Kaylee Williams Strikes a Chord with BIZ Luncheon Audience

“Two years ago, I bought a cat and a car, in that order, and I came to Des Moines and started working as a community builder” recalls Kaylee Williams, now Director of Business Development at Volunteer Local, as she told the story of how she came to be in her current position. With understandings acquired as the day to day manager of one of Des Moines’ most successful tech start-ups, Williams shared insights that belied her mere 23 years under the questioning of Mike Colwell, Executive Director of the BIZ, as well as a large and diverse audience heavily seeded with supporters of this young energetic and well liked local entrepreneur.

Developed originally by local tech guy Brian Hemesath as an aid for the former Des Moines Arts Festival organizer the late Mo Dana, Volunteer Local is a volunteer registration software platform that assists event and non-profit volunteer coordinators to manage the scheduling of, and communication with, volunteers on-line. With one free and two subscription-based models, the software is used by a wide range of groups from small non-profits to large-scale events across the United States and in 30 countries around the world. 

Kaylee began as an intern working remotely from Iowa City before her move to Des Moines and then quickly transitioning from the role of Community Builder.  The job which started out as primarily working with existing clients, grew to one of Director of Business Development, which expanded her responsibilities to also growing the client base.

Understanding the client base was her first order of business for a variety of reasons. First and foremost, the users of the free service were an outstanding list of leads for conversion to paid subscriptions. She further discovered that the faith based community represented an unexpectedly large portion of that lead list, causing her to re-evaluate the model in light of a price point that would not exceed the resources of that potential constituency.  Understanding the client base would soon evolved into relationship building. 

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Maerz Shares the Story of Rocket Referrals and Relationships

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“If you want an expert, go to Google, I wouldn’t say I’m an expert in any one thing, but my brother Carl and I have a breadth of knowledge, which we feel has been of greater value than specific expertise,” observed Torey Maerz, Founder of Rocket Referrals, during his conversation with BIZ Executive Director Mike Colwell at the January edition of the BIZ luncheon. While that observation is likely too humble given Maerz’s impressive credentials earned as an officer in the IT departments of the likes of Principal and Appcore, it does point to the underlying cause of the success he has found with Rocket Referrals.

Described at a high level as an automated referral system; Rocket Referrals reviews client data through use of a proprietary algorithm which then identifies those customers who are more likely to serve as referral generators and then through its fulfillment arm automatically proceeds to develop and cultivate a relationship which makes the eventual referral far more likely. While the development of components of the fulfillment vehicle is a worthy product development story in itself, the questioning from Colwell, in the interview format of the presentation, began at the beginning asking where the idea originated.

“I’ve tried to build start-ups in the past with an original idea which I thought would be a cool product, but this time I chose to take a different approach,” explained Maerz. “I knew there were a million problems out there that needed to be solved, and I just needed to find one,” he said of his decision to leave a CIO position to found a company that had neither a product nor service in mind.

Choosing to find a problem to solve in the insurance industry, explaining that insurance agents were generally approachable and readily found in the yellow pages, Maerz contacted 30 random agents to interview regarding their involvement with technology, and the challenges of their business models. Ultimately, through conversation, he discovered that referrals were key to agent’s business growth, and that the gap between fairly high customer satisfaction and fairly low referral rates suggested a problem that could be addressed.

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PR Panelists and Audience Generate Buzz about Buzz

“We have quite a crew assembled here and I invite the audience to leverage this panel’s expertise in any way they can,” encouraged Tej Dhawan as he opened the October Business Innovation Zone luncheon standing in for the regrettably absent Executive Director Mike Colwell. Following brief introductory remarks from the assembled panelists; Susan Ramsey, SVP […]

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Rubber Duck problem solving

Having mentors, investors and other people you can lean on is very helpful,….. as long as you know how to get what you need from them.   That is the hard part.  That is where the Rubber Duck solution comes in.  I highly suggest you read “To get the most out of your investors, turn […]

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Eliason Speaks of Teams, Innovation, Des Moines and I/OWA

“All of us are part of a larger start-up, it is called the State of Iowa,” remarked James Eliason, CEO of Goodsmiths and 2nd generation serial entrepreneur, during his remarks before the September Business Innovation Zone Luncheon and Networking Session. “In general the State of Iowa is learning alongside the local start-up community and I […]

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Rollenhagen Enlightens the Inexperienced About Proper Project Scoping

“I’ve seen people build a fifty thousand dollar website to discover why they didn’t need that website,” noted Mike Colwell, Executive Director of the Business Innovation Zone. “I know there is a better way,” he declared before turning the floor over to Erin Rollenhagen, Founder of Entrepreneurial Technologies and coder extraordinaire, who would provide an […]

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