(EDITOR’S NOTE: This is the second in a two-part series of several former Knoxvillians who are succeeding in Chattanooga’s thriving entrepreneurial ecosystem.)
By Tom Ballard, Director of Innovation and Entrepreneurial Initiatives, Pershing Yoakley & Associates. P.C.
A key breakthrough for three former University of Tennessee, Knoxville students turned entrepreneurs occurred in the first part of 2011 when they were introduced to the then very new Lamp Post Group in Chattanooga.
At the time, Knoxville natives Travis Truett and Jared Houghton, along with Memphian Brian Trautschold were seeking funding for their idea called Retickr. They had been turned down time after time.
“They (Lamp Post Group) challenged us to find a technical co-founder,” Truett explained, adding that there was a promise to continue the discussions once the individual was on board. Traditional efforts to recruit the technical person were not working, so Truett says he typed “Computer Science” in Facebook. This led to reconnecting with an old friend who, in turn, introduced him to a programmer who agreed to take on the role.
“We went back to Lamp Post and secured $50,000,” Truett said. The investment, which Truett recalled came with a four-month window to produce a product, also was described as “enough rope to hang yourself.”
By mid-2011, the team had built and shipped Retickr, a social news reader application for Mac OS X that was designed to personalize the news reading experience as individuals used the product on a frequent basis.
Delivering the promised product also resulted in additional funding from Lamp Post Group – $1.5 million to be exact. “Over two years and several products later, we’ve only burned $900,000,” Truett proudly noted. “That round would have lasted us 12 months in Silicon Valley.”
Along the way, the team decided slightly more than a year ago to shutdown Retickr, which Truett described as “a small success,” and shift its focus to a mobile version called Fireplug which was recently featured by Apple.
Ironically, the team had also developed a product called Ambition, which is described as a variation of “Fantasy Football for your sales force.” It is designed to provide subscribers with real time analytics and insights while simultaneously motivating an organization’s sales team.
“We launched it (a beta version), but did not think much of it,” Truett admits. “It was our first aha moment. By accident, we had identified a true market fit.”
The trio now finds themselves in a unique position. “We have the good problem of customers waiting on us,” Truett says. The full commercial version of Ambition is expected to launch soon.
Truett is philosophical about their product development experience. He says Retickr was where they learned how to be founders while making a thousand mistakes. Fireplug was where they learned how to build a product while making another thousand mistakes. With Ambition, “everything is clicking.”
Akimbo is the holding company they founded.
As we frequently do, we asked Truett what advice he would offer other aspiring entrepreneurs.
“Mentorship is more important than money,” he said. “We need less check writers and more teachers.”
Truett also said that business people and business majors who want to be entrepreneurs must “have some type of skill that sets them apart. I’ve fully immersed myself in programming over the last 18 months.”
The relationship with your co-founders is also important. “We lived together for the first year,” Truett said, adding that you need to be able to ride the highs and lows as a team.
And, for soon-to-be college graduates, he advises them to “take some time after college that is an incredible experience, even if only for a month” before delving into the start-up world.