We check in with last year’s Miami Herald Business Plan Challenge Community Track winners, who have sage advice from the startup trenches.
For companies, finding candidates with the right skill set, education and experience isn’t enough. Employers would like to know how the person will fit in with the team, the boss and the corporate culture.
That’s where Candidate.Guru comes in. The Boca Raton startup’s big-data solution predicts a potential culture fit between job seekers and employers without the need for surveys. When Candidate.Guru won the Miami Herald Business Plan Challenge last year — it was named Challenge Champion in May — it had about a dozen customers under trial. It had raised $475,000 in angel and friends and family funding and was embarking on a much larger seed round.
Since then, the company has hit a number of milestones, said Chris Daniels, founder and CEO of the company.
Candidate.Guru earlier this month completed a $950,000 equity financing round, predominately from Florida-based angel groups the FAN Fund, Florida Funders and Miami Innovation Fund. It added Greg Greene, former chief administrative officer and chief human resources officer of Ryder, to its advisory board.
Building a company is never easy. If you do it for the wealth, you will fail. If you do it for the glory, you will fail. You should only do it if you have a genuine passion to do something great. Chris Daniels, Candidate.Guru
On the product development front, Candidate.Guru executed a license agreement with the Florida Institute for Human and Machine Cognition based in Pensacola to incorporate some of its technology into Candidate.Guru’s product, and it filed its first patent last year. The startup also partnered with KontactIntelligence to enable hospitals around the United States to hire more effectively. Candidate.Guru has about 20 corporate customers and is generating revenue.
A challenge for any software company releasing its initial version is finding the right product-market fit, Daniels said. “Finding that combination of features that triggers a big scale in customer adoption remains our biggest challenge and opportunity.”
Going forward, Candidate.Guru, a team of seven, is working on acquiring “an exciting set of new strategic partners that could take our product out to thousands of potential customers … in key vertical markets and industries,” Daniels said. “We are also working on a number of state of Florida-based funding and strategic initiatives that will entrench us more deeply in the Florida entrepreneurial and technology ecosystem.” Stay tuned.
Daniels’ advice to Challenge contestants: “Building a company is never easy. If you do it for the wealth, you will fail. If you do it for the glory, you will fail. You should only do it if you have a genuine passion to do something great. Building a company takes relentless courage, fearless ambition and a never-ending drive to succeed.”
Note: Chris Daniels will be speaking at the Miami Herald Business Plan Bootcamp Feb 28. More info is here.
A year ago, George Fernandez incorporated his health-tech company, Ride2MD, and began building a team to power the company’s mission of providing consumers with efficient, technology-enabled patient transportation to doctors’ offices, outpatient facilities and hospitals. At the time, Fernandez said Ride2MD aimed to be “the Lyft for healthcare.”
In fact, last summer, the healthcare transportation company partnered with Lyft. Business picked up almost immediately.
“Ride2MD is well on its way to success,” said Fernandez, CEO of Ride2MD and the People’s Pick and second place winner of the 2016 Miami Herald Business Plan Challenge. “We started providing service on a daily basis in September and are bringing on new clients every month. We are developing relationships with hospitals, employers, insurers and health management companies and are about to start providing service in Colorado and Texas.”
But that doesn’t mean there haven’t been some route changes, said Fernandez, who was an executive in the health insurance industry before launching Ride2MD. “The business, services we provide and even the client base we serve are significantly different than what we set out to do a year ago.”
It’s about adjusting to what the market needs, he said. Medical providers continue to have issues with medical transportation, but the challenge has been these facilities don’t have the budget to pay for it, so Ride2MD has been mainly targeting self-paying patients, at least for the time being.
“As an entrepreneur, you must be flexible and willing to try — and fail,” Fernandez said. “The key has been to recognize what didn’t work quickly and find alternatives. As with any business, the most important asset is people, dedicated and fearless people.”
About a quarter of Ride2MD’s business now comes through a burgeoning medical tourism industry in South Florida. Service for international patients arriving in Miami for medical visits or treatments also includes VIP services such as pickups at the airport.
Fernandez said about 20 percent of his business comes through the Lyft partnership. As Ride2MD gets requests for transportation, it makes sure the ride-share service is sufficient for the patients and that the drivers understand any special needs.
Ride2MD is continuing to partner with National Health Transport, which offers ambulance services as well as non-emergency transportation. “Together, we are providing service for a small community hospital. Service has improved and the expense to the hospital has come down, so everybody wins,” Fernandez said.
Fernandez’s advice to Challenge contestants: “Don’t be afraid to fail, just make sure you learn why it failed so you can move forward. Surround yourself with people who are smarter than you and are willing to help. Make sure you can deliver on what you say in the press.”
For tech startup Shoes Dsire, the past year has been a learning experience for the founders — and their app.
Shoes Dsire, co-founded by Walter and Jane Bernacca of Aventura, is a free social commerce app that uses visual search technology to serve up fast and personalized shoe-shopping experiences.
When we left off with the Bernaccas, third-place winners in the Miami Business Plan Challenge, they had already put their free iPhone app through a number of iterations, and it had more than 15,000 active users. Since then, the app has attracted more early adopters and its Instagram following has nearly doubled, but the company’s focus has been on improving the back end of its platform, so that the app better understands the behavior of its users.
A key feature of the app is image recognition: Users can snap a picture of shoes they like and learn where they can buy the same or similar shoes for less money.
A key feature of the app is image recognition: Users can snap a picture of shoes they like and learn where they can buy the same or similar shoes for less money. “We never stop to improve the app in many aspects, but last week we released a new image recognition code much more powerful that will provide an even better user experience,” Walter said.
“Our goal this year is to invest in machine learning to understand behavior of the users, and to deliver more information to the brands, in other words, big data. The user experience is much more important to us at this moment than launching new features,” Walter said. This, the founders believe, will be very desirable to brands that could incorporate the technology, especially with e-commerce continuing to increase.
Another key goal for the year is to launch an Android version of the app.
To fund this development and growth, Shoes Dsire, now a team of eight, hopes to raise $3 million in funding, and is looking for a strategic investor with knowledge of the shoe and fashion industry. In the past, it has raised about $1 million in seed funding.
“Because of everything we did last year, big companies are starting to talk to us,” Walter said. “We see a huge opportunity right now with so many big companies closing some of their physical stores, like Macy’s and Kenneth Cole, and investing more on their online business. Shoes Dsire technology can be a great tool for these business.”
Walter Bernacca’s advice to Challenge contestants: “Always be ready with your elevator pitch. You never know who and when you will have the opportunity to pitch about it.”
READ MORE: That dream pair of shoes may be a click away