Silicon Valley Startup: Sooligan Moves To Arkansas To Help Strangers INTERVIEW

Startups flock in droves from their home city to Silicon Valley. It’s like the pilgrimage that actors and actresses make to Hollywood and models make to New York (some startups too). It’s not often that you hear of a startup moving from Silicon Valley to “everywhere else” to grow.

Back in June we brought you the story of the vitamin and supplement subscription box startup, Bulu Box. The husband and wife team behind Bulu Box moved from Silicon Valley to Lincoln Nebraska to grow their startup. Paul and Stephanie Jarrett were able to get an investment from the Nebraska Angels. They decided to pack things up and move to Nebraska, not only because of the investment but because costs would be more manageable there.

Today we’ve found Sooligan. Sooligan is a social discovery startup for the things around you. The idea behind the startup is that whether you’re traveling to a new city or your’re moving their, you can use Sooligan to crowdsource expert advice from the best experts, the locals.

Sooligan has rolled a few concepts into one big idea. They submitted the idea to the Ark Challenge accelerator in Fayetteville Arkansas and we’re accepted.

The two female founders from Sooligan, Nikka Umil and Natasha Malaihollo have relocated their headquarters to Fayetteville and plan on staying there after the accelerator program is over. Umil told why they decided to relocate to Arkansas and then stay there:

“I think everyone already knows about Berkeley! It is minutes away from Silicon Valley, and is a hub for the country’s best and brightest. This makes moving to Fayetteville, Arkansas (where we are currently based) quite shocking and a bit unexpected. We had NO clue whatsoever that this place had a booming startup scene/culture. We were very surprised by what we found once we started researching the area. Not ony is it home to the biggest Forbes 500 and 1000 companies, but it is also home to great up-and-coming startups like TTAGG, MobileFWD, Acumen Brands and more. Initiatives like the Ark Challenge and The Iceberg are also testaments to the growing startup culture in the area.”

Umil found a laundry list of accolades for their new home:


· Forbes named Fayetteville, Arkansas, a Best Place for Businesses and Careers.

· Fast Company recently named Fayetteville, AR as one of the “9 cities you wouldn’t think are hubs for tech startups”

· Travel + Leisure named Bentonville, Arkansas, one of the hottest travel destinations for 2012.

· The region, relatively insulated from the macroeconomy, offers a high quality of life and low cost of living.

· Northwest Arkansas is home to Fortune 500 and 1000 companies, as well as thousands of their big-brand suppliers.

· In 2011, Arkansas was cited by CNBC as having the lowest overall cost of doing business in the nation.

· The Kauffman Foundation ranks Arkansas as the 15th most entrepreneurial state in 2011 in the current issue of its annual report, the Kauffman Index of Entrepreneurial Activity. The calculated index for Arkansas is at 0.34%, which means there are 340 entrepreneurs per 100,000 adults per month in the Natural State.

· The nation is seeing progress, innovation clusters and cultural revival in the Midwest and American South.

· Northwest Arkansas is the sixth fastest growing region in the country, surrounded by the beautiful Ozark Mountains.

· The Northwest Arkansas MSA has grown 35% since 2000 and now numbers more than 463,000 residents—the fastest growing population in Middle America.

· Northwest Arkansas is a hub at the center of a regional market including Dallas, Oklahoma City, Tulsa, Kansas City, St. Louis, Little Rock, and Memphis metropolitan areas.

· Northwest Arkansas has a welcoming entrepreneurial culture with quick-start networking opportunities.

· Northwest Arkansas sees a high degree of philanthropic engagement from its citizenry, as well as creative and business communities.

· Northwest Arkansas has the most billionaires per capita than anywhere in the United States.

· As part of a regional strategic economic development plan, Northwest Arkansas has an intentional focus onnurturing mobile and Internet startups.

Below is the rest of our interview with Umil.

Sooligan,Silicon Valley Startup,Arkansas Startup,Ark Challenge, Startup,Startups, startup interviewWhat is Sooligan?

Sooligan is a localized social search platform. We digitalize word-of-mouth. We make it easier, quicker, and fun for you to find and share information about any city in the world with those people around you. Our vision for Sooligan is to allow people to move or travel to any city, and without knowing a single person there, find everything they need to know about that city instantly through conversations with the people who know the city best—the locals.

In layman’s terms, how does it work?

Sooligan uses several tools that generate conversation between locals and newcomers, and others who are seeking information about a city. We have a localized Question and Answer feature, which allows users to post questions that are routed directly to others in a city based on our matching algorithms. In addition to the Q&A, we have a unique live Rants and Raves feed, which gives users an opportunity to share what they like or don’t like about something in that city, whether it’s related to school, work, or a local business and event. We offer users a real-time reflection of a city’s sentiments and local environment, thus helping them make decisions about what they want to do in that city in real time. Sooligan makes social search fun and easy.

Who are the founders and what are their backgrounds?

Nikka Umil is the co-founder of Sooligan, Inc. She graduated from UC Berkeley in 2012 with a major in Politics and Economics, and a background in Business, jumping into the startup route soon after graduation. She was an active member of the University and the surrounding community, being the founder and chairwoman of the first University-wide philanthropic organization responsible for raising $300million in scholarships and aid. Aside from a well-rounded coursework, she has backgrounds in the corporate arena, through her work-experience in management positions, a non-profit startup, and at a national organization’s corporate department. She received extra training in leadership and entrepreneurship as a SAGE Scholar through the HAAS School of Business. She recently traveled to South America to study and conduct research on the Brazilian culture and economy. Nikka is instrumental in adding the revenue-generator to Sooligan. She conceived the idea of Sooligan for Businesses, which is a complimentary system for businesses to utilize the Sooligan technology and an innovative way to monetize on mobile. Before Sooligan, she was on her way to being recruited for corporations such as Kaiser Permanente and the Big Four, and had dreams of ultimately obtaining a dual J.D./MBA degree, but followed her heart and pursued Sooligan instead as she always had a natural entrepreneurial spirit. She is a foodie and loves to read, write, travel, play chess competitively, roam the outdoors (once hiking over 26mi. in the mountains of South America) and do all things spontaneous.

Natasia Malaihollo is the co-founder of Sooligan, Inc. She graduated from UC Berkeley in three years with a B. A. in Legal Studies. While at Cal, she served as the Logistics Chairman of the UC Berkeley Leadership Symposium, an annual leadership conference attended by hundreds of Northern California student and campus leaders. Natasia further served as the Vice President of the Berkeley Indonesian Student Association, where she bridged a gap between the Indonesian international students and the Cal community. Natasia switched majors from Biochemistry to Legal Studies after volunteering at the National Center for Youth Law (NCYL) and seeing the positive impact of the legal process on foster children. During her last year at Cal, she interned for Hillary Clinton while Clinton was a candidate for the Democratic presidential nomination. After Berkeley, Natasia worked as a Legal Secretary and Office Manager in a Business and IP law firm, which is where she learned the art of patent writing and drafted the patent application for Sooligan. Natasia conceived the idea of Sooligan on June 1, 2011, based on a dream she had about a completely touch screen web experience that connects people outside of their typical networks. She specializes in corporate law at the Georgetown University Law Center. She loves to read, write, eat Indonesian food, and her HelloKitty doll ‘Pebbles.’

How did you come up with the idea for Sooligan?

To many this may be an unbelievable story, but to us, Sooligan is what we are meant to accomplish! Sooligan was invented as a result of a dream Natasia had about a very unique technology literally on the same night I was outlining my plans to build a website to help the local community. We meshed our ideas together to build and develop what is now the Sooligan system. We left promising futures in the corporate law and business field to begin building Sooligan. At this time, Natasia was on her way to law school, and I was on her way to study the economy in Brazil. So we had a few dilemmas there. But a few months later, we reconvened and decided to put all our energy and time into Sooligan. We were out of their comfort zones, but never once faltered in our belief and dedication to the company.

How did you come up with the name?

We wanted our company name to be something new and unheard of, something that will not put us in a box or categorize us in any way. Our name was actually a play on the words “Social Hooligan”. Although the term “Hooligan” typically has negative connotations, we’re putting a positive twist to it. A “Sooligan” is someone who is a very active and essential individual in the community. It is someone who is constantly out there sharing his/her likes, dislikes, or knowledge about a city in hopes of helping locals or newcomers to the city. Inside all of us is a Sooligan. All Sooligans have a voice in our platform.

What problem does Sooligan solve?

Social networks like Twitter and Facebook makes it easier to connect with people, but largely disconnects us from our local community. We don’t have conversations anymore. We have broadcasts of our lives. Additionally, looking up local information is burdensome, time-consuming and highly inefficient. Current online search results on websites like Google and Yelp are often out-of-date,or irrelevant, rendering them useless for users seeking instant recommendations and help.

So you guys are at the Ark Challenge accelerator, with so many accelerators in Silicon Valley why did you select ARK?

Silicon Valley is already saturated with so many startups that receives minimal notice despite of their amazing products/services. As we were researching different accelerators, The Ark Challenge proved to be an unconventional yet smart choice for us. This is The Ark Challenge’s inaugural group, and thus, we figured they would expand all their resources to make their first group awesome, which is exactly what they are doing. (It helps that this area has the most billionaires per capita in the nation too!) Secondly, a small tight-knit community like Fayetteville Arkansas allows us to test our product at a small scale and gain community support and recognition for our brand, we just wouldn’t get that from a place like Silicon Valley since people encounter so much startup noise daily. We needed a place to build our story, the ARK was perfect for that.

What are you learning at ARK?

Put a bunch of smart and innovative people together in one office, give them lots of seasoned professionals as mentors..what can we not learn?! Our knowledge of tech and entrepreneurship has exponentially increased since being here. This is our first time participating in an accelerator, and while here, we’ve mastered the concept of doing something better, faster, and cheaper. We have to keep improving our product/MVP, we have to move fast, and we have to do it all within our budget and resources.

What’s your secret sauce?

Aside from our unique keyword algorithms, I would say our secret sauce is that we are the first and only one-stop platform that makes local social search really fun, fast, and easy. We’ve also found a way to monetize on mobile and involve the community as well.

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

Time/Money. I think that comes hand-in-hand. Questions like: Should I quit my day job? Should I commit all my time to this venture? I think if every entrepreneur had a choice, they’d invest all their time in their product, simply because they love it or because there’s a million and one things to do daily. But then, unless you already have funding or are a trust-fund baby, you need money to live. There comes a point in the startup process when you just have to seriously focus on your goal, let all fears aside, and do everything you can to get there with as little distractions as possible…and that’s what we did. We’ve been blessed to receive the resources from The Ark Challenge, allowing us to work full-time on Sooligan. Live smart, manage time/money, and definitely seek out resources..there’s many out there.

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

Differentiating ourselves from what people assume are our competitors. In the already saturated social media industry, people automatically lump you with facebook or twitter and rule you out, even though what you do is completely different. I think we are getting better with delivering our message so that people “get it”. You have to find a niche and focus on the value you provide. But ultimately, we do this through building a great product and building a brand that people can really recognize and relate to.

Who are some of your mentors and business role models?

We’ve been so blessed to receive lots of mentors at The Ark coming from many fields, they have helped us tremendously in all aspects of our business. Our personal business role models (who we hope to become our mentors as well if they’re reading haha) include:

Oprah: As women, she inspires us in many ways. She is very powerful, yet authentic. She gives back to the community and does not let adversity overcome her.

Richard Branson inspires us to step out of our comfort zone and do great things. He also he carries himself as a great leader, so great that he is the face of his brand and people love it.

Steve Jobs: He is a great creator and visionary. We look up to him for building great products and implementing innovative sales techniques that ultimately created the untouchable Apple brand.

What’s next for Sooligan?

We are currently trying to raise funding through The Ark Challenge Demo Day to expand to 20 of the largest Universities in the nation. We are testing our beta at the University of Arkansas, then expand nationally. Watch out for us at this year’s SXSW in Austin, TX!


Here’s Sooligan

Here’s Ark Challenge

Here’s Everywhere Else




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