The Midwest is currently witnessing an incredible amount of innovation from its many startups. This innovation is proving to be very disruptive for numerous industries across the US, with the food industry feeling the full force of the Midwest’s creativity.
Early this year veteran entrepreneur Chris Baggott, announced plans to roll out his Indianapolis-based ClusterTruck across more locations across the US, intent on dominating the food delivery service. On top of this, two young entrepreneurs, Matt Howard and Alex Wyler, were featured in Forbes’ prestigious 2018 30 Under 30 for their food delivery service EatStreet.
Evidently, the Midwest is a prime location for innovative foodies to set up shop. One startup which understands the motivation ability of food is HungerPerks. HungerPerks is a marketing and rewards program for restaurants.
Their app uses geofencing technology to send out location-based notifications to tell consumers when and where they can receive free food (ex. sandwich, shake, cookie, etc.). The customer answers a short survey and then receives a voucher for their free food, an offer which the company cleverly presents as “Food for Thoughts.”
To get a better understanding of the company and what it is like to set up a food-focused startup in the Midwest, we spoke with Kyle Flynn, the CEO and Co-founder of HungerPerks.
What was the main motivator to solve this problem, for example, did it arise from a personal experience or something you recognized others wanting?
As a person with a heavy marketing & technology background, I originally recognized the marketing opportunity for a new/under utilized technology called “Geo-fences” in many potential industries a few years back in 2014.At the time I was working with a different startup, which I helped found, when I stumbled upon the concept of “location based notifications” and discovered that it could have a major impact on the way that businesses get the attention and market to people. The ability for any business to connect with a potential consumer through a notification on their phone, at the right time and place can have a big impact and serve as a more effective form of marketing than more traditional means.During this time I also realized that the means and methods of gathering survey data was severely out of date and most companies that needed to collect survey data are spending a lot of time, energy, resources, and money to acquire this data that often ends up being out dated by the time it was gathered or no longer helped to inform decision-makers in a timely manner.So, by combining surveys with this concept of location based notifications I hypothesized that businesses could gather survey data and market/incentivize potential customers on a mobile app based platformed. I was able to identify that we should target the restaurant industry after doing some heavy research and analyzing a couple dozen different industries.
What do you consider HungerPerks’ greatest achievement within the past 6 months?
It’s difficult to identify our greatest achievement in the past six months since we have come so far and accomplished so much in that time, but if I had to choose one… I’d say it’s that we managed to create an app for the App Store and Google Play Store while simultaneously making a web-app through the efforts of 1 developer on our team.
Sam Borick, our Full Stack Developer, has overcome some pretty staggering odds to create our applications and the HungerPerks system platforms. To me, our mentors, and advisors this accomplishment is nothing short of incredible. This is why I call Sam our “Unicorn Developer”.
What is the main focus for HungerPerks over the next 6 months?
Over the next 6 months we have 4 main areas of focus:1) Continue to develop and fine tune our applications and add new features to our platform.2) Selling HungerPerks to more Feeders (i.e. restaurants) in the Akron/Cleveland area.3) Market our application to Eaters (i.e. consumers or app users) at the University of Akron and to downtown Akron professionals.4) Finish our current round of seed funding to collect $100,000 of investment. (We are already half way there!)
I understand you recently took part in University of Akron’s NEXTOhio Startup Challenge. What was that like and did you or HungerPerks benefit from this experience?
The NEXTOhio Startup Challenge was a thrilling experience, and such a rewarding one too. We enjoyed the competition and the opportunity to connect with other entrepreneurs in the area. HungerPerks benefitted from this in a few ways.1) We won 1st prize and was awarded with a generous gift of $10,000 from the Burton D. Morgan Foundation.2) We have received press coverage that has helped with brand awareness and boosted our app downloads.3) Connected us with some great people through networking at the event.4) Helped us attract some investors & potential advisory board members.
I understand you were previously the president of TEDxUniversityofAkron for over two and a half years. Has this had an impact on your entrepreneurial skill set, and if so what did you learn?
Yes it certainly has! I’ve learned how to be resourceful and leverage the resources that I have available. I’m more comfortable taking the initiative and doing what it takes to get something done. I also learned some extremely valuable lessons on how to be a leader and how to form a team with the right kind of people. In many ways TEDxUniversityofAkron also taught me how to represent a brand that’s bigger than me, and conduct myself accordingly.Through a life changing opportunity in Whistler, Canada at TEDActive2015, I learned how to really connect and have productive conversation with people that previously I would have been intimidated by, like other TEDx Organizers and individuals that are well known throughout the world. Above all, I learned how to be creative and stay true to myself while also working with others to create something much bigger than myself.
Do you have any cool or interesting stories during your time as president of TEDxUniversityofAkron?
One time during a TEDx event we hosted at UA, the clicker, that a speaker was using to advance their powerpoint slides, stopped working. I was in the tech booth and realized this problem pretty quickly. Without a second thought I became her clicker and manually advanced the slides on my computer, which was about 50 feet away.The entire presentation I followed her hand with my eyes, watching carefully for the slight movement of her finger on the clicker. The TED Talk lasted a little over 15 minutes, and no one ever noticed there was a problem… not even the speaker. It was great!
From your experience, how have you found the Midwest as a location to start a business?
Phenomenal! There’s a reason why people from Silicon Valley are moving here. The conditions to start and grow a business from the group up almost couldn’t be better. The cost of living isn’t outrageous, there’s literally hundreds of programs, events, competitions, and accelerators around here specifically for startups and entrepreneurs, investors are prevalent for any given field of interest, and talent is readily available. I want to highlight that this is specifically true for the Akron/Cleveland areas.
Overall, the typical person in the Midwest is well or highly educated, driven, and willing to work hard. People are so willing to help you around here and connect you with the people that you really need to connect with. It seems like everyone wants to see your startup succeed, and the only person that can really hold you back… is yourself. There are many dedicated and passionate individuals that want nothing more than to see you and their city thrive, and that’s why the Midwest is a hot bed for fostering startups right now.
What advice would you have for anyone look to start a business in the Midwest?
Do what you love, and find a way to make someone pay you for it.
Form a strong team of people that you both like and respect, and that share the same or similar morals and values.
Network, NetWork, NETWORK!
Surround yourself with people that are smarter than you.
Get involved in a startup accelerator.
Stop giving yourself excuses and just try, doesn’t matter if you fail. Learn from it and move forward. You’d be surprised how much people respect you for it.
If you’re going to start a business… you gotta be all in, or it’s going to fail.
If it’s not a Win-Win, then walk away.
Startup life has it’s ups and downs, just keep moving forward!
Never compromise your morals for anyone or any deal.
If you’ve done your homework, then have faith and keep pressing forward.
Stress will eat you alive if you’re not careful. Make sure to make time for yourself, take care of yourself both physically and emotionally. You can only do 16 hour days for so long. Don’t over do it!
You can overthink to the point that you can make anything sound like it won’t work.