This story is part of a series featuring each of the fourteen startups in the CYstarters 2022 summer cohort. Each student has the opportunity to focus on their startup or business idea while receiving $6,500 or up to $13,000 (per team), along with mentorship, accountability, and educational sessions on how to build a business.
By Samantha Dilocker, ISU Pappajohn Center for Entrepreneurship
Education: Junior majoring in management information systems
Hometown: Naperville, IL
Currently working on: Kreative BigWin, which allows customers to accelerate sales and marketing efforts with an omni-channel drip platform that automates various types of communication between businesses and customers.
Have you always seen yourself starting something?
Yeah, I would say so. I was never allowed to get a job in high school, so I had to hustle and make money somehow. I guess my entrepreneurial efforts started in elementary school. It was never really a choice. I had to do this stuff.
When did you start working on Kreative BigWin, and who or what inspired you?
I had the idea in 2019 when I ran my first Hackathon. I met a wicked programmer guy, and I was like, ‘Hey man, let’s build this thing. We’ll just make it really cheap, and hopefully, people will buy it.’ He didn’t go for it, which is fine, but I kinda had the idea in the back of my head. Then around February of this year, Karen Kerns called me and asked me to apply to the Student Innovation Fund Challenge, and I was like, ‘Okay, well, I better come up with something.’ So I had her on the phone, and I told her, ‘I have an idea, and I don’t think it’ll change the world, but I think it could make some money.’ I pitched it to her, and she liked it. So, I used the Innovation Fund Challenge to get people around the idea. From there, I built a team, built out the idea, and pitch decks for the Innovation Fund Challenge and CYstarters. If Karen hadn’t called me, I don’t think any of this would have happened. I knew about CYstarters when I got to Iowa State, but for some reason, I never thought I was good enough for it. I didn’t think I’d ever apply because I didn’t think I could compete with any of the other students. Karen inspired me to start working on the idea, but the idea came when I used a similar tool to run my Hackathons and had to go from tool to tool to tool to accomplish what I was trying to do. I couldn’t find anything I liked.
What excites you about being an entrepreneur?
I think it’s the fastest way to get three billion dollars. And I need to get three billion dollars because I want to mine asteroids one day. There is a lot of platinum, gold, and silver on those asteroids. I came up with three billion dollars because another company does this, and they got a seed investment for three billion dollars. Which is kind of crazy, a seed investment for three bil? That’s what I’m thinking, I don’t think I could work a job for forty years and get three billion dollars, so I’ve got to get a greater return investment for something beyond my time.
What is your biggest goal for your business?
My goal is to get four thousand paying customers. My lowest package will be twenty-five dollars per month, so if I get four thousand licenses each month, that should get me to one hundred thousand dollars a month, which makes one point two million per year. At that point, I think I could value my company at three million and tell my mom I succeeded.
What has been your biggest challenge thus far, and how have you overcome it?
The biggest challenge is understanding the scope of a project that I’m taking on. Usually, the hustles I’ve taken on are kind of easy, in the sense of easy to understand. I mean, I make websites. Someone needs a website, I can pitch them a website, build it, and we’re done in three weeks. The problem is, to build Software-as-a-Service completely from the ground up, having to conceptualize that and make sure I’m doing things efficiently so that we’re not running around having to rework certain things, I think, has been the biggest challenge. Understanding the size and the scope of what I’m actually doing. Trying to get that into bite-sized pieces that my team and I can digest and work on every week. I’ve overcome that by starting with the smallest possible piece you can do and working from there. Thinking about what is the easiest and smallest thing we can just start doing. For us, it’s the backend development, building the API, and the application programming interface. Working on that is a lot more digestible because it’s just coming up with what the databases look like, how they interact with each other, writing that as code, and then adding everything on top of that. This has been an approach that has worked for my team and me.
How has entrepreneurship at Iowa State impacted you?
The big thing is the number of resources and people’s willingness to help you. I met Judi months before I ever applied for CYstarters. I had heard about this thing called the Research Park and the Pappajohn Center, so I came on a Cyride one day. I just walked into her office and said, “I’m looking for Judi!” I just talked with her, and she gave me some advice on starting my business. The next time I saw her, I was pitching my business for CYstarters. It was so cool. I was just this random student. I wasn’t a part of anything, I wasn’t previously involved, but she was still willing to help me, which honestly is pretty remarkable. When Karen was still with Iowa State, she was just a plethora of resources and help. The excitement that people who are a lot smarter than me have for my little business is kind of nice. It’s encouraging, and it helps make you feel like if you have an idea or you want to do something, there’s a way to do it at Iowa State.
What advice would you give to a smart, driven college student?
I would tell them to figure out what classes they don’t have to go to and then invest that time into something they actually enjoy and make them some money. I live in a fraternity, so I get the privilege of talking to a lot of smart people. The challenge is that a lot of them don’t know what they want to do. Or they don’t have what they want to do here at college and what they want to do for real aligned. I think that’s just a waste of time. I never originally wanted to go to college. I mean, I was selling two-thousand-dollar websites; I thought I could do that forever. My parents made me, which is fine. Eventually, I realized there was a lot I could learn here aside from what I’m learning in class. I would tell them to take as much extra time as they can to do things in the real world that make an impact on what they actually want to do because that’s so much more impactful. It’s so hard to differentiate yourself otherwise.
How can we support Kreative BigWin?
Open your emails, please! Get back to some businesses so that, hopefully, they actually see results when they use my tool! In a bigger sense, publicly, we should demand more investment in innovation and entrepreneurship, which of course, is a buzzword. Being practical, that looks like investing in micro funds and small businesses locally. You don’t need a million dollars, you could do that with like five grand. Just create a business-friendly environment, trying to reduce brain drain. Those would be the three things I’d ask, micro funds, reducing brain drain, and creating business-friendly regulations and environments. Especially with zoning, it’s kind of hard. You can buy a big plot of land and only be able to build on so much of it. Businesses have so much unused land that they’re paying for, that’s costly, so fewer businesses want to move here because of those restrictions.