Know What Your Customers Are Thinking

By Jeff Kiger
Post-Bulletin, Rochester, Minn.

WWR Article Summary (tl;dr)> As part of the national 1 Million Cups initiative, this week, a crowd of local business enthusiasts listened to two local companies present their entrepreneurial stories of success.

Post-Bulletin, Rochester, Minn.

Baby sitters, party DJs and phone apps recently came together as the founders of two tech startups presented their plans to Rochester entrepreneurs.

One Million Cups is a program where people working on new businesses present their plans and field questions and suggestions from their caffeine-fueled peers. Spearheaded by The Collider Coworking Space, it started locally on a monthly basis in February.

On Wednesday, the audience heard from the founders of How To Babysit and Spark.DJ.

How to Babysit
Erin Wagner, of Waseca, told the crowd how she and her partner started out with an idea to create an application to help parents find good baby sitters when they needed them.

After a first attempt “crashed and burned,” they started doing interviews with potential customers and launched a small Alpha test group of 25 users in three neighborhoods with an updated application. The idea was that baby sitters would post times they were available on a calendar so parents could schedule them easily.

“We were shocked with what we saw,” she said. “We had an idea to cater to parents and found baby sitters were actually the power users.”

Wagner said they quickly identified all of the power users were 14-year-old girls who get straight A’s, like to organize their rooms, play volleyball and dream of going to Paris.

“They are really motivated. … They saw all of the good jobs go to 15- to 17-year-olds. They want to break into the market,” said Wagner. “We thought the problem would be getting sitters, but the exact opposite was true.”

Discovering that drove Wagner and her team to refocus their application around the baby sitters instead of the parents.
“Now we’re 100 percent sitter-centric,” she told the audience.

That change brings new problems because they are working with minors.

Right now, they are working to make the application completely safe. Parents of the sitters now will be notified of every interaction their children have with families looking for a sitter. People looking for a sitter have limitations on how they can search.

How To Babysit also is creating short educational videos to help the sitters do their jobs better, as well as hosting live workshops about baby-sitting at area libraries, churches and elsewhere.

“There are plenty of apps to help kids waste their time. We have an app to help them succeed,” she said.

The application is in development and testing right now. Wagner said they hope to be able to launch in April or May. The Rochester area will be the site of the first major release of the app.

Afterward, she said the event was beneficial as were the comments from the crowd.

“Anytime you have to explain your business to someone, it’s helpful. People here are all Minnesota Nice, and they want to help you,” Wagner said.

James Jones Jr. and John Boss unveiled their Spark.DJ app, which is designed to automatically stream DJ-style music for parties without an actual DJ.

Since Jones and Boss both are DJs and have performed locally at events such as SocialIce, they realize it might seem odd that they are creating an app to replace DJs.

“The problem is that DJs are expensive … $50 to $500 an hour. And the quality is uncertain. You don’t know if they good until you hire them,” Jones said.

They say there still willbe plenty of work for DJs, but this application will allow many people who can’t afford one, particularly college students, to have DJ-style music at their parties.

The idea is that someone throwing a party or special event signs up with Spark.DJ to stream music for five hours at a cost of $9.99 for a general user or $4.99 for a college student. The host can set parameters for the music and partygoers can use the app to make requests.

Boss, who owns the Rochester-based Apollo Music Group DJ service, explained the app’s programming allows it to “seamlessly” transition songs based on rhythm, style and other factors used by DJs. It also takes into account guests’ song requests to automatically adapt its playlist.

Early tests, including a recent trip to the Orange Bowl festivities and performances at Minnesota charity events, have been positive so far, they said. The Spark.DJ team now is fine tuning the application for release in Apple’s App Store in the near future.

They are planning to host a Rochester event to introduce the app to local users in April at the Bleu Duck Kitchen.

“We want to be part of the Rochester community. Rochester is unique. It’s good place to test this,” Boss said. “After our seed round of financing, we will be hiring locally for more developers and a marketing coordinator.”

Jones said the 1 Million Cups event was good for their project.

“It’s always great to hear what people are thinking,” he said, “because that’s what our customers will be thinking, too.”

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