On Saturday, May 16th, Ricardo Williams, host of Nerd Nite Orlando, participated in the Hendo demonstration at the Future is Here Festival in the Ronald Reagan Building (Washington DC) and becomes one of the first people to ride a real life Hoverboard.
Hendo founders, Jill and Greg Henderson introduce the device.
Information below courtesy of the Hendo Hover website (About Us):
“Right up front, we’ll admit that our plans are big—and our dreams, bigger. Because we’re developing something that is truly, manifestly . . . revolutionary. Seeing things from an outsider’s perspective, and thinking differently in general, is a definitional aspect of Arx Pax and its Hendo hovering technologies. Which brings us to our founder, Greg Henderson, what he saw and what he sees. Greg envisioned a way to employ an unexploited technology in ways others had not. He labelled this epiphany: Magnetic Field Architecture™ (MFA). Then he trademarked and patented the hell out of the idea. At an altruistic level, MFA has the ability to change the way we think about the way communities are designed and built—from family homes to hospital rooms and more. In other words, build structures in such a way that, with the flip of a switch, they can literally be lifted out of harm’s way, so that the potential ravages of earthquakes and floods will no longer hold sway over the inhabitants and occupants.
That briefly sums up our vision for what MFA can do. It’s a big dream, we know. And it’s long term. But we believe in its possibility . . . and its promise.”
As the City of Orlando’s Digital Main Street District, the Orlando Tech Association is the leading voice and conduit for Orlando’s tech community. And community was clearly the keyword of the 2015 Orlando Tech Week that took place April 13 -18 and drew more than 2,100 attendees.
The week-long, varied program brought together key stakeholders in the local business, creative, and technology sectors. Each day’s events provided unique opportunities to network, collaborate, share, and explore the innovations being developed here in Central Florida.
“We are thrilled with the outcome of Orlando Tech Week,” says OTA executive director Orrett Davis. “It was truly a community-led effort this year, growing from eight events in 2014 to more than 30 events hosted by 12 different venues this year.” The measure of success was not simply by the numbers, but easily as much by the range of events bridging the diverse interests of participants.
This year OTA opened a call to the community to host and curate sessions in addition to the Association’s designed events. As a result, much of the program not only was inspired by OTA member interest, they were also driven by their own research and business stories.
Program highlights included:
Just in case you imagined that the week was all about work and serious business, think again. Friday night’s Ts & Ties Party at the Dr. Philips Center was pure celebration – food, drink, conversation, and friendly competition of some very creative T-shirts and Ties.
Here’s a snapshot collage from the week:
The following is a repost of UniKey’s Founder and President, Phil Dumas’s LinkedIn announcement:
“One must put themselves in the path of giants.”
We pioneered the smart lock category nearly five years ago and now we are leading the market with the most secure and convenient smart lock for your home, the Kwikset Kevo powered by UniKey. Today we are proud and excited to announce a Series A round of VC funding that will help us accelerate development for new vertical markets and international regions to truly bring UniKey’s smart access platform to any lock around the world.
UniKey has always been very scalable and highly capital efficient thanks to our partnerships with market leading hardware manufacturers. Our smart lock technology combines the convenience and user experience that any consumer would demand with the technical specs and security features necessary to meet the needs of enterprise and commercial markets.
Thanks to our loyal customers we have seen incredible growth in the smart home space. We’ve also seen major investments in the space and while we’re excited about the burgeoning smart home and everything we will continue to do with the locks on your home, we are also excited to grow this technology and bring our smart, intuitive platform to other markets around the globe. Imagine getting the same great convenient access that you get with Kevo in your office, during your hotel stay or in your rental car.
This investment will allow UniKey to focus on all the largest drivers of the IoT market, capitalizing on not just the smart home but also the smart commercial and smart enterprise/government markets to continue to create cutting edge technology paired with more secure access control for anything with a lock. Smart enterprise will be the largest IoT device market with 40% of the total IoT connected devices by 2019 according to Business Insider Intelligence. I see the smart lock market in enterprise, government and commercial skyrocketing to 12 billion units worldwide by 2020 and I’ve positioned UniKey to leverage this booming space and move beyond just the front door of your home.
The Series A round had participation from renowned investors: Asset Management Ventures, AXCIT, CBRE, ff Venture Capital, Samsung, Haas Portman, Oriza Ventures, The Broadway Angels, VI Partners along with other prominent global investors.
At our heart we will remain a software security company – channeling our energy and resources on the security implementation at the forefront, baked into our DNA, never as an afterthought. This begins with our product development and continues with our partnerships the leading security hardware companies in every market around the world.
We love locks and will remain focused on creating the most secure and convenient access control platform for your home, business, automobile, hotel room, etc. Thanks for the continued support and keep an eye on what is coming next from UniKey,
Founder & President
UniKey is hiring engineers and developers in the Central Florida office, if interested please visit our jobs site to find out more.
Read the full press release here.
When: Friday, April 17, 2015 // 7-10 p.m. // DPAC
Where: Dr. Phillips Center for the Performing Arts, DeVos Family Room
It’s Friday. Our beloved weekly national holiday, but this is no ordinary Friday. By now we’ve spent the past week absorbing, inspiring, learning, and sharing as part of Orlando Tech Week.
And, we end this week partying.
Join us for the official T’s and Ties OTW After Party inside the exclusive DeVos Family Room at the Dr. Phillips Center for Performing Arts.
For those of you who attended the inaugural OTW T-Party Wrap Party you already know about our strict “T-shirt or else” dress code. In honor of our gracious party digs, we’re switching it up this year to include T-shirts or Ties as mandatory attire and giving away coveted awards for the following categories:
Buy your ticket to this epic OTW Wrap Party and then…
Official After Party: The Courtesy, 114 N Orange Ave. in Downtown Orlando between Washington and Jefferson
Parking: Street or Garage parking suggested. Garage Parking in vicinity: Admin Center Garage (300 Liberty Ave.) and City Commons Garage (460 Boone Avenue)
Orlando startups can make a national pitch tomorrow when reality show “The $tartup Hour©” visits Canvs.
$tartup Hour producer Jonathan Block chose Orlando as one of eight cities nationally after an impromptu meeting with local 1 Million Cups Orlando co-founder Ron Ben Zeev at the Kauffman Foundation in Kansas City.
“Thank God for Ron,” says Block. “Orlando wasn’t even on my radar, but he was so passionate and I was surprised to learn all that’s going on there. After more research, we chose Orlando as one of cities on our tour.”
The show just finished filming entries at SxSW in Austin and will hear pitches in Orlando, Kansas City, Boston, Pittsburgh, New York City, San Francisco and Sacramento. A judges panel will review the recording sessions and select show finalists to pitch on-air nationally.
Block and crew will be filming startup pitches tomorrow at Canvs, the Orlando Co Working Space, from 10 A.M. to 6 P.M. If interested, go to thestartuphour.com/entrepreneurs to register your startup to pitch, and producers will be accepting walk ups as well. The pitches will be 4 minutes in length and will not include any slides or visuals.
During Block’s nationwide tour, the former music exec has seen more than 500 pitches. Here are his tips for getting yours on air:
Solve an Important Problem
“Make sure the world needs your app, and use statistics, customer testimonials or a personal story to convey that, make it connect. Then talk about your vision and intertwine features and trends into your long term plan that show why you’ll succeed.”
Don’t Bore Us, Get Us to the Chorus
“That’s an old music business saying. Basically get to the meat, you have just four minutes to pitch, don’t spend the first three setting up the premise. In the first minute, get to the point, why is your startup important. Then use the rest of your time to convince us why we should invest in you.”
People Invest in the Person, not the Business
“In music, it’s obvious you need to have exceptional style, but I also need to feel I can work with you, you are the product. So bring out your passion, your charisma, your confidence and your acumen, so I feel you have a good handle and will make good decisions. You don’t need PowerPoint slides for that to come across.”
To register to pitch, stop by Canvs tomorrow between 9 A.M. and 4 P.M. or click here to register.
This article was reported by Diane Court, Founder @ Paris Foot Walks
Move over Shark Tank. A new business pitch reality show is coming to town.
The $tartup Hour© has chosen Orlando as one of eight cities for filming the show’s featured inventors and entrepreneurs who will pitch a nationwide audience for funding and customers.
After launching production in Austin March 13-15 during the South by Southwest Interactive festival, The $tartup Hour will head to Kansas City, Boston, Pittsburgh, and New York City before setting up to record founders’ pitches at Orlando’s downtown coworking space, Canvs on March 26 then moving on to wrap up in San Francisco and Sacramento.
In selecting pitch cities the team sought to include a draw from a broad cross-section of U.S. entrepreneurial culture. Executive Producer, Jonathan Block says his interest in Orlando was piqued while speaking with local startup mentor and community organizer, Ron Ben-Zeev at a meeting in Kansas City sponsored by the Kauffman Foundation. Ultimately, Orlando’s close-knit, vibrant startup community was the reason the city made the list. After the March recording sessions, a panel of judges will review them to select the show’s finalists and on-air contestants.
In May when the 11-episode show debuts in six television markets and on the web everywhere, viewers will not only engage with featured companies during show episodes but also to follow their course afterwards. Current regulations allow only registered accredited investors to make equity crowdinvestments. Proprietary technology called TextinvestingTM will enable those qualified to fund a company using their cell phones while they watch. Investor or not, all viewers will have opportunities to vote their views during the show and have access to additional content including projections and valuations as well as interviews and press coverage.
From concept to realization the producers promise much more than a Shark Tank redux. As much or more than the interactive technology is a difference in vision.
“We’re open to application from startups in all business verticals,” said Block. “But we’re not about one-hit wonders. We’re looking for leaders who are solving important problems, for companies where an infusion will take them to the next level. What we really want to do is create jobs – the more sustainable the better.”
Business owners interested in having their startup featured on the show are encouraged to apply by completing a simple form provided on the website and submitting a video that answers the same questions about the business, their goals, how much money they want to raise, how the funds will be used and why the business will be successful.
As every founder knows, there is plenty of drama in the reality of entrepreneurship. The $tartup Hour intends to capture that energy and with it the audience’s attention. Viewers are entertained and educated as they see the process, jump in and take action.
This is reality TV on a mission. According to the 2015 Kauffman Foundation report, 40,000 fewer startups were launched per month in 2013 than in 1996.
“Per month,” Block repeated emphatically as he cites the report. “We’d like to change that.”
The bill, sponsored by Florida House Rep. David Santiago of District 27, is named HB 275 and was unanimously approved this morning by the Florida House Banking and Insurance Committee, moving it a significant step closer to becoming law
HB 275 would allow any Florida resident to invest a portion of their annual income in a Florida startup through an approved equity crowdfunding platform. To date 15 states such as Michigan, Wisconsin and Alabama have passed a similar bill, leading to platforms like Michigan Funders and CraftFund, which allow instate residents to invest in local startups. The Florida crowdfunding bill was crafted using SEC comments on similar bills and best practices from existing state bills.
Echo Interaction CEO and Orlando Tech President Carlos Carbonell, along with Matthew Huggins, General Counsel for PowerDMS and Jonathan Kilman, partner at Foley & Lardner, recently created Founder Source as a platform to connect interested Florida investors with local startups and businesses seeking investment. The trio launched the GoFundMe campaign to raise awareness and educate both entrepreneurs and potential investors.
“This bill would create more opportunities for Florida startups to raise money and grow their company here, keeping talented entrepreneurs in state and creating jobs,” said Carbonell. “It also opens a significant door to funding, especially if you’re at the earliest stages or are an experienced entrepreneur but don’t have the network to reach high net worth angel investors or venture capitalists.”
A study on Venture Backed startup demographics by CB Insights, a venture capital research firm working with Bain Capital, Deloitte and Microsoft, found that only 8 percent of venture backed startups are founded by women and less than 1 percent by African American or Hispanic founders.
Florida ranks 7th in the country for total venture capital investment with 45 deals for $863 million, according to a MoneyTree Report by PricewaterhouseCoopers LLP and the National Venture Capital Association. But the numbers are a bit tilted as a majority of that total was from one company, a $592 million investment in Magic Leap Inc of Dania Beach. Without the Magic Leap deal, Florida would have ranked 17th behind New Jersey, North Carolina and Maryland.
The engagement from an equity crowdfunding backer versus a kickstarter backer would be unique, said Alex Gramatikas, founder of ALTR, which makes custom clothing buttons. ALTR ran a successful kickstarter campaign in August 2014 to bolster production.
“But after the campaign, the customer doesn’t really have an incentive to keep promoting your product,” said Gramatikas. “If they’re personally vested, it’s like building a huge sales force across the state. They have an incentive to promote you not only because they find your service or product valuable, but also because they could get a return on investment.”
“It depends on the company, what stage you’re at, and if want strategic investors like we do,” said Trobo co-founder Jeremy Scheinberg. “The biggest reason we did Kickstarter was to validate Trobo, but those campaigns take a lot of work to be successful, so if you’re raising $500,000, is it more efficient to get that from five investment groups or to appeal to a thousand small investors? It depends. But I am happy the option might exist.”
If you’re an experienced founder who has led a successful Kickstarter and has paying customers, but hasn’t been able to find the right Florida investor, the bill could be a game changer.
Delisle has raised more than $3 million across two companies, one of which was acquired. Although ICLOAK has paying customers and has sold more than 2,400 units, they still have trouble raising money at home, which has driven Delisle to travel to New York, Boston and Chicago to find investment that would allow ICLOAK’s growth to meet its high demand.
“And that takes valuable time, so if this bill was passed and I could create a local campaign, it would be worth my time and effort,” said Delisle. “The fact is we’re primed for growth and I’m ready to hire at least two dozen people now if I had the funds, but my hands are tied because of the current rules. Once you’ve exhausted friends and family, you’re stuck. This bill could change that.”
The GoFundMe campaign has raised $3,500 in the past day by 21 backers. To learn more about the Equity Crowdfunding Bill and the Education Campaign, click here.
OrlandoiX, the digital media and entertainment technology festival planned for October, received a major boost last week: an additional $100,000 from the City of Orlando’s Downtown Development Board, bringing total funding to $800,000 in cash and in-kind contributions. The funding was unanimously approved at the Downtown Development Board meeting on February 25.
The $100,000 investment was the largest special events funding amount in the history of Orlando as OiX lines up with several key Project DTO initiatives to bring a signature design and tech festival to Orlando’s downtown. The 5-day digital festival looks to draw 50,000 creative technologists, entrepreneurs and visitors to Orlando, creating an economic impact of $34.7 million according to a study by Rollins College.
“Recommendations from the Project DTO task force stated that there is incredible opportunity for Downtown to flourish if we continue to support technology, entrepreneurship, special events and concerts,” said Thomas Chatmon, Executive Director of the City of Orlando’s Downtown Development Board. “OrlandoiX accomplishes all of the above by showcasing our urban core and world-class community venues to more than 50,000 digital innovators who have traveled from around the globe to see how Orlando is leading the world in entertainment technology.”
Last month OiX announced major partnerships with EA Tiburon, Full Sail University, IZEA, Highwinds, OUC, Purple Rock Scissors, Riptide Software, Foley & Lardner, Orange County Government and the Orange County Convention Center.
Along with EA Tiburon, OiX plans to turn the 875,000-foot Amway Center into a gaming arena featuring prize tournaments, workshops and world premiers from top gaming studios. More than 200 events are planned for the festival, including entertainment technology workshops, a digital expo and speaker series, startup summit and nightly entertainment throughout major Orlando venues such as the Dr. Phillips for the Performing Arts Center, Church Street and the Orange County Convention Center.
“It’s exciting, we couldn’t have done OiX three years ago, Dr. Phillips didn’t exist, the Amway Center didn’t exist, the Church Street Exchange was empty,” says OiX founder David Glass. “We have world class venues, and OiX will bring an entirely new audience to our city, digital artists and creative technologists from the southeast and around the world, showcasing everything amazing Orlando has to offer.”
OiX runs from October 2-6, and tickets go on sale on April 2nd, ranging from $35 for standalone events like the gaming arena to $700 for the entire conference and workshop series. OiX will also host a kickoff party on April 2nd at the Church Street Exchange.
For more info and to register for the kickoff, go to www.orlandoix.com.
Earlier this week, an envoy including Mayor Buddy Dyer and Mayor Teresa Jacobs, Metro Orlando EDC CEO Rick Weddle and Disney Senior VP Ken Potrock visited New York to spread the word about Orlando’s rapidly evolving identity and the “Orlando. You don’t know the half of it.” campaign. The group met with national media outlets like Bloomberg Advantage, CNN Money, TechCrunch and AdAge. One result of the trip was a column from the New York Times asking if Orlando was the “Next Silicon Valley.” The article lists the insights of several researchers, including an Urban Theorist ironically named Richard Florida about the model components necessary to create a substantial tech hub, the Next Silicon Valley, and compares Orlando’s features to those of other cities such as New York and Provo, Utah:
“I think what Orlando has is a combination of the space stuff and the Disney stuff,” Mr. Florida said. “It’s not trivial, those things taken together, but it’s hard to see how you put them together.”
Local officials point to one way they might. Orlando is a center for modeling and simulation technology, because flight simulators and theme park rides can rely on a lot of the same technology. Tourism isn’t generally thought of as a tech-intensive field, but Disney recently developed its MyMagic Plus system (waterproof wristbands with RFID chips that give visitors access to rides and unlock their hotel room doors) in-house in Orlando.
Still, tourism is heavily dispersed geographically, and while there are a lot of tourism dollars in Orlando, even Disney is not headquartered there. Companies that produce technology for the hospitality industry do not need to cluster in Orlando.
“I would say, over all, this is a relatively thin backdrop,” said Mark Muro, the researcher behind the Brookings report, after examining his own figures about industry concentration in Orlando, which show few high-tech specialties. “But I would note it is possible to diversify, starting from nothing.”
The article prompted passionate responses from many community leaders:
“Although I feel the writer could have done more research, I’m sorta glad the article puts us to the fire and squelches a bit of the self congratulating. I’m so excited about how Orlando is developing, but we should take the criticism and ask ourselves if we’re doing enough as a community or are we suffering from premature celebrations. We are patting each other on the back too soon when there is still much work to do. There are still too few of us working toward unity, cohesion and collaboration between homegrown startups and established tech. There is still friction in starting and funding a company in Orlando. Most of us are both amazed and baffled when we are named a top tech hub, top place for foodies, top place for hipsters, number one for coffee houses, fastest growing xyz – all sometimes trite, Buzzfeed-type listings that are based on conjecture or lazy journalism. If you asked the tech community as a whole whether they felt connected and validated, I would argue 50 percent would say no. For every success there are failures, and we don’t analyze and discuss why they are happening or how we can improve the success rate as a community. I’ve been guilty of saying we can be the next Austin or major tech hub, but isn’t that like saying San Antonio is the next theme park capital because there’s a Six Flags there?
In a city’s life cycle we are definitely on an upward trajectory, no one can argue growth and our downtown has improved dramatically in the past few years. But just because our downtown has improved doesn’t mean it comes close to a Manhattan city block and it doesn’t mean that the 42 million people who visit Orlando annually have a clue that our downtown even exists. Nor perhaps should they care. Let’s be introspective a bit, let’s develop a culture of collaboration. Let’s slow the self-congratulating and recognize our homegrown successes and sincerely see if we can help them become the anchor companies we’re looking to attract from the outside. Let us as residents, workers and business owners believe the change we’re expressing is happening internally before we try and communicate it to the outside world.”
– Carlos Carbonell, CEO of Echo Interaction Group and Orlando Tech Association President
“This is not meant to be dismissive of SF/SV strengths and structural advantages, but is rather a reflection of the understanding that we have to build our own city, our own future, based on the resources available to us locally. It does no one any good to ape what has been successful in other locales.I would also make mention of ICAMR (International Consortium for Advanced Manufacturing Research) This facility and the ecosystem it will spawn and maintain is global in its impact and scale. We are also the leading center for computer vision in the US with some of the most well regarded and important research taking place at the University and a number of companies exploiting this emerging technology.”
– Phillip Holt, Founder of Canvs, Splyt
“IMO, this article is reflective of Orlando’s past, not present and future. It fails to mention that Pentaho just sold to Hitachi for $500MM. We’ve got multiple tech companies that are quietly approaching or exceeding valuations like this flying under the radar right now. No real mention of the startup scene that is still in its early stages right now, but is progressing rapidly. I don’t have any negative emotions when reading this article bc it’s backward looking, and not forward. That’s the easier angle and story to write. Orlando is still writing its history and you have to be a part of that to understand that, so we’ll see what that looks like to outsiders in 5-10 years.”
– Aaron Gray, Vice President of Jones Lang LaSalle, the real estate firm that was key in developing the Church Street Exchange into a downtown digital technology hub
“Provo may have some measurables that rank highly for the type of analysis done for the article, in fact, great urban places and centers for innovation are much more complex than a certain set of numbers might indicate. At the end of the day, the places that will matter in the future will be interesting and provide much more than the simplistic measurables the author references. Great places are reflective of emotional connections that attract and retain talent. Saying a place like Provo is successful is kind of like measuring the success of a desert by the weather conditions – if it’s hot and dry, it meets the definition of “successful”. But, in reality, there is much more to it than that. The ecosystem we are creating in Orlando is, by definition, complex and does not lend itself to measurables that are easily quantifiable. Sure, this article raises some valid points based on certain stats, but I’d argue that is it very shallow and does not reflect the “human nature” that is involved in understanding cities and centers of innovation where smart folks really want to be. Orlando has the opportunity to be a great “sum of its part” and we are building something meaningful. Naysayers will always be there and that is fine. If the author would like to refute the power of UCF Downtown Campus and Creative Village as a game changer and something that is a compelling competitive advantage, I’d welcome the debate.”
– Craig Uslter, President of Uslter Development, Inc., the team that’s bringing Creative Village to downtown Orlando
“I think we’re at a critical point in our future and are making some much needed investments in our community and in infrastructure that will propel our region forward. Our start-up tech/IT community is young but is rapidly growing. Homegrown tech companies are being acquired (code school, pentaho, channel intelligence) and we’re starting to see capital flow into the region. However we have a very long history of technology in the region dating back to the 1960s with Lockheed Martin to support NASA program as well as origins of UCF (formerly Florida Technological University). Today, we have a major aviation, aerospace and defense community that has also commercialized products for other industries.”
– Jennifer Wakefield, VP of Marketing & Communications @ the Metro Orlando EDC
“We are an emerging region that many folks see in their rearview mirror. Silicon Valley is a one off. We are Orlando and we are becoming what we want to be. Competition for readership rewards sharp edged opinions based on only superficial research. I often counter these opinions with some research when I can. I haven’t got a retraction yet but I do get a “thanks for the information” sometimes. Our Optics and Photonics is world class too by the way. Finisar, an optics company that was spun out of the university as Optium, was part of our incubator, is doing more than a billion dollars in annual revenue now and employs 12,000. I stopped paying too much attention to these kind of stories except that it does show us what other’s opinions are of us. It is their opinion, not ours and not a true representation and frankly, people make stuff up when they need to fill in the blanks. Certainly, the reviews are mixed and you can make the point on either side of the issue. We are featured as an example in William Holstein’s book, the Next American Economy.”
– Dr. Tom O’Neal, UCF Associate VP for Research & Commercialization and Cofounder of the Florida Angel Nexus
“I know the quote “Nerds love Orlando” is true, because I am the proof point. I happen to love Orlando more than Silicon Valley, San Francisco, Boston and Washington DC – all places I have lived and in which I continue to work. From my perspective, Orlando does not compete with Silicon Valley. Orlando is a great place to be, with assets and liabilities like every emerging technology hub. As the community supports this ecosystem, we need to focus on growing and optimizing those assets and reducing the liabilities.”
– Jason Rottenberg, Managing Director of Arsenal Venture Partners
“It’s all about the people. There are surging grassroots movements happening with our indie game developers, women entrepreneurs committed to tech innovation and digital entertainment technologists. I see a growing consensus among our tech pioneers – that this is THE place they want to host their wealth-building technology initiatives. The smartest economic storytellers will be keen to watch our story unfold.”
– Shea Glenny, Director of the Orlando Women’s Business Center
What’s your opinion? Comment below or click here to comment on the Orlando Tech Facebook Group.
Tomas will be speaking at Starter Studio’s Founder’s Talk on Monday, March 9 @ 7 p.m. Click here to learn more and attend the talk.
A born salesman, his first big action came at nine, accompanying his dad on a business trip in Spain selling textiles. Diaz wanted to explore, but work came first, and his father said wayfaring had to wait until they sold more inventory.
“I remember approaching a local merchant to buy some stuff, so my dad and I could go sightseeing,” said Diaz. “He bought the entire truckload. My dad loves that story.”
After graduating Rollin’s MBA program, he took a job with the appliance giant in the warranty department but was soon promoted to sales because he “had way too much personality for finance.” Within six months, he sold $1 million in obsolete, discontinued appliances that the company had considered just throwing away and quickly rose the ranks becoming Whirlpool’s youngest national sales director ever at 28, working with partners like Sears, Lowes, Ikea and Best Buy.
“But I had always had a restlessness to do my own thing,” said Diaz.
After the tenth promotion offer to manage the Lowes account, Whirlpool’s largest, the itch became too much, and Tomas left Whirlpool to start the “Dropbox for receipts,” with a high school buddy. After a few months focusing on consumers, they pivoted focus toward the retailer, which had a profound impact.
“The receipt was an area where retailers were losing a lot of opportunity,” says Diaz.
The redirection toward an enriched, interactive receipt where retailers could put actionable coupons and offerings was key. FlexReceipts quadrupled in size, and Diaz has raised over $2 million to date. The near 15 person company now works with clients such as GNC, Rooms2Go and Beats by Dre.
Overnight successes generally take two or three years, and here are three lessons Diaz learned along the way.
It Ain’t All About Raising Money
“At the beginning, we thought raising money to grow was something necessary, but we were wrong. It’s a big distraction. We spent almost a year trying to fund raise, when we should have been building the company. When we refocused on building, we landed our first big client and found important partners we still have today. It was a night and day difference. When you have big clients, and big partners, it’s absolutely much easier to fund raise.”
Focus, Focus, Focus
“When you’re a startup, there are so many shiny objects, investment, acquisition, possible revenue opportunities, but you have to prioritize and have razor sharp focus. We were trying to capture every market, spending time fundraising, and we almost got acquired early on, but we weren’t moving, getting traction. Then we stopped fund raising, we didn’t get acquired, and we changed our focus to specialty retailers, and then it became so much easier to get partners and customers. Shiny objects are a distraction.”
Teamwork Makes the Dream Work
“Right after the acquisition didn’t go through, we were fragile. But our rock star team and my co-founder Jay Patel kept us on point, kept us executing, and that was a turning point for the company. Team is everything, and building the right team should be a number one priority.”
Tomas will be speaking at Starter Studio’s Founder’s Talk on Monday, March 9 @ 7 p.m. Click here to learn more and attend the talk.