(EDITOR’S NOTE: Seven teams competed in the finale of this year’s “What’s the Big Idea” competition sponsored by the Development Corporation of Knox County, Knoxville Entrepreneur Center, Knoxville Chamber and Tech 2020. Sing and Spell won the event, but six other entrepreneurial teams “gave it their all.” This is the first in a series profiling the other finalists that competed in the revamped, 48-hour event.)
Barboards is the creation of Michael Bowie, the company Founder and Chief Executive Officer. His start-up addresses a problem that a number of us who frequent restaurants have notice – the increasing absence of those coasters that go under your adult beverages.
When did you first come-up with the idea that you submitted for the 2015 “What’s the Big Idea” competition?
I came up with the idea about six months ago when I asked a few bar managers, “Where do you get your coasters?” They told me, “We have to buy them from the beer and liquor guys.” I said, “Seriously? If I provided you with free coasters, would you use them?” Every bar manager I asked that question threw their business cards at me.
Coming from marketing, I knew it’s hard to find a low-cost, high-impact method to market your brand, product, or service in a trackable and quantified way. That’s when both of these problems “clicked”, and barboards was born.
Tell us about the original idea. What is it? What market need or deficiency do you hope to address?
The original idea is that barboards distributes beverage coasters to bars and restaurants for free that promote and celebrate local brands, local products, and local services. Barboards addresses two needs: bars and restaurants need coasters, and local brands need low-cost, high-impact ways to promote their brand, product, or service in a trackable and quantified way.
How did the concept change during the 48-hour weekend of intense mentoring and advice from others?
The original idea for the coasters was to simply have amazing, beautiful, and engaging graphics but, after coming through the intense 48 hours of mentorship, it has evolved to much, much more. We are gamifying coasters. Why is this important? Gamification drastically increases engagement. We learned how to funnel that engagement through a trackable online portal that collects Facebook data and contact information in exchange for the answers. Now, we provide much more value to advertisers with a list of potential customers, and we provide much more value to the bars and restaurants including, but not limited to: demographic information such as age, gender, location, interests, habits, and Facebook emails to follow-up directly into their customer’s newsfeed. This is powerful.
Who were some of your more valuable mentors/advisors and how did they help you get ready for that Sunday night finale?
All of the mentors played an integral role in Sunday night. Mac Bartine, our lead mentor, is a marketing genius. His marketing skills that are currently automating a growing multi-million dollar marketing agency really took barboards over the top. Preston Garland was our web developer guru, and we leveraged his impressive skills to create multiple landing pages that connected with Facebook with full database integration all in about 30 hours! None of this could have been possible without Emily Skaar, Jonathan Sexton, and Jim Biggs. I am so thankful every day to have such a supportive Entrepreneur Center.
Although you did not win the up to $10,000, you were on stage before an appreciative audience. Do you plan to continue working on the idea?
Barboards is full steam ahead! Although the $10,000 would have allowed us to accelerate key marketing initiatives, barboards came out of Sunday night with a huge win because we peeked several investors’ interest as well receiving many key warm introductions. It was kind of funny. We made a bold move by listing exactly who we needed to meet name-by-name of the biggest people in Knoxville’s restaurant industry. The bold move paid-off with several people being impressed that we knew exactly what we needed to do and who we needed to meet. Needless to say, we thankfully received a few of those warm introductions.
If you could wave the proverbial wand and get one wish for something to help you move forward, what would it be?
If you know the one holding the proverbial wand, would you mind introducing me? Ha-ha. We are seeking seed funding to accelerate on key marketing initiatives mainly by delegating non-revenue producing activities as well as hiring three, then five salespeople in the biggest surrounding markets. There are over 1,600 restaurants/bars in Knoxville with just as many in Asheville and Chattanooga. If we were only in 50 restaurants in each location, we have the ability to generate over $112,000 per month by the end of 2016. However, the biggest reason barboards is extremely investable is this. Although we currently appear to be a coaster company or an advertising company, barboards is actually the beginning of a data analytics company for restaurants that is getting its start with coasters and advertisements as our “sand box” to profitably learn from. Potential investors are welcome to begin the conversation at email@example.com or with 865-247-1206.