June 04, 2017

Startup Spotlight: PartyTap is at your service

Party1

PartyTap CEO Jordan Hamilton of Miami shows off his PartyTap app on Thursday. On the app, hosts can order bartenders, waitstaff, photographers, videographers and other staff needed for an event. Bryan Cereijo bcereijo@miamiherald.com

Startup Spotlight: PartyTap

Headquarters: Miami

Concept: A party and event staffing app that allows anyone to order staff with a few taps on a smartphone.

Story: After graduating from the Culinary Institute of America in upstate New York, Jordan Hamilton moved to sunny Miami to attend Florida International University’s hospitality/tourism management program and worked as a private chef for extra cash. “I would very often get requests to bring bartenders, waitstaff and photographers with me for larger events and was surprised my clients didn’t have a good place to get these services. That’s when I would search Google to call each company, compare reviews, compare pricing, and it would take days or sometimes weeks to confirm,” Hamilton said. “It was that ‘apple on the head’ moment I thought of a platform where people could open their smartphone and order party staff like they would order an Uber.”

Party2Hamilton shared his app idea with one of his private chef clients, Sarah Lacharlotte, one evening after an event, and she became his first investor and co-founder. So he hung up his chef’s hat, and it took him about a year to design and develop the PartyTap app, with the help of WorkN, a tech company from Atlanta, and teams in India and Hungary.

PartyTap essentially democratizes party staffing by pairing up private party planners and small companies with bartenders, waitstaff and other service providers so that individuals and smaller organizations can easily put together the same type of events large corporations with big budgets can. The app saves time and money by offering bartenders, servers, photographers, DJs and cleanup services in one place, with preset pricing so you know what you are paying before booking, whether it’s months in advance or even just six hours. Coming later this month to the app: catering and valet services. All PartyTap’s staff are vetted and hand-selected to ensure they are the best fit for the job. After the event, they are rated 1-5 stars so PartyTap can monitor how each staff member is performing.

“With this app you simply open it, select the staff you need, add your credit card and send the request. You are updated in real time with staff who accept your request and that’s it. What would have taken multiple phone calls and days of planning now takes less than five minutes and a couple taps on our app,” Hamilton said.

The free app is available on the Apple App and Google Play stores. PartyTap makes a percentage of each transaction booked on the app. PartyTap is servicing Miami Dade, Broward and Palm Beach counties, and Hamilton is launching in Aspen and Las Vegas — two big party markets — in the next couple of months as he begins a national expansion. “Expansion into key markets like Las Vegas, New York City, Atlanta, Aspen, Los Angeles and San Francisco will really help us do some damage in the party/event staffing space,” Hamilton said.

Launched: Jan. 15, 2017, on Apple App Store and Google Play

Website: www.partytap.com

Management team: Jordan Hamilton, founder and CEO; Sarah Lacharlotte, co-founder.

No. of employees: 2 employees and 400-plus contractors who work for the app (DJs, bartenders, photographers, valet, catering and waiters).

Financing: $85,000 raised from friends and family last year. Currently raising a seed round, aiming for $250,000 to $500,000.

Recent milestones reached: In South Florida, more than 400 service providers have joined the app, which has been downloaded more than 2,100 times. Revenue spiked 550 percent from March to April on services booked through the app and that momentum continued through May, Hamilton said.

Biggest startup challenge: Driving awareness about the app.

Next step: Expanding into key markets. Hamilton is raising seed funding to help fuel existing growth, increase marketing, hire city managers and recruit staff for expansion cities.

NANCY DAHLBERG

Follow  @ndahlberg on Twitter

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April 30, 2017

Startup Spotlight: Visual Blasters' FlipaClip app can make anyone an animator

FLIPACLIPS 042617

Jonathan Meson, who heads up the team behind Visual Blasters, at his downtown Miami office. The team’s app FlipaClip is a hit on Android devices and is now available on iOS. AL DIAZ adiaz@miamiherald.com


 

 

Company name: Visual Blasters (creators of FlipaClip)

Headquarters: Downtown Miami

Concept: Visual Blasters develops gaming, multimedia and animation mobile apps. “We provide high quality, intuitive apps with an eye toward making the world a better place by helping people express their creativity, discover music and have fun while doing it,” said CEO Jonathan Meson.

Story: In 2010, brothers Jonathan Meson, 33, then a software engineer for Motorola, and Marcos Meson, 38, a senior motion graphics designer at HairDirect.com, founded Visual Blasters, with the mission of designing apps that create “communities” around people’s passions and creative pursuits such as music, animation and games.

​The brothers combined their programming and design skills to create their first product, “XiiaLive,” an internet radio app that offers an uninterrupted Internet radio experience. The app has been downloaded more than 5 million times and has about 100,000 active users. “Xiialive was a success, but was more a product of opportunity, not long-term strategic planning,” said Jonathan. That changed with its next release.

Youngest brother Tim Meson, 26, a software engineer at Oracle, joined the startup to launch a free animation app for Android users in 2012 called FlipaClip. This flip-book style drawing and animation app for Android grew faster than anyone expected, quickly earning a 4.3/5.0 star rating, and over 4.5 million downloads. In less than a year, FlipaClip doubled monthly active users from 250,000 to more than 550,000.

The app, now also available for iOS, allows people to make their own animations by drawing a series of pages through the app to achieve the motion. “People are using it on social media to express their artistic side,” Jonathan said. Here’s a tip: “You don’t have to be a really good artist. We give them all the basics they need to get started.”

The company’s competitive advantage is a combined laser-focus on ease of use and simplicity, a robust set of features, and a platform that ensures products scale effortlessly. The startup makes money through in-app purchases that unlock additional animation tools and ads within the app. Plans for FlipaClip include adding audio as an animation tool.

A key milestone came in 2014, when Visual Blasters entered into a licensing agreement with Fuhu Holdings, a company that makes children’s tablets for Target and Walmart and was recently acquired by Mattel. The agreement resulted in more than 400,000 devices with FlipaClip tech pre-installed.

FlipaClip has attracted all age groups, but the brothers are seeing lots of traction among the 13- to 18-year-olds. “They are spending hours animating instead of watching video games,” said Jonathan, who created stop-motion animation with Legos when he was a kid and made movies with his brothers. “A sense of creation was embedded in us and this app was born out of that.”

In March, FlipaClip launched on iOS with the help of the Animate ‘Unravel’ Contest – a partnership with Miami-based indie band “Tell Her I Love Her” to promote its first single. The contest, underway through May 12, seeks animation entries inspired by the band’s “Unravel” song; entrants are vying for $2,000 in cash prizes. The FlipaClip team learned that the contest can be a powerful vehicle to introduce people to the FlipaClip app, earning some 72,000 views of more than 180 contestant animated videos so far.

Launched: Flipaclip (Cartoon Animation) launched 2012

Website and social: www.visualblasters.com, www.instagram.com/flipaclip and flipaclip.tumblr.com.

Management team: Jonathan Meson (CEO and co-founder), Tim Meson (co-founder and software engineer); Marcos Meson (co-founder and lead designer), Jeremiah Meccage (head of business development).

No. of employees: 8, including contractors in Argentina and the Philippines.

Financing: Self-funded. Considering seeking an angel round of financing.

Recent milestones: In February, reached 5.5 million downloads and 550,000 active monthly users with FlipaClip for Android. in March, FlipaClip went live in Apple’s App store. Also in March, launched the Animate ‘Unravel’ Contest with Miami-based indie-band “Tell Her I Love Her” to announce iOS version of FlipaClip.

Biggest startup challenge: Working with a remote workforce and communicating with developers and customer service team members in different countries and time-zones.

Next steps: “Our plan is to grow FlipaClip and slowly release new applications that fit within our product portfolio and that makes sense with our company focus,” Jonathon said. “New products experience greater growth when they have the power of an existing user base and known brand to leverage. ... In the coming years, we’re going to devote more attention to honing our marketing and brand message and activating our user community in ways that are both fulfilling to them and beneficial to us.”

Follow @ndahlberg on Twitter

FlipaClip-Team

The Meson brothers, of Miami-based Visual Blasters, and one of their company advisors, at eMerge Americas in 2015. From left: Tim Meson, Marcos Meson, Jeremy Meccage. Jonathan Meson. Visual Blasters



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April 01, 2017

Startup Spotlight: Emerge.me reinvents shopping for emergency insurance

Emerge

Wes Thompson, far left and pictured below, founder and CEO of Emerge.me, a tech startup simplifying shopping and buying insurance for medical emergencies. He has assembled a management team, from left, consisting of Whitney Romanchuk, head of user experience; Mike Rolfe, head of product; and Marc Howard, head of growth marketing and analytics. They are seen in their Wynwood office, inside of Rokk3r Labs, on March 8. Carl Juste cjuste@miamiherald.com


Read more here: http://www.miamiherald.com/news/business/biz-monday/article142123609.html#storylink=cpy


By Nancy Dahlberg / ndahlberg@miamiherald.com

 

Startup Spotlight: Emerge.me, a Miami startup, has reinvented the customer experience of shopping for and purchasing an emergency insurance policy. Traditionally, buying a gap policy would require you to spend days corresponding back and forth with an agent or broker about your coverage needs, the available policies and the application process. That’s all changing.

Company name: Emerge.me

Headquarters: Rokk3r Labs in Miami

Concept: Emerge.me makes insurance for medical emergencies accessible, simple and easy to purchase.

Emergewes Story: Wes Thompson was inspired to create Emerge after hearing the story of a former employee who was struggling to pay medical bills for his wife’s illness. Even though they had health insurance, they could not afford the out-of-pocket costs of deductibles, special treatments, travel costs for care and lost wages. The burden of paying these costs ended up putting the family into serious medical debt.

“This isn’t just an isolated story — in fact millions of Americans are not equipped to deal with the financial reality of these emergencies even if they have health insurance,” Thompson said.

Thompson should know: He has 30 years experience in the insurance industry and most recently was president of Sun Life Financial U.S. What’s more, as an intrapreneur, he helped pave the way for a restructure of a major Philadelphia-based insurance company in the early 2000s that resulted in a new business model. This is Thompson’s first startup.

Emergency insurance solutions — supplemental or gap policies — exist to protect individuals from the risk of unexpected medical emergencies not covered by health insurance. Emergency insurance is designed to complement health insurance by providing a cash benefit that can be used for any out-of-pocket costs related to a covered illness or accident.

But here’s the problem, according to Emerge: They are neither straightforward nor easily accessible to most consumers. These products are sold essentially as an afterthought or add-on to health insurance exclusively through brokers and agents, there is no digital marketplace for customers to compare pricing for policies, get educated, get advice and apply online.

The big picture: Rising healthcare premiums are causing consumers to take on more and more risk, and medical costs are now the leading form of consumer debt in the U.S. today.

Emerge.me has reinvented the customer experience of shopping for and purchasing a policy. Traditionally, buying an emergency insurance policy would require you to spend anywhere from two days to a few weeks corresponding back and forth with a broker or agent about your coverage needs, the available policies and the application process.

That’s all changing. Before launching Emerge late last year, the company spent a year building an in-house algorithm. Now, a customer can come to emerge.me, and engage with tools, get coverage advice, compare personalized quotes, and apply online — all within 15 minutes or less, the company said. Emerge primarily markets to the consumer but sees significant opportunities in the B2B arena.

Emerge has launched with two products, critical illness insurance for financial protection against cancer, heart attack, stroke and more and physical injury insurance, which provides benefits for falls, injuries, broken bones, etc. Emerge is already planning to add other supplemental insurance products in the near future such as hospital indemnity and short-term disability.

“We have a great team and great partners,” Thompson said. “The space is ripe for disruption.”

Launched: December 2016

Website and social: emerge.me, blog.emerge.me, www.facebook.com/tryemerge/

Management team: Wes Thompson, founder and CEO; Mike Rolfe, head of strategy and product development; Whitney Romanchuk, head of product design and UX; Marc Howard, head of growth and data analytics; Cheryl Egazarian, project manager.

No. of employees: 13

Financing: Raised $1.8 million in seed funding via Thompson’s self-funding and private investors; seeking an additional $400,000 via convertible notes prior to Series A funding targeted for June.

Recent milestones reached: Emerge is now licensed in all 50 US states as an insurance broker. Digital insurance carrier partners include trusted companies such as United Health One/Golden Rule, Mutual of Omaha, Assurity, Manhattan Life and SureBridge. Secured $1.8 million in seed funding. Won second place in TechCrunch Miami Pitchoff event. Recognized by Plug&Play as a finalist for its InsurTech accelerator program.

Biggest startup challenge and why: Convincing insurance companies to innovate and participate on emerge.me, as emergency insurance products have traditionally been distributed exclusively through traditional agents and brokers.

Next steps: Seeking Series A funding in order to expand the product offerings, continue to improve the user experience and invest in customer acquisition and talent acquisition.

Follow @ndahlbergon Twitter.

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March 06, 2017

Startup Spotlight: Traditional trucking meets the ‘sharing economy’ with Miami tech startup Cargo42

 

Cargo

By Nancy Dahlberg / ndahlberg@miamiherald.com

Through a simple-to-use app, Cargo42 provides companies an option to ship locally for a lower rate with trucks that have empty space in them. At the same time, trucking companies enjoy an additional revenue stream and maximize the trucks’ productivity.

COMPANY NAME: Cargo42

Headquarters: CIC Miami, 1951 NW Seventh Ave.

Concept: Through a simple-to-use app, Cargo42 provides companies an option to ship locally for a lower rate with trucks that have empty space in them. At the same time, carriers (local trucking companies) enjoy an additional revenue stream and maximize the trucks’ productivity.

Story: The truck-sharing economy concept came from Francine Gervazio’s professional experience in the logistics and tech industries. She frequently saw trucks driving nearly or completely empty, and her company was paying the price for that empty space. Once Gervazio came to the United States in 2015, she confirmed this was not only a problem in her home country, Brazil, but a global issue.

She decided to spin the opportunity into an actual business during her Babson College MBA program in 2015. That’s where she met Murilo Amaral and Alfredo Keri, who were essential pieces to make this happen. After having performed a pilot test in Boston, the Cargo42 team moved the operations to Miami last summer because of the big opportunities as a result of inefficiencies in this important U.S. logistics hub. The decision was also based on a competitive analysis and strategic positioning for future expansion and market growth, the founders said.

“We knew already that Miami was a very big logistics hub, but we were really impressed when we saw the numbers and said, yea, that’s where we are going,” Gervazio said.

Before attending Babson for their MBA degrees, Cargo42’s co-founders had diverse experiences and backgrounds, including logistics, supply chain and operations as well as e-commerce and marketing and sales.

Gervazio managed new operations for Easy Taxi, a Rocket Internet company, in Southeast Asia and Latin America, after working in logistics in Brazil and Australia. Amaral founded a packaging company with 250-plus employees, which acquired 6 percent of the Brazilian market share. Keri worked in sales and marketing for multinational companies, including British American Tobacco in Latin America.

Last summer, the founders spent their summer going door to door in the South Florida territory to build their initial truck base. That was followed up with online marketing, cold calling and lots of networking at trade shows and industry events. Today, the company has 85 shipping companies and 380 carriers using the service. Its goal is to partner with a large company so it can expand much faster.

Gervazio participated in the WIN Lab, Babson’s accelerator program for female founders, in Boston, and the whole team is part of StartUP FIU’s Cohort 2 now in progress.

“With Cargo42, we are sure we can help carriers reduce their empty miles and get more customers, as they have limited resources to acquire new customers. We also support their cash flow problems, issuing payments three times faster than the industry. For shippers, we provide a lower price, increasing their tight margins. Also, our platform saves their time giving real-time quotes and online tracking even when using a small trucking company. Finally, we also play an important role to help to reduce the traffic and pollution in communities and cities, by making more effective use of the trucks,” Gervazio said.

“In the last four years, 20 percent of the small trucking businesses have closed their doors in Florida,” Amaral said “We are changing the rules and leveling the field to get them back in the game.”

Launched: July 2016.

Website: https://www.cargo42.com/

Management team: Co-founders Murilo Amaral, Francine Gervazio, Alfredo Keri (pictured above).

No. of employees: Eight team members, including interns.

Financing: Self-funded.

Recent milestones: 85 shipping companies and 380 carriers are now using the Cargo42 platform.

Biggest startup challenge: Customer acquisition. The trucking industry is very traditional, and it takes time for people to accept and embrace the changes to the process they have been doing for years, Keri said. “But once they give it a shot, they immediately see the benefits.”

Next steps: Closing important strategic partnerships that could lead to exponential growth and begin the company’s geographic expansion.

Adviser’s advice: Nabil Malouli, vice president of Customer Solutions and Innovation at DHL, said Cargo42 has developed a model that can be flexible at this stage. “I have recommended to use a multi-channel approach, such as partnerships with established companies that have complementary products and solutions, and to focus on the big deals. The sales and implementation cycles of small and big deals are very similar, and you have to focus on the big deals that will truly help you grow the business.” He also recommended that the team focus strongly on Cargo42’s first customers and have them become the indirect sales team. “First customers need to have an amazing experience so they can help you grow the business much faster,” he said.

Malouli believes Miami, already a global logistics hub, has the potential to become a global hub for logistics innovation. “This is a huge opportunity and we have to keep promoting entrepreneurship in the logistics industry in Miami, as Cargo42 is doing.”

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February 20, 2017

Startup Spotlight: Want the yachting life, even for a day? Miami startup will hook you up

Spotlight News rk

From left to right, YachtLife cofounders Patrick Curley and Nick Cardoza pose for the picture at River Yacht Club in Miami. Roberto Koltun rkoltun@miamiherald.com

 

Company: YachtLife Technologies

Headquarters: Miami, one of the world’s only year-round yachting destinations.

Concept: YachtLife aggregates local inventories of fully crewed luxury yachts and displays them on one platform. The YachtLife app has photos, specs and pricing for all yachts, so users can browse available inventory, and even book on the fly, without needing to speak to a broker or owner. A concierge assists when needed to plan itineraries and attend to the needs of the user to ensure a luxury, fluid and memorable experience, and at prices less than what a broker would typically charge. YachtLife gives yacht owners a direct way to list their own yachts for day or multi-day charters to offset their costs.

Story: Nicholas Cardoza, co-founder and designer of YachtLife, is vice president of the luxury yacht company VanDutch and has been involved in yachting his entire life. In 2008, Cardoza got his start working in the yachting industry as a personal chef and deckhand on mega- and super-yachts, and later obtained his captain’s license and began delivering yachts during the off-season. In 2012, Cardoza joined VanDutch and has since helped build the company’s presence as a major luxury brand.

Patrick Curley, co-founder of YachtLife, quit his job in finance in New York to start a mobile tech startup in the hospitality space and moved to Miami three years ago. When visiting, his friends would occasionally inquire about chartering a yacht, and since he had no idea how to go about chartering yachts, he would refer them to Cardoza and VanDutch would help his friends. After a number of times doing this, both Curley and Cardoza realized how the yacht charter industry was still light-years behind other industries — few websites actually list pricing, so customers need to search multiple websites and call brokers for quotes. After receiving quotes from multiple websites, customers then needed to go back to the site with the best quote and finalize all booking details over the phone.

“YachtLife has assembled a top-notch portfolio of some of the nicest yachts for charter in Miami and beyond. Since we removed the middleman and negotiated the best terms, users can now book fully crewed luxury yachts for the day, in most cases without even speaking to a broker — simply choose your yacht, pickup time, and tell us what day you’d like to go out. YachtLife usually confirms your charter within an hour,” Curley said. “The YachtLife concierge also helps with any questions before, during or after your charter.”

Today, YachtLife operates in South Florida, the Bahamas, the Hamptons, Chicago, New England, Spain, the South of France, Italy, Greece and Turkey. Prices for half-day to multi-day private yacht charters vary widely, but start at about $1,600 in Miami.

YachtLife currently lists about 250 yachts on its platform, from a 40-foot VanDutch to a 154-foot Feadship with a crew of 12 — “It’s a 6-bedroom floating mansion on the water with all the water toys you can imagine,” Curley said.

Launched: May 2015

Website and social: www.yachtlife.club; @yachtlifeapp; www.facebook.com/yachtlife.club

Management team: Patrick Curley, Nick Cardoza, Anko Mast

No. of employees: 12

Financing: VanDutch Yachts, a leading luxury yacht manufacturer, purchased a stake in YachtLife in 2016. YachtLife is raising a $1 million seed round. The gener8tor accelerator fund and a handful of angel investors have already committed half of the round.

Recent milestones reached: On Saturday, YachtLife announced it has launched a membership club, and has already attracted a Miami Heat player and other YachtLife users. Members receive discounts on yacht charters and benefits from partners, such as hotels, yacht clubs and restaurants. YachtLife recently signed a deal to act as exclusive yacht provider for the two-weekend long Fyre Festival, a music and cultural festival in April/May 2017 in a private cay in the Exumas, Bahamas; the festival is expecting 20,000 and YachtLife is the exclusive yacht provider for the festival, including yacht accommodations and tender service for VIPs. It offered a Valentine’s partnership promotion with the Standard Hotel. YachtLife recently completed the gener8tor accelerator program, which has been instrumental in helping YachtLife from a strategic and tactical perspective. The startup acquired space at the River Yacht Club on the Miami River in partnership with the VanDutch Lounge to open its own YachtLife Lounge, where users and members can enjoy yacht club amenities and benefits.

Biggest startup challenge and why: Scaling inventory and opening up new regions. Each region has cultural and legal differences, and you need to really have good on-the-round relationships with luxury yacht owners/brokers/management companies in order to negotiate favorable deals, the co-founders said.

Next steps: Campaigns to grow inventory in existing areas YachtLife services as well as partnerships with strategic hospitality and luxury brands. After fund-raising, YachtLife will hire a sales rep with group-sales experience in order to target corporations to host events on yachts.

Mentor/Investor’s view: “We are big fans of marketplace companies, in particular those with high margins and that leverage the broader trend in the sharing economy. Yachts are a perfect example of an underutilized asset, and YachtLife allows yacht owners and renters to better utilize those assets for mutual benefit. In addition, YachtLife’s exclusive partnership with VanDutch is truly unique in the industry and allows their marketplace to be seeded with the most popular yachts available,” said Troy Vosseller, co-founder of gener8tor.

Follow @ndahlberg on Twitter.

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SSS00 Spotlight News rk

YachtLife co-founders Patrick Curley, left, and Nicholas Cardoza pose for the picture at River Yacht Club in Miami.Roberto Koltun rkoltun@miamiherald.com



 

February 06, 2017

Startup Spotlight: Stopoint delivers a fast, easy way to sell your gadgets

BM STARTUP SPOTLIGHT STOPOI
Steeve Simbert, left, friend Marc Estinville, center, and Steeve’s twin, Ally Simbert, co-founded Stopoint.com, which specializes in buying and selling used electronics. The trio of Haitian immigrants are shown in the courtyard of the Little Haiti Cultural Center.
PATRICK FARRELL pfarrell@miamiherald.com

By Nancy Dahlberg / ndahlberg@miamiherald.com

Miami-based Stopoint, founded by a trio of Haitian immigrants in 2015, aims to provide the fastest, easiest and safest service for the public to sell used electronics. Sales have rocketed in recent months, and the founders give back to help children in their homeland.

Company: Stopoint

Headquarters: 1175 NE 125th St., Miami

Concept: Stopoint aims to provide the fastest, easiest and safest service for the public to sell used electronics.

Story: After being robbed while exchanging computer equipment in person and later scammed while selling electronics online, Ally Simbert, 25, who at the time was a St. Thomas University computer science freshman, met with his twin brother, Steeve Simbert, 25, and best friend Marc Estinville, 26. “We felt really bad and really sad, but then we said we can make things better,” said Estinville.

They decided to start a company that would make buying and selling safer and easier.

In 2015, this trio of Haitian immigrants launched Stopoint.com, a national company that specializes in buying and selling used electronics. The co-founders recognized that selling products to strangers was unsafe, and they  also noticed that other companies in their market were buying electronics for unfair prices and making customers wait more than 10 days for payments.

“We made Stopoint based on three fundamentals: to create safety, offer fair prices and provide fast payment,” Estinville said. Because of the sophisticated tech system it created, Stopoint is the only company in the industry that pays within 24 hours, the team said.

It works like this: A customer places a tech product, such as a phone or tablet, that he or she wants to sell on Stopoint’s website, and through Stopoint’s simple process, the customer lists the features, quality and the condition of the product. Stopoint offers a buying price. When agreed, Stopoint emails a shipping label free, and when Stopoint receives the product, it transfers the agreed cash amount to the the customer’s bank account via PayPal within 24 hours. Stopoint then takes the product, upgrades and cleans it as needed, and sells it for a markup to an online buyer — all within three or four days.

Stopoint solves many problems. It brings security back to selling by ensuring people do not have to meet with strangers to sell a product; they can do it entirely online. It provides convenience because customers won’t have to negotiate or wait for weeks to find a buyer. Lastly, it makes the environment cleaner and greener with every electronic device that Stopoint buys by keeping the device out of a landfill.

The team believes one of their biggest strengths is that they collaborate well and their strengths complement one another. The twin brothers came to Miami in 2010 after the devastating earthquake in 2010; Estinville arrived in 2007. All three graduated from North Miami Beach Senior High. Ally, “the computer guy,” received his bachelor’s degree from St Thomas and master’s in computer engineering from FIU. Steeve, whose strength is sales and marketing, is also interested in politics and received his bachelors from Georgetown and then a master’s in public policy from Oxford University. Estinville, the finance specialist, attended Miami Dade College, received his economics degree from FIU and is now enrolled in an MBA program through the University of Florida. “He sees things in numbers none of us can see,” Steeve Simbert said.

One of their biggest challenges was gaining the trust and credibility of customers. People would Google Stopoint and find nothing, and the company tried marketing and got no returns. That all changed Sept. 28 when a CNET reporter wrote about Stopoint and listed it as a top company where people can sell their Apple watches. Other media followed. “Stopoint’s bragging point is speed. Stopoint will pay you via PayPal within 24 hours of receiving your device,” wrote reporter Nathan Olivarez in The Wall Street Journal.

Ever since then, business exploded. Before the CNET article, the team was doing just two or three transactions a day, but between Oct. 1 and Dec. 31, the company sold 1,500 products and generated $340,000 in revenue. The team has built on that surge through marketing and every week is stronger, Estinville said.

Now, Stopoint is ready to market its service to a broader audience, and it is seeking $1 million in investment to execute its robust growth plan. The startup also has incorporated a philanthropic program called Give 5. For every item it purchased and sold, the company donates $5 to organizations that provide toys for the holidays in Haiti.

“These boys have more than thanked it forward, they live it,” said Juan Casimiro of the Casimiro Global Foundation, who mentors the founders. “For example, Stopoint sponsored Casimiro Global Foundation to empower hundreds of Haitian children from vulnerable communities through motivational workshops.” Through the same foundation program, the Stopoint founders donated toys to more than 5,000 Haitian children during the holiday season.

Launched: March 2015

Website and social: www.stopoint.com / www.facebook.com/stopointtrade / @stopointtrade

Management team: Co-founders Marc Estinville, chief strategist; Ally Simbert, vice president of operations; Steeve Simbert, executive consultant

No. of employees: 8

Financing: Investment to date: $60,000. Seeking $1 million for 2017.

Recent milestones reached: Recognized as a top company on CNET, The Wall Street Journal and The Huffington Post. Secured startup investment funding.

Biggest startup challenge and why: Getting the trust and credibility of our customers. “Our biggest challenge is securing investment to keep the momentum and growth of the company,” Estinville said. “It’s a challenge because it is a competitive market, and we are in the race to be one of the top three companies that will dominate this market for many years to come.”

Next steps: Market Stopoint, including expanding all aspects of digital marketing, including social media, Google ads, etc.

Strategy for next steps: Secure $1 million investment and put it into the acquisition of new customers and improving Stopoint systems for continuing to provide the fastest trading service in the industry.

Mentor’s view: “I saw success in them the minute I met them. These boys turned all of their life challenges into opportunities,” said Casimiro, who runs a BizNovator program that the trio took part in. “Their progress has grown fast and steadily. They have expanded their client base while creating a very user friendly model.”

Nancy Dahlberg: @ndahlberg

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January 22, 2017

Startup Spotlight: WashMyWhip brings car wash to you and saves water, too

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WashMyWhip, a Miami-based startup, provides an on-demand, eco-friendly car-care service. Through the WashMyWhip app, you can drop a pin on your car’s location, select a service, and a WashPro will tend to your vehicle at a place and time of your choosing. 

By Nancy Dahlberg / ndahlberg@miamiherald.com

Company name: WashMyWhip 

Headquarters: The LAB Miami

Concept: WashMyWhip is an on-demand, eco-friendly car-care service. Through the WashMyWhip app, you can drop a pin on your car’s location and select a service, and a WashPro will tend to your vehicle at a time of your choosing. 

Story: Imagine telling your JPMorgan bosses you’re leaving a high-finance career to start a car-wash company. “They thought I was crazy,” Nathan Bekerman said. “But my years at JPMorgan taught me how to execute and run a business.” 

Bekerman and Tarek El Gammal (pictured above), who was also working at JPMorgan, as well as Ryan Serkes, “the computer guy,” believed there was something lacking in car-washing: consumer convenience. It also disturbed them that car-wash employees were typically being overworked and underpaid. Add to that the frightening figure that a traditional car wash can waste 50 to 100 gallons of water, and you have an industry in dire need of a makeover, they thought.

Their solution: WashMyWhip.

“We believe that everyone deserves to have quality car care right at their fingertips. Why would you take the time to drive to a car wash when you can launch an app and have a trained professional tend to your car whenever and wherever you want? The convenience and satisfaction of our customers is our utmost concern,” Bekerman, the CEO, said. “If they’re happy, we’re happy.”

WashMyWhip’s “WashPros” have the ability to manage a flexible schedule and earn both salary and commission-based pay. “We feel that these car-wash experts don’t deserve the working conditions of other car washes and can find a more pleasant working experience with WashMyWhip,” Bekerman said. A graduate of Bentley University, he worked at JPMorgan for 51/2 years before starting WashMyWhip.

Water conservation is key, Bekerman said. Instead of gallons and gallons of water, WashMyWhip uses a waterless car wash service that consists of lubricants that raise the dirt, clay that breaks it down, and wax that makes sure a car stays shiny and protected.

The service was launched last summer, and so far, the company has cleaned more than 5,000 cars without wasting 250,000 to 500,000 gallons of water. A reservation can be made sun-up to sundown daily via the free app (iOS or Android). An outside cleaning is $20, inside and out is $30, and full detailing is $120.

But where WashMyWhip sees real opportunity is with corporate clients that manage fleets of cars, and it has developed a web application that can manage their inventory for car care, which is tailored to them. WashMyWhip has already secured a partnership with Xchange Leasing, an Uber company, as its preferred car-cleaning provider, and has begun expanding into other major cities such as Atlanta, Philadelphia and New York. 

“Our goal is to eventually expand to other car services, such as battery and tire changes, wiper blade replacements and windshield replacements,” Bekerman said.

Where did the name “WashMyWhip” come from? In the early days of automobiles, a car’s steering wheel was called a whip, alluding to horse and buggy days, the team said. Who knew?

Launched: April 2016

Website: www.washmywhip.com/cities/miami 

Management team: CEO: Nathan Bekerman; COO: Tarek El Gammal; CTO: Ryan Serkes.

Number of employees: 40

Financing: More than $225,000 in funding to date

Recent milestones reached: Acquired Xchange Leasing (an Uber company) as a partner; expanded into Philadelphia and Atlanta with wmwFleets (the fleet servicing arm of WashMyWhip); was a finalist in the Global Mobile Challenge for the U.S. and Canada. 

Biggest startup challenge: Educating the consumer about its waterless car-cleaning service. 

Next step: Expand into other markets while continuing to partner with local businesses in South Florida to grow its foothold. 

Strategy for next step: WashMyWhip now offers a comprehensive solution for businesses that own/operate large fleets. The startup plans to continue partnering with car dealerships and car-rental agencies to grow wmwFleets to a national level and leverage that to expand the WashMyWhip app.

Follow @ndahlberg on Twitter.

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January 09, 2017

Startup Spotlight: Sociallybuzz

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Company name: Sociallybuzz

Headquarters: Weston

Concept: Sociallybuzz helps businesses grow using social media and data.

Story: Andre Kay bootstrapped Sociallybuzz from a small social media “do it for you” company to a nationally recognized social media agency and software company. But Sociallybuzz today is not anything like what it was conceived to be seven years ago. “It was supposed to be a social media influencer platform. The idea was to connect businesses with celebrities. I hired an outside engineer to assist me with building out the platform. After three months, he disappeared with my money and my codes. I was down thousands of dollars and nothing to show for it,” Kay said. “I was stuck at a two-way street deciding to quit or keep going.”

He kept going but changed the course of Sociallybuzz into a human-powered social media and tech agency. “That essentially became my greatest decision,” said Kay, who had co-founded and helped run Go Media Marketing, an outdoor marketing company, and was in bank management prior to launching Sociallybuzz. “I eventually grew the company from $0 to over $5 million with no outside investments. My ‘why’ for running this company is knowing that something that we’re doing at Sociallybuzz is helping other businesses grow. When they grow, the owners can support their families, hire more people, and those people can also support their families. That is what drives us to do what we do.”

There are many aspects to running a business that are never taught in school. So Kay applied for and was selected to be part of the three-month Goldman Sachs 10,000 Small Businesses at Miami Dade College in 2014 to get a better grounding in all aspects of running a small business – particularly the human resources side of the company. “I knew hiring the right people would be essential to growing the company,” said Kay, who is 34 and a proud graduate of the program. In 2015, Kay, who has won several entrepreneurship awards, launched the Sociallybuzz giveback program, which included pledging 1 percent of time, talent and treasures to the community. That pledge included donating over 200 turkeys and toys to families in need.

Growth often springs from more focus on the core business. In early 2016, Kay made the difficult decision of closing down the app side of his business, because it wasn’t gaining the traction the company needed to self-fund it, and went back to investing time and resources in growing Sociallybuzz’s core business model. Because of that change, company revenues grew 100 percent in 2016, said Kay, who was born in Kingston, Jamaica, and moved to South Florida when he was 16

“We’re now executing on our biggest change at the company. We’re adding content development, creative and paid media as core services, to complement our social media managed services and will be accepting up to 50 carefully selected new clients per year,” Kay said. “We want to continue to do amazing work to help our clients grow, but we can only do that if the businesses we’re working with also appreciate and understand the true value of social media. We’ll be launching the new website this month.”

Launched: 2009

Website: www.Sociallybuzz.com / Social: @Sociallybuzz

Management team: Andre Kay, founder and CEO; Thuy Nguyen, founding partner and account executive; Sharon Walters, human resources director.

No. of employees: 10

Financing: Self-financed

Recent milestones reached: Increased revenues by 100 percent in 2016; recently hit $5 million in revenue; launched new business model at start of 2017; added three core services: content development, creative and paid media.

Biggest startup challenge: Not understanding early on the true value of having the right people to help you run the company, whether they are at the executive level or at the day-to-day, getting your hands dirty level.

Next steps: To grow the company to $10 million.

Strategy for next steps: To continue to adapt to the constant change in social and digital media while expanding the knowledge of Sociallybuzz’s core team and hiring more talent.

Mentor’s view: “Many entrepreneurs do not have the discipline or the flexibility to put sales and marketing on hold for several months while prioritizing putting the right staff and back office operations in place. Andre had that discipline, and once he made corrections to the fundamentals that were not working smoothly, revenues and profits began to scale,” said John Hall, executive director of the local 10,000 Small Businesses program. Going forward, Hall’s advice for Kay is “to continue to push revenues in his current growing niches while pursuing ‘innovative differentiation’ in services and product lines that are not easily replicable, possibly with a tech component.”

Follow Nancy Dahlberg on Twitter @ndahlberg

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December 25, 2016

Startup Spotlight: Condition Culture goes all-in on hair — and fur

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Company: Condition Culture

Headquarters: Miami

Concept: Five beauty brands for people and their pets — as the company’s tagline says, “beauty for your best friend.” Condition Culture creates products that aim to enhance confidence and freedom of expression.

Story: Founded by twin sisters Alex and Donya Litowitz, Condition Culture launched its first product, Featherlocks (feather decorations for the hair), in April 2010, appearing in top fashion magazines and television shows. Condition Culture continues to sell the original hair feather extensions and has since developed several other products, including Puppylocks, feather accessories for dogs.

After graduating from the Kellogg School of Management in December, Donya decided to purchase the company and move it further into professional haircare products. Alex, a hair stylist who would put artistic feathers in her clients’ hair before they created the product, wanted to start a family and return to hair styling. “Since the purchase, I have focused on reorganizing the operations and product development to refocus the resources on the new direction,” said Donya, who had a background in real-estate finance.

Condition Culture’s latest brand, COLORSMASH color-kissed hairspray, a color hairspray with no iron oxides, launched in June at Cosmoprof in Vegas. It is also sold in Germany, the UK, South Africa, Australia, Italy, China, Korea, Israel Scandinavia and the Netherlands. The product (about $20 a can) results in professional-looking color without the commitment or mess like current options on the market, Donya said. It is now the company’s key product.

This year, international distribution has doubled for Condition Culture; the next growth focus is the Asian market. Donya has also increased the use of technology to increase efficiency and has reduced the team to eight core people in a flat organization where she interacts with all areas of the business as needed but allows each department to function independently. More deliverables are outsourced to keep the company lean and agile.

“We have created a very collaborative environment. It’s become a family; we spend a lot of time together, and working toward a common goal keeps us united and moving forward. Stella, the office dog, contributes just as much,” said Donya, a third generation Miamian. The company’s offices in Miami’s Little River area include a showroom, product design, business development and distribution. Stella is a key part of the staff, offering valuable feedback on the company’s pet products, as well as being a stress reliever and morale booster.

Plans include bringing more manufacturing back into the U.S., and new product development with a focus on COLORSMASH and Puppylocks. The next big product launch is in July. The company won’t dislose what’s coming but said it is aimed at significantly widening Condition Culture’s market. Condition Culture’s products are sold online at Conditionculture.com, as well as by retail partners. Its popular pet products are also sold at PetsMart.

“You have to make mistakes to learn anything,” Donya said. “Don’t compromise on what you really want.”

Founded: 2010

Management team: Donya Litowitz, CEO; Chris Askew, Product Development; Linda Uribe, International Accounts; Megan Patton, Domestic Accounts; Jenny Hernandez, Inventory & office management; Nicholas Piniero, Marketing/Creative; Stella, the dog, Director of Office Morale

No. of employees: 8

Financing: Self-funded and not looking for investment. “We were profitable from the first year and have reinvested into the development and growth of new products,” Donya said.

Website: ConditionCulture.com

Recent milestones: The launch of COLORSMASH hairspray, which has already established international distribution in Germany, South Africa, England, Australia and the Netherlands in less than five months and won the 2016 PDC Haircare Award for innovation in formulation/packaging compatibility and design.

Biggest startup challenge: The large financial and emotional investment that goes into running a company, the sleepless nights, and the ups and downs, Donya said. “But at the end of the day, I wouldn’t have it any other way. The key is to believe in what you’re doing and to surround yourself with people that encourage you to be better every day. Having a solid team is key. Everyone in my family are entrepreneurs, so I guess you can say it’s in our blood.”

Copycats have also been a problem for the company, but since the COLORSMASH hair spray took four years to develop and has a patent pending, Donya believes it will not be easily copied.

Next step: Expanding the COLORSMASH brand by evaluating the consumer response from the initial launch and continuing to improve the assortment of colors.

Nancy Dahlberg: @ndahlberg

Condition2

 

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December 18, 2016

Startup Spotlight: Caribu app bridges the miles to connect families for reading, learning

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 Miami-based Caribu offers a free app and marketplace that brings together children and family members through a video-call to read books, draw and learn together.

Company name: Caribu

Headquarters: Miami

Concept: Caribu is an innovative app and marketplace that allows families to connect through a video-call to read books, draw and learn together in real-time no matter where they are. Think FaceTime meets Kindle in a shared screen.

Story: By the time Alvaro Sabido conceived of the idea for Caribu with his co-founders, he had lived in four countries across the Americas and Europe and was accustomed to talking to his family via phone or video-calling services. Both of his parents worked at media and publishing companies, so he grew up exposed to books and the importance of literacy as a skill.

Around the time he and his teammates were brainstorming business ideas during their master’s program at Imperial College in London, a picture of a soldier that was trying to read a book to his daughter by holding up a book to his laptop was trending, That very image struck them into thinking: surely, there must be a better way to engage with your kids when you’re not together.

“We did a bit of research and found that the concept of sharing content through a video-call did not exist for the children’s content market,” said Sabido, who studied entrepreneurship and management in graduate school and industrial engineering and computer science as an undergraduate. His team won two competitions at the business school and used the prize money to bring the concept to life.

Shortly after releasing the first version, the team joined the Microsoft Ventures Accelerator in London and the UK’s Sirius Programme and went on to raise $100,000. Caribu brought international brands on board such as Mattel, Maverick and Usborne as well as worked with talented content creators big and small.

By the end of that first year, reality hit, and the startup went from a fun school project to a business that had to be run. Three of the guys opted to take their post-grad school offers and Sabido decided to come back to Miami, where he grew up, to continue with Caribu.

To rebuild his team, he looked for someone who could run the business side of Caribu, had a background in education, and was willing to move to Miami. Enter CoFounders Lab, a website that helps founders find each other. After five months of searching he found Maxeme Tuchman.

Tuchman was finishing up a White House Fellowship in D.C. but was from Miami, had run Teach For America Miami-Dade and was a former Miami-Dade County Public Schools teacher. She taught 12th grade Government and Economics to struggling readers, and because of that, recognized how important it was to get the fundamentals of literacy right in the early grades. “I was determined to provide the resources to parents and educational programs that are also focused on ensuring that all of our children have the basic skills to succeed in school and life,” she said.

BMStartupCaribu1200 PhoneDeThe app is free in the Apple App Store and revenue comes from in-app purchases of books that range from free to $3.99. Once Caribu introduces its B2B strategy, it plans to transition to a subscription model that will allow organizations to purchase access for their employees, patients, members, etc. The team is prototyping new literacy products that complement the platform and would add another revenue stream. The app’s bookshelf contains over 200 books, including educational workbooks and drawing pads, from publishers such as Mattel, Ustime and Santillana,in English, Spanish, Mandarin, French, German and Arabic. Caribu plans to include an Android and web version in the next development cycle.

“Caribu has been a huge hit in our house and with my mother-in-law in Las Vegas. She is a speech pathologist and loves that she can see the same thing my son does, so she can help him sound out tougher words,” said Brooks Anderson, a mother of three who lives at Bolling Air Force Base in Washington, D.C. “It's interactive and by having a grown-up reading along, my son was able to work on books above his reading level. Anything to help kids with their reading proficiency is a plus.”

Website and social: Caribu.co / @CaribuApp / fb.com/Caribu

Management team: CEO: Maxeme Tuchman / CTO: Alvaro Sabido (pictured above)

Financing: $100,000 from a friends and family round and a $60,000 grant from UK Sirius Programme. Caribu seeks to raise $600,000 in seed capital.

Recent milestones: Officially global. Caribu is available worldwide and features 200-plus books in five languages. Caribu recently partnered with Education.com and Santillana to bring educational workbooks and Spanish-language stories to the platform. The company will also be introducing a new product in 2017 to build literacy skills and reading comprehension."

Biggest startup challenge and why: Taking its mainly B2C (business to consumer) company and incorporating a B2B model where it can license Caribu to partners that can reach more people who need its services, such as hospitals, early childhood centers, military organizations, organizations focused on seniors and corporate clients where employees work late or travel frequently.

“I would say that another challenge, that personally pains me, is fighting to keep our company in Miami,” Tuchman said. “We have a lot of potential investors that don’t know enough about the startup infrastructure here in Miami. I was born and raised here and believe deeply in Miami’s diverse community and the entrepreneurial ecosystem that community investors like Matt Haggman and the Knight Foundation have nurtured here. I want to keep our company in Miami and believe we can build the network of funding and mentorship that we need without leaving to an ed-tech mecca like New York City or Boston.”

Next steps: To move from a reading app to a literacy app. “Most parents know that reading to their child is important, but they aren’t trained to teach their children how to read. There is a huge demand for better apps that enrich literacy skills and have the added benefit of videoing in a tutor/ teacher/ parent,” Tuchman said. The team’s strategy is proprietary but it would involve adding features that will help parents know if and how their child is progressing in their ability to read on grade level. Stay tuned.

Nancy Dahlberg  @ndahlberg 

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