Geoff Wood: Welcome to the Welch Avenue Show Episode #58. This is the third and final part of our State of Now monster episode recorded by Ben McDougal during the Gravitate Grand Opening. If you missed part 1 or part 2, be sure to go back and check Episodes 56 & 57, respectively. Now take it away Ben.
Ben McDougal: All right. As the evening continues, I'm starting to grab more and more people that I haven't met before, and I'll be honest, you're the first. What's your name? Tell me a little bit about what you're doing, and a little bit more about what you're building here, in the community.
Chuck Hoffman: Sure. My name is Chuck Hoffman, I work in this building upstairs, a few floors at Banno. Banno was a startup out of Cedar Falls, startup by Wade Arnold, up there. They got into doing web and mobile banking things.
Ben McDougal: Interesting.
Chuck Hoffman: Just this past March we were acquired by Jack Henry and Associates. It's not exactly a startup now. They have an office here in Des Moines.
Ben McDougal: Any time you have an exit or an acquisition, that seems like it's a point of success.
Chuck Hoffman: Yeah. It's funny because I started there, while it's a funny story. I worked for an older version of the company, I worked for Wade Arnold, the T8 Design days out of in Cedar Falls. I grew up in Waterloo, and there was a big upheaval in T8 design back in '05 or so or '08. I started there in late '05, I was still in school at UNI, still working on a computer science degree. I wanted to be out here and to be building some software. There was kind of an upheaval in T8 Design there, early on, in '08, and then I got back into the game with this focus on banking, and they were called T8 Webware for a while, and then they changed it into Banno, and they opened up an office down here, downtown.
Meanwhile, I'd moved down here, started working on Iowa Interactive, and whatever. Honestly, there wasn't a whole lot of other tech companies in Cedar Valley at that time for me to go and work for. I think at some point I wrote them about the most self-deprecating cover email ever, with a resume, and said, "Say hi to Ben Metz for me." Then I got hired there, and about a month later, we were acquired by Jack Henry and Associates, which is some pretty major banking software outfit.
We're working on mobile and web banking. It's pretty darn exciting. Meanwhile, I've been hearing in Des Moines and on the side, I got in the music industry a little bit, and got into a band called “Why Make Clocks” which got me into a band called “Fetal Pig” with the same guy. We restarted an old record label of his just recently, called Sump Pump Records. We've been releasing. So that's our startup.
Ben McDougal: Interesting.
Chuck Hoffman: We've been releasing some local bands and putting out the new Annalibera record. It's going to be pretty killer.
Ben McDougal: Nice. Have you met Emma. We talked with Emma Peterson towards the very beginning of tonight's odyssey. She does Tikly. They provide the ticketing elements, if you guys are working for the concert stuff.
Chuck Hoffman: Yeah, I like Tikly a lot. I've bought a number of tickets through it.
Ben McDougal: As you take a look at the different. How long have you been in Des Moines? Put your beer down.
Chuck Hoffman: Sorry. Must be in the middle of our five years now. It was probably December '08, right around Christmas, when we got moved down here.
Ben McDougal: Have you lived in Iowa your whole life?
Chuck Hoffman: Yes. Yes, I have. Well, no. I was born in Lancaster, Wisconsin, but if you discount the first year of my life, I've lived in Iowa.
Ben McDougal: I'm an Ohio native if we go that deep into the history, right? As we conclude the thought, it's been fun learning more about your work. Anything that comes to mind that you'd like to share or insight that you might have learned over the last month that would be interesting?
Chuck Hoffman: Des Moines is an exciting place, there's a lot of great things going on in business, and in art, and music as well. I don't know if I have any major insight into other than it's pretty exciting to be here. I enjoy coming down here to Gravitate. Sometimes me and some of the guys from Banno come down here when they have the open coworking days. Couple of our guys are on the names there, on the Founding Members.
Ben McDougal: I know we're not doing any video for this, but what happened to your arm, dude?
Chuck Hoffman: I had this big ...
Ben McDougal: Not that you've answered at me any time.
Chuck Hoffman: I don't really know what happened to my arm, I just know that I had a tendon that was torn.
Ben McDougal: That is all? Dude, that is Terminator.
Chuck Hoffman: I had a wicked case of tennis, and they had to put my tendon back together.
Ben McDougal: You should get in a fight with that thing.
Chuck Hoffman: That's the thing. It looks like a cool robot arm, but it actually makes your arm less capable.
Ben McDougal: I'm sure that's the point.
Chuck Hoffman: If I unlock it here, this is about the range of motion my elbow has right now, which is a lot better than it was a week ago. I can't touch my own face.
Ben McDougal: I'm sure that'll heal nice.
Chuck Hoffman: I have a theory that it was due to poor emax usage. I think I was using their control key improperly. If you're a coder, pay attention to your ergonomics. Because you'll end up like me, 39 years old, getting surgery on your elbow and you will hate it.
Ben McDougal: Your wrists and your arms are kind of your money-makers.
Chuck Hoffman: It's true.
Ben McDougal: It's definitely a treat to get to learn a little bit more about what you build, and I wish you the best as you continue.
Chuck Hoffman: Great, man. Thank you. It's been nice to talk to you.
Ben McDougal: Cheers, cheers. It's good to put the shoe on a different foot once in a while, and it's fun to have Matt Patane sitting next to me. I saw him walking by. He was about to leave, but I could not let that happen before I got a chance to talk a little bit more about him and his work. Matt, great to have you here. I know you're usually the one that's interviewing people.
Matt Patane: Usually.
Ben McDougal: Now I get a chance to turn it on you. Tell us a little bit more about yourself, your work, and what you're building.
Matt Patane: I am the Technology & Innovation Reporter at the Des Moines Register. The Register hired me back in November of '13 to do a lot of economic development jobs covering Iowa’s economy work. Back in November of '14 they asked me to take over the Tech Beat, which is basically covering Iowa startups, the Iowa innovation community, which can be anything from Startup founders, entrepreneurs, investors, anything like that. What I'm mostly trying to do is take the beat to cover all of Iowa and all of Iowa startups, not just Des Moines. I think some people have this idea that we only want to cover Des Moines, and that's definitely not true.
Also extend it to how, what I’ve been calling, “legacy companies” or more established companies, like Principal Financial or Vermeer how they're innovating. Everyone is a technology company now, you can't avoid it. Everyone has to be online, everyone has to have security against cyber threats and everything else.
Ben McDougal: That's an interesting thought.
Matt Patane: I really want to look at what those companies are doing.
Ben McDougal: As you travel the state, and interact with different entrepreneurs and different people building cool things, are you seeing any sort of similarities between different communities, or the west side of the state is doing this type of stuff compared to the central versus the E- what have you found over the last year or two that you've been doing this?
Matt Patane: In the last year that I've been at the Register, I haven’t focused a ton on startups and what the innovation community is doing. But the last few months has been interesting, and I definitely want to travel out more, because I know there's other things going on. I think Des Moines and Cedar Rapids are the two biggest hubs, right now. Leann Jacobson just backed down in Spencer and she's trying to build a community there. West Des Moines has their own incubator, just like Des Monies has their own accelerators, and incubators, and things like that.
One thing that's interesting is the innovation community in Iowa isn't new anymore. It's been around for 8 to 10 years, depending on when you want to start it.
Ben McDougal: I've heard that from a lot of different people, how this revolution is not necessarily a revolution anymore. It's something that's established and continuing to grow.
Matt Patane: I think that's a very good way of putting it. The benchmark is Silicon Valley. Everyone, and this isn't in Iowa, but everyone outside of Iowa, and even people inside of Iowa, too, compare what we're doing or what people here are doing, to Silicon Valley and New York. And Silicon Valley seems to be that end all, be all where things want to go. But Silicon Valley has been around for a long time, especially compared to what Iowa has had. Iowa's community is relatively new, when you're looking at Silicon Valley. What's interesting, that I've noticed, is that across Startups, different entrepreneurs, investors, community builders, everyone has their own idea of where they want things to go.
It's not that every idea is different, but it's that everyone still wants it to keep going. Everyone has momentum that they want to keep building, whether it's getting more investment, whether it's having more places like Gravitate around. Having new accelerators. Iowa has two accelerators that are going to start in less than a year of each other.
Ben McDougal: Right.
Matt Patane: That's the most interesting we're seeing. This community is no longer a new-born community. It's been around long enough for enough companies to get started. I think Dwolla and Workiva are the two big stories, but even companies like Tikly and Hatchlings and Bawte, they've been around for a couple of years, and they want to keep drawing, and I think it's drawing more attention now, so this community can keep growing. It's definitely not going away at this point.
Ben McDougal: It's interesting, because I was literally thinking of my next question, and it was going to be, if you haven't nailed down one similarity amongst all the entrepreneurs and startup enthusiasts that you run into on a daily, what would it be? And you almost just answered it. It's this drive to build, and to maintain growth.
Matt Patane: I think that's a good way of putting it. There is this idea that startups and entrepreneurs are just fun people.
Ben McDougal: We are.
Matt Patane: But they're not like the normal business suit attire-wearing guys. That's true on some level, but everyone that I've met that have an idea, they want to do it, and if they're going to have fun and enjoy it, that’s not going to stop them from going after investors, building a product, trying to get customers. When it comes down to it, everything that I’ve seen is people putting their heads down. One recent example is the guys over at Funnelwise, Matt Ostanik’s team. Ostanik had his first startup, Submittal Exchange, he started a new company and instead of just jumping into it, they spent a year going after customers and then building a product, because they wanted to grow and to keep building.
Ben McDougal: I remember when they presented at 1 Million Cups, it was one of these really weird type of, “Hey, we're building something but we don't have anything yet”, and it was a good type of conversation to have, because I agree. Sometimes people jump too quickly into “Hey, let's do this and build now”. Instead of really kind of tasting or gauging the interest from what will eventually become a customer.
Matt Patane: Another trend, and this is probably obvious for a lot of people in the startup community, is that a lot of people that I’ve met, who have their company, they have an idea, or they saw a problem and they wanted to fix it. For me, that's a novel idea because that's not something that I've usually covered in the past. I usually cover companies that have been around for a long time. They're in the rhythm already. But Ruster Sports, for example, their founder wanted a better bike. Tikly wanted a better way to have tickets to venues and concerts and things like that. Jobsite Unite wanted a better way for the construction industry to communicate. These guys over at Digmaa that I just talked to today, they wanted a better a better way to communicate between homebuilders, and people buying these custom homes. Everything that that they'd seen in their own experience, whether it was in the industry, or trying to buy a home and them wanted to fix it. That's just been a really interesting thing I talked about a lot of people.
Again, Dwolla is the big example of that. Ben wanted to disrupt the banking industry. When it's someone who hasn't seen that before it's been really cool. I've talked to a lot of people about what they saw was wrong, and how they want to fix it.
Ben McDougal: I would say if I would have asked for a closing thought, I wouldn't have got a better one. I definitely appreciate you sitting down, Matt, and all that you're doing over at the Register and within, not just Des Moines, but the entire state-wide community.
Matt Patane: Thanks a lot. I appreciate it.
Ben McDougal: All right, well, Jake. I'm glad you were able to sit down. This is Jake Kerber. I think, as much of an ally as I would consider you over the years, we were able to work a little bit with the I/OWA Conference together. It allowed us to see a little bit more about how each other works, so it's been a pleasure doing that. I like to quit talking pretty quickly and turn it over to you to share a little bit more about yourself and what you're building here, in the community.
Jake Kerber: Okay. Hey, I'm Jake Kerber, and I do a lot of custom software development. Over the past 15 years or so I've been out in the industry, that's really what I've gotten into.
Ben McDougal: What was your first programming in language?
Jake Kerber: Geez. My first, first would probably be some kind of Basic on some old Apple machine somewhere. In middle school, back in the old days.
Ben McDougal: That's 15 years, sound so small, it's like the dinosaurs for programming.
Jake Kerber: Yeah. Then in college I was Fortran and C and C++.
Ben McDougal: Oh, wow, they were teaching Fortran in college. Wow. That's awesome. Not to make you feel old or anything.
Jake Kerber: Then Java became a thing. That's if I'm going to date myself, that's when that happened.
Ben McDougal: Fast forward beyond the dinosaur languages of the programming age. What are you working on right now?
Jake Kerber: Right now I'm on a contract for DuPont. Basically, I'm in charge of the software, various software applications they use for supply chain management, for corn stover, that's going to be used to feed their cellulosic ethanol plant they're building in Nevada. That's basically a couple, some web apps, and a desktop app that they use to kind of track all the different farmers and fields that they have contracted. When the farmer's done growing their corn they contact somebody at DuPont, and then they send out various crews that they have hired to bail up the corn stover and stack it on the field edge and transport it to other places that they've leased to store those bails of corn stover that are going to be used as fuel for this ethanol plant.
Ben McDougal: Have you worked in that industry, before?
Jake Kerber: Not really. I've worked at Pioneer before then for a little while, but I've worked in all kinds of different industries over the years.
Ben McDougal: Maybe not always a contractor developer, but in that realm you are probably working at a lot of different spaces. That's probably a good segue to your own project. Let's talk a little bit about Locusic.
Jake Kerber: Okay. Locusic is kind of a hodgepodge of the words Local and Music. It's basically a local music streaming and discovery platform. Like Pandora for local bands is the high level pitch, where if you open the app, you pick a genre, or set of genres, hit play, and you'll hear music from bands within 50 miles of your location. It gives bands exposure to new fans right in the area where they need them. Most independent artists, or even larger artists, they make most of their money off of their shows.
Not necessarily selling music anymore, and how the music industry works today. They need people that can come to their shows, and most independent artists are pulling shows where they live, or at least in their metro area, for the most part. They need fans in where they live.
Ben McDougal: Naturally, building out of the Des Moines or the Iowa market, that's going to probably be a hot-spot for potential clients and users. Where have you seen some interest beyond our state?
Jake Kerber: I'm actually trying to keep Locusic small, geographically, right now, because I don't want to have to deal with growth yet. Not that I think I'll have a problem, but I want to make sure that I'm focusing on building something that people want, so I'm really focusing on user retention, rather than user acquisition at this point. That being said, right now we're allowing bands from all across the state of Iowa to upload, not just central Iowa anymore, and we're also live in the Minneapolis area.
I did notice just today that I got an email from the system, essentially an error message in the system that kicked somebody out, because they were trying to register with an account from Vilnius, Latvia.
Ben McDougal: Going international accidentally. Nice. Last question. How have you been able to build something fresh, while maintaining another line of work, whether it's to support your family, or whether it's just to build something on a career path ... how have you been able to manage building multiple things at one time?
Jake Kerber: It's been tough, but I would say, just having the passion for it. If I didn't have passion for the music scene and the local musicians, I don't think I'd be able to do it. I've tried to do other side work like this before, and it's just really hard. Plus, having the other fulltime work, and the family, and everything else, it gets to be a lot. I really definitely have a passion for the music and for the people in the local music scene that I'm supporting.
Ben McDougal: Excellent. As I've said once or twice tonight, I don't think I could have asked for a better concluding thought. I appreciate you stopping by, Jake, and encourage you to keep building.
Jake Kerber: Thanks. Will do.
Ben McDougal: One of the things I was talking about just recently, was that I needed to sit down with more people that I didn't already know. Now I'm doing that with you. Tell me your name, what you're up to, and what you're building.
Josh Krakauer: Thanks for having me here in your beautiful studio.
Ben McDougal: This is a nice space.
Josh Krakauer: Yeah. I could say so. My name is Josh Krakauer, I'm the founder CEO of Sculpt. We are a social media marketing agency although I probably change that every time I tell someone else what we are. It doesn't matter. We are a turn-key team of designers, digital marketers, community managers. We're based in Iowa City. We work with the startup community and start up teams very often, all the way up to fairly large Iowa based client. We just have a lot of fun in the internet.
Ben McDougal: I don't doubt that. I don't doubt that. One of the things that I find interesting, if not challenging, is approaching the startup community with some of the services that in a lot of cases they might have their own capabilities of doing themselves. How do you angle yourself into that, and how have you been able to generate success in a community, startup specific, of people that are often ...
Josh Krakauer: Cost conscious…
Ben McDougal: Conscious.
Josh Krakauer: …And are on a limited runway.
Ben McDougal: Yeah, yeah. Talk a little bit more about that.
Josh Krakauer: Well, we don't have a sales team, so we don't have anyone that goes out and trues to pitch a startup. If that was the case, I'd be in the wrong market. We'd be going after insurance companies or something, banks. We do tons of non-profit. I will co-host 1 Million Cups from time to time. When given the opportunity to do something like market EntreFEST, we'll step up and do it. We just love to live and breath startups in the startup community, and we're obviously very partial to the Creative Corridor, and the movement and growth that's happening there.
As a result, you just sort of end up with a lot of friends that continue to build new products and new ideas and that's where we show up. A startup, as an example, what they're not really looking for is a service. What they're looking for is a team because while the may have the capability because their software is web-based, or because their background was maybe marketing, in the end, what you actually need to do is focus on validating that idea, that product. Or in raising capital and being outside of that. Or in doing a million and a half other things, and having a team that runs with you as fast as you do.
Where most other agencies, and I've never talked bad about other agencies, I love the advertising marketing community, but they're not built to be as adaptable and agile as you need to be when you're in a startup and things change every ten seconds. That's where we step in.
Ben McDougal: That's interesting. Partnering and collaborating, and connecting within the community is something that, it sounds cliché but us here in Iowa really do a good job. You think of Iowa nice, and that just exists. How do you scale that type of model? You can only be friendly in providing services at that level to so many people without adding new team members, or changing the model, or shifting who you're working with. What are your thoughts on that?
Josh Krakauer: There's a few different ways to look at that. A lot of times people outside of Iowa will say to me, when they learn what we do, oh, Iowa, have you ever thought about thinking bigger? Like Chicago has a great business community and startup community. Why aren't you tackling that? Building a virtual team and being anywhere. What I say back is, maybe you need to think bigger about what's available, about what's building and happening in Iowa. I don't see it as a limited opportunity spectrum.
I see new companies raising significant funding and at the very least, just forming all the time. New ideas forming all the time. Startups and the entrepreneurial community, certainly not our only source of revenue, so that would maybe take away that. It's also geography, is just such an important thing when you're trying to build a team that understands you, and I think that only helps. It only makes you more valuable, and as we meet more and more people, they sort of show up out of nowhere. I didn't know you were here, I didn't know you exist, and then we find out we can help each other.
It really works out. How do scale it? I think you got it right. There are so many really talented people, both moving back here all the time, and looking for opportunities, maybe even contemplating leaving or doing something that values them instead of working at a corporation, maybe that hasn't given them any freedom to do their best work, that I only see it that as long as the talent's here, and as long as we can continue to build a culture of, hey do you want to help work an amazing brand by helping other amazing brands here in Iowa City, it's a pretty compelling value proposition.
Ben McDougal: Cool man. Cool man. I think we need to talk more, it's been an interesting conversation.
Josh Krakauer: Thank you for letting me talk about myself for five minutes. It's really easy to do.
Ben McDougal: That's what I like to hear, and you've done a nice job, and I appreciate you sharing your story, and hopefully, you've enjoyed your evening here in Des Moines.
Josh Krakauer: I love it, man. Thanks.
Ben McDougal: All right. Cheers. We'll talk more with you, soon. All right. So, to continue kind of my streak of people that I have not met yet, I was glad to bring Aristotle over here.
Aristotle Loumis: Thank you for having me.
Ben McDougal: I'm eager to learn a little bit more about yourself and also your work. I'll hand it over to you, tell us more about yourself.
Aristotle Loumis: I think it's been a pretty cool and impromptu meeting. You guys have some exciting things going on here in Des Moines. I was out here for a couple of meetings, and I don't know, I've seen the ecosystem grow here, it's kind of cool. Thank you for having me today, to kinda share my story, I suppose. Well, I am a transplant, here. Half of my family is from Greece, I’m originally from Chicago. I came to the University of Iowa to study dentistry. I'm a talker, so I won't go into too much detail, but it basically, in 2009 I got the opportunity to meet my father, and also to be exposed to the European culture and my first time in Greece.
After those two kind of life-changing experiences, I knew I wanted to become an entrepreneur, and my father is a very, he's a big entrepreneur in Greece. Basically, being exposed to the European culture, and meeting my father who's almost as crazy as I am, or if not more, I started thinking differently. Cp,omg back to Iowa, I saw a need in the eyewear industry, so my goal was to basically fill a gap that wasn't there, and I was to produce authentic eyewear, in an unauthentic market and provide something, do something different that you currently wasn't there.
What we do, is we are the only handmade eyewear company producing hand-made eyewear from Greece to the European market. Excuse me, to the American market. We just stocked in a hundred stores in Europe. Sorry, I'm still in that phase.
Ben McDougal: That's a good thing. A good problem to have.
Aristotle Loumis: We're producing in Europe, obviously that’s a home advantage, but we're producing and manufacturing, and designing the only handmade eyewear from Greece to the American market. What we do is we team up and we treat our product as a vehicle to expose artists' work all over the world. We have about ten artists, roughly six to ten artists, and what we do is we expose their art, we pay them an upfront fee, and we give them a royalty for every pair that's sold. In addition to that, we also have a philanthropic touch. For every pair sold, we have three pillars of donations.
Three buckets, if you will. Either donates to provide spectacles for kids to see and increase their education. The development or extension of medical facilities in developing areas, or medical training for students, to start beginning learning and providing these sight-saving surgeries. It was in an all-encompassing or a high-end luxury eyewear company with a social mission, if you will.
Ben McDougal: Interesting. That's super cool, man. What is one of the challenges that you've ran into with working on such an international basis?
Aristotle Loumis: I think the international basis is that, exactly. International. In manufacturing or importing, you always, for any product-based company that's importing or producing a consumer good, it's all about the relationship with your manufacturer. I've gone through many, many different test trials and you can order something that you've Skyped and talked, and unless you're there in the manufacturer, it's really hard to understand what you'll be ordering. You're spending, you send all this money abroad and you order something in pink and you get blue.
At that point, what do you do? It's really understanding and facilitating, and maintaining a trustee network and really still defining the relationship with your manufacturer. International trade, there's different laws, there's different regulations, the logistics always plays a role; What's approved here might not be approved there, so it's really an opportunity to gauge and really see where you're up to, find your strengths.
Ben McDougal: With that international conversation, you mentioned a European order. Is this kind of your big market that you're working to expand, whether it be Iowa or whether it be the United States? Or is it something that you're really trying to build globally?
Aristotle Loumis: We really have a global presence. This is fourth year in the making. I've been in development, spent two years abroad, on and off two years. Really developing, building the concept, understanding the industry. Really understanding where the want and need, not necessarily need, but the desire for the consumer good and trying to bring something that is different to the American market. I guess we're working to have that global presence, but we're also working organically. Wherever the demand is where we're going to go. Right now, we're the only Greek hand-made eyewear manufacturer producing to not only Greece, but to the American market.
It's a different, and in our opinion, we go and we wanted to produce something from the natives that understand what is about. We believe, and I firmly believe, and I might be biased because I'm Greek, that the Greeks understand design and the sun the most. There's over 3500 beaches, it's sunny 365 a year, it's the Miami of the world. If there's one thing the Greeks understand, it's the sun. We want to produce the best sunwear, and provide that to the American market and design the architecture, the culture, the beauty. I mean, this from Necropolis, to the ruins.
The Greek architecture and beauty, and sex, and appeal, and culture. These are all part of our culture and story-telling, and this is what we really are. We're selling more than just sunglasses. We're selling stories. The artist story, the philanthropic story, the designer story, the consumer story. This is a product that really embraces and endorses the travelling, the free spirit, whatever that may be.
Ben McDougal: Jet Set.
Aristotle Loumis: Exactly. I think that's what really happened to me and my story. When I went to Greece for the very first time, I was embraced by the culture, and the sex, and the beauty, and the sun, obviously. I wanted to bring that to the American market, and I wanted to team up and bring authenticity on an unauthentic market so, what better to do that than team up with the most authentic people out there, the artists? Everyone is a work of art, and, you know, we're here to try help you see the world through a different lens.
Ben McDougal: Excellent, excellent. It's been a pleasure learning more about something I didn't expect to get to talk about. But what a nice treat. Thanks for stopping by, continue building, and where's a URL where people might be able to check out your site?
Aristotle Loumis: Our product is Ellison Eyewear. You can find all our products online at wearellison.com or at one of any of our stores.
Ben McDougal: Excellent. Thanks again, Aristotle, for stopping by, and continue to keep building.
Aristotle Loumis: I appreciate it.
Ben McDougal: All right so I'm going to continue this good streak of learning about people that I haven't met before, and what you guys are doing. Without further ado, I definitely want to hear what your name is, what you're doing, and what you're building.
Garrett Carty: All right. I'm Garrett Carty, what we're doing is an app called Great Dates, and it's kind of basing itself around creating an experience with a date. To answer that question of, “I don't know, what do you want to do tonight?”
Ben McDougal: Sure. That's interesting, because I remember, I'm a little bit older than you, I assume, but I remember when that was kind of a cool thing, to create cool dates. Talk to me a little bit more about what you want to provide a user.
Garrett Carty: I also say, it still is kind of a cool thing. We really want to provide users that solution to indecision. Usually you sit down, you want to kind of figure out what you're going to do, but maybe you're halted by this “I can't think of all these restaurants now”, and kind of when you're put the nose to the grindstone, can you actually think of what you have to do. We really want to make it an easy way for somebody when they're trying to take somebody out to maybe impress them. In our case, it came to just impressing the girl that we want to take out on a date. How can we seem impressive? How can we make sure that we have an experience that maybe fills out what we want to get out of the date? Making it less than just going and getting dinner, but making it really enjoyable, and figuring out if I can make this a real experience.
Ben McDougal: How do you balance yourself between providing a simple, easy to use user interface, and becoming this weird restaurant listing service?
Garrett Carty: That's a lot of what we do battle with. It's somewhere in between making sure that our clicks, we really want to make sure that they're kind of on your low end, and then making sure that what we're providing is more than just ... I'd say most restaurant list sites are going through the idea that you know what you want, when you log on. You're going to Yelp, you know what you want when you're on Yelp. You're given lists. We want to help it, we're going to help you figure out what she wants. Not so much of you knowing, but us helping you know.
Ben McDougal: Where are you in the building stage? Are you launched? Is it something that you're growing? If you're able to share an insight on the state of now for your company.
Garrett Carty: Grassroots. Very, very, very early on. A lot of what we've done is a lot of concept, and we've had Zach has set up a small seed, kind of put in, so looking at been putting in an incubator, a lot of our ideas trying to take form more, and we're kind of breaking it apart, putting it back together, and trying to make sure that we polish that stone down before we move forward with kind of the full launch of what we want.
Ben McDougal: Interesting. What's the coolest date that you've put together?
Garrett Carty: I guess we've done the going to Zombie Burger, making your way over to the whatever that ice skating rink is, to doing that ice skating rink. Then maybe tagging your way over to Java Joe's, which is a little more late night, so you can still get some ice cream if you're still in the mood to experience a little more cold, or maybe warm up with a cup of coffee or something. Just a way for you to make sure that moving place to place is kind of a continuous event instead of just you getting dinner, like I said, or just going to the ice skating rink. Making sure that you build experiences, and get to learn more about the city, as well. Experiencing Des Moines in itself while you're going on these dates.
Ben McDougal: That's a good segue. Are you based here in Des Moines A), and B) as you expand or scale, how do you plan to go beyond the Des Moines market, or provide meaningful insight in a community that you don't live in?
Garrett Carty: We are based here in Des Moines, and Des Moines is a really great area to do that. It's small enough and big enough of a city that we can create a lot of different things going on. The way that we look to scaling is either by bringing people onboard in other places, because a lot of what we need is content of what is great to do in those areas. Learning more about the cities from native city-dwellers. Let's say, I'm personally from Nashville, so looking to people in Nashville that can tell me more about those experiences that they had, those really cool places. Maybe picking up, for instance, a really great idea I think is, getting college students, paying them a low fee to find out more in a bloggey way. Go experience different things and write about it, and we get to figure out more from a native perspective what we should be doing in those places.
Ben McDougal: That sounds interesting, and the organic element there. Not necessarily franchising it, but connecting with people who understand that market, and expanding naturally from that regard makes a lot of sense. This is great. Tonight has been super interesting. I am really tired, but I have learned a lot about what a lot of people are doing. Any final thoughts as we close out this little moment of time together?
Garrett Carty: Just thanks so much for sitting down with us. I would say, we're getting the ball rolling, we're starting to learn a lot more about we were doing. We're still young and figuring it out, but we're excited.
Ben McDougal: Keep going, my friend. Pleasure chatting together.
Garrett Carty: Thanks, man.
Ben McDougal: I have committed overtime. It is much past the end of our event, but I continue to sit here. For some reason or another, inspired by all the conversations and interested to learn more and more about what everyone is up to. I saw Matthew Smith and I knew that we needed to at least have a quick conversation. Quick with Matthew might be challenging. Matthew, share a little bit about yourself, and your state of now. What are you building?
Matthew Smith: Recently I've been taking on some project management with a team locally, who wanted to build a food truck to enhance the already-existing and growing Des Moines startup scene of food trucks. The concept was to build a truck that was completely green and powered by vegetable oil that also cooked and fried Belgian pommes frites.
Ben McDougal: This is why we have this talk. Because I had not heard of that, but for some reason, I'm not surprised. One of the things that I wonder, you have so many ideas. Your Twitter handle is @ihazideas. How do you stay focused?
Matthew Smith: It's taken me a long time to figure out where my sweet spot is, and my sweet spot is from idea to proof of concept. I've tried a lot of things, and part of for me, being successful, is surrounding yourself with other people who complement your weaknesses, and who also can get you in a project where you can do your unique ability activity. The great thing about this project has been allowing me to focus on what I do, that early stage startup, that kind of booster rockets to get things off the ground, and let everybody else in the team do what they're awesome at.
It's a great team. We got Sam Summers from down at Wooly's. We got Zack Mannheimer here at the Social Club. We have David Nelmark attorney, here, in town with BelinMcCormick. We also have Shawn Wilson, the executive chef over at Proof.
Ben McDougal: That's an interesting team for building a food truck fueled by very organic products.
Matthew Smith: Sam's great with, he does a lot of promotion with concerts and Zack with his social connections. Shawn's James Beard nominated chef. David is great with working with a lot of the changes that need to happen in the foodtruck laws, and all the legal mechanisms that are involved with that. I get the project off the ground, so I went up to Detroit and found the truck and went down to Missouri and got it converted to run a vegetable oil working with FarmBoy over there to get some graphics in the wrap done, and improve all that kind of stuff. It's been a lot of fun.
Ben McDougal: That's cool. How many companies have you started?
Matthew Smith: It's not as many as people would think. I've really only started two, three companies, in my life. I've been involved with a lot of projects, and trying out a lot of ideas. I try to fail very quickly, test out the ideas, see if they have any legs, bounce the ideas off of people I really trust. Then, ride the winners and cut the losers.
Ben McDougal: We've talked with a couple of different people about how a quick no is much better than a long, bad yes. I'm sure a lot of entrepreneurs have felt both sides of that. What is some of your insight or thoughts on when people have these early ideas, how do they take them to the next level. Like you're talking about, determine if this is a winner, or this is a loser.
Matthew Smith: Personally, I'm an external processor, and I got a great network of people who I trust, so I bounce the ideas off of people who aren't afraid to tell me no.
Ben McDougal: Sure.
Matthew Smith: And tell me that that doesn't have any legs to it. It really comes down to, what are the ones that haunt you at night that you can't, they just nag at you, and you can't get rid of? Nobody seems to shoot the ideas down, and you just can't let them go. It seems to be those ideas that are the ones that you should stick to, get some early proof of concept. Try to test them out, but the ones that nag at you, are usually the ones that you should go after.
Ben McDougal: I was worried that we would talk for hours, just because I feel like that's the type of guy that you are.
Matthew Smith: I can if you want to keep going!
Ben McDougal: I know, I know. But we've been super concise here, and I love it. I feel like there's an opportunity to ask for some final thoughts, and kind of be almost finished this entire show. It just feels like it's been a marathon, but it's flown by. It's been a beautiful process to talk with people who I know, and I understand what they're doing, and to hear a quick update. It's also been great to learn about other people, and what they're building, that isn't a totally show-concluding thought, necessarily. Instead of me doing that, maybe I'd like to pass it over to you to share any final thoughts as we finish up our evening.
Matthew Smith: If I get a chance to say the final thing here, I'd like to take the opportunity to thank Des Moines. I mean, this town, they talk about what is it, LA where dreams come true? Seriously, I've had so much positive support from this community, people who have gone the extra mile to help me, even with the silly ideas to the big ideas to support me, to show me how things are done when I was learning from scratch. Just coming under the woodwork and they still do, and I love that about Iowa, and I love that about the people here. I don't know how I can repay all the support and the encouragement that I've gotten over the years.
The only way that I can know is to try to continue to give back to people who have given it in the same way that I have, and that's the great ... that reciprocal nature about Iowa, that willing to reach out. It's why I live here, and why I raised my kids here, and why I love it here. All the people that you interviewed, I count as people who are friends, who have been a part of that, for me. Having a chance to reflect on some of these last couple of years here in Des Moines, I can't think of a better place that I'd rather be, than here and now. I want to thank everybody for letting me be a part of it.
For what's happening, and what continues to happen.
Ben McDougal: Cheers.
Matthew Smith: Cheers.