It’s amazing what one event can do to crystalize many ideas that an entrepreneur has considered and a variety of experiences he or she has lived into a new start-up. In the case of Alex Abell, it was a 54-hour weekend launch about a year ago in a Florida city where he used to live that propelled him on his latest journey.
The Georgia native and graduate of Valdosta State University says he came-up with the idea for Lunchpool just one day before the “Techstars Startup Weekend” event that was held last November in Tampa.
“I kept seeing the same problems with communication in the workplace,” Abell says, noting that companies were increasingly trying to improve communication among employees through technology. His solution to the challenge of successfully connecting co-workers in a meaningful and lasting way came from his diverse work in retail sales, marketing, and analytics.
“I was successful the old-fashioned way . . . just talking to people, many times by asking them to lunch,” Abell explained. “There’s something magical about that . . . getting to know people outside of work and over lunch.”
So, armed with those observations and his own experience, Abell pitched his start-up concept at the beginning of the Friday event, got others interested and, over the balance of the weekend, worked with a team to build a prototype that captured first place in the finale.
Now, 12 months later, Lunchpool has its pilot launch customer – KnowBe4 – a Clearwater-based company that describes itself as the world’s largest security awareness training and simulated phishing platform that helps enterprises manage the ongoing problem of social engineering cyberattacks.
Over the next few months, the goal is to sign-up two or three more pilot customers in Tampa Bay before executing a targeted expansion in the region’s business, beach and foodie mecca, St. Petersburg.
“We will then unlock other cities in Florida and eventually other states,” Abell says, adding that Lunchpool also has plans to go from a sole focus on helping enhance communication among employees within a single corporation to a more horizontal focus that will connect people across multiple companies in a city.
“For now, our model is B2B (business-to-business), but we see opportunities for associations, as an example, to use our product,” he explains, citing Lunchpool’s tagline that “It’s better when we eat together.”
Abell recently moved to Knoxville after his wife accepted a tenure track position at the University of Tennessee, Knoxville. Because the team behind the start-up operates virtually, the move did not disrupt their ramping-up plans. The distributed team has grown and shrunk since inception. One of his Co-Founders, Pooja Pendharkar, has experience in healthcare and information technology consulting. She still resides in Tampa Bay, and another Co-Founder from Poland is currently working in London. Both still have day jobs, while Abell has decided to pursue the start-up full-time.
“We’re super early stage,” Abell says, noting Lunchpool has been bootstrapped. “We don’t want to take outside money until we’re ready to scale.”
Those who attended the inaugural event of the Knoxville Technology Council in August heard him describe the new venture.
“Lunchpool began as a way to help people build connections over common topics during their lunch break,” Abell wrote in a recent article for St. Pete Catalyst, a local online newspaper. “Since starting this project, however, we’ve unearthed a world of research that points to a very large problem: the lunch break as we know it is being threatened. We’re losing some of our abilities to socialize because of how awkward it can be to build new connections as adults.”