Meet Ryan O'Donnell, founder of Sociagram
, a cloud-based video communication platform with four employees that increases customer acquisition and loyalty for online retailers through video gift messages.
How did you come to be an entrepreneur?
The morning after graduating from Kent State
in 2004, my future wife, Corrie, and I packed a U-Haul and moved to New York without jobs. I found my way to Wall Street for the first year before following my passion and transitioning to Internet marketing/sales.
I left an entrepreneurial role at Yahoo! in 2011 and realized that building businesses from the ground up was equally as hard as it was rewarding. Instead of getting another job, I chose to invent my next job.
What do people enjoy most about sending a video message with their gifts?
Our technology helps make the gift-giver a hero by delivering a wow
experience. We make it really simple to personalize an online purchase. Most of the messages we see are sent from people who are geographically separated and the reply back option encourages a conversation that otherwise might not have taken place.
How did you transition from your first business, Let’s Gift It, to Sociagram?
Facebook bought a company in June 2012 that they turned into the Facebook Gifts product. We saw this as an indicator that they were going to eat our lunch. Since we had outside capital invested in the company we were resolved to do anything possible to ensure that we’d do right by the folks who trusted us with their money.
We began testing new features and talking to prospective customers. This strategy indicated a need for a product that incorporated social, mobile and video. And Sociagram was born.
What is the biggest struggle or hurdle you had to overcome and how did you overcome it?
We ran out of cash in 2012 and financed operations on my credit card for six months without salaries. I’m sure greater people have sacrificed more, but for co-founder and CTO Marco DiDomenico and I, it was hard.
My son was two months old at the time, we had just moved back to Cleveland from New York. The momentum generated from staying focused, continuing to onboard new customers, and closing a deal with a major retailer served as the catalyst for a JumpStart investment of $250,000 in March 2013.
What advice would you give to someone starting or joining a startup in Cleveland?
Cleveland is a great place to start a company. Access to non-dilutive and early stage capital creates a path for seeding a startup from idea, to MVP, to product market fit. If you need more than just capital, local accelerators can be a viable path. There are a lot of smart accomplished executives in the region too.
Can you share a funny or amazing entrepreneurial experience with our readers?
Marco and I took a train from NYC to Long Island for our first major business meeting in 2011. It was 98 degrees and we got off at the wrong train station. There were no taxis in sight. I called our contact who picked us up in a Nissan Maxima with a back seat full of empty child car seats. Marco sat up front while I sat in a child seat with my head tilted to the side, face flush against the ceiling all the way to corporate headquarters. We all joked and laughed about the experience during and after the trip. People buy from and invest in people they know, like, and trust. We ended up closing the deal.