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Dave Walters

Dave Walters

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SoloHealth Powers Vision Services At Retail

Tuesday, 09 February 2010 18:29 Published in Startups

In the increasingly more self-directed world of healthcare services, Atlanta startup SoloHealth is making a big splash – in fact, you might have seen them at a local Kroger. With more than 50 kiosks in seven states, SoloHealth is coming off a hot 2009, and looking to parlay that success into strong 2010 growth.

SoloHealth’s initial product is an in-store kiosk called EyeSite, which tests a user’s vision in about 3 minutes and provides an accurate vision screening. Included in the printed report are a vision health report, referrals to local eye care professionals and coupons. In 2009, more than 300,000 people used the kiosks, which gather demographic data and serve as an important lead generation tool for local eye doctors.

As CEO Bart Foster notes: last year, more than 30 million Americans with severe risk of vision loss did not receive an eye exam. EyeSite is not designed to replace the traditional eye doctor, but rather to remind folks of the importance of vision health and to encourage more frequent eye exams. In fact, about half of the disease-related cases of blindness could have been prevented with regular eye exams, according to The Georgia Association to Prevent Blindness. And survey data shows that 25% of users indicate they’ve never had an eye exam before, which is exactly why starting the conversation is so important.

SoloHealth’s early wins go back to the Las Vegas tradeshow KioskCom 2008 when they walked away withthree prestigious awards: “Best Healthcare Deployment”; “Best New Innovation in a Kiosk Deployment”; and “Best in Show.” Following that validation, the kiosk rollout began – including an April 2009 investment round to further drive geographic expansion. The continued success has catapulted the company into growth mode that continues into 2010 with the addition of more than 30 kiosks in St. Louis, MO and Salt Lake City, UT.

And the accolades just keep coming as Foster was recently named by NetWorld’s Self Service World as one ofThe Top 5 Execs to Watch in 2010. In conveying the honor, writer Caroline Cooper notes, “many of the trend watchers believe 2010 will see the growth of kiosk deployments in the healthcare vertical.”

For 2010, Foster sees increasing the number of deployed EyeSite kiosks, and the company’s first product extension into the health and wellness space. Given solid progress over the last 24 months, there’s every reason to think SoloHealth will continue its mission to drive “awareness, education and action” in the self-service healthcare market.

OtherNum Brings PBX To The Cloud

Tuesday, 02 February 2010 18:05 Published in Startups

With apologies (but no royalties) to the Eagles, there’s a new kid in town – and it’s called OtherNum. Started by my fellow ATDC Alpharetta buddy Andrew Watson, the service has launched February 1st (a full two weeks early) and aims to free small- to medium-businesses from the shackles of complex PBX systems. Watson and his CTO Walter Duncan call it ‘virtual PBX in the cloud’.

While startup launches are common, the OtherNum guys have taken a five different tacks worth noting:

  1. Watson kept his full-time gig while concepting and launching OtherNum. While bootstrapping is all the rage, those of us with families and mortgages know there are fiscal limitations to being a great entrepreneur. In the perfect world, you buy yourself out of full-time employment, and the early phase of your business is scalable enough to run in parallel with a job. That usually means managing your company semi-autonomously between the hours of 10 p.m. and 3 a.m. while the rest of the house is resting peacefully. This type of task dedication is every bit as hard as bootstrapping it.
  2. The OtherNum solution is built on existing technology platforms and services – significantly reducing the big-bang costs to launch. With the advent of a voice platform like Twilio with its open APIs and straightforward pricing model, the competitive advantage is no longer derived from owning a ‘network’ – it’s delivering a solution people will pay for. This is increasingly common with the open source revolution, and will slingshot hundreds more companies to market during an average year versus the old-school build cycles of the last decade. And perhaps most importantly, these businesses don’t sit frozen in tight capital markets because they require $500K to bring to life.
  3. Of the most importance to the startup community, Watson is sharing the OtherNum launch process. For example, I recently read his blog post on the importance of understanding web metrics and site visitor traffic. While the topic seems obvious on the surface, taking the time to outline this thinking is a great benefit to the entrepreneurs who are days, weeks or months away from their very same launch moment. Another great example was ‘Thoughts on a Startup Launch’ by Paul Stamatiou of Skribit (and Georgia Tech poster) fame. This is what Atlanta needs more of: information sharing among those on the front lines.
  4. OtherNum is also making strong use of local vendors. When you already have hundreds of dependencies on outside forces, it’s comforting to take the advice of the community to select your tools. OtherNum is using key Atlanta providers like MailChimp for email delivery, A Small Orange for hosting, and Ninja Post for online forums. Having local folks within close proximity tends to work equally well for celebrating your joint success and quickly resolving any issues. Again, this should be a startup blueprint that continually feeds the success of Atlanta as a whole.
  5. And maybe most interesting: OtherNum is staring the Google Voice beast directly in the face. It’s the classic case of a big brand setting the use case for a new technology, and entrepreneurs flocking in to make it better and more efficient (think of how the 1990s Personal Information Manager splintered and grew into a multibillion dollar industry called Sales Force Automation). Many of us didn’t know we needed this functionality until Google Voice made it available to anyone. Once the mind is opened, those with a predisposition to pay inevitably ask second-order questions like number portability, multiple mailboxes and conference calling. Call them power users, call them early adopters, call them whatever label is popular this week – OtherNum calls them revenue.


So the logical question is how does a company like OtherNum exit? Given it’s not some huge intellectual property play involving thousands of developer hours, it exits the way every successful business should: becoming indispensable to an ever-growing user base. Once a strong market position has been established and customers have turned the corner to advocacy, the opportunities will come. If you have any pre-conceived notions about this strategy, I’m sure Aaron Patzer and the crew could give you 170 million reasons itdoes work.

You can find more details on the company – including a 20% bonus promo code – at

SoundsGood 01: The Beginnings Of A Music Column

Monday, 12 April 2010 13:19 Published in Entertainment

After years of being the Cliff Claven of music among my friends and family, I’ve decided to share my mania with a larger audience as part of the editorial explosion at TechDrawl. Ideally, my music-related articles will bring you great new performers, you’ll tell me about YOUR favorite artists, and you’ll tell me I’m nuts the other 50% of the time…

By way of my background, I should probably first tell everyone that I grew up in an insanely musically diverse home. My dad was raised in Detroit listening to jazz greats like Wes Montgomery and The Motown Sound, and my mom grew up in Upstate New York embracing the folk stylings of Joan Baez and Judy Collins. My dad was pretty much the only guy in our neighborhood with full-sized speakers in the living room next to the end tables. Add to that two grandparents who loved big band music and comedic works from the likes of Victor Borge, and you get one crazy view of music and music history.

In addition, both my parents and only brother are full-on music performers: my mom a 50-year piano player in church and at home; my dad a classical tenor/baritone; and my brother a bass player trained at the School of Music Engineering (and Jazz Band) at the University of Southern California. On the performance side, my personal limitation is just about vocals on Rock Band.

And of course, I have successfully passed my musicality to our two-year-old daughter. After seeing bands like Crowded House and Martin Sexton while in the womb, her first real concert was the Atlanta Symphony’s production of Puccini’s La Bohème. Since then, she’s become an avid opera fan but will only hear of Luciano Pavarotti and regularly asks for Rigoletto’s Questa o Quella (thank you Steve Jobs for putting YouTube on the iPhone). She’s even opinionated enough to not want to hear anything of the Andrea Bocelli or Sarah Brightman flavor of classical music. Yep, we’re in for quite a ride with her…

In terms of where and how I encounter new music, I will absolutely reveal my sources in hopes we all broaden our listening pleasure. The key ones are:

So what kind of music will I be featuring over the coming months? Suffice to say it will get every bit as strange as my 85,000 songs in iTunes. I’m equally likely to be listening to Jason Mraz, Chingy or Pavarotti – three artists that have been stuck in my shuffles of late. I’m also a fan of reviewing my catalog from time-to-time to revisit great artists and albums, so it won’t be 100% new music but you’ll know the difference.

On the ‘how I share music’ question, the Internet will be an incredible aid in giving readers a sampling of each artist I feature. Every article will have artist’s sites, YouTube videos, streamed albums and more. In addition, each article will feature an iTunes link section that will contain affiliate links to each of the featured artists. If you love the music I’m highlighting and want to buy it, clicking through from our site will help support TechDrawl and it’s editorial mission.

So hang on for the ride, and do This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it what you think along the way. Opening this up to a larger audience should also help ME find more great music so here we go…

Toomah Scores Angel Funding

Sunday, 04 April 2010 20:24 Published in Startups

Ask around startup circles, and you'll hear that angel funding is dead – or at least on a major hiatus. The mantra of some is bootstrapping, while the debate continues around creating big-bang exits versus lifestyle businesses. Personally, I believe the accessibility to solid angel funding is a self-fulfilling prophecy that incrementally increases the sizes of startup exits – and therefore creates momentum in the ecosystem. My equation goes: healthy angel funding today = bigger exits (on bigger ideas) = more new angels = more angel funding tomorrow.

But angels are out-of-reach now, right?  Tell that to Toomah, who have just closed an angel round of $350,000 on what is principally a pre-revenue business – but one with serious momentum. Yep, you read that right: an angel round in this market to a pre-revenue company. So let's look at how they pulled it off.

The Toomah story begins with their founder Jay Forman. Like most startup folks, the core idea behind Toomah came along after he went through the process of landing a sales management position. His first task was to staff a full sales team, which proved to be as much of a logistical nightmare as his own hiring process.


A Technical Co-Founder

Forman quickly saw that streamlining the hiring process had strong business potential, and along came Toomah. While considering how exactly to improve efficiencies (manage the entire process for businesses or automate specific sections of the hiring process), Forman was also struggling with one of a founder’s greatest demons: How do I get this built? The issue of finding a technical co-founder who can both build and manage early development is among the leading issues faced by business-oriented startup CEOs.

After a suggestion from his wife about his super-techy cousin, Forman decided to reach out for the guy he’d met less than five times in his life (and even had him sign an NDA). As it would turn out, Rob Forman was living in Maryland and was doing both software development and network and information systems security work for the likes of Booz Allen Hamilton and PriceWaterhouseCoopers – not a bad background to go build a secure HR system.

So Jay and Rob set-off to create an alternative Applicant Tracking System (ATS) like Taleo. One of the features inside their first product iteration was InterviewPlus, which would eventually become a mainstay of the business. By cutting the pre-screening process from 30-40 minutes to less than 5 minutes per applicant, InterviewPlus allowed hiring managers in high-turnover industries like call centers to gain amazing efficiencies. But the sales cycles were long, and the orders just weren’t coming in fast enough.


New Faces, New Skills

At virtually the same moment in time, Jay’s financial advisor suggested he meet with a recently departed Computer Associates VP of Sales named Joe Gruca. The relationship began as consulting arrangement where Joe was helping to shape the product positioning and defining how to sell into the Fortune 1000.  After a couple weeks of working together, it was clear there was a bigger play. And here’s perhaps the largest teaching moment of the whole Toomah story: Jay asked Joe to join Toomah full-time as the President & CEO.

“If nothing else, I know my strengths and weaknesses well,” says Jay Forman. “Having Joe join our executive team was the perfect complement to what Rob and I had been building.”

In the process of formalizing the relationship, Gruca also brought another experienced heavy-hitter to give Toomah instant credibility. Mark Hopkins had recently retired from UPS, where he led the Package Process Management group.  Together, Gruca and Hopkins injected additional capital to enable Toomah to further develop the InterviewPlus product.


The Final Pivot Point

And while finishing the development in late 2009, there was another critical moment in Toomah’s existence. With the new experience in the management team – and the stalling of direct sales to call centers – Toomah decided on one more modification: they would sell direct to staffing agencies who do much of the outsourced staffing for high-turnover industries like call centers and even technology recruiting. As it turns out, these agencies have smaller staffs and an even larger pool of applicants given the economic downturn, and were absolutely open to this kind of process efficiency.

So today, Toomah has some pretty crazy momentum going. They’ve spooled-up their inside sales, and are now averaging ~25 unique appointments a month – most of whom quickly setup the free 15-day trial account. And early indications put the trial conversion rate above 50%, but Gruca will be the first to say it’s early.


The Money

The source of the investment dollars is perhaps even more of a story than the amount. While the $350,000 was made up primarily of friends and family money, there are two obvious exceptions: the Atlanta Technology Angels and the ATDC Seed Fund, who contributed $25,000 and $50,000 respectively. (Yep, they’re among the new generation of ATDC members.) This is big news in that both organizations have been relatively quiet in the last 12 months, and in the case of the ATDC Seed Fund, this is likely their final investment before the dollars get turned back into the budget shortfall.

The angel round (which was executed as convertible debt) has allowed Toomah to add two more BizDev resources, and will round-out the product development efforts begun when Gruca and Hopkins joined the team. They’re also targeting 10-12 major clients during this period of the company’s growth.

“This round will get us 6-8 months of operating cash, and then we expect to have an even deeper customer-driven product strategy in-place,” says Gruca. “We’re looking clearly toward a Series A round in late 2010 or early 2011 to complete another major round of development and really scale the business.”


The Outlook

If the Toomah guys can keep the sales funnel flowing, this could be the beginning of a very steep climb for a company founded to improve the hiring process. Fortunately for Toomah, the hiring process is not going to become a bastion of efficiency overnight – which represents a significant opportunity mid- to long-term. We’ll keep an eye on their progress and bring you any relevant updates.

GICSoft Delivers Transportation Management

Tuesday, 16 February 2010 19:46 Published in Startups

When you survey the landscape of Atlanta startups, what’s missing is the proverbial “acorn from the oak tree.” Often there’s little relationship between the Fortune 500 behemoths in town and the entrepreneurial exploits happening at the grassroots. And rarely do Fortune 500 execs break out to form small startups designed to sell back to their previous employers.

In some ways, this a natural fact of the industries based here – specifically large consumer packaged goods (CPG) companies like Coca-ColaNewell Rubbermaid and Georgia-Pacific. The likelihood an entrepreneur will develop a new product that really impacts one of these businesses is miniscule given product development is close to a science for these companies.

But for every CPG, there’s a Turner or UPS – companies who are built on innovation and who have shown a strong propensity to invest and/or buy companies. So why aren’t there more content creation or logistics startups in Atlanta? We’ll save the full conversation on ‘tech transfer’ for another day, but suffice to say one reason is they can be complex, capital-intensive businesses to create and grow. Not exactly the current crop of all-the-rage bootstrapped startups…

A great example is a small Duluth company called GICSoft. But ‘small’ can be a misnomer given the firm has about 200 employees in four offices across the US and Europe. Their history lies in web application development for educational institutions to Fortune 500 companies, but they’ve always managed their own projects as well. The company is finalizing the launch of an automated transportation system called Pathalyst, which is focused tightly on the education market. Designed for transportation managers within school districts, the software is used to generate trip and route information for all school buses within a given district.

GICSoft claims the ability to create 5-40% more efficient routes, and has a pricing model based on a percentage of dollars saved. This is particularly interesting considering the financial pressure that’s reaching almost all taxpayer-funded services.

“One of the main reasons we’ll call on a school district is budget cuts,” says GICSoft CEO Igor Babushkin. “Even in the most conservative applications, we expect to deliver a 100% ROI in three months, and over 450% each year.”

And as the routing becomes more complex, the ROI proposition increases. In the educational world, the most complex example is special needs transportation given the multiple locations and specialized vehicles. For example, a special needs student might require a wheelchair-capable vehicle, but they attend classes at three different locations during a week. Routing these complexities on a daily basis requires flexibility and power that are not readily available in the market. What seems like a relatively straightforward routing process requires both massive computing power and the sharpest mathematical minds in world – a combination GICSoft blends to deliver an easy-to-use system that runs in the cloud.

While today’s GICSoft product is focused on the educational market, there’s clearly an application for a company like UPS. Granted Big Brown’s engineers have been perfecting such tasks for years, but consider what 1% additional efficiency would mean in an operation the size of UPS. And imagine the efficiency impact of delivering turn-by-turn directions to a temporary driver who’s filling in for a sick day or week-long vacation – limiting the productivity decrease to 10-15%. Innovation like that could literally put tens of millions of dollars on the bottom line.

This is the type of ‘tech transfer’ we’ll be searching out and highlighting in the future at TechDrawl. If you’ve got other examples we should know about, please let us know.

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