8 weeks.
Alignment of ideas: Later in his career Julian’s work taught him that you need alignment in the non-profit world too. It was here he recognized that you can’t build a movement around one person – you have to create perspective. Alignment of ideas allowed him and his team to recognize the path they want to go down and stay on it.
Alignment of pace: When he joined the Chicago Fire in 2010 Julian felt he needed to recalibrate the cadence to create alignment of pace. This meant firing a large portion of the staff and hiring new people whose pace and ideas aligned.
Alignment of capital: When it comes to securing funding, Julian shared a simple tip: instead of trying to force a business to go into a specific direction he suggests trying to find alignment within funding, capital and advisors.
Now on to the five pitching startups of the night:
Map of the Dead
This month’s Technori event was especially exciting for the team at Doejo because our very own zombie survival, augmented-reality RPG mobile game, Map of the Dead was presenting. As we previously shared, the game is set in a post-apocalyptic world where users must scavenge for weapons, armor and medical aids from real life locations near them. Set to launch in late March, users of the free mobile game come across random zombie threats that debilitate their ammunition and health. During the pitch we shared our plans for monetization (including in-app purchase and brand partnerships) and gave the audience a few video sneak peeks of the graphic zombie-fighting madness.
Vinyl Me, Please
The folks behind Vinyl Me, Please believe that music should be a profound experience, not a 99-cent purchase on the train to work. To better showcase great music, they set up Vinyl Me, Please, a subscription service that delivers a vinyls and a curated playlist to your door each month. With a team of handpicked personal music consultants and a warm vintage aesthetic, Vinyl Me, Please has created a compelling music experience.
My Fit Dog
Because 55 percent of dogs are overweight, My Fit Dog aims to change the way owners across the world treat preventative care for their dogs and themselves. My Fit Dog realizes that in addition to creating a great product they have to create a change in behavior. To do this they have built both a hardware solution and a social network with the hope of creating competition and upping personal expectations.
CoupleCircle believes that the best way for people to meet and interact is through events. A new way to help couples expand their social network, users simply sign up and fill out a private profile that the CoupleCircle team uses to easily and efficiently curate future friendships.
Dude Wipes, created by Dude Products, were invented to change the way guys use the bathroom. The dudes pitched the product as a blunt, entertaining compliment to toilet paper. Each individually packaged flushable wipe contains Vitamin E, soothing aloe and a unique, manly fresh scent.
If your New Year's resolution involves starting a business, we have found the perfect kit to get the ball rolling after the holidays. The Founding Kit provides everything an entrepreneur needs to launch a new venture. Right now there are three kits, including an a la carte option where entrepreneurs can choose how they want to bolster their business. Services include a virtual assistant, domain name, hosting company, social media set up, accounting software and copywriting to help bring your new venture to life.
“The idea came straight from members of The Founding Moms. I've seen thousands of mom entrepreneurs at this point who don't know where to turn when it comes to finding quality service providers. So, why not cull my favorites and offer them up in really affordable bundles?” Jill Salzman said.
Taking a class is another great way to fine tune your skills and get ahead. Mobile Makers recently announced their iOS Accelerated program, perfect for developers who already have their feet wet. Assuming you already know programing basics, this class will teach you how to master the iOS platform in just four weeks. The new class covers everything from objective-C basics and table views to core animation and debugging. iOS Accelerated starts on January 7th so sign up now.
Not a seasoned developer? The Starter League offers a variety of classes to help you master how to code, design and ship web apps, no experience required. We recommended checking out the new Visual Design class taught by Mig Reyes from 37signals.
This month’s speaker was Jason Fried, the founder of 37signals and the co-author of REWORK. Fried opened his talk with a video from Harvard Business School professor Clayton Christensen, who coined the term disruptive technologies.
After showing the video Fried explained that watching it changed the way he thinks about business. He now understands an important distinction: People don’t buy products to solve problems, they hire them to do a job.
“You can’t think about a product as solving the problem, you have to think about it as doing a job,” Fried said. It is only then that you realize who your competitors are. Thinking about the job the product does provides a much more deeper insight into what customers really want and how you can sell them your product.
Once he began thinking this way, Fried realized people actually hire Basecamp, a 37singals project management tool, because they need to cover their asses—not because they're looking for a great project management tool. Users said that they buy Basecamp because they need to be able to point at a date and time and confidently say they delivered a file.
Understanding the job that Basecamp does, not just the features it has, has influenced 37signals to change their marketing from just a project management tool to something that can cover your ass.
Fried than sat down for a Q&A with Seth Kravitz, the founder of Technori. Here's what we learned from his answers:
1. Impulse buying does not exist
Buying sounds like a one-time event but if you really talk to people, you will find out that the stories influencing their buying habits date back years. “People don't wake up one day and decide to buy your product; they are actually switching from something else,” said Fried. After doing interviews he realized there is a long, emotion process of research involved in the buying process. “Your product has to be so exceptionally good that they are willing to put aside the emotional baggage to make the switch,” he said.
2. Saying no is powerful because it is selective
Fried is an advocate of saying no if you explain your reasons why. Being honest with your customers and telling them when you don’t think something is right for the product will help you stay focused and target the right people. “Saying no is really valuable because it is saying no to one thing. When you say yes that means you can’t do something else,” said Fried.
3. You don’t want dinner parties making products
Dinner parties are full of strangers making pleasantries. Fried says this type of short-term relationship is not good for companies or employees. Fried is a big fan of creating established teams that get to know each other really well over long periods of time. “Those are the teams that really build great things – you have to be able to push really hard against someone and argue intensely to create a great product. You aren’t going to do that with strangers,” he said.
Now on to Technori's pitches of the night:
JustBecause lets users send gifts for $1 that are worth way more. The app helps early adopters of startups share new companies they love with their friends, making everyone happy. JustBecause works with exciting consumer facing startups like Uber, Birchbox, Warby Parker and JackThreads. Instead of just telling your friends about Uber, an on-demand car service, users of JustBecause can send them a free ride.
Ox&Pen is as smartphone-driven loyalty program for unique Chicago merchants and the customers who love them. The app gives users unlimited access to promotional offers and multiple ways to earn points: full-price purchases, check-ins and social shares. Available on iPhone and Android, Ox&Pen is focused on driving universal loyalty.
Swift Expo is a software as a service solution targeted at the people running events behind the scenes. They help event organizers streamline event-staffing logistics, making sure your event runs smoothly and your crew is happy. The Swift Expo team has already helped make Chicago Ideas Week and New York Comic Con simpler and better for everyone involved.
The founders of SnagPad realize that people are trained to do jobs, not search for them. To solve this problem, they created a central portal for the unemployed. SnagPad helps users get hired by gamifying the job search, capturing opportunities, leveraging social media and staying organized.
Pear makes sponsorship easy, helping you find business and brands to support your group or event. After you choose the perfect sponsor just rally your group and enjoy your rewards. A clever way for brands to help small organizations, Pear also provides metrics so the sponsor knows what they are getting out of it.
For its 14th live pitch event, Technori invited unknown Chicago success story Orlando Saez to the stage. Saez is an entrepreneur probably best known for developing Boingo Wireless, a global Wi-Fi provider that is regarded as a thought leader in the airport industry. After selling Boingo, Saez shifted his focus to promoting economic development for high-tech, high-growth businesses across the state of Illinois.
How did Saez transfer his technical skill set to a government job? How did he rise up to become the general partner of the first ever state-run venture fund? Saez says it is his strong commitment to diversity that helped him foster relationships that promote innovation initiatives within the government. To demonstrate his point he asked the audience of the sold-out pitch even an important question: “When will you be satisfied?”
For Saez the answer to this question was simple: he is a lifelong learner. For him, diversity of thought and creative thinking lead to satisfaction and success.
Saez began to appreciate the power of creative thinking when he took a break from engineering school to attend a clown college. At clown college Saez learned more than simply how to juggle: he became comfortable performing in front of people, a skill that proved essential during his later involvement with sales and marketing.
When Saez entered corporate America he learned he had a big appetite for risk, a trait we constantly associate with entrepreneurship. As he continued to build relationships with the successful people around him his appetite for risk only increased. “The more relationships you build, the more experiences you have, and it increases your appetite for risk because you have a safety net,” said Saez. He says it is this safety net that gives entrepreneurs the resources they need to tackle the competitive startup market.
After sharing how diversity helped him succeed Saez began to describe the niche market he had fallen into: “If you find industries that have gross inefficiencies you can capitalize on this by leveraging technology as a way to optimize,” said Saez. This was how he got involved in government. After he sold Boingo he was invited by Governor Quinn to help support economic activity. He spent two years helping the government relate to the business community. During this time he created an the Illinois Innovation Council to discuss how government can be more relevant and served as the general partner of a venture firm that backed local businesses.
Saez credits his safety net for helping him learn on the fly and succeed in a diverse variety of positions throughout his career. It is because of these experiences that he subscribes to the saying, “You’re not working unless you are networking.” His advice for aspiring entrepreneurs? Try to build your relationships around work; it helps you make a stronger connection.
Now onto the night's pitches:
Did you know that 73 percent of users who like a brand's Facebook page never go back? BirdFeud is a fun and effective social discussion tool that helps brands increase engagement on their page. With BirdFeud brands can control the conversation of a debate that happen live on Twitter, helping to increase virality. A premium version of the application includes a white-labeled design interface that aims to bring the conversation closer to the point of sale.
Thanks to Matchist, finding a high-quality freelance developer is no longer an overwhelming, frustrating process. Matchist is a new easy way to find top web developers. A win-win for developers and entrepreneurs, Matchist vets candidates, provides curated matches and secure payments. It also helps entrepreneurs understand the specific technical needs their project requires to succeed. Matchist even has their revenue model figured out: they plan on taking 10 percent off both sides of the market, a similar fee to what their competitors who lack curated matches charge.
Many freelancers work in an unstable, isolating environment. Parsecco aims to solve the problems of being an independent contractor so more people can do what they love with people they trust. Parsecco gives freelancers a place where they can create a “collaboration resume” that highlights the relationships that make freelance projects succeed. Parsecco focuses on linking to your collaborators and highlighting your skills in a specific context. This searchable, visual Rolodex helps freelancers put together successful teams where they can work with the people they trust.
Stock Mfg. Co.:
Stock Mfg. Co. is bringing back old school manufacturing and combining it with an innovative e-commerce system with the hope of making it easier and cheaper to buy goods created in the U.S. The process is simple: after a designer submits a style, the community votes on it. Then, If enough people commit to buying it, Stock will produce the designs in their factory. After professionally photographing the collaboratively crowd-sourced designs, Stock then puts the product on sale for two weeks.
Mirrorgram is a fun and addictive photo-editing app that lets you create and share memories in a new way. The app, which started as a collaboration with electronic music group Glitch Mob, uses symmetry to create visually stimulating images with your iPhone. In the two weeks since their launch Mirrorgram has been downloaded 200,000 times. To see some of the photos local Chicagoans are taking check out http://chicago.mirrorgram.com/
Built in Chicago’s October launch event started on a high note. Before introducing the five recently launched startups that were set to pitch, Matt Moog, founder of Built in Chicago, reminded the crowd about the vigor of the local startup ecosystem: “Last year there were 193 new startups in Chicago—that's a new startup every 48 hours,” Moog said.
Kevin Willer, President and CEO of the CEC and 1871, then shared his excitement about Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s recent support of the Chicago tech scene and congratulated Food Genius for being the first company to move out of 1871.
Now, on to the pitches:
Winner of the Chicago Lean Startup Challenge, Unbranded Designs was developed to fill a major gap in the marketplace. The web-based furniture company will serve as the Etsy of furniture design: they will provide a greater variety to customers, allowing them to better express themselves through furniture. A two-sided marketplace that connects design-centric consumers with the furniture design community, Unbranded Designs takes care of seeking out designers and manufacturing the unique work they produce.
TableSavvy set out to redefine fine dining in Chicago. Using flash deals the TableSavvy platform is able to fill restaurants' empty tables while providing a discount to customers. To ensure they get in front of the correct target market, the TableSavvy team has partnered with Chicago Magazine. Fully integrating their platform into the Chicago Magazine site has helped them to create a quick, simple, real-time platform for last minute reservations that reaches a huge audience.
Kauzu is a new model aimed at small businesses that connects jobs seekers with locals who need jobs. Helping these small businesses update their tools while reducing costs and employee turnover are a few of Kauzu’s top priorities. Small businesses are the engine that drives economic growth but “for small businesses it costs 80 percent more to hire someone than for big businesses,” said Mitch Schneider, CEO of Kauzu. Kauzu’s platform helps to promote small businesses by turning outdated job listings into online advertisements and job seekers into customers. The app will also provide built in communication, feedback and analytics.
Rentalutions is an online property management platform that helps users manage property throughout the rental cycle. The quick, easy and affordable platform helps inexperienced landlords save time, money and lower risks. Some of Rentalutions features include helping landlords find and screen tenants, create customized electronic leases and collect and process monthly rental payments.
QUEsocial will move the focus of social media beyond marketing, extending social media efforts into sales, recruiting, customer service and product development. The platform will help businesses convert social activity into transactions. “For the enterprise, QUEsocial is a SAS model: it provides scalability and sustainability for continuing social business efforts. It allows us to calculate a hard ROI from social activity to business outcomes,” said Patrick Rooney, CEO of QUEsocial.