Vitls – Startup Profile

vitls logo

Introduction

Vitls is a technology company that was founded by Werner Vorster and his wife Louise Vorster.  The two founders developed a next generation, body worn device that can measure telemetry based vital signs continuously and accurately.  This device is patented, small, unobtrusive, flexible and made out of a biocompatible material.  The founders utilized cloud-based algorithms that convert the clinically accurate data into actionable information for both parents and doctors to access from anywhere.

High-Level Description

According to Werner, Vitls is a technology company that is building revolutionary medical devices for homes and hospitals.  The benefit of Vitls is that now a child or patient’s vitals can be monitored continuously, reliably and undisturbed – from anywhere!

Idea Generation

Vitls was created to address a need.  The need was to have something that could continuously and accurately measure the founder’s son’s temperature remotely.  Werner’s son, Emjay suffered from something known as “febrile seizures.”  These febrile seizures were brought on by his temperature rising too fast or too high.  Werner and his wife initially monitored this issue by taking turns watching over Emjay at night.  They would spend nights in Emjay’s room in order to monitor his temperature intermittently so that they could react as soon as it spiked.  Constantly having to monitor their son put Werner and his wife under a lot of pressure.  On top of that, it caused Emjay a lot of discomfort.  At the time Werner was using an in-ear thermometer because nothing better was available.

Competition

The competition in this space is certainly growing.  Some top competitors at this time are Braun, Owlet, Feversmart and TempTraq.  The target market that Vitls is addressing consists of the parents of children 0-4 years old.  Currently, there are approximately 24 million in the United States and United Kingdom alone.

Entrepreneurial Challenges

Vitls faced several key challenges while starting up the company and developing the device.  Some of the key challenges consisted of:

  • Finding the right partners for hardware and software development.
  • Building a network of investor contacts.
  • Getting introduced to investors.
  • Getting funded (which Werner mentioned is a work in progress!).

Werner also mentioned that one of the easier things for Vitls was filing for patents and incorporating in the United States.

Conclusion

Vitls is a very interesting company and it will be interesting to see how things progress going forward. Funding is obviously going to be a big priority for Werner and his wife.  Vitls recently launched a Fundable campaign so be sure to check out their page – https://www.fundable.com/vitls-inc.  Also, please be sure to check out Vitls’ site at http://www.vitlsinc.com/ and follow them on Twitter @VitlsInc

Some other social media for the company can be accessed here as well: Facebook, AngelList, Crunchbase and LinkedIn.

*StartupConvos has no investment in this company

Happier House – Startup Profile

Introduction

Happier House is an online platform that allows homeowners to eliminate “the middleman” by providing wholesale prices on materials, and all-inclusive pricing on installation.  The company was founded by Izzy DiChiara and three other partners.  Happier House can be a useful tool for homeowners, by helping them save up to 30% on renovations, repairs, and remodeling projects.  The company is based in Dallas, Texas and has recently expanded the service to Miami.

The Product

happier house landing page

Our Conversation

About a week ago, I had the chance to speak with the founder of Happier House, Izzy DiChiara.  Throughout our conversation, Izzy discussed more about his business and some of the challenges that he has faced while working on it.

High-Level Description

According to Izzy, Happier House is a platform that provides homeowners with up to 30% savings for the home improvement process.  The platform does this by offering all-inclusive pricing for installation.  Also, wholesale prices on materials are offered and local contractors are vetted to do the work on projects.  Happier House has the labor cost included upfront — Saving homeowners time and money by using technology to manage their projects, eliminating the need for a typical “contractor” and their large overhead and salesmen commission fees.

Idea Generation

In 2008, Hurricane “Ike” hit. Izzy was called by his brother-in-law and was asked to help him with marketing efforts for his construction company.  Many people were affected by this tragedy.  Izzy decided to talk with homeowners to see how they were dealing with what happened.  After speaking with about 100 different people, Izzy “saw a void.”  People were not happy with the process that they had to go through to repair their homes.  A big issue with the process was that there was no price transparency.  A home owner showed Izzy cost estimates from several different companies (there were 8 quotes) and all of the quotes were different.  The homeowner was frustrated with the fact that out of 8 quotes, none were the same.  Izzy decided to create a platform that addressed the need for a better process.

Competition

According to Izzy, there are some similar concepts out there but none that offer true price transparency.  Izzy mentioned that Happier House is somewhat of a home concierge service.  All other competitors, essentially take a homeowner’s information and give it to contractors, which turns into the homeowner getting bombarded with emails, calls, and even text messages from various contractors.

Entrepreneurial Influence

Izzy has always had an entrepreneurial mindset.  In 1998, he bought a Mac computer and began creating logos for companies.  He has a strong background in branding.  Throughout his life he was always starting up companies with little capital.  On top of his branding and digital marketing background, he is also a self-taught “coder.”  He learned how to build websites for people by picking up a book on html and learning on the fly.

Name Generation

When the platform originally launched, it was called Roof Zero. The reason being was because at the time, the company only dealt with roofing.  Somewhere between 2013-2014, the company was renamed and became Happier House.  Happier House was a better name because it allowed the company to offer more services (addressing a larger market).

Entrepreneurial Challenges

Some of the challenges that Izzy and his team faced when creating the company were:

  • Developing the quoting algorithm
  • Spreading the word
  • Being recognized

Izzy and his team faced many common problems that entrepreneurs constantly face while trying to get their products or services off the ground and ready to launch.

Conclusion

Izzy is a great person to speak with.  His passion for his venture is clear as soon as you begin talking with him.  It will be interesting to see how Happier House grows over the next few years.  Best of luck to Izzy and his team on a successful launch.  Please be sure to check out Happier House’s site at http://happierhouse.com/ and follow them on Twitter @HappierHouse

*StartupConvos has no investment in this company

HangOut – App Profile

IntroductionHangOut logo

HangOut is an app that gives users a new way to find and share plans.  The app is currently available for free on the Apple app store.  HangOut was created in 2014 by four college students, Daniel (Danny) Guthrie, Mitchell Trulli, Hunter Knepshield, and Daniel Harrington.  The app is ideal for college students looking to see what events are happening on or off-campus.  HangOut falls under Mitchell and Danny’s holding company, Masterminds Holding Company LLC, in which two other companies fall under; EquityOwl and Market MI.

The App

HangOut combined pics

Our Conversation

It was interesting speaking with Mitchell, especially since I recently spoke with Ryan Shaw, co-founder of EquityOwl, where Mitchell is also a co-founder.  Typically, StartupConvos only interviews early-stage startups, but this app seemed interesting and after learning about EquityOwl, I thought it would be good to also learn about another one of Mitchell’s projects.  The thing that made this conversation really interesting is the fact that Mitchell is currently studying abroad in Barcelona, Spain (to date StartupConvos has only interviewed people that are currently within the United States).

High-Level Description

Mitchell described the app as a semi-anonymous serial planner that allows users to see what is going on in the area.  Users can post events to their area and other users can see events that are happening around them (5-15 miles away).  Currently, the app has been downloaded around 3,000 times.  HangOut is trying to disrupt club events and is utilized in Boston, Tampa and Barcelona right now.

Idea Generation

The idea came about when Mitchell started seeing a lot of cool events happening around him.  He determined that there really wasn’t an effective way to plan things out (event-wise).  The purpose of the idea was originally to just be an app that would allow people in Boston to see what’s going on in the area.

Competition

HangOut is one of the only location-based, social event apps on the market, according to Mitchell.  He did mention that WIGO (Who is Going Out) was a big competitor that had received successful funding, but the app shutdown recently.  When WIGO shutdown, Mitchell said that many people dubbed HangOut as “WIGO’s replacement.”  However, he mentioned that he feels HangOut does location-based social events better.  The app allows users to post parties, meetups, beach trips, etc. by using user-driven information.

Entrepreneurial Influence

Mitchell’s first entrepreneurial experience was in 3rd grade.  In 3rd grade, he ended up placing 2nd in ExploraVision – a science-based competition that deals with bringing ideas to reality.  Mitchell created a belt for blind people that would vibrate when they got too close to objects.  Along with this entrepreneurial experience, (as mentioned before) he also co-founded EquityOwl and Masterminds Holding Company LLC.  Entrepreneurship is nothing new to Mitchell (if it wasn’t obvious).

Name Generation

The name “HangOut” came about from sitting around tossing name ideas around.  The co-founders eventually decided to just call it HangOut and they could always change it later if they wanted to.  Mitchell, Daniel and the other co-founders ended up keeping the name instead of just using it as a placeholder like they originally thought they would.

Entrepreneurial Challenges

One of the biggest challenges HangOut faced was being labeled as WIGO’s replacement, according to Mitchell.  Another challenge with the app was including it as the first application within Mitchell’s holding company.  Some more challenges that the application faced according to Mitchell were the following:

  • Building small active user bases
  • Being careful not to expand too quickly
  • Focusing on small communities
  • Starting small and growing larger

Conclusion

HangOut is an interesting app and should become popular amongst college students and many others if executed properly.  On top of learning about this app, it was also very interesting to learn about yet another young entrepreneur.  Mitchell’s background is already quite impressive and I look forward to seeing what other ventures he creates over the next few years.  Students need to take a page out of Mitchell and Ryan’s (co-founder of EquityOwl) book and become student entrepreneurs.  Please be sure to check out HangOut’s site at http://www.officialhangout.co/ and follow them on Twitter @officialhangout. Also, you can follow them on Instagram @officialhangout

*StartupConvos has no investment in this company

 

The app can be downloaded on iTunes

EquityOwl – Startup Profile

Introduction

EquityOwl is a company that allows people to trade equity in their startup or idea, in exchange for professional services and talent.  The company was co-founded in 2015 by Mitchell Trulli, Ryan Shaw and Alan Blashaw.  The company deals with two classifications of people: people who have ideas they want to work on and people looking for ideas to work on.  According to the EquityOwl site, the goal of the platform “is to help entrepreneurs succeed.”

The Product

Our Conversation

Last week, I had the opportunity to speak with one of the co-founders of EquityOwl, Ryan Shaw.  Ryan is another young entrepreneur that StartupConvos has had the pleasure of speaking with about entrepreneurship and startups.  It was great to be able to discuss EquityOwl with Ryan and see what it is truly all about.

High-Level Description

According to Ryan, EquityOwl is a “service for people who have great business ideas, but not the capital to start up.”  The way the platform works is as follows:  the user posts an idea in return for equity and professionals on the platform can express their interest in the idea in exchange for equity compensation only.  It is a pretty interesting concept in my opinion.  The platform also has legal documents built into the site, which definitely helps the process move along more efficiently and swiftly.  Instead of having to go off the site to handle hiring, EquityOwl uses the built-in legal documents to allow users to hire directly off the site.  The site is a great way for freelancers to work on projects in exchange for equity.

Idea Generation

Mitchell Trulli, one of the co-founders of EquityOwl came up with the idea for the platform about two years ago.  The co-founders at the time (Mitchell and Ryan), kept trying to push forward new ideas, but had no way to bring them to life.  They didn’t have the experience or money at the time (they were in high school).  What did they do to address these issues?  The co-founders decided to look at their own problems and thus created a business that could solve them.  A business model was created that addressed exactly what they needed.

Competition

Ryan mentioned that there is some competition, but they are focused on compensation in the form of money.  Some well-known competitors are www.guru.com and www.freelancer.com. The two companies have a similar idea in regards to EquityOwl, however the two companies are more concerned with finding jobs for hire, instead of finding jobs for equity (like EquityOwl does).  Also, EquityOwl attracts high school and college students, as well as working professionals, whereas other competitors primarily attract working professionals only.  One of the unique advantages of EquityOwl, according to Ryan is that EquityOwl utilizes legal document templates within the platform.

Entrepreneurial Influence

Ryan believes that he has always had an entrepreneurial mindset.  Part of that comes from the fact that he has always had an interest in problems.  One of the things Ryan has always done was look for problems and see what solutions he could develop.  Ryan mentioned that after studying business more in college, he became even more interested in entrepreneurship.

Name Generation

Originally, the name of the company was SparkIdeas.  However, the co-founders wanted a branded logo and felt that EquityOwl would allow them to create a good one (and they also liked how it sounded).  The new name actually came from Alan Blashaw, who was brought on in October 2015 to be one of the partners.  Everyone liked the name because it incorporated the term “equity” within it.  Hearing the term EquityOwl let users and anyone else that was interested – understand that the platform revolved around equity, rather than money.  Ryan mentioned that re-branding the company EquityOwl was a major turning point from being just an idea to becoming a company.

Entrepreneurial Challenges

One of the biggest challenges for the co-founders was just getting started with the site.  Some of the initial challenges that they ran into consisted of:

  • Money to fund the site
  • Refining the idea
  • Developing who they were as a company
  • Separating themselves from the competition
  • Initial inexperience
  • Trying to develop individual skill sets while developing the company

Conclusion

It was great to speak with yet another young entrepreneur.  I really like the concept of EquityOwl and let’s face it, most of us out there have been in a situation where we would love to start a company, but don’t want to shell out the capital needed to hire the professionals that we need.  Thanks to EquityOwl, that is no longer the case.  Please be sure to check out EquityOwl’s site at http://www.equityowl.com/ and follow them on Twitter @JustEquityOwl

*StartupConvos has no investment in this company

Meta Search – Startup Profile

IntroductionMeta Search logo

Meta Search is “Google for your files.”  It allows users to search their desktop, Google Drive, Dropbox, Gmail, Evernote, and everything else the way that they would search the Internet.  The company was founded by Jason Briggs in 2014 and is located in Boston, MA.

The Product

Meta Search screenshot

Our Conversation

Jason and I recently had a conversation about his company, Meta Search.  It was great to be able to learn more about Jason’s company and the problem that it addresses.  How many of you have used several platforms to save work at some point during college or work?  If your hand is not up, then you really need to start using more forms of technology to your advantage.  Drives like Google Drive, Dropbox, Box, and your desktop are great for saving documents, but what happens when you have so many files and you forget where a certain document is?  Nothing really comes to mind at first, but Meta Search is here to save the day!  Meta Search will allow you to search for documents amongst all the platforms that you use to save things (This will come in handy!).  In this conversation Jason discusses his company and how it came about.

High-Level Description

Meta Search is the Google Search Engine for your files.  It allows you to search for a file in a few seconds.  One of the benefits of Meta Search is that it allows users to find a file on numerous drives.  Let’s say you don’t remember the exact name of the file you are looking for (don’t worry it’s okay); Meta Search allows you to search by whatever you remember about that file (who you shared it with, etc.).

Idea Generation

Two or three summers ago, Jason was talking with his mother.  Jason’s mother was discussing how she was thinking about going back to school (she’s a teacher). She began thinking about all of the files she currently had on her desktop (over 350+ files).  It was frustrating because she could not find what she wanted.  It was at this point Jason decided to build a simple way of finding files by preview, favorite folders, etc.  It would help users have a better way of organizing their files.  Jason ended up taking the idea to a business plan competition.  The way of organizing files that Jason had built was great, but his mother could still not find things.  Jason decided to build an excellent file search, which would improve the way people search for files.

Competition

Before speaking with Jason, I was unaware of any competitors in this space (besides your basic desktop search).  Jason said that there are companies that do parts of what they do, but there doesn’t seem to be a one-stop shop at this time that does it all like Meta Search.  Some competitors you have probably heard of consist of your basic desktop search.  According to Jason, Windows currently has a poor quality search and Mac is getting better, but both only allow for local file searches.  If all of a user’s files were in one drive, the user would have less of a problem, but the search quality would still be poor.

Entrepreneurial Influence

Jason always considered himself to have an “out of the box mind set.”  He was the type of person that didn’t conform to any set of standards and always enjoyed making decisions.  After speaking with Jason and learning more about him, it is clear that he has always had that “entrepreneurial mindset.”

Name Generation

The name for the first program he created was called Tidy.  It was meant to mean “clean your desktop up.”  He kept thinking every night what he should name this platform.  He eventually landed on Meta, because he believes his search platform is much better than the other search and cloud search options. The funny thing about Meta, according to Jason, was that people either loved this name or hated it.  Personally, I like the name. I think it is short, sweet, and simple which are all things that often help when building a brand.

Entrepreneurial Challenges

Jason expressed that he faced three main challenges when starting Meta Search.  The 3 challenges consisted of:

  • Building a great team – Jason explained that “finding talented technical team members, is surprisingly difficult.” However, the issue of finding talented technical team members got a little easier, as a result of Meta Search dealing with interesting technical problems.  Since the technical problems that Meta Search is solving are interesting, Jason said the company has been able to attract some great engineers!
  • Raising an angel round – This was a difficult issue since it took longer than Jason expected. Meta Search was eventually successful, due to the fact that the problem they were trying to solve, resonated well with everyone on a personal level, including investors.
  • Opinions – Jason discussed that “everyone has a different opinion on where we (Meta Search) should be headed and one of the challenges is incorporating the best feedback, but also staying true to our vision.”

Conclusion

I believe that many people out there will really enjoy Meta Search.  Forget spending countless hours searching for documents on your computer and drives individually and instead use Meta Search to find what you are searching for!  Please be sure to check out Meta Search’s site at www.meta.sc and follow them on Twitter @metasearch

*StartupConvos has no investment in this company

Sumu – Startup Profile

Introductionsumu logo

Sumu helps users locate and obtain a great place to live at the best price (in the Boston area).  The platform is able to do this through things like financing, social verification modern UX, and secure deposit transfers, according to the company’s LinkedIn page.  Sumu is located in Boston, MA and was founded in 2014 by Daniel Tewfik and Ethan Setnik.

The Platform

sumu image

Our Conversation

On Friday, March 25th I was able to discuss Sumu with one of its co-founders, Daniel Tewfik.  Right from the start of the conversation, I could tell how passionate Daniel is for Sumu.  It always gets me really excited about a product or service, when one of the founders absolutely loves what they are doing.  History shows that when a founder is heavily into their startup it can often mean future success for the company (although there are numerous other factors that play a role in that as well).

High-Level Description

Sumu is a platform that helps people find housing in Boston, according to Daniel.  It helps people find better housing by utilizing:

  • User’s needs (what does the user want?)
  • Better analytics & tools
  • Nice and clean platform

Idea Generation

How did Sumu even come about?  Daniel was looking for an apartment a while back and was using things like Craigslist to see what was available.  His best friend was looking to buy a home so there wasn’t really any good options for him.  As Daniel put it, the whole process was a “horrible experience.”  Daniel felt almost taken advantage of during the whole process.  It was around this time that Daniel and Ethan thought they could make this process much better.  Daniel and Ethan began learning a lot about this space and eventually dove into business.  Daniel is proud to say that Sumu has been in business for over a year now.

Competition

One of the interesting things about Sumu is that it can technically belong within several different industries.  Overall, there are thousands of competitors in the real estate industry.  However, Daniel said there are many different types of players within this industry.  These players consist of:

  • Technology companies
  • Old-school companies
  • Brokers (this type particularly seems to do a poor job of finding housing for people – according to Daniel)

Daniel feels Sumu has a competitive advantage in this space by offering users a tech-enabled, housing solution with a “CRM experience.”  As mentioned earlier, there are thousands of competitors in the housing industry, however there are only hundreds or less within the technology-housing industry, according to Daniel.  One of the interesting things with Sumu is that it is an inclusive housing app.  The platform will deal with anyone who is looking for help.

Entrepreneurial Influence

Daniel has always thought of himself as an entrepreneur and so has his co-founder, Ethan.  He said when he was about 8 years old, he used to work his neighborhood.  Daniel would go driveway to driveway offering to shovel driveways.  He would never set a price point for his shoveling services, but instead would offer a “pay what you were comfortable with” pricing model.  He continued his entrepreneurial ways and when it was time for leaves to be raked, he was there with his rake ready to go.  Daniel also said that during college he tried diving into a few ventures as well.  Daniel and Ethan are pretty similar in regards to the fact that they like to build a product that solves a problem.  As Daniel put it, “Ethan is the brains and I am the legs.”  I found that quote and way of thinking to be quite interesting.

Name Generation

The whole conversation up to this point was going swimmingly, but this section in particular really seemed to interest me (I always love hearing where a company’s name comes from).  Every year, Daniel along with his friends and family go on a trip in New Hampshire.  Daniel decided that on this trip he was going to utilize his friends and family to try and come up with a name for his latest venture.  He asked them what he and Ethan should name the company. After much thought, no one came up with a name!  Finally, Ethan’s wife, Namika said “the name of your company should be Sumu.”  It turns out that Sumu in Japanese means to live or to reside.  Daniel and Ethan liked this name and its meaning and thought the “live” part meshed perfectly with the platform since it dealt with where people would find places to live.  Another positive that seemed to come out of naming the company Sumu was that the company has really good SEO.  If someone were to search Sumu – it would be the first thing to come up.

Entrepreneurial Challenges

It is always intriguing to hear about the challenges that entrepreneurs are facing or have faced in the past.  Challenges are needed to be able to create a great product or service so it always interested me to hear about other challenges entrepreneurs face (this way there are no surprises – the more challenges I am aware of – the more challenges I might be able to solve).  Daniel said that when he and Ethan first started Sumu, they faced a lot of challenges.  He said “people see a certain sexiness to entrepreneurship; as if being an entrepreneur is like being a rock star, but what they don’t see are the late nights, high intensity, high volume, etc.” Since being an entrepreneur means likely not getting much sleep amongst other things; one thing is for certain – you need to love it!  Daniel went on to elaborate more about entrepreneurship and how it is not really taught in college or education in general (which is a shame in my opinion – entrepreneurship is something that should be taught as early as grade school because it develops creativity at a young age).  Daniel also discussed how catch-22s are common.  According to Daniel, “You can’t get money without users and you can’t get users without money.”  This is one of the better statements I have heard lately and that is mostly because it is so true when you stop and think about it.  Our conversation began to wrap up with Daniel adding one more challenge to the list and that was that “building a beautiful product is tough.”  It is certainly something many tech-entrepreneurs out there can agree with.

Conclusion

If Daniel and Ethan’s passion for Sumu continues, the chances of Sumu becoming a well-known company in the tech-housing industry will definitely go up.  It was a pleasure to have a nice conversation with Daniel about Sumu and entrepreneurship.  Hopefully we will touch base in the near-future.  Please be sure to check out Sumu’s site at https://sumu.io/ and follow them on Twitter @SumuApp

*StartupConvos has no investment in this company