Meet the Philly Start-Ups Leading the Entrepreneurship Era
Business | Center City
The Pitch: E-commerce analytics, ASAP.
Go-getters Robert Moore and co-founder Jake Stein, both 29, began their e-commerce analytics company out of Moore’s attic in September 2008. Now 37 employees strong, RJMetrics is expecting multi-hundred-percentage-point growth in the next year. Though the service they provide isn’t groundbreaking, the way they do it is: They offer to get feedback within three days for an easy entry-level $500 fee, giving them an edge against competitors who often quote three-to-six-month waits and a lot more zeros. Companies who sign on get a complete picture of data—a combination of transactional information and online marketing tools. HootSuite, Fab.com and Frank & Oak have all used RJMetrics’ services.
What’s Next: They’ve gotten more than $6 million in funding from investors in New York and Silicon Valley. The plan is to continue to target small to mid-sized e-commerce sites.
Business | Conshohocken
The Pitch: Car-shopping without the salespeople.
GoMoto is attempting to change the outdated way we shop for cars. Along with his two co-founders, Todd Marcelle, 34, is setting up mini showrooms in public places, with cars from a variety of makers, carefully selected through demographic research. Potential buyers can now browse for—and maybe even test-drive—new cars at the mall, without hovering salespeople. But the real power behind GoMoto displays are the fancy kiosks, which, via facial recognition and other data-collecting technology, gather critical consumer information and analytics that static print and digital advertising can’t. As in, stuff that car makers might pay big bucks to know.
What’s Next: Set to launch this month at the Franklin Mills and King of Prussia malls, GoMoto has signed on some big names, like Ford, to test-drive the system.
Business | Radnor
The Pitch: Stellar customer service, all via text.
Matt Gillin, 46, thought up Relay when his cell service was due to shut off because he forgot to pay his bill. He wondered why people couldn’t interact with companies the way we do with friends—via text message. Relay, which he founded in 2010, has developed a secure one-to-one communication system that helps businesses and consumers better exchange information. The types of thank-you-for-answering-our-prayers services they provide: Banks text when a paycheck clears; you text a customer-service rep when you need to talk, or authorize a bank payment with a simple “Yes” text. No more remembering website passcodes, waiting on hold or email reminders.
Make or Break: Relay has raised $10 million-plus in capital and started bringing in real revenue in 2011. They now have 22 employees and list Independence Blue Cross and Travel Leaders as clients.
Education | University City
The Pitch: Scoring scholarships made easy.
While in high school in Alabama, Chris Gray knew only one thing stood between him and a college education: money. So he applied for more than 70 scholarships, successfully nabbing $1.3 million in offers and earning the nickname “Million Dollar Scholar” from his local paper. Now a junior at Drexel, Gray, 21, has turned his experience into a business. Earlier this year, along with two co-founders, he created Scholly, an app where high-school, undergrad and graduate students plug in filters like race, gender and area of study to generate a list of potential scholarships.
What’s Next: More than 40,000 copies of the app have been sold since its introduction, but Gray’s goal is to develop the product into a business-to-business model for schools and banks.
Business | Center City
The Pitch: Getting startups to get up and go.
For the founders of VenturePact—a start-up that helps start-ups—capital doesn’t only come in the form of cash. Like a traditional VC firm, VenturePact selects companies to invest in based on entrepreneurial drive, customer research and analysis. But in lieu of money, it gives support, in the form of product development, project managers, experts, resources and knowledge. In return, it gets equity shares from the companies it chooses to work with. Itself a bootstrapped endeavor, VenturePact was founded by 22-year-old Penn engineering grads Randy Rayess and Pratham Mittal in 2012. Since launching, they’ve received more than 200 applications, hired 25 in-house developers and nurtured 13 start-ups. One of the biggest success stories so far: locally based health-care IT company AirCare, a mobile and Web app that helps hospitals reduce patient readmission rates.
Make or Break: Recruiting and retaining talent is critical to VenturePact’s success. They’ve amassed a team of former Facebook and Google employees and India-based techies plucked from the country’s most prestigious schools. Their methodology? Recognizing non-viable start-ups and allowing them to fail fast, which saves everyone time and money.