Madison Wisconsin Startup: SnowShoe Validates Actual Check Ins INTERVIEW

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The headline for this story about Madison Wisconsin startup SnowShoe was actually rather difficult. In some ways we wanted to say that SnowShoe brings Foursquare to real life. In essence Foursquare is already in real life and takes people to different spots for check-ins. The next idea was to say that SnowShoe brigns Foursquare off-line, again Foursquare kind of does that, but SnowShoe does it with actual offline objects.

We first met Claus Moberg founder of  SnowShoe when the sneaker-strapped nationwide startup roadtrip cruised through Madison Wisconsin. The team explained that with SnowShoe your phone actually interacts with an aluminum object at the check in establishment, to check-in and receive loyalty points and rewards.

There is definitely value in this “extra step”. When you’re actually forced to check in using, what SnowShoe calls the “SnowShoe Stamp” or if you have to scan a QR code, you get engaged with the establishment and you can’t do the infamous drive-by checkin. ¬†I actually live near a place that has a free breakfast special with 3 check-ins. I live close enough that I can check-in there everyday without actually going, and then on the third day, voila breakfast is free. Some people call it ripping off, others call it gaming the system.

With SnowShoe though, that drive by check-in or checking in while walking by just for the glory or the special is cut out of the equation.

The SnowShoe stamp is literally a block of aluminum with no circuitry, batteries or power of any kind. It does however, have five uniquely arranged capacitive touch points which authenticate the transaction on your smartphone. It’s actually more reliable and better than a traditional QR code on a piece of paper.

Innovative huh?

We got a chance to talk with Moberg more in depth in the interview below:




What is SnowShoe?

SnowShoe is a Madison, WI startup that makes the SnowShoe Stamp – an insanely intuitive, inexpensive and indestructible way for smartphones to authenticate real-world interactions. A simple touch of the SnowShoe Stamp to the screen of a person’s smartphone proves that the phone’s owner is in a specific location, at a specific time, and is interacting with a person or system in an authenticated way.

In layman’s terms, how does it work?

The SnowShoe Stamp is literally a block of aluminum – no circuitry, no batteries nor power of any kind, no on/off switch. They are super cheap to manufacture (in the US from 100% recycled aluminum), and they are dishwasher safe.

The secret lies in the fact that each stamp has five uniquely-arranged “capacitive touch points” on its bottom side. When the stamp is touched to the screen of a smartphone, the specific location of these points is detected by the phone and used, along with other session-based information, to authenticate the transaction.

Who are the founders and what are their backgrounds?

Claus Moberg, Jami Morton and Matt Luedke, all formerly grad students at the University of Wisconsin – Madison, founded SnowShoe in the spring of 2010 to make coupling apps for grocery stores. They invented the SnowShoe Stamp when they became frustrated by how hard it was to integrate their apps with grocers’ point of sale systems.

Where are you based?

We’re based in Madison, WI. Our office is the entire second floor of Madison’s old train station.

What’s the startup scene/culture like where you’re based?

Madison has a small, but very passionate, supportive and growing startup scene. SnowShoe, along with firms like PerBlue, Murfie, and Vidmaker, form the core of this ecosystem. The university provides great access to talent, and the local investment community is becoming increasingly comfortable with supporting “real tech” plays (as opposed to their bread and butter: medical devices and biotech).

How did you come up with the idea for SnowShoe?

Outlined above – basically, we invented the stamp to solve a problem we had encountered in a previous incarnation of the business. We quickly realized that our invention would solve problems much, much bigger than our own, and we pivoted the company accordingly.

How did you come up with the name?

SnowShoe’s make an impression – exactly what our stamp does when used in conjunction with a customer’s phone?

What problem does SnowShoe solve?

There is no cheap, intuitive, cross-platform way for smartphone apps to know when a customer is making a purchase in a brick-and-morter store.

What’s your secret sauce?

Sriracha? We always have a bottle in our kitchen . . .

No, seriously, our secret sauce is that our device doesn’t rely on NFC or QR-Codes. We have an intuitive, physical transaction that is immediately understood by anyone who has used a rubber stamp.

What’s one dilemma you’ve encountered in the startup process?

It has been hard to raise venture funding coming from Wisconsin. When we started raising our last round, we didn’t have access to the networks required to get meetings with many of the big VCs in California and NY. We raised a lot of interest amongst local investors, but there are only a handful of angel groups (and just two VC firms) in the state, and they all talk to each other and collude on investments. We finally got a deal that we liked by going to to coasts to raise pressure on our funders back in WI, but it took a long time and was a lot harder than it needed to be.

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

We proposed a major pivot to our business plan (to pursue the stamp instead of the grocery apps) in the first board meeting after raising our seed round. That was, uh, exciting.

What’s the first thing you would do with a one million dollar investment?

Hire a COO with experience in inventory, manufacturing and logistics, and hire a biz/dev manager with experience selling to Inc100 companies.

What’s next for SnowShoe?

We’re launching the public beta of our developer SDK and open API in San Francisco on September 10th. Developers interested in using this can head over to www.snow.sh to get notified when it is available.

Linkage:

Check out SnowShoe here at their website

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