Like a lot of good ideas, the mobile app Blinx happened kind of by accident. Carrie Chitsey, founder and CEO of 3Seventy, came up with a cool gimmick to help stand out at tradeshows and conferences: rather than handing people her business card, she gave them a code and the name of her company and told them to send a text.
Instead of walking away with one more little piece of paper that they could look at later and think, “Was she the blonde or the brunette?” the people that Carrie connected with now had a virtual business card downloaded to their phone. And because her company was the only one doing it, you can bet they didn’t forget who it came from.
The unexpected result, however, was that everyone at the conference wanted their own version. What started out as a fun, quick way to get recognized quickly turned into a potential new product and rather than writing it off, Chitsey and her team did what any good entrepreneurs do: they took the idea and ran with it.
The result is Blinx, “an electronic SMS business card exchange service” that anyone can download for free.
And now it’s time to develop…
Taking the product from personal use to a something that could be utilized by a large audience and monetized, however, was a process. In order for that to happen, her team first focused on product development. On top of improving the technology, they needed a website, a way to get paid, an easy user interface, and a clear business model.
All of that stuff is pretty familiar to any internet entrepreneur. Obviously you have to get your product perfected, no matter what you’re doing. The hardest part, according to Chitsey, was getting the idea patented.
Protecting the product
That process, as with any process that has to do with government bureaucracy, was a hassle and it’s something to consider when you’re developing your own product. Chitsey and her team not only had to document the whole process of developing their technology, they had to re-document it because the government requirements changed.
The initial stage of documentation took them three months, followed by another month or two of changing the format to suit the government sticklers. Even after all of that, they still had to wait four months just for the provisional patent and then another one and half years for the final patent.
So, in total, two years for the patent process. If you’re planning on protecting your product remember this: the government is really, really slow. Don’t expect them to move as fast as you, someone who works in the light speed world of the internet, need them to.
But after all of that boring bureaucracy, Chitsey and her team finally got to release their product and they brought it out with a bang. Timing their release with the 2011 SXSW conference, they rented a 50 foot tour bus and provided three things that everyone loves: loud music, free food, and free drink. Once the crowd was there, all they had to do was introduce the product and let all of their hard work speak for itself.
In keeping with the story of happy accidents, Blinx ended up going way beyond the original idea of helping businesspeople connect. Blinx attracted environmentalists who want to get rid of paper business cards, soccers moms wanting to set up playdates, college students who are into any new tech fad and singles looking to exchange information quickly and easily.
Moral of the story? Pay attention to the random things that pop up in your daily life. Share your ideas, discuss them, and work with the feedback your receive. You never know where they may take you.