Passion. Profits. Purpose. These three words dominated David Kalt’s speech at Tuesday night’s Technori Pitch. Kalt gave an amusing rundown of his work history while sharing important advice about selling your business, such as “always have a prenuptial agreement before you sell your business—it is a requirement.” This prenup let him walk away from his first business with enough money to focus on a new passion that was brewing inside him.
This passion was trading options and drove Kalt to start optionsXpress, a company recently sold to Charles Schwab for a billion dollars. Focusing on education, execution and customer experience, optionsXpress was able to grow quickly and sustain better profit margins then their competitors. optionsXpress was a smaller company but “it’s not always about scale. Sometimes you can make money with a relatively small volume. We stuck to bootstrapped techniques and kept a lean operation,” Kalt said.
Kalt then said goodbye to the world of tech finance and profits to focus on his original passion: music. He took the business skills he had learned and bought a brick-and-mortar store called the Chicago Music Exchange. He expanded the stores worldwide customer base and increased sales by capitalizing on the 10,000 foot showroom, expanding e-commerce and making an important realization: he was not really in the guitar business—he was in the content business.
“If I could entertain and inspire musicians with great content I knew we could win over customers and expand this business,” Kalt said. After achieving 3 million views from one video, prompting thousands of transactions, Kalt doubled his stores sales and created a profitable business.
Kalt is currently leveraging this knowledge to start a new venture called Reverb.com, a marketplace for musicians. Described as eBay for used instruments, the listing and auctions site has a built in pricing guide for listed products. Kalt is currently working with the team at Doejo to develop the site in preparation for a launch in fall.
He ended his speech with three important pieces of advice for the presenters of the night and all the entrepreneurs in the audience:
“Be passionate. Whatever the niche, get deep and expose your passions. When you are passionate customers will respond. Focus on profitability. When you make money in your business you control your destiny. And [the] most important purpose: let your path happen in the most natural way for you. Go with your gut, know your talents and position yourself for happiness and success will follow.”
Here are the startups that took the stage for July’s Technori Pitch.
Scolastica – @scholasticahq
Times are tough for the academic publishing industry: the price of knowledge has gone up 400 percent in the past 10 years. Colleges currently spend 68 percent of their money buying journals, leaving little money for updated books or technology. The publishers of these journals realize they are selling their product in a highly elastic market, so they are charging too much for an obsolete service. The value of publishers used to be marketing, printing and distribution of knowledge. Today, to find new knowledge we don’t need a middle man, we can go directly to Google.
That’s where Scholastica comes in. The founder of Scholastica aims to fix this broken industry and put the control of scholarly publishing back into the hands of the scholars. This “academic publishing platforms lets journals manage everything: from submission, to the review process, publishing and distributing of their content to universities—Journals can do it all through our app,” said Brain Cody, the Co-Founder and CEO of Scholastica. As the only cloud-based solution out there, Scholastica is passionate about making running a journal easier and helping to fix the inefficiencies in publishing. Other perks for journals include an easy way to find viewers, building more of a reputation and become more involved with the publishing process itself.
Rune 17 – @Rune_17
The creators of Rune 17 have developed low energy Bluetooth devices that are smaller than a dime and can communicate with a smart phone through the cloud. The sensors on this flexible and powerful device measure movement, acceleration, temperature and time, delivering this information to social media sites and smartphones. Thanks to a memory chip, Rune 17 is not limited to its 30-foot connectivity range.
With products ranging from Football helmets that record the count, rate and intensity of shocks to the head, to proximity bracelets that connect like-minded people through their interests on social media, Rune 17 wants to put their product in the hands of the end-user and allow them to exploit the technology for their personal benefits.
ReferBoost is a social recommendations platform helping people find apartments in the areas and buildings that their friends live. By using social media they are eliminating the need to hunt through fake tags on Craigslist apartment listings and read the overwhelming amount of negative reviews on apartment listing websites. As founder Matt Hartman said, no one wakes up and decides that today is the day they are going to write a positive review of their apartment online.
Social media solves this problem: information from three simple categories—who your friends are, where they live and if they like it— allows ReferBoost to increase resident referrals. “We help property management companies create incentives for residents to share with their friends using Facebook, allowing them to update availabilities and schedule visits through Facebook,” Hartman said. Previously testing in only five markets, ReferBoost’s Software as a Service product is now open to the entire country.
Swapidy – @swapidy
Started by 18-year-old Adam Ahman, who already refers to himself as a serial entrepreneur, Swapidy is an online trading marketplace free of the problems that plague eBay and Craigslist. By letting sellers save on fees and individually verifying the condition and functionality of every product, Swapidy positions itself a profitable, safe and reliable online trading hub. Traders can negotiate back and forth with each other until they strike a deal. There is even a unique coin system that adds value to an uneven trade. Coins can be used for future negotiations or redeemed for cash.
“The site eliminates risk from the equation, changing the way we look at online commerce,” Ahman said. Swapidy currently supports three categories of trades: books, video games and gift cards. The site’s goal is to let users easily trade from the comfort of their home while providing the lowest fee structure on the market.
Uncorkd’s digital wine and beverage menus strive to make ordering wine at a restaurant less overwhelming and intimidating. Using interactive on-the-table technology that includes descriptions, tasting notes, labels and photos, Uncorkd can provide perfect wine pairings for the food you are planning to eat.
“For restaurants, it is more than a novelty—it increases their sales by 20 percent on average. People are more comfortable, educated and empowered to order wine,” CEO Josh Saunders said. The Software as a Service solution allows restaurants to enhance the customer experience and customize the data in real time providing the 40 billion dollar wine industry with unprecedented data on the trends and average price points of what is being ordered inside restaurants.