The holidays are coming up… Here’s a list of great gifts to get for your loved ones via startups straight out of Domi!
Get Started is a program designed to help our local startup community grow. Through our cohort, we help startups test their ideas and bring them into reality. Get to know the companies that made up our Spring 2018 Cohort!
Over the past few months, our team has been meeting up with local restaurants in hopes of getting to know them, their work, and their mission like never before. We want to highlight what makes them special in our community and with #TheNeighborhood, we did just that. Here’s PART TWO.
Over the past few months, our team has been meeting up with local restaurants in hopes of getting to know them, their work, and their mission like never before. We want to highlight what makes them special in our community and with #TheNeighborhood, we did just that.
In January 2018, Domi Station was awarded a $35,000 matching grant from the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation fund at the Community Foundation of North Florida. Domi will use the funding to support its flagship incubator program Get Started, adding resources to strengthen the program and ensure its continued positive impact on the community.
“I’m proud to say that over the last four years, we have engaged 113 early-stage startup teams through incubator programs,” said Lucas Lindsey, Domi’s former Executive Director. “Knight Foundation and the Community Foundation of North Florida have been great partners since Domi first opened in 2014, this grant is a renewed sign of confidence in our ability to execute and make a difference.”
Over the next few months Domi’s new Executive Director, Antonio Montoya, will be working closely with our Board of Directors to match the $35,000. “I have no doubt that our local business partners and funders will raise to the occasion and help us meet, and perhaps exceed, the matching goal so that we can continue to serve entrepreneurs turn their ideas into sustainable businesses.”
Knight Foundation is a national organization that supports journalism, the arts and communities; its support of this project through the community foundation helps to highlight Tallahassee’s growth and its emerging innovation. The support will help Domi advance its mission to empower early-stage entrepreneurs to scale up, connect with the community and local resources, and give the future a home.
“Our startup community has made it to the national radar and it can only continue to go up from here as we build and continue to empower local talent!” said Montoya.
About the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation
Knight Foundation is a national foundation with strong local roots. We invest in journalism, in the arts, and in the success of cities where brothers John S. and James L. Knight once published newspapers. Our goal is to foster informed and engaged communities, which we believe are essential for a healthy democracy.
To our friends, partners, and members--thank you all for your support as we have waded through a time of transition. We are excited to announce some important news. After interviewing candidates from across the Southeast, our Board of Directors has selected Antonio Montoya to lead Domi forward as our new Executive Director. Antonio and his family will relocate to Tallahassee from Huntsville, Alabama, a significant decision that we feel speaks both to Antonio’s commitment and the attractive energy of our community’s entrepreneurial ecosystem.
There is so much momentum right now--if you haven't had a chance to read our look back on all that's happened over the last few years, please give it a read here. Antonio will work with Domi's team, Board of Directors, and members to build on the foundation that has been laid.
“I am very excited to join Domi's team and continue the great work started by Micah and Lucas," said Montoya. "I believe that Tallahassee is well on its way to create a truly inclusive and diverse startup community, I see Domi as a key catalyst for it, and I can’t wait to add to this effort leveraging Domi’s resources as a convener, incubator, and accelerator."
Antonio did not just meet the qualifications our Board of Directors were searching for in a new Executive Director--he exceeded them. Montoya last served as Executive Director of HuntsvilleWest, a high-impact coworking space serving the greater Huntsville area. Prior to HuntsvilleWest, Montoya made significant contributions to the growth of the startup ecosystem in North Alabama launching a broad range of initiatives under the Rocket Hatch umbrella, a non-profit entrepreneur support organization he co-founded.
He has also supported state and national efforts including Alabama Launchpad and the SXSW Accelerator, and is a member of the Startup Champions Network, a national organization focused on innovation ecosystem building. Prior to Rocket Hatch, Montoya held executive positions at several global technology companies and has been involved in multiple startup ventures since his college days.
David Lawson, the Chair of Domi’s Board, was impressed by Antonio’s deep background in tech, business development, and building a startup community in another midsize Southeast city.
“Antonio leaves Huntsville with a legacy of spurring growth and excitement around entrepreneurship,” Lawson said. “Everyone speaks highly of his integrity and hard work, and now we have the opportunity to incorporate his experience, network, and vision into the next phase of Tallahassee’s development.”
Our incoming leader will hit the ground running over the next few weeks, officially taking over the role of Executive Director on April 1st. This timeline leaves our team multiple months of crossover before Lucas departs for Phoenix in late June.
“Antonio brings a wealth of executive experience particularly in the areas of startup incubation and coworking," said Jake Kiker, Domi Co-Founder and Board Vice-Chair. “Most importantly, Antonio shares our vision of a collaborative approach to growth by leveraging all local and regional players, and connecting us and our members at the national level.”
Please join everyone at Domi Station in welcoming Antonio and Ana to our community! To find out a little more about their impressive work in Huntsville, click here!
A few years ago, when I was first exploring Tallahassee's seven hills, before I’d figured out the difference between Tennessee and Mahan or, more complicated still, Macomb, Railroad, and Wannish, I wrote an article about the room by the railroad. I wrote about Tallahassee as I saw it, through the eyes of a newcomer, someone who had moved from a metro of 4,500,000 to a metro of 370,000 while my wife took on the challenge of earning a Phd. I didn’t know it at the time, but I was writing about the room where I’d spend the next four years of my life, working days and nights and weekends now and then to help people believe in things bigger than themselves.
Fast forward and Domi, true to its name, has become a home. Like others searching for a like-minded community in a new place, I found a family here. I learned to lead here. Indeed, I grew up here. It has been my greatest honor to help shape and execute Domi’s mission. The results have created a strong foundation for all that comes next. Since our opening, Domi member companies have collectively raised $5.4m in investment and grants, fueling this city's growing fire of innovation and entrepreneurship.
Notably, Domi began as a meetup group, gaining momentum by gathering people. We've kept that going each and every year, organizing or hosting 465 events at Domi Station since the doors opened. From data science meetups to hackathons with Visit Tallahassee and Florida A&M, these events engaged and, I can only hope, inspired thousands of North Florida residents of all ages, backgrounds, and interests.
Without a doubt, Tallahassee's visibility as a startup community has increased, earning shoutouts as a Top 50 City for Entrepreneurs and strengthening connections to major startup hubs in places like Raleigh/Durham, Atlanta, Chattanooga, and Miami. Over the last few years, Domi's website alone has collected over 163,000 views. Don't let anyone tell you different: there are eyes on this city.
People have grown more confident, more empowered, and fallen more in love with Tallahassee. Even those who have left, or will leave, often feel a certain debt to this community because it believed in them, embraced them, and let them have an impact. If I had to list all of the companies and entrepreneurs creating that impact, this post would go on and on. Amazingly, Domi's incubator programs--flagships like Get Started, TCAP, and PowerUP--have engaged with 113 early-stage teams since we opened our doors in 2014. Every one of them was important to the movement.
More than a mere business incubator, I believe Domi has become a place where Tallahassee challenges itself and its history, however unjust, to go above and beyond, to defy stereotypes, and to become a community worth calling home. I'm most proud to say that over the last two years, 50% of our Get Started participants were people of color and 40% were women. Domi has become a place where people who wouldn’t have otherwise met meet. And perhaps that, however humble, is actually its most notable achievement.
Thank you to Micah, Jake, David, and John for welcoming me to the family. Thank you to our Board of Directors for your mentorship. Thank you to Sabrina and Dominick for having my back. Thank you to our sponsors and partners who believe, organizations like Leon County, Florida A&M University, and Florida State University. Thank you, Tallahassee, for letting me be a part of this amazing moment in your history. I cannot wait to follow along as you continue to build your future.
I’ll close the same way I closed that first article because, in spite of all the metrics and momentum of the last few years, some fundamental things remain true, and more work remains.
“It's pretty clear that nobody is here by accident. Everyone is right where they need to be, and if they work together they might do more than just build businesses—they might help change the way we talk about an entire community.”
After months of preparation alongside our Board of Directors, staff, and community partners, Lucas Lindsey will be stepping down as Domi’s Executive Director at the end of March.
Lucas has played a core role in Domi’s operation and growth since our nonprofit first opened its doors almost four years ago. He was hired as Domi’s Community Manager in May 2014, serving as the organization’s first employee. In July 2016, Lucas was named Executive Director, marking the beginning of a phase we affectionately called Domi 2.0.
“Without a doubt, Tallahassee is a different, more dynamic city than the one I moved to for grad school six years ago, and I’m proud that Domi has played a role in making that happen,” Lucas said. “Our community is in a strong position to double down on the recent momentum toward building a robust entrepreneurial ecosystem.”
During Lucas’ time as Executive Director, Domi hit a number of important milestones, such as
- Engaging 58 early-stage startup teams in a Domi incubator program;
- Increasing the diversity of our Get Started program, with women representing 40% and people of color representing 50% of participants;
- Launching I/O Avenue, a nonprofit digital skills academy, in partnership with Florida A&M University and the Mayor’s Office
“Lucas was pivotal over the last few years to the activity and impact of Domi Station,” said David Lawson, Chairman of Domi’s Board of Directors, “Under his leadership, we saw strong growth in membership, programming, and community partnerships. He will be missed, but we couldn’t be happier for his family as they take on the next phase of life.”
Lucas plans to relocate this summer to Phoenix, where his wife has accepted a faculty position at Arizona State University. Returning to his roots in urban planning and real estate, he will be joining Venue Projects, a redevelopment practice active across Arizona.
For Lawson and Domi’s Board members, the next steps are clear: Finalize the selection of a new Executive Director and execute a smooth transition. To that end, Lucas will remain available to the team as a consultant through June.
“We have spent the last few months interviewing experienced, entrepreneurial candidates from across the country,” Lawson said. “We are excited to be nearing the finish line, and we will have an announcement ready within the next few weeks.”
If there is one thing that Hair on Earth would tell you in this very moment, it might just be their tagline: Stay Cute. Hair On Earth is a local hair salon that empowers you to be exactly who you are, inside and out. We explored what makes them go beyond a typical salon to make their customer experience impactful and give people so much more than meets the eye.
This year, Hair on Earth celebrates 20 years of business, but it wasn’t always what it is today. The locally owned hair salon experienced a fundamental shift that forever changed the atmosphere into one of self-empowerment for stylists and customers alike. Their entrepreneurial story is not a traditional one, mainly because the current owners did not start the business. Hair on Earth’s CEOs, Will and Holly Galotti, took the reins just 10 years ago.
Will Galotti started out at Hair on Earth as a stylist under its original management. After working there for several years, he began to notice a decline in the atmosphere affecting both the work environment and clientele. Rather than standing by and watching the business fail, he began working with his boss on revamping traditional methods and implementing new systems to improve the company. At that point, it did not take long for Will to become a partner and, in 2008, CEO, along with his wife Holly. With their fresh ideas and leadership, Hair On Earth became an eclectic space for hair stylists to grow as artists and customers to explore themselves in a salon where no haircut nor color is too out of the park.
When the Galottis took over, the business model and work environment were restructured to include effective restocking systems, better work-home balance for employees, and active support for each individual as an artist.
“Greatness doesn’t happen by accident, it happens with intention. His approach to the staff is unlike any salon owner I have ever encountered. And that is largely what has led to the growth of our artists,” longtime employee Britney White told us. “He finds ways to work in opportunities for the stylists to do more than just see guests all day every day. Last year he started funding two Look Book Photoshoots a year for stylists to really express themselves and try new trends.”
The creativity that now flows through Hair on Earth has formed an exciting, inspiring, and tight-knit team that continues to encourage each other’s ideas and creations. This culture shift produces an authentic atmosphere unique to the hair salon. They pridefully reject the toxic standards of attractiveness set by the beauty industry. Instead, Hair on Earth embraces everyone's individuality, believing they are already attractive. And that’s why when you walk into Hair on Earth the only thing that matters is that you “Stay cute”.
We are proud to announce a new role at Domi Station: Entrepreneur in Residence. Dominick Ard'is, who previously served as our Director of Programs, will take on the title and take up the important responsibility of all that the new position means to us.
After his years as both a Rattler and then a Seminole, Dominick spent time with Booz Allen Hamilton in Minneapolis, but he will be the first to tell you that while he was gone Tallahassee kept calling his name. Eventually, he found his way back home, ready to dive into the growing startup community and take on a leadership role at Domi Station. As our team and Board of Directors worked hard to spin up Domi 2.0, Dominick took the lead on implementing Get Started and PowerUP.
The results speak for themselves. Over the last three cohorts, Get Started has served thirty-three early-stage startup teams, leading to the launch of companies like Fly Mouthwash, One Fresh Pillow, Footy Training, and more. Equally important, especially to established small businesses hungry to grow and innovate, was PowerUP, an intensive deep dive into the people, products, and processes of five local-area businesses. Thanks to the support of First Commerce Credit Union, PowerUP's first cohort included Catalina Café, Nic's Toggery, Secure Records Solutions, Chop Barbershop, and FL Aviation Center. First Commerce recently published a great set of testimonials from each participant that you can find here.
The best entrepreneurs never stop creating, though. Even as he worked day and night alongside Domi's incubator members, Dominick found high-impact ways to stay active in the greater-Tallahassee ecosystem. Last fall, in partnership with the School of Business and Industry at FAMU, he launched ACT House, a leadership and startup house that gives three students one year to build and launch a technology product. His work made waves and turned heads--this week he and the ACT House team traveled to speak at Black Tech Week in Miami.
Here at Domi, we're committed to a handful of simple things. Things like empowering early-stage entrepreneurs, building the most diverse startup community in the Southeast, and practicing what we preach by having our team members stay hands-on as creators and builders.
Since we believe in those things, we want to put our money where our mouth is and create a system that allows talented entrepreneurs like Dominick to have an impact not just at Domi through the facilitation of programs but across the wider ecosystem as active founders. As Domi's inaugural Entrepreneur in Residence, Dominick will continue to play a central role at Domi architecting and managing flagship programs like Get Started, but he will also have time to plant more seeds in the ecosystem by working directly on startups like ACT House.
Our team is really excited about this shift. We feel it illustrates our commitment to continuous improvement and the refinement of our approach, especially as Tallahassee's startup community grows and matures.
But we're also excited to say that this announcement gets even better. In addition to Dominick's continued leadership and hard work, Domi will be strengthened by the addition of Ido David, a former investment banking consultant at Barclays who will also join as an Entrepreneur in Residence and co-facilitate this Spring's Get Started cohort alongside Dominick.
Ido comes to Domi from Israel, a tech powerhouse known across the globe as a thriving entrepreneur ecosystem thanks to startups like Waze, Fiverr, and Wix. We are thankful to have Ido in Tallahassee, and fortunate to levergage his rich experience in high-growth investment banking. While at Barclays, Ido was active in assisting companies through mergers, acquisitions, and public offerings, so he adds a good deal of depth and perspective to the Domi team.
Over the coming months, we'll share more stories about what Dominick, Ido, and all of this Spring's Get Started entrepreneurs are working on. If you’d like to follow along, please sign up for our newsletter.
When Bryant Joseph and Connor Grady studied at Florida State University, they wanted one thing: for local food truck Kübanos to deliver their delicious Cuban cuisine in a convenient and cost-effective way. At the time, there was no service in Tallahassee that adequately tapped into everyone’s introspective longing for low-cost delivery from their favorite local restaurants.
After Joseph and Grady graduated from FSU, they began building their concept and developed a concession delivery app which they presented to their friend Zach Zelner, CEO of Z Baked. The team fused Joseph and Grady's tech expertise with Zelner’s operations experience to create an independent, tech-based food delivery service called Penny Delivery! Aside from fulfilling college-day yearnings, Penny's main goal is to solve a clear problem: Tallahassee needed an efficient delivery service for non-fast food options.
Penny Delivery is a service that delivers food from local restaurants like Kiku Japanese Fusion, Madison Social, Guthrie's, and Starbucks who typically do not offer delivery services. “We route orders very competently and our entire model is predicated on achieving a level of efficiency that is necessary for us to sustain what we do,” Joseph tells us.
The structure of Penny’s network of drivers is formulated to allow space for service expansion, where partnerships with retail stores hold a lot of promise for future endeavors. “Any local store can have same-day shipping as an option,” Joseph says. “We have a network of drivers who are already delivering, which lets us make other kinds of deliveries more efficiently.”
From their versatile experiences of living and operating here for a period of time, Joseph, Grady, and Zelner have gained a unique understanding of the geography and customer base in Tallahassee. The capital city serves as a testbed for exploring other opportunities in a market in which they have familiarity. The founding team constantly works to understand and meet the needs of the ever-evolving market. However, their eye remains focused on why they started in the first place. “It’s always good to solve a problem that you experienced first hand, that’s what happened with Penny Delivery,” says Joseph. Tallahassee can now order Kübanos for the fee of a penny.
Next time you're hungry, treat-yo-self by eating out without going out. Order from Penny Delivery’s array of food and snacks at any time of the day. Companies interested in doing business with Penny may contact headquarters here.
Somehow, someway, it's already that time of year, so we went ahead and made a guide to help you spread some holiday cheer! Here's a curated list of 10 Domi startups—be they online or IRL—that offer the perfect holiday gifts for anyone in your life. So break out your credit card and check out all these startups have to sell! 🎄🎁
For the Tosser & Turner
Your friends and family deserve better than to go into 2018 with a stiff neck after a bad night's sleep. One Fresh Pillow is the world's first pillow subscription service. These upstarts invented and patented a new kind of pillow perfect for side and back sleepers. Give the gift of a good night's sleep!
Can't-Miss Gift: The Dreambox
For the Rad Friend
Fashion trends constantly change, but this startup is always up-to-date. Olde Fields is a Gaines Street classic, an on-trend local boutique packed full of apparel, jewelry and accessories for both women and men.
Can't-Miss Gift: All Power to the People tee
For the Traveler in Your Life
Sometimes the best gift is new (and possibly life-changing) experiences. Driftour is a one-of-a-kind subscription serving for local immersions, staycations, and unique tours through the very best of Tallahassee.
Can't-Miss Gift: 3 Month Staycationer Membership
For a Trip Down Memory Lane
There is never a reason to not wear a conversation-starting tee. Local Vyntage takes nostalgia to a whole new level with premium fitted apparel. If you remember the Silver Slipper, then this has your name written all over it.
Can't-Miss Gift: Noles 'Get Loud' Tee
For the Passionate Pet Owner
So your friend never stops talking about their new chihuahua (or pet rock, we don't judge). DivvyUp is a 1 for 1 custom sock company that'll put your furry friend's face right on a pair of high-quality socks. They're already booked until Christmas, but gift cards make for the perfect stocking stuffer!
Can't-Miss Gift: Gift Card Good for One Pair of Custom Pet Socks
For Those Who Love to Give Back
Big brands try but there's nothing like the real deal. Woven Futures partners with Guatemalan artisans to import hand-crafted shoes, bags, and bracelets. It's fashion with purpose, and all products support the women who make them.
Can't-Miss Gift: Amarillo Cosmetic Bag
For the Trendsetter
Introduce authentic Tallahassee fashion to a new set of eyes. EyeDope is a stylewear movement born right here in Florida's capital city. They design and sell premium sunglasses that are guaranteed to give you a #dopemoment every time you rock a pair.
Can't-Miss Gift: The Jag Multi-Hue
For the Sweet Tooth
The only thing better than a box of chocolates is a box of pretty gourmet chocolates. Chocolate Shanah is a local chocolatier featuring unique, artistic creations by Shanah, a Parisian trained Master Chocolatier. These beautiful sweets are perfect for those that love the finer things in life.
Can't-Miss Gift: Set of 6 Bonbons
For the Fitness Lover
Working out is a necessary evil. Thankfully there's ways to make the process as fun as possible. DripDrop is a group fitness studio that's sure to make you sweat, even while you have a good time. Their classes include yoga, dance cardio, and toning.
Can't-Miss Gift: 5 Class Pass
For the Pup in Your Life
Some people believe there is a limit to how much one should spoil their dog. Gourmet Pup Club doesn't. Customize all-natural dog treat boxes, including birthday cakes or monthly treats, delivered right to your doorstep! Give your pup the love (aka full-belly) they deserve.
Can't-Miss Gift: Monthly Treater & Eater box
“Entrepreneurs are seen as change agents in communities and I had never ascribed to such an aspiring label before, but there’s power to ascribing to what you aspire to be. So that’s kind of how I got started.” Val Rodriguez, co-founder and CEO of Driftour, never foresaw herself as a tech startup founder. Like many, Val didn’t know what being an entrepreneur really meant. However, in entrepreneurship she found the perfect avenue to pursue her passion for community growth, which led to the creation of Driftour.
Driftour is a micro-tourism subscription service for Tallahassee’s local and visiting explorers, who seek authentic and unique adventures. It offers locals two kinds of subscriptions, Solo Staycationer and Staycationer Duo. These packages provide Tallahassee residents with various options to engage locally in a brand new way. They include one monthly immersion, an exclusive event held and hosted by a local business, and access to self-guided tours. For visitors, the company offers The Weekender. This package gives visitors access to locally themed self-guided tours for the duration of their stay, as well as itineraries they can follow at their own pace based on the kind of Tallahassee experience they seek. Through Driftour, anyone with a traveler’s soul can explore the capital city in an unprecedented way.
Val’s experiences as a student at Tallahassee Community College and Florida State University set the foundation to start a business that cultivates her vision of impacting systemic change in communities. She now gives back to the city that gave her everything to pursue her passion. It began at TCC where she was student government vice president and attended conferences, spoke in front of 300+ students, and developed her resume. “I have so much love for TCC. I was able to accomplish a lot of great things that began to shape me into the professional I am today, because I opened the door and asked a question,”.
At Florida State University, Val’s undergraduate studies did not initially involve the college of business. Instead, she gravitated towards social sciences and opportunities like the social entrepreneurship specialization. There, she was invited to attend an interdisciplinary design thinking exchange program with students from the College of Communication and Information. Through this program, Val and 4 FSU STARS (Students & Technology in Academia, Research, and Service) students went to Puerto Rico with the task to partner with creative entrepreneurship students from the Universidad del Sagrado Corazón and prototype a business idea. Val and her partners formulated an events calendar that would allow locals from different parts of the island to connect with other locals and exchange tourism information. Residents would then use the platform to discover new parts of Puerto Rico. The bedrock of the prototype were local businesses thriving with genuine community interest and support, while producing economic growth. It would also attract tourists interested in local authentic experiences and invite them to get to know and invest in Puerto Rico. “When you shop at the local businesses, the local establishments, the corner store with the really good pinchos, you become a traveler who invests in community growth,” Val explained. Going through the exchange program gave Val the idea of bringing an initiative like this to Tallahassee.
After graduating, Val and Chelsea Schneider, Driftour’s co-founder and Val’s former business partner, started Driftour and applied to Domi Station’s Get Started incubator program. “I didn’t get into Get Started, but they told me I could reach out to them, so I did. They reviewed the problems in my application and gave me a year’s worth of membership to work on those problems,” Val said. “A really cool aspect about Domi is that even though I didn’t get into the program, I showed an initiative to get productive feedback and they opened up resources for me. That personal connection is more apparent in smaller cities.”
Val and Chelsea used Domi’s mentors and coworking space to work on Driftour. They participated in 1 Million Cups and began testing out immersions with local businesses, which exposed Driftour to a whole new network bringing in pivotal results. “The best part of growing professionally in Tallahassee is working alongside revolving doors of people passionately working to uplift the community,” said Val. “You’re a part of something bigger in Tallahassee.”
From that moment, Driftour progressed to an easily-navigable, user and mobile-friendly web-app with GPS directions for each immersion. Last month, Driftour beta launched with “The Barista Experience Immersion” hosted by Red-Eye Coffee. This event takes staycationers through a coffee triad by learning how to make lattes with baristas and how to brew your own coffee using different methods. The immersions allow local business owners to form a meaningful bond with customers while delving into a different and engaging marketing approach. Local businesses and organizations can reach out to Val to hold immersions or sponsor self-guided tours. Hosting an immersion with Driftour results less costly than regular marketing fees and brings new traffic through the door.
For some, the misconception that Tallahassee doesn’t offer much past college and government resources is prevalent. Val invites residents and visitors to get to know Tallahassee, see what it offers, and get inspired by the people living and dreaming in the capital city. There is a community culture waiting to be explored. “Driftour is for those with exploratory tastebuds,” Val emphasizes. “We are your guide to the local current.”
It’s 6 A.M. and your alarm goes off. You wake up, shut it off, and put your socks on. But these aren’t just any socks. These socks carry you through your day. These socks are sometimes the only ones there to see you succeed or fail. These socks know and share your struggle. These socks help you build your story every day. They tell tales of the bold who take “no” and turn it into “keep going”. They are worn by the movers and shakers that turn problems into opportunities.
Until now, these socks didn’t have a face or story of their own. But that changes today. Introducing Sockpreneurs, a collaboration between DivvyUp and Domi Station to raise funds for the first ever Get Started scholarship. This initiative will also aid DivvyUp’s mission of donating a pair of socks to a homeless shelter with every pair of Sockpreneurs sold.
Starting today until October 25th you may purchase a pair or two (or more!) and pick them up on November 3rd during our Sock Party at Domi. Your purchase can make a huge impact. Only 47 pairs are needed to get an entire company through the program.
So let’s break it down, when you buy a pair, you donate a pair to a homeless shelter AND help fund an entrepreneur’s journey. That’s a pretty amazing story for your socks to tell. Wear them when you need an extra kick of motivation, inspiration, boldness, or even grooviness. Create impact and celebrate with us the growth of our local startup community! Get your sockpreneurs today: divvyupsocks.com/domi
Michael Bracciale worked full-time and then some. He spent all day, five of them a week, at a desk with a South Florida zip code, a recent college-grad carving out a career in healthcare recruiting. He made calls and sent emails. He cracked jokes with coworkers and, when necessary, nodded in meetings. He did the things he needed to do, the things he’d been told his whole life he had to do, but it wasn’t enough. That didn’t bother him much, though, because he had a plan. It wasn’t like most plans, the kind where you bide your time and bite your tongue and climb the corporate ladder. Instead, this plan involved a billion dollar chemist, fresh breath on the fly, and a business partner up north in Tallahassee named Nick Telford.
Then one day, as summer set in on 2017, the plan went into motion. After months of meeting the chemist on his lunch hour, months of coming home to work on the plan at night, Bracciale’s partner called him and said the time had come. It was now or never. “Burn the boats,” Telford told him. “We can’t go back.”
Before the plan was the plan, it was December 2015 and final exam week at Florida State University. Bracciale and Telford sat studying at Strozier library when they suddenly faced something of a serious collegiate problem. An attractive classmate walked up and asked Bracciale for help studying. He’d have been game if it weren’t for the ghost of malodorous meals past. Without a quick way to fix his breath, he made up an excuse and went home to rinse with mouthwash, but by the time he got back to the library the girl and, as it were, his newly freshened breath were gone.
This left the duo with a question, “Why isn’t there anything that’s effective at killing bad breath AND easily portable?”
For the next couple of weeks, Bracciale and Telford spent time researching small, on-the-go products that got rid of bad breath as opposed to just providing short, temporary relief. They came up empty-handed, which, to a couple of entrepreneurs, meant only one thing: It was time to create. And so, the plan for FLY Mouthwash, a highly concentrated product designed to deliver the same effectiveness as an at-home mouthwash with the convenience of fitting in your pocket, was laid.
By 2025, the global oral care industry is expected to reach $41 billion in value. In the U.S., the industry has significant penetration, with experts anticipating a mere 1-2% growth annually. New product development remains one of the few ways the industry will expand, but corporate behemoths write the rules and control the playing field. Just four major firms--The Procter & Gamble Co, Colgate-Palmolive Co, Johnson & Johnson Consumer Products Inc and GlaxoSmithKline Consumer Health--control 73% of oral care retail.
But FLY isn’t intimidated. On the contrary, they’re motivated by the opportunity to compete. Bracciale said that precisely because of the size of the industry, the FLY team feels they can create a brand that capitalizes on what established players have overlooked. “We see room for the chance to innovate upon a widely used product,” said Bracciale.
Talking a big innovation game is one thing. Delivering on it is another, which is why Bracciale and Telford have been focused on product quality from day one. “It had to be good,” said Telford.
After that fateful finals day in the library, the two ordered potential ingredients and created the first prototype in Bracciale’s kitchen. But the results were less than, shall we say, fresh. Looking back on those first batches, Bracciale admits, “It couldn’t have gone much worse---it made the smell worse, actually.” They knew they needed professional help, and so they did it old school, knocking on doors and burning up the phone lines.
The team searched for someone to develop the product, but faced hurdles attracting chemists to come on board. At one point, they flew to New Jersey to meet with a manufacturer only to wait for months without word and then be turned down. But instead of closing up shop and updating their resumes, they dug in.
Telford googled ‘oral care chemist,’ picked up the phone, and went down the list, cold calling everyone he could find. Turned down by more than 20 chemists, Telford finally stumbled into a call with Dr. Martin Giniger, an oral-care chemist with 20 years experience in the industry who has helped create products grossing more than $10 billion. Dr. Giniger’s formula now fills every bottle of FLY Mouthwash.
FLY’s chemist isn’t the only experienced advisor to have thrown their weight behind the bold, young company. In fact, if the mouthwash business doesn’t work out, Bracciale and Telford could make a mint traveling the country and selling out seminars on how to build all-star teams.
First to join was Tracey Priest, Owner of Strategic Marketing Partners and 25-year veteran of the consumer product goods industry. Priest was recruited after he walked, unsuspecting, onto FSU’s campus and gave a guest lecture to an entrepreneurship class. Telford received a text from a friend in the class: “You need to get over here right now, this guy would be a perfect fit for FLY.” Telford ran across campus, breathing hard but arriving with a homemade bottle sample in hand. Priest would later become FLY’s Chief Marketing Officer.
Over the summer, the team landed their first investor, Stuart Lasher. Lasher, the Tampa-based Founder, Chairman & CEO of Quantum Capital Partners, Inc. is a fellow FSU-alum and College of Business Hall of Fame Inductee. His $100,000 seed investment gave FLY the ability to manufacture an initial order of 7,000 bottles in Ohio, build a new website, run clinical trials, and invest in marketing their product launch. The team had been in contact with Lasher for more than a year, sometimes without a response, working to prove the value of their idea.
“We are grateful that Stuart believed in us. It wasn’t easy to convince him either...We lost a lot of sleep, but it was all worth it. I’ve never learned more about business strategy, detailed planning and myself over those four months,” Telford said. “It came to a point where we weren’t even chasing the money anymore, it was more about the partnership we wanted with Stuart. Working with him was way more valuable than any dollar figure we could receive.”
Last fall, FLY dove into Get Started, Domi Station’s incubator program for early-stage entrepreneurs. They attended weekly cohort classes, interviewed customers, and even earned a $1,000 pitch prize courtesy of Tallahassee’s Chamber of Commerce. Having recently completed the second half of Get Started, the team is now preparing for a November soft launch (they’ve recruited a brand ambassador force to distribute and sell across FSU) and an official rollout in January 2018, when they will begin fulfilling orders direct to consumers through both their website and Amazon. The goal now--bottomline--is to sell bottles, and with the help of the Tallahassee community, FLY hopes to gain enough traction to get into big box retail by the summer of 2018.
“FSU’s College of Business and Jim Moran Institute were great launch pads, and Domi Station was really the gasoline that ignited the fire,” said Telford. “Without it, we wouldn’t be able to see or speak to people who have been through the journey, people who have failed, who have succeeded and who are always willing to help.”
For Dominick Ard’is, Domi’s Director of Incubation Programs and facilitator through the Get Started process, the most inspiring thing has been FLY’s commitment to their vision. “Nick and Mike were told no so many times,” he said.
Care for an example? Telford was an early-adopter of Cyber Dust, a messaging app that debuted in 2014 with support from Mark Cuban, billionaire and owner of the Dallas Mavericks. Through the app, Telford connected with Cuban, wasting no time to pitch the Shark himself on FLY’s vision for concentrated, on-the-go mouthwash. Cuban told him, frankly, “I would rather use gum or mints.”
Undeterred, Telford fired back, “Well, you can try it on the shelves someday.”
“They trusted the process,” Ard’is said. “They questioned their assumptions through countless focus groups and product testing, refined their product, and became very clear on their brand objectives, not just in having a logo but having a brand that customers can truly experience."
That plan they have? You better believe it’s backed up by hard work.
In some ways, FLY’s story is like any other startup taking on the world--that compelling moment when an entrepreneur recognizes a problem firsthand, their brashness in thinking they can solve it, and the absurdity of actually trying--but in more important ways it isn’t.
Because FLY’s is a story of relentlessness and getting-their-hands-dirty grind (both co-founders still pick up bartending shifts on nights and weekends). It’s a story of leveraging every resource and snowballing intros across networks. A story of being motivated by ‘No.’ That’s the story of FLY, of how it got where it is today, and, if Bracciale and Telford keep at it, it’ll be the story of how they get where they are going, wherever that may be, armed with their audacity, a burning desire to make their own way through the world, and yes, it must be said, the freshest breath around.
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