Packback Ramps Up Before Shark Tank Debut



Tomorrow Chicago-based Packback will face the sharks of ABC’s Shark Tank, looking for investment in their textbook rental company.

We talked about Packback last summer, after meeting them during Chicago Tech Week. The company–begun when the 3 founders were still in school at Illinois State–allows students to rent textbooks by the day, effectively cutting college costs by thousands of dollars.

incontent3What do the textbook publishers think about this? Because the system is effectively rent-to-own, the publishers are actually recouping revenue from the used textbook market, as all of Packback books are the newest version available.

The company is an active part of the Chicago tech scene. They incubated at 1871 before moving to new offices at Catapult Chicago with their growing team.

So, what does a tiny startup do to gear up for a big TV debut? In their own words:

The urgency of preparing for the episode has drawn our team closer than ever as we’ve taken our 2 month product roadmap and have condensed it into the next three weeks.  We’ve launched our new site with new features as we’re hoping to empower students to make more informed decisions when buying or selling books.  Our free sell tool allows students to compare textbook buy-back prices from popular online retailers to find the best offer and maximize their cashback.  Students use our real-time price comparison engine while buying books to ensure they find the lowest prices across the web, and of course our digital inventory of $3 to $5 digital textbook rentals has been growing every month as we continuously sign on publishers.

The recent 16 hour-straight days at the office have been taxing but it’s been awesome to see what we’ve been able to accomplish.  Our amazing cast of investors have been extremely supportive of our appearance and we’ve recently had the pleasure to have spent a lot of great time with our board of directors Mark Achler and Howard Tullman.

The frenzy is justified. According to some estimates, a spot on the show equals $4-5 million in free marketing. Products and apps on the show see a huge spike in traffic and interest any time their episode airs. It’s common for apps to hit the #1 spot in the app store within moments of their segment ending, especially if the sharks actually like the company.

And products the sharks don’t bite on? Even many of those go on to win big.

Either way, there’s no doubt Packback’s 16-hour days will be well worth it come tomorrow night.

CommuteStream’s New Ad Network Uses Mass Transit to Serve Up Ads



Today in Chicago, commuters on the Chicago Transit Authority will open up their transit apps and find new ads for businesses along their transit route.

CommuteStream, the company behind the new ads, uses “predictive geo-targeting” to show content based on the rider’s routines and preferences. Does your bus pass by a local bar every day? Chances are good you haven’t noticed, but with CommuteStream’s technology, you’ll soon see ads and perhaps deals served up from local businesses along your route.

rsz_incontentad2Annoying as it might seem, as targeted ad technology gets better, it can actually help consumers by showing them things they’re actually interested in when they’re actually interested in them.

But, that convenience is nothing compared to what the network could do for small businesses.

Small and local businesses often find themselves priced-out when it comes to mobile ads, stacking the odds in favor of larger competitors. Yet mobile ads are increasing rapidly. If local businesses can’t find a way to compete, they risk losing even more business.

“With smartphones taking over, understanding riders on an individual level, and in the context of the transit system, opens up major hyper-local advertising possibilities and new markets,” CommuteStream co-founder Samuel Pro said. “It puts the power of highly-targeted mobile advertising, traditionally reserved for large brands and agencies, into the hands of businesses that didn’t previously have any affordable or easy to use options.”

Within a month, CommuteStream hopes to offer 1M impressions a month for these hyper local ads.

The problem, however, is that the ads will be served on local transit apps. At launch CommuteStream is partnering with Chicago Transit Tracker Lite, which reaches about 1% of transit riders. The company estimates that 1/3 of transit riders use their mobile phones to plan commutes.

CommuteStream provides potential monetization for those apps, you have to wonder if their usage estimations are right. Locals are used to their stops and know their route.They don’t really need to check an app for figure out their stops.

Tourists, on the other hand, could be a potential boon for the ads, since they are usually unfamiliar with the landscape and don’t know where to go.

Pro told me via email that most of their users are local, and that’s their target market because locals will provide sustainable business for businesses. If CommuteStream can reach the market they’re looking for, it has the potential to be a huge win for everyone.

CommuteStream launches their pilot today in Chicago, with plans to expand to other major cities soon.

Chicago Startup Retrofit Raises A Series B To Make Us Healthier


There are quite a few fitness startups cropping up.

Apps like RunKeeper and MyFitnessPal monitor your exercise or diet. Sites like Daily Burn offer subscription access to fitness classes. And, of course, there’s wearable tech. Fitbit, Fuelband, and Atlas are just a few examples of the tech you can wear to monitor activity levels.

Chicago-based Retrofit aims to take weight loss to the corporate level, offering employees of large companies like Google and discounted rates to try the program. Retrofit incorporates some of the startups mentioned above, specifically Fitbit, as well as one-on-one coaching sessions with a dietitian, exercise physiologist, and behavior coach.

There are plenty of weight loss programs that focus on corporate clients. Weight Watchers and Jenny Craig both have corporate arms and years of brand recognition. So, what makes Retrofit any different?

According to the Retrofit team: results.

In their first 12 month “cohort,” more than 90% of participants lost significant weight. The average weight loss was almost 20 pounds, which equals a 9% of overall body weight.

On the heels of that success, Retrofit announced a $5 million Series B on Friday. The round is led by Cambia Health Solutions, but includes participation from previous investor Draper Fisher Jurvetson. This announcement brings Retrofit’s total funds raised to $15 million.

“Retrofit is thrilled to announce additional venture funding from Cambia Health Solutions and DFJ,” Retrofit CEO Jeff Hyman said in a statement. “These two companies prioritize investments based on creating value through the innovative use of technology.”

It’s true that tech and wellness are seeing some interesting mergers these days. Data mania is growing, and everyone wants to be able to measure success. I find Retrofit particularly interesting because it merges that data (through Fitbit) with real human interaction. The digital coaching sessions can help make sense of the data and create actionable plans for improvement. By putting the program in a corporate environment, participants might also have the built-in support system of colleagues going through the same experience.

However, like any fitness program, there are some other things to consider.

For one thing, most of the participants were male. Most weight loss programs are marketed to and used by women, so this is a huge win for Retrofit. It also skews the results a little bit, because men lose weight faster than women.

Second, the true success of weight loss doesn’t come at the end of the program. It comes a year or two later, when participants are still at their goal weight. Let’s face it. For most people, the actual losing weight isn’t very hard, especially if you have the right program, support, and motivation all aligned. The real challenge is keeping the weight off so you’re not in a yo-yo of weight loss and gain.

To be fair, most of Retrofit’s clients lost the majority of the weight in the first 6 months and spent the next 6 months maintaining and losing a little more. The year-long program (as opposed to a few months) could carry huge benefits on the road to weight maintenance.

With a successful trial run behind them, and an infusion of cash, Retrofit has plenty of time to continue to improve it’s product. While the company is targeting corporate clients, you don’t have to work for a big company to utilize the service. Check out Retrofit here for more info.

10th Magnitude Is In The Business Of Helping Entrepreneurs

solutions for startups

You know howW to tell that startup culture is going mainstream? There are now businesses whose sole focus is providing services for entrepreneurs.

It used to be that companies built their businesses on corporate clients (you know, the kind that can pay), but founders with good connections could get a lot of work done for free or cheap. Companies didn’t advertise their services specifically for startups but were often happy to help out friends or acquaintances.

Now, though, plenty of businesses are more than happy to advertise their services specifically for startups. Sometimes they provide services in exchange for equity or sponsorships, but sometimes they also have a payment structure in place that makes it beneficial for a startup to spend some money.

Veteran tech guy Alex Brown saw this kind of need in Chicago three years ago. He founded 10th Magnitude to help founders build out some of the cloud applications they might need. The company also helps big companies jump into the 21st century by facilitating a move to the cloud, but Alex and 10th Magnitude are really excited about startups and founders.

Check out our Q&A with CEO Alex Brown:

1.           What is your startup called?

10th Magnitude

2.           What does your company do?

10th Magnitude is a cloud software and services firm. We help clients of all sizes build and run cloud-based applications, as well as migrate existing applications and infrastructure to the cloud. We specialize in Microsoft’s Azure cloud platform, and we are one of Microsoft’s leading Azure partners in the US.

3.           Who are the founders, and what are their backgrounds?

10th Magnitude was founded in 2010 by tech industry veteran Alex Brown, who combines decades in tech—both on the solutions side and the data center side—with an undergrad degree from Oberlin in economics and an MBA from Yale. His experience includes:

  • Executive Vice President, Arrowstream, cloud based supply chain management technology
  • Vice President and General Manager, Univa, Datacenter automation and Cloud Management
  • Director, Dell Inc. (US and Asia-Pacific), Consulting Services, Global Solutions
  •  Managing Director, Plural, one of the largest .net developers in the country (acquired by Dell, 2002)

4.           What’s the startup scene like where you are based?

Chicago is a pretty vibrant startup scene, not only in tech but also in a variety other industries. It’s pretty collaborative, which is great and encouraging to all the entrepreneurs. And, from 10th Magnitude’s perspective it’s incredibly valuable since a lot of our clients on the application development side of our business are also startups.

5.           What problem do you solve?

10th Magnitude solves the problem of organizational stagnation. Our services allow organizations to innovate without taking on the risk of the capital expense normally associated with that type of initiative.

6.           Why now?

I started the company because I saw the writing on the wall. The technology was just coming into focus and has been on a rapid adoption curve ever since. Cloud technology is available now, and we jumped on the opportunity and our clients have as well.

7.           What are some of the milestones your company has already reached?

o   We are 3 years old with no external funding and we have grown consistently.

o   We’ve continued to acquire larger and larger (i.e., over  $1B clients on a regular basis)

o   We are acknowledged as an industry leader; seated on advisory boards at Microsoft and Channel Company.

8.           What are your next milestones?

Our immediate goal is to doubling staff and revenue over the next year.

9.           Where can people find out more? Any social media links you want to share?

Twitter: @alex10thmag; @10thmagnitude





PointDrive Makes Online Presentations Worthwhile


Have you ever tried to make a sale via email alone? The initial emails might be simple enough, but when it’s time to send all those carefully crafted sales materials, email just doesn’t work. Your proposal could consist of video, Word documents, case studies, images, and other supporting information. All of these end up as attachments to the email, which causes several problems:

  • no way to know what the prospect opened
  • terrible user experience
  • limited branding opportunities

Chicago-based Bill Burnett had all these problems in mind when he and his team created PointDrive. Version 1.0 just launched at the Demo Fall 2013 event, and they are already signing up users.

The website is easy enough to use. On the top of your presentation page, you can include all your company branding materials and contact information. Then, you can drag and drop the materials you have already created–YouTube or Vimeo videos, images from Dropbox, Word documents or Excel spreadsheets. Basically, if you would send it as an attachment, you can include it in your PointDrive presentation. Videos even play in the presentation, so your target will not have to navigate away from your personalized page.

PointDrive could prove to be a great solution for startup founders. We all know investors are bombarded with information and emails from startups. PointDrive will give you the ability to send personalized, branded content to investors, which helps you stand out from the crowd. It will also cut down on all the time you spend attaching (or forgetting to attach) documents to emails.

After setting up your presentation, you can send an email to your prospect that includes a simple link the page. The PointDrive team is especially excited about their analytics features. After sending the presentation link, you will be able to see who downloaded a file or watched a video. You will be able to see which materials are hitting their target and which are uninteresting to your audience.

Across the board, we are relying on cloud productivity tools more and more. But most of those tools focus on customer relationships or project management. PointDrive strives to offer a better experience than email attachments for both the salesperson and the prospect. A branded presentation is more memorable than being 1 of 100 emails full of attachments.

Customers can sign up for free through the end of the year, and in 2014 PointDrive will roll out the Pro version of the product.

Chicago Startup Dabble Trying To Save Itself With Honesty

Dabble, Women owned startup, Chicago startup, startup failure

Dabble is a great Chicago-based startup that’s trying to serve as a marketplace for people to take specialty classes on anything from guitar playing to bridge playing to designing websites. The market place for this kind of startup is getting kind of crowded, but the two women behind the wheel, Erin Hopmann and Jess Lybeck are doing whatever they can to chug along.

In all fairness Dabble is doing a little better than just dabbling. Mashable reports that they’ve raised $500,000 in two angel rounds. They’ve received a bunch of good press locally and regionally. In fact they are often compared to other startups with similar ideas as one of the first to market.  Add to that the fact that they are on pace to double sales in 2013 and you may be wondering why the need to “save themselves”.

Well at one point, after closing their angel rounds, Hopmann and Lybeck took on a few more employees and salaries for themselves. At this point they’ve cut back down from 7 employees to 3 and also stopped taking a salary. It would seem sales aren’t sustaining the company and they are looking for another big round of funding to get it over the hump.

So they’ve decided to try something a little different. Both Hopmann and Lybeck are penning a blog called “30 Days of Honesty.”  “What do you do when you’re struggling with a company you love” is the headline at the top of their blog. In it they talk about the trials and problems they are going through right now as they run out of runway.

The hope is to help other entrepreneurs, and at the same time maybe find that special investment that will get them to the next level.

The women told Mashable that they’ve already received responses from customers who offered to pay more to keep the startup afloat. Other entrepreneurs have written in with encouragement, ideas, and words of wisdom, and they also just set up an appointment with an investor who had read the blog.

Today (September 10th) marks day 16 of their quest.

What comes next? Hoppmann says she may have to find work if the company doesn’t turn around. “If it’s a month from now, and there’s not some hope for taking pay out of Dabble by the end of the year, I will go and seek out something that is a source of income,” she said in the interview

They aren’t the first ones to talk about a startup failing. There was an anonymous Tumblr called “My Startup Has 30 days to Live,”  and even our good friends at WorkForPie penned a thought provoking post as they were running out of runway earlier this summer.

What happens next for Dabble? You can keep up with their plight here. Hopefully they will find both the knowledge and the money they need to continue. If not, hopefully they’ll dust themselves off and start again.

What’s it like to fail? Lucas Rayala, the founder of Minnesota startup Altsie, who chronicled the failure of his startup in TechCrunch will speak on that topic at Everywhere Else Cincinnati.

Chicago Startup Personify Merges Human Interaction With Digital Content to Make Presentations More Personal

Personify, Chicago Startup, Immersive Video,startups, startup interview

We’re still far away from teleporting technology. In the meantime a Chicago startup called Personify has found a way to make remote presentations more personal.

Using depth sensing camera’s like the one found in the Microsoft Kinect, the company’s product called Personify Life, puts someone giving a presentation as close to being in the room as possible.

“Most remote presentations, including webinars and PowerPoint slideshows, lack the personal component that make in-person communication successful and keep audiences engaged. Personify Live brings those critical elements back by seamlessly merging human interaction with digital content,” a company spokesperson told Nibletz in an interview.

Personify boasts an incredibly well educated team of founders who are working on something that will make boring old meetings much more engaging. It’s almost like a hologram of the presentation giver is in the room.

We got a chance to interview the team from Personify. Check out the interview below.

What is your startup called?

Personify Inc.

What does your company do?

Personify is an immersive video communication company that bridges the gap between communicating remotely and talking face-to-face. Personify products create a deeper sense of presence while remote by seamlessly merging human interaction with digital content.

Personify Live, the flagship product from Illinois-based Personify, uses a virtual-green screen technology called User Extraction to visually immerse the individual in the content they are presenting, enabling the presenters’ body language, passion, enthusiasm and visual persona to dramatically enliven the experience.

With Personify Live, an individual can lead a virtual presentation from anywhere, in a one-to-one or one-to-many setting, and all presentations can be recorded and stored in the cloud. Users simply connect a depth-sensing camera, such as a Microsoft Kinect or ASUS Xtion Pro Live, to his or her PC. Personify Live’s technology was developed for sales and marketing professionals, however, its clients operate in industries ranging from online education to medicine. Personify Live has been adopted by hallmark enterprises and institutions such as SAP, Oracle, LinkedIn, Marketo and the University of Illinois.

The product’s technology is beneficial to a variety of industries, backgrounds and use cases.

Clients across all industries are reporting shorter sales cycles and more engaged audiences. One study found a 60 percent improvement in sales closing rates when online demos were used. In another case, a Personify Live client noted that 90 percent of webinar attendees reported being “more engaged” than with a traditional webinar. Furthermore, studies show a 400 percent increase in perceived learning using Personify Live vs. traditional online education tools.

By using Personify Live, organizations see a substantial increase in its business metrics, including close rates and ROI. Additionally, Personify Live works with WebEx, GoToMeeting, Skype and other traditional Web conferencing solutions for ease of use.

Who are the founders, and what are their backgrounds?

Personify might have the most well-educated group of co-founders of any startup on the planet. Of the five co-founders, four have Ph.D.s and one has a Master’s degree. Three are professors of electrical and computer engineering at the University of Illinois.

Although academics do not have a history of correlating with entrepreneurs and startups, the University of Illinois, and its engineering department, is bucking that trend. The U of I is well known for startup and entrepreneurial successes including Netscape and YouTube. Personify is one of its most recent.

Sanjay Patel, Personify’s CEO, began his career as a chip designer in the 1990s, later becoming the CTO of Ageia Technologies, a company that developed chips to improve the graphics in video games. In addition to his CEO duties, Sanjay is also a professor of electrical and computer engineering at the U of I. Two other cofounders, Minh Do, Personify’s co-founder and chief scientist, and Wen-mei Hwu, one of the world’s foremost experts in parallel computing, are both professors at the U of I as well.

The depth-based rendering of video utilized for Personify’s two products, Personify Live and zChat, slated to be released this fall, was constructed based on Minh and co-founder Quang Nguyen’s research.

Personify’s fifth co-founder, Dennis Lin, holds a Ph.D. from UIUC, specializes in computer vision and is a leader on Personify’s development team.

Where are you based?

Personify, which is headquartered in Chicago, Illinois, also has offices in Champaign and Ho-Chi Minh City, Vietnam.

What’s the startup scene like where you are based?

Personify benefits from the location in Chicago thanks to the city’s burgeoning tech scene. Chicago is home to 1871 and TechNexus, some of the most active and innovative startup incubators in the United States.

Why now?

Personify was founded in 2009 after the technologies needed, including depth-sensing, had developed enough to utilize in-product. Personify Live uses various types of cutting-edge technology to connect people instead of distancing them. The field of perceptual computing, thanks to a movement lead by Intel, has developed significantly and will continue to do so in the coming years. Personify, in fact, is a proud participant in Intel’s perceptual computing movement and was showcased on stage with Intel at the 2013 International CES in Las Vegas, Nevada back in January. Personify Live also utilizes gesture recognition technology which allows a presenter to advance a slide on his or her PowerPoint with just the swipe of a hand.

What are some of the milestones your startup has already reached?

Personify was named a finalist for the Illinois Technology Association (ITA) CityLIGHTS Trailblazing Award, which recognizes companies that have developed or introduced an ingenious, non-traditional and innovative way of doing business or creating a culture that produces significant value and growth for the company.

Personify Live has been adopted by a number of Fortune 500 companies that range in industries from healthcare to education.

Additionally, within six months of launching, Personify Live earned a position as an emerging market leader in the Web conferencing Industry by G2 Grid, a service of G2 Crowd. G2 Grid rates products and services algorithmically in real-time based on user reviews and analysis. Personify Live is currently considered an innovator in the Web conferencing segment, a category that includes Cisco’s WebEx, Citrix GoToMeeting and Skype – all products that integrate with Personify Live.

What are your next milestones?

Personify recently opened their new headquarters in the River North neighborhood of Chicago and announced plans to increase full-time staff by 50 percent in the next six months.

Personify’s consumer-facing immersive video chat tool, zChat, is slated for release this fall, which will bring perceptual computing to consumers and allow users to stay connected like never before.

Finally, in the near future, Personify hopes to be adopted by more companies, both large and small, across the world. Personify Live will hopefully be used to improve communication for these corporations, both internally and externally.

Where can people find out more? Any social media links you want to share?

More information about Personify can be found at



GiveForward’s Ethan Austin To Try Burritos In Cincinnati At Everywhere Else

Ethan Austin, GiveForward, Chicago Startup, Everywhere Else Cincinnati, EECincy

Correction: We originally reported that Austin was the COO of GiveForward and that he would be speaking on raising money outside of SV. He is actually the President of GiveForward, and he plans to speak on the importance of culture in your startup. Corrections have been made below.

Ethan Austin is the President and burrito-eating champion at GiveForward, a Chicago startup he co-founded as a way to help people do personal fundraising.  As a child Austin lost his father to colon cancer, and over the years he looked for ways to help people with cancer. Then, he ran the Marine Corps Marathon in DC to raise money for Memphis’ St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital. During that race, Austin had an idea.

Through his personal web page, Austin, who was trained as a lawyer with a BA from Emory and a JD from American University, raised small amounts of money from people all over the world. This was the precursor to GiveForward.

It was obviously fate when he met co-founder Desiree Vargas Wrigley because she had already written a business plan similar to the Austin’s idea. The two collaborated and cofounded GiveForward.

The company accelerated at Chicago’s Excelerate Labs (now Techstars Chicago), and raised $2.5 million dollars in venture capital to bring the crowdfunding-with-a-purpose site to life. It’s now extremely popular.

During is Everywhere Else Cincinnati speech, Austin will talk about the importance of building culture as we build our companies.

Austin should be a great enough reason to get your discounted attendee or Startup Avenue ticket today, but if not here’s 42 more reasons.



Chicago Startup DoggyLoot Gets Just That

DoggyLoot, Chicago Startup, startup news, funding

Doggyloot, an internal project at Chicago’s Sandbox, a startup incubator of sorts, has just closed a $2.5 million dollar round. The company was founded in 2011 and already has 700,000 subscribers according to Crain’s Chicago Business.

Doggyloot subscribers get access to flash sales on products they need for their animals. It’s a modern day complete with all of the things that are making e-commerce startups successful in 2013. To add to that success the company is led by former Orbitz guy Jeff Eckerling.

Eckerling said they will use the money to “crank up the company’s technology, especially mobile apps and more personalized targeting of its offers, and to step up advertising to attract more subscribers. ”

Although was one of the biggest victims of the dot com bubble, the pet industry is stronger than it’s ever been. It’s a $50 billion dollar a year industry with that doubling over the last decade. closed in November of 2000.  “There are over 50 million households in the U.S. with dogs. That’s more than have kids under 18,” Eckerling said.

He’s no stranger to the flash sales market either. He developed the flash travel site BonVoyou which was acquired by HauteLook.

Peter Krasilovski, an analyst with BIA/Kelsey told Crain’s “Newspaper sites get thousands of visitors from pets. We have a luxury culture for pet owners. There are dog biscuit stores popping up all over. But we all saw the big flameout of Is it time to revisit, maybe? It might be a good niche opportunity.”

Check out DoggyLoot here.


Chicago Startup WeDeliver Puts A Winning Spin On Deliveries

WeDeliver, Chicago startup,startup interview, Chicago TechWeek

At first glance WeDeliver, a Chicago startup, looks like a hybrid between your typical delivery service and a courier service. That’s probably because it is, with a twist.

WeDeliver connects local businesses to their customers by providing same day delivery of products and goods. Sure delivery and courier services aren’t new, but crowdsourcing the service is.

WeDeliver takes on and vets delivery drivers who are looking for a little extra money delivering anything from clothing, flowers, and knick knacks, to small appliances, bicycles and other goods. The drivers use their own vehicles and are properly vetted by the company. Because they have a fleet of drivers with their own vehicles, WeDeliver is able to offer a wide range of delivery services from people who need something that will fit in a truck or a passenger seat, to something that needs a small van or small truck, and everything in between.

What sets them apart and positions WeDeliver for success is the hands on approach their founders and staff are taking. Where there are some apps that are trying to automate the process, they know that some human interaction needs to be involved for vetting, dispatching, and matching up deliveries, customers, and drivers.

Earlier this summer when we were at Chicago TechWeek, the crowd was buzzing for WeDeliver. They had about ten people with them and you could spot a WeDeliver shirt anywhere. They all talked up the service very well, to the point where it won the startup contest!

We got a chance to interview them, check out the interview below.

What is your startup called?


What does your company do?

WeDeliver connects local businesses (small and medium sized) to their customers by providing same-day delivery of products and goods.

Who are the founders, and what are their backgrounds?

Kirk Lashley, Co-Founder, CTO

Kirk, a native of Trinidad and Tobago and tech entrepreneur determined to solve real world problems, was a grad and Dev Engineer at University-West Indies. Kirk has more than 15 years of professional software development experience and was the owner/operator of a Web design company in Trinidad. Currently, he’s an organizer for Startup Weekend Trinidad and Tobago and Startup Weekend Chicago. Kirk’s passionate about sharing his technology and entrepreneurship in these startup ecosystems.

Jimmy Odom, Founder, CEO
Jimmy is founder/CEO of WeDeliver and is responsible for the vision and business development of the company. He gained experience working for five years at an Apple store, as owner/operator of a gourmet pizza delivery service and at The Starter League. Jimmy is a serial entrepreneur at heart, and his mission is to build a brand whose primary focus is to create more transformational experiences rather than transactional ones.

Daniela Bolzmann, Co-Founder, CMO

Daniela, an entrepreneur with expertise in community development, was most recently Director of Product Marketing at SymbalooEDU. She grew it from a startup to a successful 200k community of engaged educators worldwide. Daniela is a graduate of the Miyahlo School of Business at CSUF and founder of SocialSkoop, a digital marketing agency. As co-founder/CMO at WeDeliver, she uses her powers to help businesses of Chicago connect with the local community.

Where are you based?


What’s the startup scene like where you are based?

Chicago is truly an amazing city with the unique ability to have both the intimacy of a small town and the “hustle and bustle” and power players of a large metro area. The Chicago tech and startup scene is underrated and can sometimes be overlooked in favor of the traditional startup cities. This has been an advantage to us though it is rapidly changing due to organizations like 1871, TechStars Chicago, The Starter League and people like Mayor Rahm Emanuel, JB Pritzker and Troy Henikoff, to name a few.

What problem do you solve?

We believe that our same-day on demand delivery technology will help local retailers gain a competitive edge against big box E-retailers, like Amazon, while also creating jobs and spurring local economic growth.

Why now?

Why not? The time is now for same-day delivery. The technology we are using for same-day delivery was not available previously. We are simply applying newer technology to an outdated courier industry that still runs off nextels and bad service.

What are some milestones your startup has already reached?

  • We won 1st place at Startup Weekend, November 2012
  • IBM Global Entrepreneur Mentor Day Winner, June 2013
  • We won Techweek Chicago LAUNCH, June 2013

What are your next milestones?

We are on track to have more than 250 merchants and more than 100 drivers by year’s end.

Where can people find out more? Any social media links you want to share?



We Talk With Chicago Startup SimpleRelevance About Simple, Personal Email

SimpleRelevance, Startup Interview, Chicago startup

Chicago startup SimpleRelevance has been on the startup radar for quite some time. Back in May the company, founded by Chicago serial entrepreneur and founding team member of iContact Erik Severinhaus, raised $1 million dollars. While there are several companies out there vying for the position as your mass emailer, SimpleRelevance has found a way to make mass emails personal.

Just the other day I received an email pitch from someone that was obviously sent out using a mass emailer without much preparation and about zero relevance. With SimpleRelevance you don’t need to worry about that.

“Using data intelligence, we combine your customers’ demographic, social, and previous purchase data with our data intelligence to create emails that are individually personalized down to the subject line, product recommendations shown, and time of day the email is sent,” Laura Boring, the companies Head of Marketing and Program Management told us.

According to the company, this degree of customization can increase conversion by 51%, while increasing click through’s by as much as 29%. This can lead to an increase in revenue for companies using SimpleRelevance of as much as 400%, reported VentureBeat.

SimpleRelevance is one of many awesome startups currently housed at 1871, the startup and technology epicenter in Chicago. We talked with Boring about that and more. Check out our interview below.

What is your startup, what does it do?

SimpleRelevance make it easy for companies to personalize, target, and automate their email marketing using data intelligence. We combine your customers demographic, social, and previous purchase data with our data intelligence to create emails that are individually personalized down to the subject line, product recommendations shown, and time of day the email is sent.

Who are the founders and what are their backgrounds

Erik Severinghaus is a Chicago based serial entrepreneur and business leader. He was a founding team member of iContact, a leading email service provider which was sold to Vocus in 2012. He later joined IBM, where he spent six years as a consultant in IBM’s IT Optimization Practice before founding SimpleRelevance.

Where are you based?

Chicago, IL – currently based at 1871, the tech-startup hub in the Merchandise Mart.

What is the startup culture like where you are based?

We couldn’t ask for a better working environment. At 1871, we are surrounded by some of the top startup talent in Chicago. So far, I haven’t seen any direct competitors here at 1871. Everyone is willing to help each other out.

What problem does your startup solve?

Companies now have access to massive amounts of customer data from various sources,

However, few companies know how to combine this data and make it actionable, especially from an email marketing perspective. Email marketing is one of the easiest and cost effective forms of marketing; however it is still significantly behind from a technology perspective. Our goal is to not only give companies the ability to upgrade to customer focused, data driven marketing, but to make it completely seamless on their end. Firms of all sizes using SimpleRelevance now have access to sophisticated technology that was once only available to firms with million dollar data analytics budgets.

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

One key challenge for SimpleRelevance’s startup process was finding a viable product-market fit.  We found ourselves with a fantastic piece of technology that basically created an intelligent inbox, highlighting of-interest emails.  We weren’t getting sufficient traction operating as a B2C company and found that our tech would be much more relevant as a SaaS for B2C companies – we made a huge pivot from a B2C to a B2B company.

What are some of the milestones your startup has achieved?

To date, we are personalizing emails for over 25 million email addresses. Since January, we’ve seen double digit month over month growth in both our small and midsize businesses as well as our enterprise solutions. We’ve set up partnerships with top Email Service Providers and E-commerce platforms. Our recent round of funding and acceptance into TechStars has been great external validation of our concept, however, the biggest form of evidence for us is the internal validation – which is the significant increase in revenue we are creating for our clients.

What are your next milestones

Our next key milestone is to find a scalable customer acquisition model.  We’ve found that batch-and-blast email marketing, or sending the same email at one time to a massive group of people, is still a very prevalent marketing strategy.  It’s also completely archaic.  To find a scalable customer acquisition model, we basically have to 1) educate the market about the benefits of sending an email with personalized product recommendations (think Amazon Recommendations) at the time the customer is most likely to be checking their inbox and 2) let B2C companies know it’s actually possible to have a one-on-one conversation with every customer on their email lists.

Who are your mentors and role models?

As part of the TechStars Chicago program, we have amazing access to brilliant mentors in the Chicago area.  There has been a lot of momentum in the Chicago startup community and we are very excited to be in the middle of the action.

What are some of the advantages/disadvantages growing your startup outside of Silicon Valley.

One of the advantages of growing SimpleRelevance outside of Silicon Valley is that the Chicago startup community holds itself to standards equal to, if not greater than, those of Silicon Valley.  After all, it is one of the hot new startup hubs of the Midwest.  We’ve found this results in an environment that demands very defined and validated business models.

One of the disadvantages is that Chicago is still some time away from having the support and rapport of Silicon Valley.  Being a Chicago startup is cool, but it’s not yet Silicon Valley cool.  Undoubtedly, this is changing as companies like Groupon and SurePayroll call Chicago home.

What’s next for your SimpleRelevance?

Next on our agenda is to end the era of batch-and-blast email marketing.  We will not rest until every company is sending personalized and relevant email.  You can look at it from this perspective; we want every company to send every single email with a personal mailman who will deliver only relevant mail at the most appropriate times.

Where can people find out more, and what is your Twitter username? (@simplerelevance)

Check out more startup stories from 1871 here at


Kurfuffl Because Everyone Keeps Score


Competition is everywhere. Of course competition is found in sports, but even in your everyday interactions there is always someone challenging you to do something.

“I can eat more hot dogs than  you.”

“I go to Starbucks more than you.”

“I can drive that golfball further than you.”

The challenges are countless and come from every direction.

It’s no surprise that a startup with a colorful name and based on social competition comes from Chicago, an extremely competitive city. With four major sports franchises (five if you count the Cubs), men, women and children are challenging each other everywhere.

That’s the basis of Kurfuffl, an app for both iPhone and Android.

“Do you score more than your friends? Now you can prove it. Kurfuffl is an app that helps you keep score in everyday social competition. Anyone who’s competitive can tap Kurfuffl to throw down, track points and talk smack. Whether settling a longtime dispute or just making a night more interesting, there’s nothing like a good fuffl.” Kurfuffl says on their website.

If you’ve been following me since TheDroidGuy days then you know the one thing that I really look forward to at every event is good chocolate chip cookies. During TechWeek, Zach Zimmerman the founder of Kurfuffl, had the cookies at his booth, so we chilled out with him and listened to what he had to say. I’m easily bought.

Competition apps are getting more popular. At SXSW we saw Alabama startup NotIt labs which is also social competition but focused on the last man standing or the person who’s “not it”.

Kurfuffl on the other hand is all about keeping score. Is it how many men or women you can pick up, how many cigar smoke rings you can make, or any other social challenge? Keep the challenges alive, keep score, and more with Kurfuffl. Find out more here and watch the video below.


We’ve got more from Chicago TechWeek Here.


How We Built A Successful Startup Across 10 Cities

Flik, Chicago Startup, Startup Tips, Guest Post

At the turn of the millennium, the technology world was a far different place compared to today. Social networking didn’t exist, streaming video was a pipe dream, and collaboration took place during late nights at the office or on napkins at bars. Building a startup from the ground up is a difficult venture at any time, but today’s collaborative tools have opened the door to working together from pretty much anywhere in the world.

That’s how we had to build flik, our social media app. My wife Tracy and I co-founded flik together, and during the early days, we received plenty of advice regarding the right way to approach a startup. A lot of it came with wisdom applicable to any ground-up project, such as building a house: have a solid foundation, plan ahead, use the right materials, and so on.

The problem was that my wife and co-founder Tracy and I lived a bit of gypsy lifestyle. Since we got married six years ago, we’ve moved 30 times, from city to city, region to region, and sometimes country to country. How can you build a startup when you don’t even have a house to call home?

That’s where collaboration tools come in. Of course, technology is only as good as the people that use it, and our most valuable lesson over the years came from finding the right balance between technology and practicality. flik’s first eight people collaborated across six different cities, and while we faced some early communication hurdles, it was only a matter of time before we overcame the challenges of remote business.

All startups have countless moving parts and ours is no exception: advisors, attorneys, operations, marketing and PR. By organizing our communication needs while using both cloud and local tools, we’re able to transform moving parts into a well-oiled machine,

It took a little bit of trial and error, but with our communication challenges in the proverbial rearview mirror, we can focus on the task of making flik as successful as possible. Today, flik professionals are a team in the truest sense, except our diverse locations are now an advantage. With our focus on strong communication, we have one big advantage over our competition — not only do we collaborate with the efficiency of a local team, we also have the broader reach and exposure that comes exclusively with our collective locations. It’s simply the best of all worlds, and a situation that couldn’t have been possible without the right technology and the right people.

Chris Hayes is the co-founder and CTO of flik, a social mobile app where users share products and places they love through short videos. Chris holds a BS in computer science & economics from Northwestern University, was a national chess champion at the age of 12, and is a submarine-pitching professional baseball player.


Check out nibletz’ interview with Flik here.


Turn Your Blog Into A Book With Chicago Startup BlogIntoBook

BlogIntoBook, 1871, Chicago startup, Startup,startup interviewEarly next year we’ll be publishing our first book about startups everywhere else, chronicling our two year sneaker strapped startup road trip.  We were fortunate enough to be commissioned by a publisher for this particular book, but it’s not typically that easy. For actual book writers and authors, there are great startups to help get self published, like Memphis startup ScrewPulp.  But what about bloggers and journalists who may want to memorialize their writings in an actual book, well e-book?

Well BlogIntoBook, currently incubating at Chicago megahub, 1871, is helping bloggers turn their work into books.

BlogIntoBook is an easy-to-use platform that helps bloggers curate and publish their blogs into books. Then they help get the book distributed by Amazon, Apple’s iBookstore, and Google Play. The best part is it’s free, and BlogIntoBook issues a royalty to the author.

We got a chance to talk with the founder Zack Price, check out our interview below.



What is your startup called?

What does your company do? turns Bloggers into Authors by curating and publishing their blog as a professionally published ebook distributed to (Kindle), Apple iBookstore (iOS), Google Play (Android), and BN Nook. We provide this service completely free to the blogger and pay them a royalty every time their blog is downloaded.

Who are the founders, and what are their backgrounds

Zack Price is a serial entrepreneur who has been starting businesses since age 11. He founded Price World Publishing in 1999 at age 19, and that company still stands strong today. Zack also founded College Auctions LLC in 2004 and successfully exited with a sale in 2007. Already a 14 year publishing veteran, Zack just started up which launched at Techweek on June 27th.

What problem do you solve?

Bloggers have very few ways to make money from their passion. Many refuse to host ads on their site, and while they would like to be book authors, they just don’t have the time or patience to self-publish. gives them a completely risk-free opportunity to earn passive income without any investment of time or money, while also gaining new fans from the e-bookstores who may have never found their blog through the web.

Why now?

A few years ago this would have been impossible. The Kindle was in it’s infancy and the iPad didn’t exist. Ebooks have been around forever (as PDF files) but reading a book on a computer screen is not pleasant. Here in 2013 we have a variety of Kindle devices, iPads, Nooks, and android devices … all perfect for reading on the go. Now that these devices are flooding the mainstream there is no better time to publish to them.

What are some of the milestones your startup has already reached?

We just launched at Techweek, but we have signed on BJ Mendelson (@bjmendelson) who has over 750,000 twitter followers. Once we publish his blog into an ebook he’ll be tweeting out the link and it should lead to a flood of sales.

What are your next milestones?

Publishing 100 blogs into books in the second half of the year, and 1,000 blogs by the end of 2014.

Where can people find out more?