If your startup pitch involves Arkansas, chickens and Bill Clinton, I’ll probably be intrigued. Luckily, Chris Brown, founder of ekrowd, had all three of these magic pitch ingredients and, even luckier for me, I got to sit down with him to get the scoop on his new online co-op platform, living in the land of Wal-Mart, and why backpacking with a toddler is probably a bad idea.
Hey Chris, thanks for taking the time to give us the ekrowd lowdown. Our KillerStartups fans are looking forward to being inspired!
Let’s get started…
Tell us a little about where you’re coming from and what inspired ekrowd.
The idea for ekrowd started about six years ago. I’m a cyclist and I was in the market to buy a $7,000 Trek Madone–same bike Lance Armstrong rode—and I asked the owner of the bike shop if I could get a deal. He said he could get me 10% off, and I said that wasn’t going to quite cut it.
I said, well what if I bought 5? He did the calculations and said he could give me 40% off if I bought 5. I called upfive of my riding buddies and we all bought one. It was a win-win-win: The owner, though he didn’t make the margin of cost per bike, he made it up in volume, he got 4 new customers, and his ranking with the manufacturer increased.
I like to negotiate deals, it’s fun. So, that’s where the idea originated. It’s not a new idea; co-ops have been around for hundreds of years. I still can’t believe there’s still no way to truly just aggregate around something that we as individuals want.
We have an advantage with ekrowd being in Arkansas because I live in Bentonville, Arkansas, which is the Wal-Mart home headquarters (and the most billionaires per capita in the world), so almost every vendor in the world has an office here. So being the retail capital helps us out.
My inspiration for this now is that the groups are already organized–be it Facebook, Twitter, etc.– so I don’t need to create the groups, I just need to find them and show them that there is now a platform that they can take their demand for products and organize together to purchase them.
What’s your office vibe?
We actually work out of the first Arkansas co-worker space, Iceberg. We come and go as we need to work on the project.
What was your last “WOW” moment?
We had an alpha rollout in April on my birthday, and being able to see the idea come to life and seeing people join into crowds has been really great. We did our first deal last week, and it was like “Ok this is really working”. The “WOW” moment really is to get the partners off just the vision and actually seeing it in action.
Brad Cantin is one of the developers that’s been with us from the beginning and he has done a great job building out my vision.
Where do you find inspiration or how do you motivate yourself/your team?
I don’t accept no. I always say, “If we could, how would we?” It’s about asking the right questions and figuring out how to do it.
We grew up listening to stories about Sam Walton who visited every store that was out there whether it was Kmart and Macy’s and found out what they were doing right and wrong and picked pieces from them and implemented it.
We see ourselves as a mix between a Groupon, a Priceline and a Pinterest. If you’re on Pinterest you sometimes wish you could shop. And, with Groupon you want to be able to get deals you’ll want, NOT just some useless chiropractic coupon.
Being able to create your own deal is what we’re trying to do.
Individuals are now having the buying power.
Got any great bootstrapping tips for the lean startups out there?
Plan upfront and making sure you’ve really thought through your plan before going into action. It’s like building a house–it cost way more to make architectural changes in the middle. Of course, It’s hard for ADHD entrepreneurs to wait when we want to just go do.
It’s not perfect when you’re bootstrapping, but just think it through, get it out there and get customer feedback.
Fun questions! What would you be doing if you had one year off and $500,000 to spend?
Funny you asked that. My family and I (wife, and 3-year-old daughter) just spend two months on an island in St. Thomas and literally I sat on the beach everyday to think about what would be my next project, and ekrowd was it.
We had such a great time. It was nice to spend two months solid with my little girl. And, she remembers the trip, so that’s cool.
But, I would say we would probably take a trip around the world. I’ve always wanted to cruise on a sailboat, so we would do that for 6 months and the other 6 months probably backpacking. It’s hard to do the backpacking thing with a 3-year-old though.
The startup world could consume every hour of my life, but now I make it a point to spend time with my family. I leave work everyday at 4:30, I go to the gym and do CrossFit, and then I go home and spend at least 2-3 hours with my daughter and wife. That balance is so important.
App or site you can’t live without?
This is embarrassing, but Facebook. It’s one of those that I can keep up with everyone.
Also, thinkorswim has an amazing trading platform. I check it about 10 times a day.
If you could have lunch with one person, who would it be and what would you talk about?
This is also going to be embarrassing, but I would do lunch with Oprah. She’s accomplished so much and she is a brilliant businessperson. I could learn so much by talking to her and asking her questions.
What do you do for fun in Arkansas?
We have one of the coolest states, but people don’t know it. It’s one of the most beautiful mountainous states. We have rolling mountains, outdoor trails, huge lakes and no traffic!
I’m big into CrossFit. I’ve played basketball my whole life. I do triathlons. I also shoot as a sport. Once the 100 degree weather goes away, we love to be outdoors.
Any parting words of wisdom?
Again, it’s not about the idea, it’s about the execution. You’re going to get down and frustrated but you have to keep at it and LOVE what you do.
Thanks Chris! Awesome interview; I love how ekrowd is putting buying power and deal-making back in the hands of the customer. Oh yes, and I would also love to have lunch with Oprah. After all, I’m no stranger to the OWN Network and all it’s inspiring, tear-producing glory. What a legend.