In advance of the seven participating startups presenting their products July 14, 2014 at Montclair State University, NJTechWeekly.com asked them to name an entrepreneurial lesson they had learned during the program and describe how learning it had changed their way of doing business.
In Part One, we presented answers from SHIELD Tech Innovations, Outdoor Exchange, and FUSAR. Here we look at what Retail Shopping Systems, MobileArq, Inspirity, and Animal Social Club had to say.
Retail Shopping Systems
TechLaunch startup Retail Shopping Systems (RSS) says it is transforming in-store shopping. The company says its product Cart Magic provides shoppers a dynamic, interactive visual experience mounted right on the shopping cart handlebar. “We let customers love their shopping experience; we let stores talk to their shoppers; and we let brands and manufacturers engage the world!” RSS says.
The RSS team includes Ed Berde, CEO, a Cornell graduate. Prior to starting RSS, he spent 15 years running a successful consulting company. Ed Heflin, CTO, leads technology and product delivery for RSS. He has six degrees and more than 15 years’ experience building technology systems for Wall Street and running his own technology consulting firm. Steve Kirschner is chief business development officer and chief sales officer.
Berde noted that although his startup’s founders had arrived at TechLaunch with many years of entrepreneurial and corporate experience, it had been some time since they had been exposed to the angel and VC communities.
“We were surprised to learn that such a robust, developed ecosystem of angel investors exists today. TechLaunch brings so much to startups through its investment, facilities and training sessions. What makes TechLaunch really valuable to startups is the exposure to mentors and angels that have ‘been there’ and ‘done that’ before,” said Berde.
This startup says its product, MobileArq School Directory Plus, is a robust, easy-to-use integrated app that combines a school directory for parents with a fundraising and group-communications platform for the school’s PTA.
Using the app, parents can receive school information, telephone numbers and email addresses of parents, teachers and staff at their children’s schools on their mobile devices or desktops at any time and anywhere. The PTA can keep its membership informed with group texting or email. The app also helps schools’ Go Green initiatives.
The MobileArq team includes Nirupama Mallavarupu, cofounder and CEO, and Anand Mhatre, cofounder and chief operating officer. Mallavarupu, a technologist with more than 20 years’ experience in distributed systems, Web and open-source technologies, has lead product teams at large and small companies, including Sun Microsystems, Oracle and IBM. Most recently she led the engineering team at Bluenog, a venture-backed New Jersey business.
Mhatre, an educator and researcher, has more than 14 years’ experience mentoring students and directing a translational research laboratory as a faculty member at UCSF and NYU. At MobileArq, he ensures smooth customer adoption of the mobile directory and a solid customer fulfillment experience.
Mallavarupu said her company’s major takeaway from TechLaunch is “the art of pitching your business. The focus on the ‘pitch’ and the feedback from multiple advisers, including your fellow entrepreneurs, on its every aspect is extremely helpful towards developing a clearer view of your business and the necessary steps required to make it highly successful.”
Pitching and message were also on Inspirity CEO and founder Atiq Hashmi’s mind. The TechLaunch startup offers a cloud-based B2B platform for businesses to develop their mobile strategy. Inspirity says businesses can start with a quick, easy conversion of their websites to a mobile version in one click and in one minute and progress to driving ongoing marketing initiatives.
Hashmi has a software engineering and management background that includes delivering and managing mission-critical systems in enterprise-scale settings at top-tier telecom companies. Richard Gilbert, chief marketing officer, has experience in strategic business development and channel partnerships at Google, Infusionsoft and top management consulting firms. “We have several advisers, including Aaron Mandelbaum supporting digital marketing strategy, Rob Ripp supporting finance, John Carini as business advocate as well as Mario Casabona as adviser and board observer,” said Hashmi.
Hashmi said he has learned to keep his company’s message simple and direct to get across the idea and the opportunity to his investor audience. While the full potential of a startup, its market and its strategy may need to be detailed in subsequent conversations, in short pitch opportunities the mantra — “simple is beautiful” — works better, he noted.
Animal Social Club
The founders of Animal Social Club (ASC),– Stuart (Stu) Hinds founder and CEO, Mark Smukler President and CFO, Hannah Horvath Director of Brand Partnerships—say they have a social loyalty platform that helps consumers find and engage with the brands they love most.
Their platform lets users collect and trade digital rewards cards from the world’s top brands and hottest up-and-coming designers. Users can collect, trade, play with and exchange the cards for unique gift packages, discounts and special-access opportunities. Completely backed by customer data and social behavior, ASC makes shopping more fun and affordable, according to its founders.
Smukler said his company has learned the “importance of planning and knowing exactly how you’re going to execute each aspect of a plan.” He added, “If you put together a plan you have to follow through, and you have to make sure that everyone in your organization is on the same page. It’s one thing to know stuff like that is important, but an entirely other thing to ensure that you and everyone involved understands why it’s so important.”