“I don’t want to build a profile of a person based upon what they have done. I want to build a profile based upon what they are going to do two weeks from now and then market to them based upon that,” exclaims Dylan Hamilton, founder of ShareWhere. He explains the fundamental shift in perspective his company can offer merchants, while simultaneously filling a social planning need of a youthful and tech savvy market. “ShareWhere was built to allow our users to make simple social plans, while helping merchants and consumers connect on a smarter and more intimate level than they ever have before,” he says with the enthusiasm you would expect from a visionary who has seen a long held idea go live in recent months.
The path that led this farm-raised Iowa native to the recent launch of what he hopes will prove to be a revolutionary social planning application has had some turns along the way. “I floundered around for a few years not knowing what I wanted to do,” explains Hamilton. His graduation from ISU, with a degree in Biology, left him with more questions than answers, and offered a career path that simply did not appeal. “A friend suggested I come work for his company for a while, so I did,” he recalls. And the next 12 years would see him progress through a series of promotions in Des Moines, Charlotte, New York, and back to Des Moines, establishing credentials in both marketing and on-line media while working for such corporate giants as Hearst and Meredith.
Throughout much of this journey the ShareWhere idea had been percolating in his entrepreneurial mind. “My wife and I were young and social and wanted to go out with our friends, but there was no good way to plan it. I had this vision of an application that would allow people to create and manage simple social plans easier,” Hamilton remembers. “Nothing like that existed.”
Last year, when the fortunes of a corporate existence presented this Ankeny resident with a little downtime on his career path, the time seemed right to try and fill that void. Calling upon some technical resources he had cultivated along the way, he set out to develop a product that met the need he had been so long considering; and ShareWhere was born. “Many people have tried to address this need over the years,” he observes. “Nobody has figured it out yet. Although someone will soon, and I hope it’s us.”
While product development and marketing were skills he had well honed, the bigger picture of building a business was something he was not altogether prepared for. Enter Mike Colwell and the Business Innovation Zone (BIZ). Hearing of the approaching “Dream Big, Grow Here” competition, Hamilton was disappointed to learn his existing company did not qualify. Still, he made arrangements to meet Colwell and learn about the BIZ. “I met with Mike, learned a little of his process, and then he asked me what I needed from him, a question I really liked,” recalls Hamilton. Requesting networking, accountability and help in avoiding the big mistakes, the ShareWhere founder discovered that the BIZ could, and would, deliver in all three areas. “I knew no one in the Des Moines start-up community until I met Mike. The connections he provided me have been invaluable” he acknowledges. Through the BIZ, Hamilton met Christian Renauld, Tej Dhawan, Brian Hemesath and the Start-Up City Des Moines cadre. “Ultimately ShareWhere would not be here without them,” he says of the BIZ and his new associates.
Start-Up Models, a financial planning tool created by Colwell, was also instrumental in carrying Hamilton and ShareWhere through the development phase with assurance that they had sufficient financial resources to make it to launch. “That spreadsheet really kept us in business. Had it not been for that tool and the ability to produce multiple ‘what if’ scenarios, I probably would have gotten out of the game,” remarks Hamilton.
Continuing to meet twice monthly at the BIZ, Hamilton admits to a growing appreciation for Colwell’s perspective that eluded him early in their relationship. “I’m a product guy, and Mike didn’t seem to pay any attention to the product,” lamented Hamilton. “At first I was kind of annoyed by that, it took me a while to understand that he was asking all the right questions, and I simply wasn’t ready to answer them. Everybody’s got a product, not everybody can sell it, and helping me understand that is what Mike did for me. And, he was right on the money. What the BIZ provides people with great ideas is how to do things, and how to execute.”
Now in the very early stages of their success, Hamilton is encouraged and believes Des Moines to be the place where this unique application can find a fertile ground for growth and expansion to other markets. Ask him where he sees himself in five years and he will tell you, “Starting another company. I see myself as a serial entrepreneur, but if I’m still managing a hugely successful ShareWhere, that’s okay too.” Either way, you can bet he’ll have the BIZ phone number nearby.