Startup Stories : Buzz Digital (Buzz Referrals)

In the chaos of learning about how to build companies, practice the perfect pitch while juggling mentor and investor meetings and successfully launch a successful business, we often forget to learn about the personal journey of an entrepreneur.

Last year, I started on a quest to dive into the minds and lives of these entrepreneurs. To find that moment that I like to call the ‘Spark’! The spark that ignites the passion for entrepreneurship, defy all norms and set on a sojourn of invincible conviction and infinite optimism.

With the help of my friends at Microsoft; we were able to put together a two day production at the Microsoft Technology Center. It was amazing sitting behind the camera and hearing these ambitious rockstars share their journey!

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The series of interviews went live this past weekend!

Here’s an interview with BuzzDigital (previously called BuzzReferrals) CEO Jordan Linville. Buzz Digital provides tools to reward customers for referring their friends and has a great birth story! The startup is an alumni of ‘Excelerate Labs‘, a Chicago-based incubator founded by Troy Henikoff and the leaders in the Chicago startup community which is now TechStars Chicago.

Startup Stories : Solomo Technology

In the chaos of learning about how to build companies, practice the perfect pitch while juggling mentor and investor meetings and successfully launch a successful business, we often forget to learn about the personal journey of an entrepreneur.

Last year, I started on a quest to dive into the minds and lives of these entrepreneurs. To find that moment that I like to call the ‘Spark’! The spark that ignites the passion for entrepreneurship, defy all norms and set on a sojourn of invincible conviction and infinite optimism.

With the help of my friends at Microsoft; we were able to put together a two day production at the Microsoft Technology Center. It was amazing sitting behind the camera and hearing these ambitious rockstars share their journey!

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The interview went live this past weekend.

Featuring Solomo as part of this series.

Solomo is a web services platform that makes brands context aware and helps shoppers get personal deals around a digital identity that they manage for their retail experiences. SOLOMO’s solution bridges a gap between retailers who want to know how their spaces are being used, and how they can be better retailers, and customers, who want all the benefits of being able to shop with context, but who want to guard their privacy and individuality.

The startup completed a $1.7m first close of its Series A round in May 2013 and intends to use the funds to accelerate product development and increase its sales and marketing activities. The round was co-led by Venture Management, LLC and Don Layden, with participation from Wisconsin Investment Partners. The equity investment leveraged additional funding from the Wisconsin Economic Development Corporation.

Here’s what Deepak Rao shared about Solomo,

Startup Stories : Adyapper

In the chaos of learning about how to build companies, practice the perfect pitch while juggling mentor and investor meetings and successfully launch a successful business, we often forget to learn about the personal journey of an entrepreneur.

Last year, I started on a quest to dive into the minds and lives of these entrepreneurs. To find that moment that I like to call the ‘Spark’! The spark that ignites the passion for entrepreneurship, defy all norms and set on a sojourn of invincible conviction and infinite optimism.

With the help of my friends at Microsoft; we were able to put together a two day production at the Microsoft Technology Center. It was amazing sitting behind the camera and hearing these ambitious rockstars share their journey!

 

Microsoft technology center
The interview series went live this weekend!

Featuring the first startup from this series: Adyapper.

I’ve worked with the Adyapper team for over a year now and they’re an amazing bunch of folks disrupting how advertising is measured! AdYapper tracks display and mobile ads, generating detailed verification data, consumer sentiment, and viewability monitoring on 95% of all ad impressions.

They have raised raised $1.2 million in seed funding. The round was led in Sept 2013 by KGC Capital and joined by angel investors, including David Cohen, Laurel Touby, Paul Sethi, Sameer Jagetia, Ari Newman, Vip Sandhir and Dave Lerner.

Here’s what Elliot Hirsch has to say about his personal journey with Adyapper.

Startup Profile : ChoreMonster

ChoreMonster is a suite of web and mobile apps that aims to make chores fun for parents and kids. Kids can earn points by completing chores that they can turn in for real life rewards like ice cream, an hour of Xbox or even a canoe trip. Parents can enjoy a simple, hassle-free, digital system that takes the tension out of family chores.
My favorite Monster is Frank RumpNoodle!!
ChoreMonster_Frank

The team is committed to making chores fun by engaging and rewarding your kids!

You can now download the Windows 8 app for ChoreMonster!! I love the cute monsters and was amazed by the art work! Here’s how the team works their ‘monster’ magic! Most all ChoreMonster monsters start off as rough sketches, some more detailed than others.


 

Startup Profile : WebCurfew

WebCurfew is a cloud-based platform to enable home automation by managing the routers (gateway) that people already have at home… and a simple dashboard to control the experience.

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The first application is an “Internet Parental Control” service that allows parents to take back control over when and how their children access the internet from any connected device. It replaces the antiquated device-centric model of managing parental controls on individual devices, and provides a simple solution by managing the central point of all WiFi internet access in the home – the router.

Here’s an excerpt from the BizSpark blog. Rod da Silva, CEO of WebCurfew has your child’s best interest in mind. WebCurfew is a real-time internet parental control website that effectively provides a light switch for any internet-enabled device in the home. According to da Silva, “Our mission is to partner with all parents to promote a healthier life balance for their children offline by helping to manage their online time more effectively.”

“At the core of our offering is a platform for controlling, on your behalf, the single point of internet access in your home – your router.”

This is compelling. These are not parental controls that are really outside of a parent’s control — typical of some software solutions that are in-browser, or web-based. Even some downloadable software operates on the PC, not in the peripheral device that feeds Internet traffic into the computer.

The company has been featured on Built In Chicago and graduated from TechStars Chicago in Summer 2013. 

Startup Diaries : Pixsi

I’m recycling a post from Silicon Prairie News that I wrote a few months back. Pixsi has since launched their Beta app and you can sign-up here. Pixsi has grown from an idea to a company that is redefining advertising ground up.

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Amazing ideas often come from concerns we find in our everyday lives. That piece of wisdom rings especially true for Pixsi, a new consumer-centric mobile marketing company whose headquarters are located in Chagrin Falls, Ohio. Over the past few months, I’ve had the opportunity to watch Pixsi grow first-hand. As a Startup Porfolio Manager at Microsoft, I see many startups growing on a daily basis. Pixsi is unique and a brilliant model example for entrepreneurs. Here are some takeaways that you can learn from Scott Andrews, the CEO of Pixsi.

1. Identifying the problem and solution is key

Pixsi helps consumers make simpler and easier buying decisions. There are no advertisements on the debut Pixsi web app and no tracking of user digital and physical interactions. How then does Pixsi know how to help with buying decisions and propose products and services that meet user needs and wants? The answer to this question highlights the biggest sea change in marketing in many years: consumers are now in control of the marketplace and determine when, where and how they pull information to make informed buying decisions. Pixsi facilitates this new “pull behavior” and much more.

By crystallizing the problem that they’re solving with a unique value-proposition, Pixsi solves the eternal pain-point of push advertising which is broken.

2. The idea becomes a company with a solid support system

Founder and CEO Scott Andrews (right) conceived the ideas behind Pixsi a few years ago and, together with his team and assistance from the Youngstown Business Incubator in Youngstown, Ohio, built the company that enables this sea change for the masses.

Mr. Andrews has been an entrepreneur since the age of 11 and worked for a SmallCap 600 retail technology company during the early-to-mid 2000s. His entrepreneurial instincts and background in retail marketing and technology sowed the seeds to found Pixsi. His team members added to the founding ideas as they worked together to bring the company to life.

3. Focus and organic growth

The Pixsi team focuses on identifying and defining problems, building and prototyping solutions that are as simple to use as possible, and creating new business models that work. “Organic growth of companies is key to a vibrant and healthy economy. We focus on this as we have fun imagining, creating and delivering the best possible experiences for our guests. Their safety, security and experience with our products are our top priority,” said Mr. Andrews.

4. Creative and unique solutions – Ads get scrapped and re-imagined from the ground up

Advertising and online tracking has become a bane to consumers and a money pit for brands and retailers. With this research and the founding ideas in mind, the Pixsi team sought to imagine a whole new type of shopping experience. “We removed ads from everything we interacted with online and in stores and thought ‘how would we shop if we had full control over our shopping experience and moved between online and the store seamlessly?’ We found the solutions and they’re really amazing,” said Mr. Andrews.

5. Build a solution that is dependable, scalable and secure

Pixsi was nominated and accepted by Microsoft into the Microsoft Bizspark Plus program in 2012. Pixsi’s debut web app and other services are hosted on Windows Azure. “The Microsoft team members have been a pleasure to work with as we evolve and head into the marketplace. I’m very impressed with the stability, security and fast technologies they offered that we chose to build Pixsi with. We needed worldwide dependability, scalability and security so we could pass this trust and confidence on to our guests. Microsoft delivered and exceeded again and again. Their patience and support has been helpful on many fronts,” said Mr. Andrews.

6. Learn from failures. Read. Write. Plan and do.

Mr. Andrews describes the ups and downs of being an entrepreneur as part of the territory. He views failures as stepping stones to success and attempts to minimize risk of failure as much as possible. A big part of being an entrepreneur and starting and running companies is knowing how to properly manage risk. “Know when to continue with something or someone and know when to stop. Reading books and the ever-growing supply of success articles online helps, but it’s the doing that counts. You have to plan your steps, write it out and do them. You will fall and fail. Look at the failures and ask ‘Why?’ Start with ‘Why’ and a lot that you didn’t see or understand before unfolds before you.” Asking the question “Why?” is where Mr. Andrews started with Pixsi.

As you grow your idea and nurture it along the way, remember to plan carefully, execute consistently and build on a solid support system.

Here’s a video interview of Scott with more inputs on Pixsi.

Startup Diaries : Georama

 

I have been working with Chicago-based entrepreneur Nihal Advani for a while now. He is one of the most energetic and positive people I know. Nihal is the founder and chief executive officer of startup Georama, an online platform that streamlines the travel planning process from start to finish and I wanted to give you his insider perspective on the process of launching a digital platform as a young entrepreneur. In exploring the product itself, you can see how Georama strives to create a unique user experience and shines through!

Allowing travelers to plan, book, and share their trips, Georama conveniently allows you to explore destinations, create itineraries, and visualize trips on a unique and interactive map. After inputting your needs, interests and must-haves, Georama sorts through your preferences to find destinations that are a fit. From there, you can plan your itinerary, make bookings, and share your trip all in one place.

A year since its public debut, Georama based in Chicago’s co-working hub, 1871 , unveiled a Windows 8 application earlier this month.

Creating unique user experiences

Having seen hundreds of startup apps over the past few months and shipped enterprise products such as Windows 8, Bing and Office 2007; I have a soft spot for high quality user experiences. Here’s what’s unique,

1. Content based design – The Windows 8 Georama app has an organic and easy to digest flow which depends on the user’s interactions. The user is greeted with a rich visual landscape of views from all over the world. Content takes center stage! There is an opportunity to explore and also dive into specifics as needed.

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2. Do more with less – After I click on the tile that says ‘Chicago’ on the image above, a rich display of neatly organized information presents itself.

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Hotels include the hotel star rating on the tile, hostels show user review ratings and attraction are beautifully lined up. As I swipe through, the edges of images peek out revealing there’s more to view and explore.

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3. Fast and Fluid – Planning a trip is easy and seamless. The user interface adapts to my inputs and transforms to display relevant information as needed.

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The Georama website takes you through a similar flow and also lets you view cities on a map.

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Creating unique experiences is a craft and comes from a great support system as well as expertise.

About Georama

Discover the best vacation destination for your needs with Georama, an online platform that streamlines the travel planning process from start to finish. Get personalized recommendations based on your travel dates, interests, and more in order to plan, book, and share your trip – all through one convenient site. Explore destinations, create itineraries, and visualize trips on a unique and interactive map. For more information, visit www.georama.com. Georama received the Best Presenter Award in the technology category of the New York Venture Summit in June 2013 and Nihal Advani was selected as one of the “Top 35 under 35” in the travel industry at the PhoCusWright conference in November 2012.