It’s a helluva school project.
While completing MBA degrees at Drexel University in 2006, Chuck Sacco, Doug Bellenger and two others founded PhindMe Mobile, with vague plans on improving the mobile Web-based interaction between businesses and their customers.
Since then, two have bailed and now CEO Sacco and COO Bellenger are leading a small team crafting the future of mobile Web direct-to-consumer advertising.
Sacco, who did his undergraduate work at St. Joseph’s University, has a few technology startups in his past and has learned from them, he said.
“For me, it’s always been about having platforms where you can plug in functions and take them into new markets as the world changes,” he said.
PhindMe, has to be an example of that – one on which Sacco was willing to bet. He and Bellenger put in about $80,000 of their own capital to launch, and last June they borrowed nearly $225,000 more from friends and family, according to the Philadelphia Business Journal. They launched in October, and they say they’ll break even as early as June – helped by the national attention they’ve gotten in advertising communities.
Below see how the South Jersey native – who says he has “always considered Philadelphia as home” – describes PhindMe’s future and for whom the alumnus of St. Joe’s and Drexel cheers in Big Five basketball.
Transcript of interview was edited for length and clarity.
- Tell us about PhindMe Mobile and why we should be paying attention.
PhindMe Mobile is part of what is an emerging $8 billion mobile web content market. That market is the massive shift of information from one media – PC-based Web – to another – mobile-based web. But it’s more than just providing a way to get good, relevant content accessible on mobile devices. It’s providing businesses with a way to leverage that content to improve their marketing to an increasingly mobile consumer.
Since we built a platform to scale in a big way, we’re not going after a small number of big projects. And we’re not trying to be seen as a development tool. For us, it’s really about how to do we make it as easy as possible to get as many businesses using our tools as possible. It should be as easy as email or blogging.
- So what do you offer customers?
We have evolved quite a lot since our initial concept. At that time, we were just looking at how to use the GPS feature on cell phones to help consumers find local business information. Even though only a few years ago, this was before the iPhone, before text messaging really took off, and before a lot of the mainstream interest in social networks. Our focus was providing timely and relevant information about any business to consumers.
From our original concept, we evolved the business model a couple of times, eventually figuring that the core problem for consumers was going to be the lack of readable and actionable-information content about businesses. While businesses have a lot of web-based information, very little of it is natively useful on a cell-phone Internet browser, largely due to the differences in the medium – remember the old adage “the medium is the message.” So we set out to solve that problem by giving businesses a tool to help them deliver content to consumers in a way that is easily digestible and actionable.
- What is PhindMe’s relationship to Drexel?
We are big fans of Drexel, especially their LeBow School of Business. Because the original business concept grew out of an MBA class project that later was entered in their business plan competition, we have a strong affinity to Drexel. They have been big supporters, and moving our business into their Baiada Center for Entrepreneurship was a natural choice. We get access to great physical resources, advisers and students who have been a big part of our progress.
- OK, you’re a big fan of Drexel, but you did your undergrad at St. Joe’s. So, who’s your horse in Big Five basketball?
I guess my heart is still with St. Joe’s when it comes to basketball. St. Joe’s has had some great teams over the years, and hopefully they will approach what Villanova has done recently.
- What is the future of technology and marketing? Can Philadelphia be a major player in it?
Marketing in the future is going to be mostly about technology. Marketing is a funny business. While there will always be the creative elements, marketing firms are by their nature not very scalable. The big firms can squeeze out margins consistently, and a lot of that has to do with the fact they use technologies in the right way. So I’d like to see Philadelphia focus in that area, determining how we can make marketing a more powerful engine for the economy.
- What’s your take on the region’s innovation culture?
The Philly tech scene is emerging as an amazing resource for entrepreneurs, investors and service providers alike. I’m almost getting tired of saying “it’s getting better” because I think it’s getting to the point where it is better. But it is also different. We can’t be like Silicon Valley because this isn’t Silicon Valley. That’s OK, and actually good, because what it means is that we can differentiate on the things that make us unique – people, geography, schools, etcetera. Those unique qualities seemed to have been better defined over the past couple of years by the community.
- What is the future of PhindMe Mobile?
Our future is less about cool new features and more about ensuring we have the most efficient ways to distribute our products. Right now we are really focused on generating leads, creating new customers and providing them a great set of tools. Hopefully you’ll see some new distribution deals for us where we get our products into the hands of some big players and become known as the new standard for the mobile web.
Every Friday, Technically Philly brings an interview with a leader or innovator in Philadelphia’s technology community. See others here.