Senior majoring in finance, Justine Avoudikpon, shares her story of pursuing her own startup: SWIFTE. SWIFTE is a carpooling app, where college students can share rides for lower prices.
WRITTEN BY MADDIE LARSON
Robert Enck, founder of Eleez, looks to these wise words from Calvin Coolidge for the motivation to get through the tireless process of starting a business. Eleez, is a live event discovery and ticketing platform that allows venues to fill unsold tickets without cannibalizing regular ticket sales. It gives venue managers more control over ticket demand using real-time pricing for concerts. As a devoted concert-attendee himself, Enck initially came up with the business idea when he took notice of a trend in the lack of attendance at the venues he attended. Upon initial research, he discovered that 40% of concert tickets go unsold each year. From an early age, Enck has had several business ideas and keeps track of them through the notes app on his phone. However, none of these business ideas have inspired him to take action as much as this concert revelation. Believing he had discovered an app-based solution to increase venue attendance, he set out to begin his startup.
Enck saw the UGA Idea Accelerator as the perfect opportunity to test if Eleez could become a scalable business and entered into the competition in fall of 2015. He began by forming a team, which is currently comprised of co-founder and lead developer, James Sanders, who is studying at Georgia Tech, and an industry expert, Brad Beausir, who graduated from UGA with a degree in Music Business and presently works in Nashville. The combined talents of this team enabled Eleez to win the competition, and the funding allowed the company to gain traction. The founders had received valuable experience through a comprehensive process of addressing the necessary steps of bringing a business to fruition. They have now launched a website, created an app, and continually update their platforms to fix or prevent any bugs.
An educational background from the Entrepreneurship Program has also helped in forming the business. The program has grown, even in the time since Enck came to UGA as a Freshman. “Bob has been an incredible mentor. He deserves so much credit for building [the program] into what it is now, and I’m looking forward to seeing what it will be in years to come!” He encourages other students who interested in entrepreneurship to utilize the program as a “great resource for mentorship.”
Reflecting on where the business has arrived since the high of their win a year ago, Enck explains his deeper understanding of the need for customer discovery within their target market. Through customer discover on the venue side, the co-founders have formed a great partnership with places such as the Georgia Theatre. This particular concert location pays an upfront sum when booking their artists and then uses that amount as a basis to set ticket prices. Ticket sales for their larger shows have not been a concern, but there often instances when prices for certain concerts are set too high to generate enough demand. Eleez has been solving this recurring problem by discounting any unsold tickets at the last minute. The increased attendance provided through this process benefits venues, fans, and artists.
With a growing user-base, the biggest hurdle now is a challenge to spread organically by finding a targeted user-base of avid concert-goers. The team has recently realized the value of using social media to build a community by making their content more fun and interactive, rather than pushing the product on people. They are in the process of creating videos that will engage current customers and increase awareness within their target market.
Enck shared advice from his personal experience of pushing through the tough times: “At the very beginning people told me, ‘this is never going to work’ and asked why I would even try to do this. Persistence is key if you really believe in something you’re guna get knocked down, but you’ve got to be persistent. Just keep pushing through.” Enck draws strength to endure in his own efforts from his mom who was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer and passed away this past year. He saw how she bravely battled this unforeseen trial and it is evident that she has left a legacy to fight and be persistent even in the face of the toughest challenges.
When asked what habits make him successful, Enck responded, “I wouldn’t say I’m successful, but I would say work ethic is key. I’m not by any means the brightest person in the room, but I’m going to try to out-work (everyone).”
WRITTEN BY CHRISTINA KURIAN AND MADDIE LARSON, OCT 6, 2016
Joe Nedza is currently a business management major at the University of Georgia while also working tirelessly to expand the Nedza’s Waffles brand name throughout Athens. He had no prior interest in baking until he created his business, which offers unique Hong Kong style egg waffles topped in treats such as ice cream, chocolate, and fruits.
One of the benefits of building a company that makes great food is getting to experience it whenever you’d like. In a personal interview, Nedza explained the joy he gets when sampling his own product. “They’re crunchy on the outside and soft on the inside. They taste totally different than any other waffle I’ve ever had. You don’t need anything on them, and they’re fun to eat. You can tear out each little pod (egg puff) and eat it separately.”
Not only are the waffles fun to eat, they’re perfect to share…on social media that is! The colorful toppings make each waffle eye-catching and picture perfect. (#Nedzaswaffles)!!!
The idea of creating these distinctive waffles came to Nezda while on a trip to New York. While touring the city, he happened to stumble across a particular food vendor with a lengthy line of eagerly awaiting people. Upon further investigation, he noticed people walking away with what smelled and looked like colorfully decorated waffles.
Curious about the hype, Nedza stood in line for an hour, only to find that the vendor had run out right when he got to the front. Although he never got to try the waffles, he found himself craving them and the concept lingered in the back of his mind. Research revealed that there was nothing similar the NY waffle vendor offered in the Athens area. Nedza has had several business ideas throughout his life, but this particular idea was one he deemed worthy to pursue as his first venture.
Deciding to make his own waffles, Nedza perfected the recipe over the course of five months. He chose to let his family be the first to test his creation, and was thrilled to find that they loved the waffles. This propelled him to test how well they would sell at a swim meet in Alpharetta, GA.
“I just decided that I was going to sell it anywhere that would really let me.” The event had nearly 300 people and Nedza’s Waffles outsold every other vendor at the meet. This was the validation he needed to realize that his business could scale.
As he continued to sell, his product was received exceptionally well from customers. “I don’t know what I’m doing yet. I’m just doing it.” And doing it successfully. Nedza’s Waffles has partnered with various restaurants and bars in Athens, such as Fuzzy’s, Zombie Coffee & Donuts, Bar South, and Terrapin Beer Co. “A lot of bars are hearing about it now and asking me to come on game days, which is great,” Nedza said.
Due to the unpredictability of the pop-up store arrangement, it is difficult to continuously notify customers of the latest location. A long-term goal is to acquire a brick-and-mortar site in the hopes of reducing any customer inconvenience or frustration. He expects that an established location would enable him to become more efficient, store everything in one place, and even expand the menu. Nedza’s Waffles currently only serves desserts, but savory options are certainly a future consideration.
As Nedza continues to learn about the entrepreneurial process, he aims to use this knowledge to help others follow their passion. “I can’t stand to watch people that I care about doing something they don’t love, so I’m helping a couple of friends start a company right now,” Nedza said. “I’m just giving them advice and showing them exactly what they need to be doing along the way so they can do what they love.”
WRITTEN BY CHRISTINA KURIAN SEPT 12, 2016
Cosmic Delivery, an online food-serving platform, officially began its deliveries four months ago. Cosmic Delivery is collaborating with 13 different restaurants, mainly centered around Downtown, Athens.Some of the restaurants include Zombie Coffee & Donuts, A-OK Cafe, 180 Degree Cafe, and Pita Pit.
Trent Walls, a fourth year University of Georgia student majoring in Computer Science and Engineering, is the founder of Cosmic Delivery. Walls originally had the idea to serve fresh food to customers placing orders online in early January of this year.
Walls has been creating his own self-employed businesses since as early as middle school. He ran two business websites, however, they did not collect revenue; one was an eCommerce website, and the other was a game sharing site. Then later as a high school senior, he opened an eCommerce store, which he closed last year.
“Once I got into college, (the eCommerce store) kind of stopped growing just because I didn’t put enough time into it. I didn’t have that support team with me as far as other founders do to encourage me to keep growing it, so that kind of stagnated,” Walls said. “I shut that down when I started Cosmic Delivery. I believe in one track minded. I don’t want to split my time with too many different business ideas.”
“I think the biggest resource I had with this would be the student organization, which would be IEEE ACM. There’s just so many people working together (there) that are aspiring to do something. It’s always been a useful tool,” Walls said. “If I have a technical kind of question, I can just ask them or just if I need some help. If I want to bring on a partner or something, that’s usually a pretty good resource for finding someone to work with.”
Early on in the process, Walls met with some friends, where they tossed around a couple business ideas, debating on what would be the most beneficial for both the society and for themselves.
“I think we had like grocery delivery, expanding the eCommerce store into more school supplies type stuff, and the food delivery,” Walls said. “We just kind of ran through each of those types, looked through how likely it would be to succeed, and food delivery was the one that stood out, so we kind of ran with it from there.”
In order to make this idea a reality, they needed to find willing restaurants. Athens Wok was the first restaurant that began collaborating with Walls on his food delivery business.
“It’s basically just been continuously talking to restaurant owners. You’re going to get a few that say yes, and go out on a limb and try (it out).” Walls said. “Once you get to five restaurants, it’s going to be easier for you. (It’s) basically been a slow and painful process to build that reputation, there’s no easy magic.”
Building Cosmic Delivery’s brand was no easy task.
“Building your brand image and convincing your restaurant owners that you are a reputable company that they can work with (is the hardest part,)” Walls said. “The biggest problem when going out and expanding our restaurant base is where new business and restaurants don’t necessarily want to risk their customers with a new service, so just trying to built up our reputation has probably been the biggest challenge right now.”
Being involved with UGA, especially through the UGA Accelerator, has helped Walls tremendously in the process of developing his business.
“Everyone in the (Accelerator) program has their own business ideas. They run you through different things, like how to do customer discovery, financial literacy, and then talking to investors. Kind of the biggest thing you do in that is customer delivery, finding out who your customers are and determining if your business idea actually has attraction. That’s something that really helped us when we were talking to restaurants and stuff, learning how to discover what their needs are,” Walls said. “Another thing in addition to the customer discovery that we gained was just being able to meet other business owners and stuff. Most people are a lot more willingly to talk to you if you are a (UGA) student. Those things combined are extremely beneficial.”
Eventually, Walls hopes to deepen Cosmic Delivery’s breadth.
“We’re mainly just trying to expand within the Athens market, so just more restaurants, getting more customers,” said Wells. “If things go well, we might expand beyond that in the future, but right now, the main focus is on Athens.”
Written by Christina Kurian Aug 29, 2016
We had the pleasure to sit down with the owner of Zombie Coffee and Donuts, Tony Raffa, as he discusses his experience with launching his own company. Zombie Coffee and Donuts is a self-serving coffee and donut service where coatings and toppings of the donuts are chosen by the customers themselves and made directly in front of the them.
Raffa’s goal as a child was similar to an engineer, due to his drive to build things. As he grew up, he gained experience, from helping his dad fix cars to breaking apart and fixing the only computer in his house.
“I used to love to tear things apart and rebuilt them and that sorts of stuff. I would drive my parents crazy,” Raffa said.
Now an adult, Raffa is not an engineer, but he was able to incorporate his childhood dreams through a different form.
Starting young, during his sophomore year of high school, Raffa hired two friends to be involved with Raffa Editing, where they designed websites, repaired computers, and worked on basic tech work. Raffa always had a pure interest in technology.
Zombie Coffee and Donuts is not just established in Athens, but also in Washington D.C., where it originally began. But before Zombie Coffee and Donuts, Raffa, as a freshman at the University of Georgia, was involved with the UGA Accelerator Program, an 8-week "business boot camp"that prepares students for the next step in their business development. He then co-founded DSY, a company where they built software for people.
“I love to get people involved in entrepreneurship because even though… most likely, companies are going to fail, it puts that bug into you and even if you don’t go to create another company, it changes your perspective and changes what your sense of achievement is,” Raffa said. “Your definition of success changes completely.”
Through the program with UGA, he also founded Bumpin’, a social networking app. He and his partner entered Bumpin’ into the UGA Entrepreneur Competition and advanced to the the semi-finals.
Raffa worked upon the idea of Bumpin’ and sold it to an associate building a frozen yogurt franchise, where they discussed their approach with self serving yogurt and coffee, which is how Zombie Coffee came about. He was interested in self-serve because it immerses customers from all ranges and various tastes.
While working on both his Tech Company and Zombie Coffee during his sophomore year of college, Raffa realized the rising potential of Zombie Coffee and decided to center his focus towards that. Using his associate’s frozen yogurt pop up carts, he ran pop up coffee shops all around D.C., which is how both the name and brand got marketized. From there, it took two years to open up about an 800 square feet store in D.C. with his investors. Zombie Coffee then was remodeled to be Zombie Coffee and Donuts with the addition of freshly fried dough.
Since Raffa is a current college student, he faced obstacles such as bootstrapping it in the beginning and raising the money to fund his programs. Raffa is a Business Management major and is finishing up his last semester here at UGA.
When people say that Raffa must be insane for starting companies while being in school, he tells them it’s a part of who he’s become--he feels empty without it. He would sometimes work for 18 hours each day without even realizing it because he was running off so much adrenaline from his passion for the business.
Zombie Coffee and Donuts’ being located in a college town has helped tremendously to bring success. Raffa hasn’t spend any money on marketing since the opening of the business this summer. It’s all been Athens, social media, and being socially impactful. People have come from all around Georgia to patron Zombie Donuts and Coffee, all because of a 10 second or less snapchat that encourages people to come visit.
“Zombie Coffee and Donuts does not want to simply be the Best Coffee and Donut Company IN the world, we want to be the Best Coffee and Donut Company FOR the world.”
The biggest lesson Raffa learned was from his software tech company. They were trying to expand their app, Bumpin’ by trying to add multiple different features, that eventually they had to scrap and start from the beginning, resulting in the waste of a lot of money.
“The biggest lesson I learned was that when you’re building any company at all, pick maximum of three things that define you and do nothing else if that makes any sense,” Raffa said. “The three I chose were is that I want to do self-service coffee well, I want to do donuts well, and then I want to be socially impactful to the community. Those were my three things. Those were what defined my company, and I’m not doing anything else until then. I have stuff where I want to do mini-donuts, I want to change a lot of things, but I’m not touching any of that until I feel like everything is perfected. That’s the biggest lesson I learned, perfect it and then add on more stuff.”
Raffa has always had the desire to run business that will impact society and believes that is what brings the success as well. It helps with not only marketing, but also donations and having people talk about it. With every purchase at Zombie Donuts and Coffee, the customer receives a wooden nickel, which can be placed in one of the three local charity boxes at the restaurant. At the end of the month, the charity box with the most receives 5% of the overall sales.
“The reason I do it that way is because it works on two fronts besides the fact that giving the money is great, but also especially in a student environment, it teaches everyone about the local charities,” Raffa said.
Chestnut Community was the first charity winner. People having been asking about it daily ever since. For Raffa, the store is a way to give back to the city that has given him so much, Athens.