Have you ever been upset with something, be it customer service, product selection, feature selection or just any normal complaint? Has that complaint ever been enough to tick you off but not piss you off? Well with complaints like those they often die in your head. You may forget them later on, only to have them resurface the next time you go to that restaurant, store, or business or use that product. Then, you quickly remember that complaint.
Now, on the other hand if you feel you’ve ever been just totally wronged, or get really pissed off at a company, you may go through the motions of seeking out a contact form, email address or phone number and actually move forward with your complaint. This process can take a while and it too can be interrupted and die out.
A Buffalo based startup called GripeO is here to change that and disrupt the complaint space with a complaint market place that’s both easy to complain on and easy for companies to find their complaints. But lets establish one thing from the get-go and that’s the fact that GripeO is not a place to just bitch about everything under the sun.
“GripeO is a website and mobile application startup that’s going to disrupt complaint management. Consumers (people like you and I) can quickly and easily submit product or service complaints in one consolidated location. We notify and authenticate businesses who are then able to mediate the complaint via our system. During the process we encourage businesses to close as many complaints as possible with new savings and discounts. This won’t work for everyone, but for those that do it benefits both parties because it has the ability to please consumers yet drive new sales to the business. The real magic happens though when complaints are left open. The fact is, that information is far more valuable then people often realize. You have a qualified consumer who is frustrated with a business. GripeO offers those ignored complaints in a Complaint Marketplace where competitive businesses can search for complaints in an ad-market style and use our system to entice and lure those qualified leads away via our system. This is the revenue generating portion of GripeO and something that makes us truly unique.” GripeO co-founder and team lead, Mike Klanac Jr told us in an interview.
We’ve seen a few complaint platforms over the years but it seems that the founding team behind GripeO have worked out a lot of the kink and are poised to become the goto destination to sound off complaints and ultimately get them resolved. Check out the rest of Klanac’s interview below.
Our team is comprised of 6 co-founders who each are responsible for a different functional area. They include Mike Klanac (CEO/Team Lead), Nicholas Campanile (Finance and Business Development), Stephen Makula (System Architecture), Richard Panek (Development Lead), Jim Proux (User Experience), and Mark Taylor (User Interface and Mobile). The group has all worked together in the past and that’s really what ties everyone together. The corporate backgrounds of everyone actually created quite a link; working together in that environment allowed everyone to identify the best resources in their respective positions. When the idea and opportunity arose the team fell together quickly and naturally based on a mutual respect. Some of the other work the team has collaborated on includes Ellucian Inc., SimpleApply LLC, and ProfileFly.com.
Where are you based?
Our headquarters are in Buffalo, NY however we also have one co-founder in Boulder, CO and one in Houston, TX. We strongly believe that remote companies are the way of the future and actively debate the merits of Marissa Mayer’s decision to call all the cattle home. Our geographic location is also strategic. The core of our development is together, and we recently secured incubation and seed funding from Z80Labs Technology Incubator in Buffalo, NY giving our team a unified location to work from. Having strategic business representatives in Boulder, CO and Southeast Texas allows us to tap into the well established startup communities in those areas.
Buffalo, NY’s start up culture is actually very exciting right now. In fact, I’d go so far as to say it’s about to “pop” as a tech hub. For the longest time Buffalo has been a source of great technical talent coming out of the high density of Colleges in western New York. Unfortunately there just hasn’t been the jobs to keep them around. As organizations like Z80Labs start to develop the city is going to really be able to capitalize on the local technical talent pool.
What problem does your startup solve?
For consumers, we make it much easier to submit complaints, as well as more worthwhile. The fact is, searching through websites, filling out long forms, and wasting your time is something you only do if you’re extremely pissed off. With GripeO, a complaint can be filed in under 1 minute, from the convenience of your phone, right after the food comes out cold, the part is missing, or the airline delays. For businesses, we offer up a completely free way to manage complaints and provide instruction based on data trends on how to most effectively close out gripes. Lastly, competitive businesses are always in need of effective ways to generate new business. With pure advertising, your company can get completely lost in the ether. GripeO presents a strategic opportunity to target a prime consumer, ready to change vendors, who is also flush with demographic information.
What is one challenge that you’ve overcome in the startup process?
For us, it’s always been about generating the often talked about “warm introduction”. Unless you’re in the business, I can’t imagine a lot of developers are walking around with a rolodex of VCs and Angels. Let’s be honest – the whole concept is awkward, difficult, and quite frustrating. We’ve managed to break down some doors by doing several things. First, we started geographically. The people often willing to give you a first shot are the ones who are doing it for reasons outside of making money. Buffalo has a lot of economic initiatives and stimulation going on and that is an opportunity for us. Secondly, we try to be respectful and friendly to everyone in the startup space. We’re all people, and friends do friends favors. Finally, one tactic we’ve found to work quite well is to start small with a cold contact and build up. Rather then ask, “will you fund my startup with $500k?” a first contact might be more like a paragraph explaining the business, an attached executive summary, and one very simple request, “as we progress through build, beta, and traction, can I tell you more?”
What are some of the milestones your startup has achieved?
Finishing our web based MVP was a big step for us. It was kind of like the birth of a baby. So much time was spent preparing for it, yet once it came around you immediately start to realize the diapers are in the wrong location. Another major milestone was receiving our first term sheet. We try to leverage our talking points as much as possible. Telling one VC that you have a term sheet from another tends to pique their interest.
What are your next milestones
Right now we’re focused on getting the MVP ready for BETA testing and raising our remaining seed round. There is a lot going on – more so then at any other time in our existence. When I started preparing for this process I had read feedback from several entrepreneurs who’d had successful exits. Almost always you’ll hear the words “pivot” and “agile” in those interviews. With the amount of documentation, promotional sites, and network to keep apprised, that month 3 change to your revenue model means a lot of updating. Expect it.
Who are your mentors and role models?
Dan Magnuszewski and Jordan Levy at Z80Labs Technology Incubator has been great to us. It sounds kind of weird but we also let zeitgeist and data mentor us. I think it’s important to prolifically read Techcrunch, Mashable, Nibletz, and VentureBeat. Our role models tend to be operations that are mobile leaning or have innovative approaches to existing models. We like Mint, Groupon, Twitter, and Instagram.
What are some of the advantages/disadvantages growing your startup outside of Silicon Valley.
I’ll be honest here; I don’t know. I’ve never been to Silicon Valley. I would imagine a disadvantage is the investment strategy. To use a baseball analogy, regional Angel Networks go for hits. Institutional Investors swing for the fences. The reason is they get more at bats. Being out of the bubble is an advantage in itself. I think you’re able to rise up based on a micro level need or problem, whereas in the bubble your building around investment criteria “we’re a geo-targeted, mobile, big data, smart object”. What?
What’s next for your startup?
We’ve applied to pitch at Techcrunch Austin Meetup “1 minute pitch off” and SXSW V2V. We’re knee deep in MVP refinement and starting some planning to begin letting our BETA users try the system. We’re also ramping up mobile development a bit behind the web in order to follow its lead, and continuously meeting with investors to find the right fit.
Where can people find out more, and what is your Twitter username?