From the category archives:

Profiles

There comes a moment in the life of a young company when a product changes from a great idea that helps some people solve a problem into an essential product for a large group of people.  The kind of product that forms the backbone of a large company, the kind of company a college football bowl is named after.  Earlier this year, that moment may well have happened for local start-up StatEasy.

StatEasy was started many years ago by former volleyball player and active coach, Mike Ressler.  As an undergraduate assistant for the women’s volleyball team at Carnegie Mellon University, Mike applied his computer science skills to create a better way to track volleyball statistics.  A few years after graduation, his wife, also a volleyball coach, and a few other coaches asked Mike if they could use the software for their teams.  At that point, Mike smelled an opportunity.  He immediately began to improve the product to make it usable for a wider variety of people, even adding huge enhancements such as the ability to synchronize statistics with video.  He soon found more and more coaches that wanted to use StatEasy (and who now love it and swear by it), including the head coach of the men’s team at my alma mater, Penn State.  So many coaches liked StatEasy that Mike brought on a co-founder, and they are currently turning the idea of accurate feedback through statistics and video synchronization into a legitimate competitor in the volleyball market.

Then, out of the blue came bowling, and with it, a chance to pivot from lifestyle business to growing company.  The volleyball coach at St. Francis University showed StatEasy to the new head coach of the bowling team, and he was immediately stoked.  It was exactly what he needed, and something like he had never seen for bowling – a way to reliably score and capture statistics (not to mention break down video) for his team’s every match.  Mike and his co-founder got to work immediately and answered the call by creating a complete solution for bowling in only 6 weeks!  Their solution solves many problems for bowling coaches, one of the biggest being the complicated nature of the collegiate scoring systems (some of the scoring rules of bowling are so new and complex that even the coaches aren’t comfortable with them), and their hopes are that StatEasy could become the standard way to score and capture statistics for entire bowling conferences and eventually the NCAA.  And then it only gets better from there. When most colleges are using StatEasy for bowling, what do you think the high schools will start using?  What about the parents who want their kids to get a bowling scholarship?  And the bowling leagues that the collegiate bowling players join after they graduate?  When a company solves problems for an entire sport (while already helping numerous coaches in other sports), that’s the kind of company that grows big – really big.  The kind of company that can help Mike Ressler realize his dream of the StatEasy Bowl, with him watching the action from a bright orange blimp in the sky.

StatEasy’s Website:  www.StatEasySports.com
StatEasy’s Twitter Feed:  @StatEasy

{ 0 comments }

Last week Tim, the CEO of Wawadoo made time to have a drink with me. I had met his co-founder, Chris at open coffee club last week and was anxious to find out more about the young Alphalab company.

Wawadoo is the recommendation engine for events. As they explain it, “just view our list of events, vote ‘thumbs up’ or ‘thumbs down’ if something interests you, and receive increasingly accurate recommendations on things to do every time you choose.” On the concept level they may have something: how many times have you wondered what to do or found out about something you wanted to go to after it was over?

I was excited to hear that Tim’s thought this through much further than the concept level, it’s a potentially interesting business model. Like many interest-based sites, there is a lot of potential for related business to leverage targeted advertising. For example, if I’m a bar I could advertise to people who frequently attend events at the neighboring concert hall or happy hours that are similar to mine.

The difficulty in a business like this is getting to critical mass. The users have to be present in order for the businesses to find value. Tim and Chris, the founders of Wawadoo, think they can do it. “We’ve seen a great response from local organizations. I think they see something like this as the future of finding an event” says Chris, the COO of the company (and a talented developer). “We haven’t opened the site yet and we already have interest of event promoters and organizations who want to co-promote with us,” Tim added, “This will be a great way to get the word out to users. It also means that the businesses must see something there.”

Soon you’ll get to decide. Go to www.wawadoo.com, enter your email address, and you’ll be one of the first members of the public to try it.

{ 0 comments }

One look at the business cards of DeviceKnit co-founders John Ganotis and Jordan Messina will tell you these guys aren’t your typical entrepreneurs. Listed as the chief espresso officer and chief tea officer, the recent AlphaLab grads have a knack for setting themselves apart (and employing humor while they’re at it).

DeviceKnit began as a web application for Ganotis and Messina to keep track of their gadgets and share ideas of how to use them with friends. Both were often asked to help setup electronics for other people and like finding new uses for devices they already own.

“I was always tinkering,” Ganotis said.

The best use Ganotis found was using the Wii remote, which he describes in a video on DeviceKnit.

Messina said he is looking forward to using GoogleTV with the iPhone.

Working from their interest in devices, Ganotis and Messina thought to expand the network by including more users and to make a profit through pay-per-click and affiliate sales. They decided to apply for the Spring 2010 AlphaLab session after Messina heard Resumator founder Don Charlton on the podcast This Week in Startups. Charlton had mentioned AlphaLab during the talk.

“I looked up Don after I heard it and emailed him last June,” Messina said.

Now that the program is over, DeviceKnit has moved in to office space with fellow AlphaLabers CloudFab in the Hill District. The building is owned by Dale McNutt, who is calling the location “Startup Town” and offering graduated pricing for new companies. Ganotis and Messina agreed that the community of local business owners in Pittsburgh offers a lot of different groups to get involved with and provides opportunity and guidance.

“Everyone is pulling for each other and giving a helping hand,” Ganotis said.

When it comes to funding, Ganotis and Messina are hopeful about their prospects and can self-sustain from profit in the meantime. Receiving support will enable the two to grow the community for DeviceKnit at a quicker pace by allowing them to move forward with development and gain users.

Ganotis and Messina are working on development along with the help of an intern from Duquesne University. The private beta for users who sign up is expected by the end of June, with a public beta to follow.

Not to be forgotten are the efforts of “Pluggy,” the logo for DeviceKnit, which can be found on Twitter. Pluggy was described as a “plug with an attitude” and picked from several designs submitted to 99designs.com, the site Ganotis and Messiner used to solicit ideas for the logo. Plans for Pluggy include t-shirts and stickers. The stickers, as Ganotis said, may find their way onto devices in different stores (some with angry faces to show Pluggy’s disgruntled opinion).

Eventually, Ganotis and Messina hope to expand DeviceKnit to include person-to-person sales, similar to how craigslist operates. No matter how the business expands, the initial idea for DeviceKnit remains the motivation behind the company.

“DeviceKnit is about sharing ideas and getting inspired by what others are doing,” Ganotis said. “Too many people are trying to reinvent the wheel when they should be figuring out how it works.”

{ 1 comment }

fooalaFooala tries to bridge the gap between online food ordering and local restaurants. When I first heard their idea at last year’s AlphaLab demo day, I was like “Wow that’s a great idea”! A lot of small restaurants do not have the time or the money to launch a platform to take orders online. Even if they did, trying to promote the fact that they could take orders that way would also be costly and time consuming.

Fooala provides an open online ordering system to restaurants as a Software as a Service. This means there is no hardware or software the restaurant needs to install. Fooala ties in to what the restaurant already does to take orders by phone and fax. They take it another step to help the restaurant integrate the system on an existing website.

Now here is where Fooala get interesting, the restaurant can also tie into a network of high quality websites and applications to engage and attract new customers. A great example of this is CollegeBite.com and the Facebook game Bite Bandit.

college

Fooala created College Bite to provide online ordering for delivery and pickup from local restaurants. Right now it’s only in Pittsburgh but they plan to launch in other cities soon. I could take the time to explain how the site works, but if you just go to it, it’s self explanatory. Think of it as an interactive menu section of a phonebook (if anyone still uses one of those giant wastes of paper anymore).

Another great example, Bite Bandit creates an interactive food ordering experience. The recently launched Facebook game gives away valuable coupons for orders from CollegeBite.com. They tell me the game has reached thousands of people and has given away thousands of dollars since they launched it a few weeks ago.

The game is setup like a slot machine and with each spin you can win up to $10 off your net order from College Bite. You only get 5 credits a day but you can score you self some more by promoting the game and your winnings.

Fooala is making it easy for small restaurants to reach an audience they would have never been able to reach themselves. I’m really looking forward to watching what this local startup will do next.

They wouldn’t give me details but they tell me they are working on a few major deals with publishers to use their system. I am thinking it’s going to be some kind of widget that the publisher could tie in with their food section. If this is true, then this would give restaurants another great way to reach customers.

{ 1 comment }

mygov365logomyGov365 offers a new service to engage the public in the political process. Similar to the Sunlight Foundation’s OpenCongress.org, myGov365 allows users to support different politicians, bills, causes, etc. OpenCongress only gets as local as congressional districts, myGov365 takes the concept further by connecting at the “hyper-local” level such as city councils. This isn’t just a copy-cat idea, the best part of myGov365 is that it allows and encourages local politicians to interact within the network.

Screen shotI recently was invited to join go the private beta and have had an opportunity to use the product. This is a perfect time for a product like myGov365 to launch – political participation was at an all-time high during the last presidential election and now with hot button issues such as the stimulus, health care reform and (for Pittsburgh) library closures and the tuition tax people are more interested than ever to know about the issues.

Pittsburgh City Councilman Bill Peduto spoke with me about his involvement and goals with working with myGov365. He became involved early on in the project and worked diligently for almost a year to clear the obstacles for myGov365. The trick was to allow for one-way communication and not put a burden on the City Clerks office. This is great news. Because of Peduto’s experience in working with open government initiatives and foresight this access is available free of charge to any group or individual interested.

Peduto goes on about myGov365′s goal to move beyond just government and into the community. He mentions that the beta will soon grow to include some “technically and social media savvy” non-profit organizations from the East End.

The goal of myGov365 is to give politicians and community groups an easy to use platform to engage with their constituents. I believe this is a great goal, but a lofty one. Politicians have numerous opportunities to interact and with their constituents via Twitter and Facebook – what compelling reason do politicians and constituents have to go to another network? Peduto belives that this is going to be the “Facebook or Twitter for Governments.” He may be right, but to get people to move between Facebook and myGov365 may pose a challenge.

Given that myGov365 is still in it’s infancy I think they have a chance to answer that question. Right now, they are working to refine their product. Despite some hiccups with the beta invites, myGov365 is a solid beta. Unfortunately the webpages look like a beta, right now it isn’t very polished (especially given the focus on design and usability in so many of today’s startups) and it takes some guessing to determine how to get information (like to find out what H.R. 3975 is, I have to click on the title and dig through the information there.)

Like most networks, you can comment on things (bills, etc), join or create groups and contact other members of the network. For the politically active this is a great tool to find like-minded individuals and discuss the topics. For the curious it’s great to see what representatives are promoting and discussing.

Overall I think it’s a solid product headed in the right direction for local politics and non-profits. But, I’m still going to use OpenCongress as my go-to reference for national issues because of the larger community and easier to navigate UI.

{ 4 comments }