Posted on 4/4/2013. Interview by Howie Rhee
Tell us about yourself
I have always been interested in the start-up culture. When I was around ten, my mom would always bring me to her office when she had work. Over the course of the next five or so years I got to watch the company expand from a small company called Roving Software, to its eventual IPO as Constant Contact.
Since then I have interned at Durham based School House Apparel, a start-up clothing company founded by Duke graduate Rachel Weeks, and CampusLive (now DailyBreak), an entertainment marketing start-up aimed at college students.
Tell us about your time at Duke, what were you involved in?
I have been involved in several on-campus programs at Duke including Club Basketball and Habitat for Humanity. Freshman year I was involved in the Thompson Writing Program, and was published in Deliberations, the annually published freshman writing journal at Duke. Outside of school, I interned sophomore year for Duke graduate Rachel Weeks at her company School House Apparel.
What's your major/program and when will you be graduating? Tell us something about your educational experience at Duke.
I am a senior BA in computer science.
Although I began at Duke (like many freshman) with Economics and a pre-Medical track in mind, in the first semester of Sophomore year I took the introductory CS class (then compsci 6) simply because I had an open spot in my schedule.
As the semester wore on I found myself dedicating more and more time to computer science, even seeking out extra problems to work on when I had finished my work. When the time came to choose a major the next semester, computer science seemed the obvious choice.
Tell us about your idea.
Gopinion is a mobile and web-based feedback platform that aims to connect businesses and customers by incentivizing users to give private feedback for instantly redeemable mobile rewards.
Our goal is to give usable feedback to businesses, from short (max 30 seconds) incentivized surveys from users.
How did you come up with your idea? When did you come up with it?
Joe, whose father (our COO) owned his own hotel chain and Burger King franchises, grew up reading through stacks of comment cards from his father's establishments. Last May, he called me with an idea of changing the way businesses get feedback. He wanted to change the current survey structure of asking 5 people 100 questions, to asking 100 people 5 questions.
We then worked through the summer brainstorming features, mocking up app pages, talking to developers, and getting feedback from potential users. Since I started school again, I have been dedicated to pushing development forward while Joe and the rest of the team worked on business development and sales.
How did you meet your team members?
I met Joe when I was a freshman in high school, and we have been friends since then.
When I got back to Duke this year after working on Gopinion all summer with Joe, I was looking to build a small development team to work with at school. I talked to a few professors and was directed to a student-taught web development course run by InCube. I pitched Gopinion to the class, and Jonno and Kevin approached me saying that they were interested in working on it with me.
We have been working together since September and built the entire business dashboard together.
How has the Duke Start-Up Challenge been helpful to you?
The Duke Start-Up Challenge has been incredibly helpful. First of all, the feedback from judges has been invaluable. When working on a project, often when you are too close to it you miss a lot of issues. The different perspectives have helped us keep from getting too narrow in our focus.
Also, it has helped us streamline our message and pitch. Throughout the challenge we have tried to simplify everything, and it has really helped in creating our MVP.
The Duke Start-Up Challenge provides a lot of feedback from over 100 judges. Can you talk about that experience of reviewing the feedback?
Going through the feedback was both helpful and interesting. The comments gave us a great chance to see how others viewed our idea.
Getting outside feedback is always incredibly important to us because it gives us different perspectives and allows us to see how potential users are receiving our product. In this case, it was especially helpful because the judges have all had experience growing businesses, and have a much better idea where potential problems and pitfalls lie.
What advice do you have for Duke students that are thinking of starting a company?
Whatever idea you have, go for it. Not only does Duke have a huge amount of students and professors who are interested in start-ups, but Durham has a huge entrepreneurial community. There is a giant network of people to tap into, and you should take advantage of it while you're here.
Anything else you’d like to say?
This has been an unbelievable experience working on Gopinion. From mocking up the app, to actually building the web dashboard, to speaking to business owners and potential users, I have been a part of every part of the business. It has been extremely cool watching it grow, and learning about all aspects of the business on the fly. I can't wait to see what the next year has in store for Gopinion.
Want more? Watch the videos and read the other interviews for all of the Round 3 teams in the Duke Start-Up Challenge
And join us for the Grand Finale with David Cummings ’02 for the 14th Annual Duke Start-Up Challenge on Thursday, April 11th, 2013 at 7:30pm ET at Fuqua’s Geneen Auditorium. RSVP on Facebook
Not able to attend in person? Watch the livestream on Duke’s YouTube channel.