Chicago’s Premier Agile Web and Software Shop: DevMynd

video

To find out more about JC Grubbs and DevMynd, visit his profile.

Watch the full video interview here

Paola: Hi, I’m here with JC Grubbs, CEO of DevMynd. JC, please tell me what your company does.
JC Grubbs: Sure. We’re an agile web and software solution provider. We do custom solution for a lot of industries and we really focus on the higher end of consulting, so a lot of niche programming problems that really require a set of senior development talent to execute.

Paola: Can you tell me an interesting story about your business?
JC Grubbs: Sure. We’re in a building and it’s only one of two buildings in Chicago that still has a manual operated elevator, so the building dates back to the 1920s, so it has a lot of character and we love it.

Paola: Tell me about some interesting projects you’ve worked on.
JC Grubbs: Sure. Since last year we’ve done a ton of really cool things. We’ve had a couple different clients in men’s fashion, which wasn’t really a business area we sought out, but sort of fell in our laps and as part of that we got to do some pretty cool machine-learning, algorithm programming, recommendation engines and things like that. And some really cool math based problem sets that were challenging for the team, that really helped us step up our game on the core computer science kind of meat of programming.

We’ve worked with a couple of education platforms as well, which is really cool. We get to do some mobile app developments focused on teacher training, so you’re really building your bridge experiences for educating teachers and getting their feedback on their teaching process. We’ve done some awesome user interface challenges this year. We’ve really grown a lot in our front-end development and focusing on really rich user experiences both on the web and mobile platforms.

Paola: What would you say makes your services better than your competitors?
JC Grubbs: Sure. I’d say our focus on client communication and collaboration is just something that I think sets us apart from a lot larger firms. We are very, very high-touch. We maintain pretty strict agile principles, which allow customers to kind of react to the new code that they’re seeing on a very, very regular basis; make just-in-time decisions, which really take a lot of weeks out of the process. I’d say our real skill on the process is maintaining high collaboration levels with the clients.

Paola: What do you think is one thing that you really attribute to your success as a company?
JC Grubbs: Oh, wow. I think the only thing that any company can really attribute their success to is their people. We focus a lot on hiring the best and brightest in the industry and really taking care of them. We do a lot of maintaining our company culture and the quality of our employees. We really focus a lot on continuous learning. Everyone is challenged everyday with something that they need to learn and grow and I think that keeps developers happy. It also continues to build our services to be more and more robust.

Paola: What are some tactics you use to create a strong company culture?
JC Grubbs: We maintain a very strict 40-hour work week, so work/life balance is really important. We focus less on levels of billable hours as delivering value to customers, so there’s not a, “you must fill 40 hours a week.” kind of stipulation. It’s really around delivering value to the client. What that does is, it gives employees purpose and purpose is really the thing that we find drives people.
If they feel like they’re delivering value and the customer is happy with their work and it’s being turned into a valuable product for the customer, then employees are motivated and happy. Really, I guess, maintaining balance and picking great clients to work with that have challenging projects and give us that opportunity to really learn and have some purpose, I think those are the core mechanisms we use to maintain culture.

Paola: Okay, great very cool. JC, I know you’re busy, but I have one last question for you. Tell me your predictions for your company in the next year.
JC Grubbs: Sure. We are kind of on a hiring spree right now. We’re really growing and we’re taking on a lot of new clients. We’re hoping to almost double the size of the company in 2013. We’re really looking forward to a strong year. We also have some goals to get into some other industries and broaden the base of clients that we’re able to take on, so we’re looking to focus on a few niche areas; finance, health care and a couple places where we haven’t done as much work as we like. It’s important for any consultancy like ours to have a really broad base of skills and past experiences, so this year we’d like to grow that catalog of experience.

Paola: You’re looking to do some major hiring and also broaden your industries. What are some ways that you plan to broaden the industries that you currently work with?
JC Grubbs: Sure. We’re doing a lot networking; it’s one of the best places to do that. A lot of our business comes in on referrals, so we’re really focusing on our own network. Beyond that, we’re also doing a lot of community events this year, so workshops on lots of different technologies, things that we kind of have some expertise in. We’re going to be doing those for free for communities and we’re going to be targeting those towards the industries that we’d love to break into. Those kinds of mechanisms are what we’re going to use for that.

Paola: Okay, very cool. Well, JC I thank you so much for sitting down and interviewing with me.
JC Grubbs: Sure thing.

Paola: If you’re interested in learning more about DevMynd and connecting with JC, go to Fundology.

Award-Winning Audience Response System: Conferences.IO

video

To find out more about John Pytel and Conferences.IO, visit his profile.

Watch the full video interview here

Paola: Hi, I’m here with John Pytel, founder of Conferences.IO. John, please introduce your company.
John: My company is called Conferences.IO, it is a mobile application that is used during conferences, events and meetings to improve audience participation and engagement. When you’re at a conference, meeting, session or presentation you want to be able to interact, right? That makes things much more exciting and much more engaging, but unfortunately there are very limited ways for the audience to do this. With Conferences.IO they’re able to use their mobile device, smartphone, tablet or laptop, and they’ll do different things like ask questions, respond to polls and even fill out evaluation surveys, so that the overall experience is much more valuable to them because they’re able to be more involved than just sitting back and listening.

Paola: What gave you the idea to start this company?
John: The original idea actually started when we were in college and in large lecture halls. We saw that no one ever wanted to raise their hand and ask a question. Even though everyone had questions, no one ever wanted to interrupt or speak in front of everyone. That’s where the original idea came from and then, as we progressed, we’ve adapted the product to be optimized for the conference and meeting market.

Paola: How do you advance your business using technology?
John: Our product or our technology actually advances a lot of other people’s businesses or all of our customers’ businesses because nearly everyone has some sort of smart device and over the next few years it’s going to be the standard. These devices are insanely powerful, and Conferences.IO allows them to leverage these powerful devices that everyone already has in order to create a greater experience. Our technology itself is designed to advance everyone else’s business.

Paola: Operations-wise within your company, are there any ways that you use technology to advance your product?
John: We are a web-based application, so we leverage the technology of mobile devices and the internet in general throughout everything we do and we leverage all sorts of different technology in terms of online marketing, so it’s very prevalent in our company and we leverage it in a number of different ways.

Paola: What are some tactics you used to push your company forward in the first month of operation?
John: One thing that we’ve done to push our company forward is really using the power of referrals, kind of word-of-mouth. When someone uses our product at a meeting or at an event and they get a ton of value from it and it’s made their experience greater for everyone involved, it’s very likely that they’ll be willing to refer us to one of their colleagues or someone else who shares the same problems. That’s been a really effective way for us to move forward and gain traction right out of the gate.

Paola: As a growing company, as a startup, we always say that we’re different, we’re better than our competitors. What really makes your company unique?
John: What makes us unique is the fact that we are completely web-based. In the audience response system market, most of the competition is centered around these hardware-based devices so they actually hand out this little plastic piece of hardware to the audience and they’re able to use that to interact. We’ve taken that technology and improved it by allowing them to do that through their phones or their iPads. The hardware-based system is obsolete or out of date and it has limited functionality. By transitioning that to mobile devices and being web-based, we’ve really differentiated ourselves in terms of the value we can provide because the features and functionality are so much greater in terms of the opportunities.

Paola: What are your predictions for your company in the next year?
John: It’s hard to predict the future and what’s going to happen, but our goals are to hit sales hard and continue to grow our customer base and adoption. The product is always going to be improved and things added to it, but we found a spot that already provides a tremendous value to our customer base. Now it’s a matter of getting the word out and getting in front of new prospects. That’s where our focus is going to be. Again, I have no idea what’s actually going to turn up, but if I had to predict, we’re going to see great growth.

Paola: Anything else?
John: If I had to make a prediction, I would say that our sales and customer base are going to grow at a really nice rate.

Paola: Are there any avenues you plan on going down specifically to increase sales?
John: One potential road that we’ve explored that’s been valuable to us, but that we have an opportunity to do more with, is through finding different distribution channels that already have access to a large customer base, whether those are meeting/event planners or companies that offer a related product to the same customers. We’re partnering with different people or organizations and using them as distribution channels to get access to customers with whom they already have relationships.

Paola: Thank you. If you’d like to learn more about Conferences.IO and connecting with John Pytel, visit: www.fundology.com.

World’s First and Only Alcohol Metabolizer: Forgiven

World’s First and Only Alcohol Metabolizer: Forgiven

To find out more about Chas Aday and Forgiven, visit his profile.

Paola: Hi, I’m here with Chas, CEO of Take Forgiven. Chas, if you can please introduce your company for me.

Chas: My name is Chas Aday. I’m the CEO of TakeForgiven.com. Forgiven is the name of our product. We’re an alcohol metabolizer/supplement product. We increase your body’s ability to process alcohol 62% faster thus keeping you from having a hangover the next day, which I’m sure everybody does not want.

Paola: Tell me how you came about the idea of this product.

Chas: A friend of mine has a degree in Sports Nutrition and came across an ingredient that he was using in another product and found out that with that ingredient you couldn’t get drunk. He kind of backed into it and developed the formula. We went out and tested it and found that it actually reduces blood alcohol levels faster in about an hour to 90 minutes.

Paola: How do you advance your business using technology?

Chas: Currently through Facebook and Twitter (social media sites). We have a lot of celebrity athletes that help promote the product through the social media sites along with some internet campaigns that we’re currently creating at this time to help sell the product on a more direct sales platform.

Paola: What are some tactics that you use to push your company forward in the first month of operation?

Chas: Basically, how we’ve been successful in such a short period of time is through relationships, through my partner, T. J. Lavin who is a BMX pro, MTV personality, host of The Challenge, through contacts of his and mine throughout the community. We’ve been able to get good distribution with our product and have been really successful within a short period of time. On top of that, having a good product that actually works has made all the difference in the world.

Paola: I’m sure it’s taken you a lot of experiences to get to the point where you are today. Tell me about your greatest failures and disasters in business.

Chas: I’ve done really well at a young age. I made my first million by the time I was 28 years old. I’ve also lost it all through bad decisions and lack of knowledge. You learn and you grow from your mistakes, which helps in current business today. I think without making those mistakes, it just leads you to make bigger mistakes down the road.

Paola: As a growing company, we always say we’re different and better than our competitors. What really makes your company unique?

Chas: We have a handful of competitors out there. There’s been a handful of companies that have tried to get into the hangover market. There’s not yet a category for this type of product. I think what separates us from everybody else is that our product actually works. We’ve done full RIB and FDA guideline clinical studies through a third party. We can show that our product is effective, that it does absorb blood alcohol 62% faster within an hour. The effects…people are just amazed at how fast it works and how well it works. I think that alone, that having a product that really does work, separates us from anybody else out there.

Paola: Absolutely. I have one more question for you, Chas. Tell me your predictions for your company in the next year.

Chas: I feel that we’re going to be very successful this next year. We’re in the process of getting approval to open in about 15 different countries right now. We’re growing our sales through retail right now with some of the large distributors that we’re working with. We’re also working on some more direct sales, TV ad campaigns, internet ad campaigns, so I’d say 2013 is going to be a good year for us.

Paola: I really look forward to seeing your product expand. Thank you so much for sitting down and meeting with me, Chas.

Chas: Thank you very much. I appreciate your time.

Learn more about Fundology and funding opportunities.

Helping Charities One Ticket at a Time: Tix4Cause

video_tix4cause

To find out more about Kevin and Tix4Cause, visit his profile.

Watch the full video interview here!

Paola: How did the idea for Tix4Cause come about?

Nemetz: A few years ago, while sitting in some pretty expensive seats at a baseball game, I noticed how many empty seats were around me. It would be great if we had the ability to sell them to the consumer at a fair price and put the money towards charity.

Paola: Please tell me about your background.

Nemetz: I grew up in the Midwest. My father was an entrepreneur. I consulted, which gave me additional opportunities to see how others did things. Ultimately, I became CEO of a meat-and-poultry industry start-up and then built one of the first business-to-business sites.

Paola: How do you use technology to advance your business?

Nemetz: Technology, it’s our entire platform. It’s very unique because if you think about it you could see it when you talk about competition. Are we competing against all of the major ticket networks? They might be a competitor. We’re also competing in a sense by giving a better alternative to charities when it comes to Eventbrite and PayPal because we do the charity events for them. We’re also a consultant to the charity. What’s unique about our website is when we built it, we had one principle in mind — make sure everyone wins at Tix4Cause.

Paola: How does Tix4Cause differ from other e-ticket sites?

Nemetz: When someone donates tickets they automatically receive a tax benefit with the charity’s Employee Identification Number (EIN). The charity doesn’t have to send a letter. They sit in a portal for each of our individual site members. The charities receive incremental funds without having to run an event. The purchasers are getting great seats at a great price. It’s all interacted, giving us the opportunity to query our consumers. Our ultimate goal is to drive a demographic of cause-based consumers, not price-based. We’ve gone way too far with price-based in what we’re doing with daily deals. We’re hoping to have 20,000 cause-based consumers within the next six to eight months.

Paola: How do you obtain the tickets you’re offering?

Nemetz: We have very unique partnerships with the largest ticket networks. While we can’t adjust the price of the tickets, we provide 42% of the service fee back to the charity of the purchaser’s choice. If you’re used to buying tickets on TicketMaster or Stubhub and visit Tix4Cause, you’ll see the same ticket. The difference will be that we’ll give 42% of your service fee to the charity of your choice.

We also get tickets from the venues. Say Blue Man Group realizes it has matinees they can’t fill. The White Sox and Cubs will come to us and say, “Instead of the charities coming through us, can the charities come through you?” Then we allocate the tickets. Everyone wants us to charge a fair price for their ticket.

Then ultimately, within the next week, we will have on our site corporation’s tickets. Corporations only use 60% of their tickets. We’re currently working with a company that manages over 500 corporations’ entertainment tickets. You’ll see skyboxes on there. You’ll see theatre tickets at some of the best things in New York. These are companies like Bank of America, United Healthcare, Coca-Cola, major consumer product-companies that are looking for another alternative to distribute their tickets. Then they’ll have the ability to click on a heart, pick the charity and it will move directly to our site. We’d like to think that within the next few months we will have more entertainment tickets than anyone in the country. We currently have ten million of them on the site right now.

Paola: Tell me how you really pushed your company forward in the first month of operation. What are some tactics that you used?

Nemetz: Because we’re entrepreneurial, founded this and fund it ourselves, we really have adopted the model that it’s few too many. The idea is that it’s the 80/20 rule, however we want to look at it. We bring charities on for free. They have an enormous number of supporters. We have a charity right now we’re working with that has 1.2 million supporters. We give them the collateral to get the information to their supporters. We think of them as consumers to purchase our tickets.

When we first started we had a pilot group of charities — from churches to Children’s Memorial Hospital. We were quickly able to get some radio press. We only tested it initially in Chicago. Currently we have over 450 Chicago-based charities on our site.

Paola: Tell me about your greatest business failure or disaster.

Nemetz: There have been several (laughter). That’s what makes you who you are. This journey has been more evolution than revolution. The evolution has been one of: we started off and thought charities would adopt this overnight. They’d pay us $249 to be on our site and we’d give them 100% of the proceeds and when we met with board members they’d write the check in front of me.

But we couldn’t see the board members. They’re only meeting maybe quarterly or so. When it came to the charities you had to really have some empathy for what they go through with their budgets which are very low. So $249, which I thought, under $250, easy to get that approved, was not that easy. As we looked at the Customer Relationship Management (CRM) tool, we realized it took over 100 days to get a customer onboard. Realizing that it’s all about getting traction, we suddenly then went to the 90/10 rule where we give 90% of the proceeds to the charity and 10% honest, straight donation.

When it comes to the ticket network, we keep half. When it comes to other situations, we’ll keep half. We never give less than half of what we earn to the charity. From that standpoint, that was an initial startup.

I also probably could have done this a lot cheaper from the website build. I initially went with a fairly expensive platform. I don’t regret it now, I did then. Also, you’ve got to surround yourself with the right people. We’re not in the heart of Chicago. We’re in Naperville and all over the country with what we’re doing. It would have been nice and important probably to be in an incubator initially in the Chicago market.

Paola: As a growing company, one that’s fresh, different and better than its competitors, what are some things that really make your company unique? What makes you shine?

Nemetz: We raised almost $225,000 for charity without them having to lift a finger. That’s neat.
We’ve got so many different revenue stream opportunities that either It’s something that’s unique about us or that we’ve got to really hone in and focus on. But we’ve had some amazing tickets. When you’re getting two four-day passes to the most difficult ticket in sports, which is the Masters, and you’re able to sell it for $9,000 in 22 minutes, and make $8,100 for Ronald McDonald House, and still make $900 doing it, that’s pretty exciting. When you’re selling 15,000 tickets for a concert for the American Fallen Warriors Memorial Foundation, which is the next major memorial that we’re going to give to our troops that have fallen. Since there’s been nothing since the Vietnam Wall, for us to be a part of that, is a really exciting venture. We were called on by the British government. They wanted us for the Olympics because their biggest issue was corporate sponsors. We’re starting to be requested by different people. We also have a unique spokesperson and one of the Real Housewives of D.C., Mary Amons. She’s done a lot of great things. We also have athletes like Charles Tillman, Ryan Dempster, Kerry Wood and Kurt Warner.

We’re continuing to see more and more growth opportunities. No one’s doing it like us. No one’s moving the tickets and if more and more people knew that they could buy tickets here they would. We gave away 100 tickets for My Morning Jacket in Dallas that were backstage passes for the Big Brothers, Big Sisters. Everybody wants to associate with a cause. They just have to find a way to do it and Tix4Cause is that vehicle.

Paola: One last question for you. Tell me your predictions for your company in the next year.

Nemetz: The next year is focused on awareness. It’s focused on few too many with the charities. Our prediction is that we will do over $1 million in sales. We will have probably closer to 50,000 charities onboard. Major charities contact us every day. We will be seen as a new alternative for cause-based consumers and that demographic will be a very, very hot for a lot of people who want to associate with cause-based consumers. We see consumer-product companies doing it every day.

Why is Proctor Gamble investing millions to put that pink ribbon on its packaging? Because consumers relate to causes. That’s what we’re trying to do more and more of. Ultimately, the most important thing is to raise over $1 million in the next year for charities.

Paola: Thank you for your time.
Nemetz: I appreciate it. Thank you.