Aaaand we are back, for the twenty-first edition of The Consumer Show! That's 107 B2C companies which have come through Switchyards, y'all, how cool is that?
You know what else is cool? SWAGLANTA.com.
No, I am not making that up, that is a real site, made to share "swag for people who ❤ Atlanta." Short runs of sweet swag, with an ATL vibe. If you missed some of those badass shirts from "Made in Atlanta" and you've been dying inside ever since, this is the place for you! This past month's round was that awesome triangle-word-logo-thing that spells "Atlanta" in an interpretive-dance sort of way (check out the pic, you know you wanted it).
Anyways, anyways, last month's recap was weird since I'd already written up all 10 companies for the Techstars Demo Day recap (not to mention a couple other times for some of them), but I'm back on normal bajillion-word form this month, promise!
So, just for you, on to the pitches!
THE PITCH RECAPS:
OurErrands: The personal assistant for everyday people. | I'm pumped to say that I ran into co-founders (and cousins!) DeShawn Stevenson and Justice Miranda prior to their Consumer Show pitch and got them on at Atlanta Startup Village a couple months ago (I almost never beat Dave Payne to great presenters in ATL, let's be honest, though there's another later in this post too!), and hearing their pitch a second time was equally as awesome!
OurErrands is family-owned, and they strive to create a family environment and atmosphere for clients and assistants alike — their goal is to make everyday life easier, and help create work/life balance for their clients.
What Justice and DeShawn discovered is that there's no accessibility for personal assistants you only need now and again, and no platform out there to help you find them. It's also not affordable, and it's complicated when you only need someone one to two days out of the week, but in order to do that you have to deal with HR/benefits/payroll, etc. This reduces the potential productivity of small business owners and entrepreneurs, the very people who would benefit most.
So they created OurErrands, the first on-demand personal assistant company. The assistants are vetted, college-educated, and trained in what they're hired to do for you. Also, they're wildly affordable: The base price is $28/hr with a minimum of two hours, but there are packages that can reduce it all the way to $21/hour!
What did they do really well? They attract and retain employees and talent genuinely, with love. They look at the company as a family, not just a business, and apply that to their hiring process as well.
What can the community help with? Support them! If you know someone, a coworker or a friend, who needs an extra hand, refer them. It's not always a desperate need, sometimes you just need to take an extra load off your shoulders.
— OurErrands —
The company has three primary markets: entertainment, real estate and coworking spaces. They retain 30 percent commission from each transaction, and if an employer loves their assistant so much they want to hire them full-time (it's happened already!), OurErrands just charges a $2,500 employee recruitment fee.
While they've been operating in beta since July, they officially launched at the beginning of October at A3C music festival, and business has already tripled in the past month, with 75 assistants and counting through the platform.
Assistant levels are divided into basic and premium, depending on your needs, and the initial consult helps determine if you need someone with a special skillset, like graphic design. All assistants are personally vetted by Justice, which sounds exhausting as their first job posting on Indeed.com netted 2,000 applicants, but certainly does mean there's quality control in place.
So whether you need someone to get your platform or company more exposure, or you need someone to grab your dry-cleaning, or just an extra helping hand to take a load off your shoulders, give OurErrands a try! (I certainly will be.)
Big Future Toys: Earth-friendly toys for inquisitive tots. | Co-founder Steve Rho believes there should be fewer, better toys.
By 2050, there will be, by weight, more plastic in the ocean than fish. Why? Because only about nine percent of plastics are recycled, and the rest are incinerated or just thrown into the ocean. And 90 percent of toys are, as Steve calls them, "plastic crap" that become part of the giant plastic waste stream.
What did they do really well? They got the crew involved and launched on Kickstarter in April, and wouldn't have succeeded without friends and family. They also established a purpose for the company, no interest in creating it just to make money but to drive change, and that's been their North Star since early on, and they base all decisions on those core principles.
What can the community help with? Getting the word out, follow them on Facebook and Instagram, tell a friend (especially if the friend is in media or super famous...), and this holiday season, when shopping for toys, consider buying fewer, better toys.
— Big Future Toys —
That future is not what he wanted for his daughters, so he and his wife found a better way with Big Future Toys. The criteria: They had to be fun (designed and tested with real kids, and iterated on), sustainable (natural, compostable materials that make the least amount of impact on the planet), and timeless (holding interest not just for hours but for years). The result: Earthtiles, wooden magnetic blocks that stick together when they touch and allow children ages 3 to 8 to build all manner of things.
And when those kids outgrow the Earthtiles, there is a return program where the parents send back to Big Future Toys, who refurbish the tiles and send them on to another family to enjoy. What's more, for every toy purchased, the company plants a tree.
While the toys don't come with a catalogue of things for kids to build (intentionally, as they want to lead to open-ended play so kids can learn to create versus copy), there are examples of fun things built by kids on their Instagram page if you need inspiration. There are competitors on the market but they are plastic and lower-quality materials, though the prices are very similar.
Earthtiles launched on Kickstarter in April and got fully funded, and they expect the first batch of toys to arrive in three weeks, where they'll be sold through the Web site and through Amazon. They're taking pre-orders now for that line, and will potentially expand later, once they are confident in the product market fit of their existing offering.
Steve says they want to see an industry-wide change in how people buy toys and how companies manufacture them. What the future looks like for our children depends on us, and we can be drivers of any change that we see the need for in our world. Next time you buy, think about #FewerBetterToys.
Usit: On-demand babysitting. | Just like OurErrands, the Usit team did a stint at ATLSV a few months ago, and I enjoyed getting to watch the pitch in more detail as an audience member versus the emcee. (It's just harder to track every word when you're also trying to do social media, make sure you're good on timing, ensure you know who's next, etc.) I even think there were a few areas they refined between the two pitches (you never know what's going to work or not until you play back your performance later, let's all be honest), and it really resonated with the audience.
Basically, Usit connects pre-vetted college students to those in need of sitters in the area. As recent graduates of Emory, the founders are intimately familiar with the space, and their goal is to revolutionize the baby-sitting industry by getting the best sitters for your little ones at the touch of a button.
What did they do really well? Retention: Keeping customers who use the app actually on the app and maintaining that relationship by seeing what works for them, taking suggestions and making them mean something to the users.
— Usit —
A common problem parents face is finding sitters. I'm not sure why this is, since when I was around 13, that was the only way to earn money, but I guess kids these days have options? Anyway, Usit of course addresses that need, but they go even farther by focusing on the working parents' dilemma: You have a call from your boss, who needs you ASAP, and suddenly you have to find a sitter on really short notice. Currently, your options are frantic phone calls to friends and sitters (always a fun use of your time), checking into Facebook groups, and lots of text messages to determine availability. This isn't incredibly efficient, as you might imagine.
Usit makes that situation better, by offering a platform that connects time-flexible college students who want to earn extra cash with parents who have to find a sitter quickly. The payment is easy (through the app), parents set the rate they're willing to pay (with a $12/hour minimum), the students are background-checked and rated, and the market is definitely there: In the Atlanta area alone there are 430K family households (each of whom usually spent $1,000 on average on sitters) and 65k potential student sitters.
The company makes 9 percent on each transaction on the parents side, and $2.99 per student sitter. Usit launched in June and already has just under 1,000 active student sitters signed up and 1,500 active parents. It's been downloaded 4,500 times, and they have turned a $12,000 gross profit so far with an average of 40 percent month-over-month growth.
Sitters can outline all of their additional training (like CPR certification) in their profile, and in the future Usit plans to verify and give badges for relevant certification. Students also have to sign up with their college emails (which ensures there was a background check performed by the related university though they plan a third-party system verification as a next step), and once there's a match the app connects up the parents and sitters to have a call or Facetime first.
I feel like I'd have cleaned up if this app had been around when I was baby-sitting (and my hourly rate certainly wasn't anywhere close to the Usit average of $20/hour), so next time you're stuck in a sitter-less situation, give Usit a try!
NADI: USDA Organic Wild Rosehip Drink. | NADI is the story of two friends, living in two different Georgias (yes, there is another Georgia, a whole country in Eastern Europe), coming together over a love of helping others and a rosehip drink.
Let's talk about that other Georgia for a minute (stick with me here, it goes with the pitch): It's the size of South Carolina with a population of 3.7 million, and one out of every 15 are refugees or "internally displaced persons" from conflicts in both the 90s and 2008. This means they are living without basic things like housing or electricity, because they don't have jobs, because there aren't any jobs to get. And NADI's founders want to change that ... with rosehips.
What did they do really well? They've partnered with amazing professionals and have a great team with two full-timers, and more great people around them supporting NADI and giving advice on what's working and what's not.
— NADI —
Rosehips, the berries of wild rose plants, were your standard Eastern European grandmother's cure for the common cold, and now they are also a sustainable income for Eastern European refugees. NADI, which translates in Georgian to “a collective work effort,” employs 99 percent refugees in their factory to process the rosehips. By forming a collective for the factory and greenhouse, and collecting naturally grown rosehips from a national forest nearby, they have created a whole ecosystem around the beverage. Refugees hand-pick the rosehips, brew the drink, put on labels by hand (which adds a penny to the bottling cost but directly provides that penny back to the workers as income), and then NADI distributes the bottles globally.
The compensation for the refugees is a livable wage (as a frame of reference, a solid wage there is $300 per month for a family, and they pay above that — hence things like the extra penny for labeling), and the incentive is more than just money: It's hope. The refugees own the collective, and profits from NADI go back into the community, schools, after-school programs so parents can work, etc. While they currently employee 28 refugees full-time in the factory and another 120 families picking roses, the goal is to have many collectives across Georgia.
NADI features only three ingredients (organic rosehips, purified water and organic stevia), though it contains a ton of healthy vitamins and minerals, and Director of Sales Marketing, Jessica, calls it "the natural version of Emergen-C." (It also has a shelf-life of a year under FDA standards, so you can stock up if you're, say, a hoarder like I am.) It's resonating not only with health-conscious consumers, but also charitable efforts, including grants from Switzerland, a label machine from Japan, and many other supporters.
If you want to feel good while doing good for yourself and others, the next time you reach for a beverage, I encourage you to try out NADI!
Lucky Backpack: One backpack is all it takes. A lucky one. | Founder and CEO Edgar Alza says he landed a "dream job" after college and took a little time to travel first. But when it was time to come back, he realized something was missing ... and so instead of that fancy finance job (which he rejected), he spent two and a half months making a 50-city trip all over the world. He recorded the whole thing via GoPro, and showed it off when he returned.
The main question he got? How did he, as a broke college student, afford to do it? The answer: He put time into it, and lived out of a backpack. So he tried to demonstrate for friends, and found that there wasn't an easy way to do it. There weren't any tools to optimize travel to multiple locations over weeks or months. There wasn't an app that quickly and easily provided personalized travel experiences with multi-city destinations.
So he created one.
What did they do really well? They've been laser-focused on the tech side, since it's a big platform so it has to really work the way it’s supposed to and provide results people are happy with. The personalized part is important, because travel is saturated but the team has the chance to create something unique and personable. For any user in the app, no two users will see the same trip or be the same person.
What can the community help with? If you're planning a trip to Europe, especially for two to three cities, try to book flights, trains, etc and use the app. Also, look out on the Kickstarter campaign for their upcoming physical backpacks!
— Lucky Backpack —
Lucky Backpack is a platform that creates a personalized experience based on the different things people like to do, and the different types of travel. Edgar tested, created things manually, tested some more, finally optimized what he was doing by hand with some scripts, and in March quit his full-time job at Accenture to focus on the platform.
The app will take into account the traveler's requirements, time frame, location preferences, activities and type of travel preferred, and will recommend personalized best routes, cities and options in a matter of seconds. Right now it covers all of Europe, the U.S., Mexico and Canada, and will be expanding soon. Users never pay a fee and prices are similar to Expedia (no upcharge), while the team makes money from commissions with partnerships from hotels, hostels, airlines and more. They are also working on targeted ads to identify users and match them with the perfect provider on the app. Lucky Backpack is applying AI to "learn" from what users look for ($100/night hotels versus $12 MegaBuses) and will suggest appropriate next locations or bookings accordingly.
With no marketing, Lucky Backpack has nonetheless attracted hundreds of users and experienced active revenue growth. They offer a community and content area to provide recommendations for people who want to travel but don't know where, and offer real stories of travelers as well.
The team is also shortly launching a Kickstarter campaign for a real, physical "lucky backpack" that will contain "everything you need to travel everywhere in the world." This includes mobile chargers, toiletries, packets for dirty clothes, water battles and more, already built in.
Where you're going, you may not need roads, but I bet you sure could use a Lucky Backpack!
That's a wrap for the twenty-first Consumer Show at Switchyards; see you there next time?