By Tom Ballard, Director of Innovation and Entrepreneurial Initiatives, Pershing Yoakley & Associates. P.C.
Two Knoxville brothers are turning something they wanted personally into a product that they believe millions of people will want.
The duo is composed of Ryan and Patrick Kelly, professional businessmen in different fields, who were talking one night around a bonfire about their desire to follow specific celebrities such as sports, music or entertainment stars.
“Are you familiar with Flipboard,” Patrick recalls asking his older brother about the social network aggregator that collects information from newspapers, social media sites and other resources and presents it in a magazine format.
Ryan was, but they both agreed it did not meet their need to follow a single person rather than a specific subject.
In Ryan’s case, he wanted to follow Peyton Manning, Harrison Smith, and personal friends that were professional athletes, but the goal meant he had to watch an hour of ESPN’s “Sports Center” with the hope of catching a minute or two on these individuals or sort through a number of social media and other online sources. It was time consuming.
“People follow general news, but they adore celebrities,” Ryan said. The solution is a new Knoxville-based start-up named iSpotlight that is a “one-stop” source of information about a star including access to news, social media, videos, schedules, memorabilia, iTunes and even tickets to events.
“We did not try to come up with something better than Twitter or Facebook,” Ryan said. Rather, they are simply using social media sites as one source of the information that iSpotlight captures.
“You can see everything there is to know” about the stars you are following, he explains.
The company has just completed its beta version of the app and hopes to have it available on the Apple Store soon. Like most apps, it will be free for users with iSpotlight generating revenue through ad sales and in-app sales from transactions as people purchase merchandise and order tickets.
“We are preparing for a soft launch to a handful of people,” Ryan says, explaining he and his brother want further testing before the app is commercially available.
Up to now, iSpotlight has been funded by friends and family, but Ryan expects to launch a Series A round soon after full deployment.
“Our early goal is to build the user experience,” he says. That goal will be achieved when hundreds of thousands (if not millions) of people are using iSpotlight.
Ryan does not believe that number is unrealistic, given the success of sites like Flipboard. He also notes that some stars have as many as 40 million followers on Twitter, so a one-stop site for all information seems to make sense.
“As with most social media based apps, our key demographic is the 18- to 34-year old,” Ryan says. “This is the group that is buying all the tablets and smartphones, and they are ones that interact through social media, so don’t fight it, cater to it.”
The iSpotlight co-founders have a number of ideas that will be added to the product in an orderly fashion after its initial launch.
“Putting all features on day one is not a good strategy,” Ryan explains.
We had to ask about the meaning behind the name. Ryan said the “i” parallels the Apple “i” convention. He added that the letter has a stronger connotation, however, to the individual being followed as well as the individual – “I” – doing the following.
“I spotlight whom I want,” Ryan explained.
The brothers are graduates of the University of Tennessee, Knoxville. Ryan serves as Chief Executive Officer, while Patrick is and Chief Marketing Officer in addition to their full-time jobs.
In their case, iSpotlight “fixed a problem we had.” The brothers hope it meets a need that millions of people have.
We will provide updates on the company as milestones occur, but you can also follow those on Twitter at @iSpotlightApp or on Facebook at facebook.com/ispotlightapp.