Grik.ly is a Jamaica-based business networking mobile app that allows people to exchange contact information and keep it up to date, and enables companies to track engagement at networking events. It is one of the 13 finalists of the VentureOut Internationalization Challenge, which is set to announce its winners tomorrow, November 1.
Sam Raymond: Why is Grik.ly better than other networking products?
Dwayne Samuels: What makes Grik.ly innovative is that we put users first. With the traditional contact-sharing applications, you just share a contact and that’s it. Grik.ly gives you location-based services; it gives you stats based on where you share, who you share with, and the amount of cards you share over a period of time. When it comes to event networking, event planners can know who interacts with their brands, and corporate entities can see how effective their sales force is with the general public.
SR: You basically are an argument for the “entrepreneurs are born” camp. When you made the decision, “I’m going to strike out on my own,” that decision was maybe in your DNA, but what were the biggest obstacles that you faced, or maybe you still face, in doing this for a living?
DS: The funny thing is, I didn’t really think about it before I went into it. I just jumped at it, you know? I just thought, “I’m having problems with business cards, so why don’t I just create an application that solves that problem?” Some people don’t like to jump before they see ground, and it [being an entrepreneur] is like jumping off a cliff and building a plane on the way down.
SR: What have been the biggest resources to you thus far?
DS: The partnership with Microsoft has a part where you get access to up to $35,000 free of software and services. So right now we’re bootstrapping everything. We’re using Azure, which is a cloud platform. We’re using Microsoft Visual Studio. We’ve learned from the way people are using the Windows Phone application and we’ve found some interesting technologies online.
SR: And that’s technology that you’d never be able to pay for without that partnership.
DS: Yeah, that really helped us out. Also, when it comes to access to mentorship, we actually spent close to six months researching before starting coding. We wanted to find out the best way to do this, so we enrolled at the Branson Center of Entrepreneurship. They put us through a 12-week crash course on entrepreneurship. After that, we got on the take-off stage. They networked us with mentors around the world: Phil Derasmo, who is the principal at All Media Interactive in New York, has been helping us with how to engage customers. Also, in Malaysia I met Jeff Hoffman, one of the founders of Priceline.com, and he wants to be our mentor.
SR: So that mentorship was one of the most important things that business incubation gave to you.
SR: Were there any other things that were essential that you could tell us?
DS: Mentorship and networking. It really helps you to understand how people think and how corporations go about their decisions. I haven’t said “funding” because you need to know what you’re doing before you ask for funding. A lot of people say, “I want funding,” and then when they get funding they don’t know what to do with it. So I think you should bootstrap first, and then when you have something viable you should ask for funding so it doesn’t go to waste.
SR: What’s your ultimate goal? Are you looking to get purchased by Microsoft, and how does that end goal relate to your fundraising strategy?
DS: Our end goal is to replace every business card on the planet, and when we tell people that, they’re like, “Oh you can’t do that.” Well, that’s our goal. Our end goal isn’t really to be acquired. If we get acquired, so be it, but it’s not something that I have in mind. I just want to build a really awesome company that in the next five to six years is valued at $800 million to $1 billion.
SR: So your strategy is to offer it for free to get some initial traction. Once you do that, you have proof of concept. What’s the first step? Are you going to crowdfund? Are there angels that you know of? Can you go to the bank?
DS: The longer we can go without funding, the more equity I can ask for at the end of the day. We’re trying to prove the concept, growing it to the biggest size we can without money, and then when we actually need it, we ask for it.
SR: Are you looking at a wealthy individual or more institutional venture capital?
DS: I was talking to a Google investor in Jamaica, and he was saying that if he invests something, he’s putting his network, his name—everything behind it. We want an investor like that. Organizations that push innovation, not just put money there and leave it. When we ask for persons to help us out financially, we want them to put their whole effort behind it. Money isn’t everything.
SR: Do you think the World Bank could help you find those types of people?
DS: Of course! Your network is one of the most powerful. You have a foot in all industries in the world. It would be something that I’d love to happen in the future.
SR: What do you hope to get out of VentureOut?
DS: Access to networks and advice. I want more mentors. I want to assemble the Avengers to make this thing a success. One thing I’ve learned is that any idea, as long as you have an A team behind it, is going to be an awesome idea. I have an A team right now, but I want it to be an A+ team.
SR: You’re the boss.
DS: I hope so! Thanks!