Utah Startup: CrowdHall Moving To Cincinnati For The Brandery INTERVIEW

Imagine if you could mix a social network, reddit,crowdsourced answers and a town hall meeting into one platform that wasn’t an absolute train wreck. Now imagine if you could use that platform to host virtual conferences, discussions with elected officials, or even with your blog audience (yeah we can’t wait to try it). Now stop imagining because that’s what the founders of CrowdHall are doing.

The founders hail from “everywhere else” As you’ll see in the interview there we could credit this startup to Salt Lake City, San Diego, Washington DC and now Cincinnati, as CrowdHall was selected for the 2012 class at the Brandery.

At the Brandery CrowdHall will refine their product and make a go of a truly unique startup.

CrowdHall works like this:

Say you’re an active citizen and you noticed in your neighborhood all the playground equipment was getting old and dangerous. You would probably write city hall or call city hall and get back some kind of form response that says they’ll look into it. You may try again and get the same answer. Heck you could even go to the city hall meeting and get the same answer, they’ll look into it.

Now with CrowdHall you may be able to find your local City Councilman. You could ask the City Councilman about the playground equipment. Then you could tell your friends that you asked on CrowdHall and they could in turn, come and vote up your question. Now your Councilman sees that you have a very valid issue. He can answer you and all the other neighbors you recruited in a one on one way but in a public facing setting where the other could also comment.

Now if the Councilman agrees with you, he could help get the playground equipment issue resolved, voila!

This can also be used for bloggers to source questions in a similar way and discussion format, even rock stars, entertainers, business speakers, and just about anyone who has a “crowd” could benefit from CrowdHall.

As the CrowdHall team prepares to move to Cincinnati next week for this session of the Brandery, we got a chance to talk with Jordan Menzel, Co-Founder and COO of CrowdHall. Check that interview out, after the break

Tell us, what is crowdhall?

Without getting into too many details, CrowdHall is the first integrated social media platform that allows large audiences to communicate up in an organized and prioritized manner by facilitating living town halls that can be hosted by anyone and moderated by everyone. CrowdHall allows people, organizations, and businesses to invite the audiences in their existing social networks to engage directly in a two-way, crowd-controlled conversation. Anyone can step in and speak up by asking questions or making statements and then voting on the ones they want to be addressed.

The result is a real-time list of what’s most important to the greatest number of people. With CrowdHall, the crowd has a voice that can be engaging without being overwhelming, and those at the top can be efficiently informed and personally responsive. With the platform going live in a few months, we want to keep the fun stuff a surprise.

Who are the founders and what are your backgrounds?

We ask ourselves that frequently. I am sure, like most founders, that we have an unusual combination of completely random backgrounds that appear to have nothing to do with CrowdHall and an irrational conviction that our product will fundamental change the way people interact. Austin Hackett, Co-Founder and CEO, stepped out of Columbia University Medical School to give this a shot. Aside from being the smartest person I know, he is also one of the most practical. He has an ability to enter a new field, read everything available, and become the definitive source on that topic in a few weeks, at least for those that go climbing with him. Nick Wientge, CTO and Lead Developer, is everything a small team operating in this industry could dream for. He has an amazing eye for design and can code like there’s no tomorrow. Aside from owning his own development consultancy, Nick has over 15 years working with top design and development firms out west and understands the whole process from the front end to back end, not to mention he used to kick it in a metal band. As a Co-Founder and COO, I do a little of everything. I recently graduated from Georgetown’s School of Foreign Service and have a background in State politics and international development. I have a sick love for investment pitches and will peddle CrowdHall anywhere, anytime, to anyone. Prior to CrowdHall, the most successful venture I have been a part of was riding my bike from Canada to Mexico without a single flat tire.

Where are you guys based?

Hmm, that’s an interesting question right now. Probably best to answer with our track record over the last 6 months. When CrowdHall was founded, Austin was in New York, I was in DC, and Nick was based out of San Diego. Both Austin and I are originally from Salt Lake City and for the last 2 months have been working from there. With the team now heading to The Brandery in Cincinnati, that’s all up in the air again. Although a big part of our early momentum came out of DC, we are open all sorts of long term possibilities, some of which will depend on the reception of various investment communities.

What problem does Crowdhall solve?

We solve the problems created by group communication. Social media has been truly amazing when it comes to gathering large audiences around issues, people, companies, or causes, but, when it comes to making sense of what that group is trying to communicate, social media has flopped. Whether its Facebook, Twitter, or old school emails, thousands of people trying to speak at the same time is overwhelming, unorganized, and as a result, inefficient. High-profile people and organizations are inundated with redundant content from fans and followers and have no tool to systematically prioritize what the crowd is trying to tell them. Without a tool to organize and prioritize the voice of the masses, those at the top simply don’t respond. They are disconnected and everyone else is left frustrated.

Where are you guys at in terms of progress right now and what do you hope to gain from Brandery?

There are always 1000 more things we would like to have done by yesterday, but when we look at our big milestones over the last few months we are all pretty stoked. In a short period of time we pulled off a super fun and very successful one time beta launch for USAID and their global forum called Frontiers in Development (usaid.crowdhall.com ). We were all jazzed to have the first CrowdHall audience be multiple heads of State and celebrities like Mandy Moore. With that very custom beta launch all wrapped up, we are 100% focused on getting our main public platform out for some early beta testing with a few interesting audiences late summer. This will prepare us to get the whole product live just before the elections.

The Brandery will be, and already has been, a huge boost to hit those milestones. We have always been aware that aside from our approach to helping groups communicate, a clean brand would be key to our success. The Brandery’s network of mentors and specific focus on the branding process will ensure that when we are ready to get out into the public space we don’t miss any opportunity to leave a good impression. For all of us, this is our first start-up so we have no reservations about surrounding ourselves with super smart people in a concentrated space. Talk to us in 3 months and I will let you know how that concentrated space thing is going.

What is your secret sauce?

With this being our first start-up, the key to our momentum has definitely been surrounding ourselves with people who have been down this road before and getting our ideas out there fast for feedback. We all have an insane passion to make this work but also understand the value of not taking ourselves too seriously. This lets us scrap stupid ideas and remain open to completely new approaches. The other thing we have noticed is how important it is to build each success of those before it until the momentum picks up. Early on, you need to feel like you are achieving something, so at first, you may need to simply celebrate the first url you pick up, or tweet out a meeting you just had, those things keep you sane and motivated and soon enough they become more exciting.

What’s one challenge you’ve overcome during the startup process?

When you’re a couple of friends with an idea and no money or technical resources, even having a conversation is a challenge, everything is a challenge. The most fundamental obstacle, however, and one that many founders will encounter, happened when a key member of our team let us know he would no longer be able to continue on in the same capacity. It was at a critical time, just before a big partnership and just as we began to consider incubator options. It was definitely a moment when those around you give you condolences and assume the idea will fade away.

When Austin and I hopped on the phone to chat about it, we were both surprised by how quickly we each went into contingency planning mode. During a rough 30 min. conversation, neither one of us even broached the reality that we wouldn’t still continue on although I am sure we were both thinking it. I think we were each relieved when the other one never brought it up. It became clear to me then and remains so now, that a strong commitment to the concept will see you through most bumps early on.

What’s next for CrowdHall?

The whole team is in Cincinnatti for three months to focus on our brand, build a great product, and launch it before the elections. Thanks to the Brandery (www.brandery.org) we have a strong network to help us out and prepare us launch fast and efficiently. Aside from building a great product, we are also working with the investment community to make sure we can handle the traffic and improve on our product.


Find out more about CrowdHall here

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