SparkLabKC Success Story: Lucky Orange

avatarEver wonder how people actually use your company website? For most, clicks are a mystery. But Lucky Orange, a graduate of the 2014 class of SparkLabKC, is changing the way people understand their web viewers. With the addition of the Lucky Orange plug-in to their website, customers can now see real-time traffic on their site and better understand what works and what doesn’t work. Co-founders Danny Wajcman and Brian Gruber have seen significant growth in their customer base since graduating from the SparkLabKC accelerator program. They now have more than 20,000 users.

The Problem

Understanding where website visitors become frustrated or abandon a site can’t be determined from standard web analytics.

The Solution

Lucky Orange’s website conversion optimization software is a comprehensive toolkit designed to monitor and improve website performance. Lucky Orange customers are able to see real-time or recorded visitor sessions, access in-depth data on abandonment, engagement, and conversion rates, aggregate click data to see heat maps for customer browsing, and even allow their visitors to live chat with a representative to get help right when they need it.

The SparkLabKC Advantage

When Lucky Orange began SparkLabKC’s 90-day accelerator, they knew that they would have the opportunity to network and access vital resources. They wanted to refine their growth strategy and investor pitch, as well as locate potential partners and investors. They found what they were looking for and more.

Along with strategic guidance, the SparkLabKC community provided Lucky Orange with something even better: early customers. Many of the mentors who they worked with in the accelerator signed up as customers, which gave Lucky Orange credibility as well as confidence that their idea appealed to seasoned professionals.

“We would talk about it in theory but putting our growth strategy on paper, defining verticals, and aligning specific partnerships that we would go after was  very helpful.”                           

- Danny Wajcman

Growth Pattern

Since graduation, Lucky Orange has found significant success. Soon after Demo Day, they received an acquisition offer but turned it down to continue growing the company themselves.

Lucky Orange’s persistence has paid off and they have experience strong growth in revenue and customer acquisition. They have hired additional staff to meet the increasing demand. Adding to their stellar reputation, they have been featured in several high-profile lists of “the most helpful website tools,” including in the Huffington PostRazor SocialSocial Media Examiner, and Tech.Co.

What’s Next?

This recognition is a reflection of the hard work that Danny, Brian, and the Lucky Orange team have done, crafting more and more valuable features that have their customers raving. With a hit product built to their exacting specifications, Lucky Orange is beginning to court acquisition offers.

Advice for Future SparkLabKCers

“You won’t find a singular better resource in this area than SparkLabKC. The access to the mentors who will make themselves available to help you and share  industry and business insights is something you can’t pay for. Give yourself the best leg up over the competition by not repeating mistakes others have made.  Working alongside fellow SparkLabKC companies allows for sharing of success stories and best practices, so you can put your best strategy forward and stay ahead of the curve.” 

- Danny Wajcman

Want to learn more about Lucky Orange? Tweet them @LuckyOrange or visit their website

SparkLabKC Success Story: Life Equals

More than 68 percent of all Americans are considered overweight or obese, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. As a country, our health is seriously challenged by the American diet, which has become fatty, oversized, and unbalanced. Life Equals, a graduate of the Class of 2014, aims to change how Americans think about a healthy life and diet with their health, vitamin, and lifestyle company.

The Problem

The Standard American Diet (SAD) is overloaded with convenience and processed foods. The average American eats less than half of their daily recommended fruits and vegetables and consumes far too much processed food high in saturated fat, simple carbohydrates, refined sugar, salt, and preservatives. Americans are faced with a preventable disease epidemic, but lack access to convenient, easy-to-understand, high quality, and affordable solutions.

The Solution

Life Equals is a progressive company of equal parts biological innovation and honest, simple living. Committed to fixing the American Diet, Life Equals is introducing the nutrients nature has always provided back into daily life by creating supplements and foods that are nutrient rich, taste great, and are extremely convenient to use. Life Equals is empowering people to live healthier, balanced lives as they positively transform how they eat, live, and love… a formula that will change society as a whole.

Now over a year out of the SparkLabKC accelerator, Life Equals began our program with the idea that “a better you creates a better world," and their growth since graduating proves that they're on to something special. Co-founders Kyle FitzGerald and Chris Thowe also embrace a "one-for-one" business model, which taps into a growing consumer trend towards making cause-oriented purchases. With each purchase of one of their products, Life Equals gives one month of essential children’s multivitamins to a malnourished child in need.

One of Life Equals' early successes was getting their product on the shelves at Whole Foods Market, a major force in organic specialty products. Kyle and Chris went through an intensive, two year long vetting process with the Whole Foods Market’s regional office before becoming the only local vitamin brand sold in Kansas City-area Whole Foods stores. As an industry leader, Whole Foods Market's endorsement is a valuable validation of the Life Equals product and brand, and sales through the retail giant have been very strong. Their sights are set on expanding their distribution to the twenty Whole Foods Market locations in Colorado.


“The structure of the program was great. We had different pieces of business strategy explained and receiving expert advice. Also, learning to  communicate about our business and encapsulate it into a 5 to 10 minute spiel was a big step for us. We gained the confidence to get up in front of a whole room of important people and make a strong pitch.”  

- Kyle FitzGerald

The SparkLabKC Advantage

Kyle and Chris applied for SparkLabKC's Class of 2014 just as their deal with Whole Foods came together. Their acceptance into the program provided a great boost at a vital time in their development. The initial investment from SparkLabKC allowed Chris to start working full-time on Life Equals.

SparkLabKC’s mentors are experts in their fields and provide valuable advice to the companies that go through the program. Life Equals used the advice and resources they were given to advance the scientific rigor of their product line, better understand the Millennial market, and build a brand ambassador program to grow their sales.

"Getting to be around an awesome group of entrepreneurs and getting to 'gel' into a network of advisors in Kansas City was really powerful for us. We were able to start on a different trajectory."

- Chris Thowe 

Growth Pattern

Although they started with a single product, Life Equals has since expanded to offer multiple health supplements and vitamin products. Most recently, they developed a new product line which is set to roll out soon. The new line will help fill in the gaps left by the Standard American Diet and is backed by months of research and product development. It will be manufactured right here in Kansas City and will offer a completely new solution to meeting daily nutritional needs.

What’s Next?

Kyle and Chris have identified a great customer base in the active lifestyle and yoga communities. One of the keys to their success in that demographic is the implementation of a brand ambassador program, which has become their main marketing and sales plan. Life Equals is partnering with Holistic Health Coaches to get their product more exposure and help people across the globe make improvements to their nutrition.

Life Equals’ "MVP" (Minimum Viable Product) approach allows them to put their ideas out there for customers to interact with at an early stage. If something isn't a hit, it gets withdrawn. When something resonates with their customer base, they develop it further. In this way, they focus their time and effort on the products and strategies that demonstrate sticking power.

Advice for Future SparkLabKCers

"Embrace the fail fast philosophy. Work concurrently, do as many of the things you can at once so you can figure out what works and what doesn't as quickly as possible."

- Kyle FitzGerald

Want to learn more about this company? Tweet them @LifeEquals or visit their website!

SparkLabKC Success Story: LendingStandard

LendingStandard (formerly known as FormZapper), a member of SparkLabKC’s Class of 2013, is solving a significant paperwork problem that plagues the commercial lending space. Andy Kallenbach, CEO/CTO, Jan Valencia, VP of Business Development, and the LendingStandard team are changing the way commercial loan applications are processed.

The Problem

Commercial loan applications require huge amounts of time and paperwork, much of it redundant.

The Solution

LendingStandard makes this complicated process simple, efficient, and accurate by providing the first online origination and underwriting system for commercial financing.

The SparkLabKC Advantage

During SparkLabKC’s accelerator program, LendingStandard was given the tools to dig deeper into their initial idea and to see all of the possibilities available to them. Their focus on lenders grew out of their time in the accelerator.

In  2013, LendingStandard entered the SparkLabKC program not knowing what to expect from the first session of a brand new startup accelerator. Out of the program came both experience and connections.

SparkLabKC was able to connect them with people in their field who provided valuable perspective and support to the company during its early development and beyond. In fact, LendingStandard was introduced to their first investor on Demo Day.

“At that point in time, we really needed a three month span of time to get focused on what the problem and what customers would buy. We discovered what connections we needed to enter that market for customers and capital.” — Andy Kallenbach

Growth Pattern

LendingStandard’s customer growth began with an initial pilot group developed during the SparkLabKC program, and their connection with investors gave them a strong start. They have raised nearly $500k from investors, enabling them to significantly grow their team and further develop their software.

LendingStandard now works specifically with commercial lenders representing the largest companies in the industry. Their partnerships include Experian, Salesforce, Equifax, MicroBilt, and Harland Financial Solutions.

“We learned to focus on our niche. We threw a lot of things at the wall just seeing what would stick and we chased a lot of different things inside the commercial lending landscape. The lesson that we learned was to really find the one best thing that you’re good at and ignore everything else and nail the thing right in front of you.” – Andy Kallenbach

What’s Next?

Looking to the future, LendingStandard will continue to focus on the apartment lending market and to provide them with software solutions to improve their business. In addition to providing a solution for their underwriting and paperwork processing issues, the LendingStandard team is focusing on what their customers need and what helps them build their business.

Advice for Future SparkLabKCers

“It’s a roller coaster ride… and you should hang on.” - Andy Kallenbach

Want to learn more about this company? Contact them on their website

SparkLabKC Success Story: CouponCloud

Have you ever wondered where those coupons go after you hand them over to the cashier? To make a long story short, they get sent to a processor who then ships them down to a clearinghouse in Mexico where they are counted and sorted by hand. Then the manufacturer gets notified and there are a number of additional steps to get the coupons redeemed. The entire process takes upwards of 30 to 90 days and looks much the same as it did back in the 1950s.

CouponCloud, a SparkLabKC Class of 2014 graduate company, is disrupting this archaic process with a fast and efficient technology solution. Their software takes the coupon at the point of sale in the store and validates it immediately, giving grocers and manufacturers a way to process and redeem paper coupons quickly and also guard against losing money due to fraudulent coupons. Led by CTO and co-founder John Epperson, Team CouponCloud is revolutionizing the coupon industry.

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How to Introduce New Ideas: From the Drawing Board to the Boardroom

With the advent of crowd-funding and social media marketing, it has become easier than ever to secure capital for a great idea. While this is often the domain of entrepreneurs and startup founders, even large corporations have realized the highly fluid nature of innovation in the digital age. Companies are creating in-house startup accelerators or encouraging employees to spend time each day brainstorming on things they are passionate about in the hopes that the next big innovation might be born out of those daydreams.

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SLKC Success Stories: How Start Talking Is Advancing Online Therapy

How would you feel if you could to talk to a therapist or life coach through your computer, tablet, or smartphone? No calling to make appointments months in advance or awkwardly waiting in a room with a bunch of strangers, but being able to sit in the comfort of your home while talking to a professional — at a fraction of the price. That sounds like a pretty great deal, huh?

I recently had the opportunity to speak with SparkLabKC Class of 2015 graduate Mark Nolte and discuss his business, Start Talking. What sparked the idea for online therapy? Well, after his own experience with depression, Mark found out that there are three reasons why people don’t get therapy. He said,

“One, they don’t want to admit that they have a problem and the stigma that is associated with it. Two, they don’t want to go to a doctor’s office and fear they might be recognized by someone they might know. Three, they don’t want to file on their insurance claim in fear that their employer might find out that they are having mental health issues and they may get fired from their job or may not get the promotion that they deserve.”

Mark set out to create a solution to these three problem, and hit the jackpot with online therapy — where everything is confidential and secure, in a space that is your own, and on your own time.

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Accelerator Investing: A Reward That's Worth the Risk

All entrepreneurs are risk takers. They invest their time and talent to create something new — whether it's a product, a service, or a disruptive process. Risk is an inherent aspect of every kind of growth. In order to move forward, we have to leave the comfort of the present behind and set out on a new path.

Investing in a startup company also involves risk. There is always a possibility that the startup might fail and the investment won't come to fruition. But there is also the potential for great financial reward. And that is why many investors are willing to take this risk — with the hopes of someday finding themselves on the ground level of a wildly successful new venture. There are several ways to approach startup investment, including angel investing, venture capital (VC) funds, and investing in an accelerator program.

Smart investors look for the opportunities that will allow them to diversify their investments, which helps to minimize the risks of investing and maximize the rewards. While there are several choices investors have when it comes to where they can put their money, some involve more risk than others. In the startup space, there are several different ways to invest. You can invest in one particular company, putting all of your eggs into one high-risk basket. Or, you can invest in a startup accelerator. This investment gives you the ability to support a number of early-stage companies and in turn both diversifies your capital and provides a greater chance of success. By investing in an accelerator program, you can achieve maximum impact with minimal risk.

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3 Ways Big Business Can Keep Up With Innovation Trends

Innovation is and has always been a defining strength of American business. Companies constantly strive to be the best that they can be, thinking into the future and hoping to create trends, rather than merely keep up with them. The pursuit of innovation may be easiest for small companies, where lean methodologies prize quick thinking and flexibility, but bigger companies aren't letting innovation trends pass them by.

As an accelerator program for early-stage companies, SparkLabKC has a unique perspective on the practices of innovative businesses, and we're seeing more and more alignment with new trends in corporate innovation. A piece in The Huffington Post outlines several of these trends in corporate innovation management, and I want to discuss three that I feel are especially helpful for big businesses seeking the successful innovation demonstrated by our startups.

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SLKC Success Stories: Kookiedoodle Takes Crafting To New Heights

It all started in an unfinished basement. “No TV before dinner,” Mr. and Mrs. Weiford would say. But what else could there possibly be for kids to do other than sit mindlessly in front of the television?

Katie Weiford found the answer. The basement of her childhood home soon became lined with rows and rows of mason jars filled with crafting supplies, from paint brushes to woodcuts - the possibilities were endless. She thinks back on these childhood days of crafting as formative, bonding, and a way of releasing the creativity that was otherwise bottled up inside of her and her older brothers.

Now, years later, Katie and her mother have created a place much like that childhood basement, where children can come and express their creativity, develop ideas, and use their imaginations. Their creation is Kookiedoodle, a home base for creativity currently located in Overland Park, Kansas.

I had the opportunity to speak with Katie recently to discuss Kookiedoodle's time with SparkLabKC and to see what new things they have in store after the accelerator.

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How to Stay Motivated During the Hot Summer Months

Social media is blowing up with pictures of all your friends at the beach, you can’t get a solid night’s sleep due to your antique AC unit, and it seems like there is a long weekend every other week... Summer is definitely not the easiest time of year for anyone to be productive, even the most driven of entrepreneurs.

In the fast-paced startup world, distractions are everywhere, but the "work hard, play hard" ethic is strong. However, despite being some of the most dedicated and motivated people out there, sometimes even entrepreneurs have a hard time staying on track when the sun is shining and "play hard" temptations abound. So how can we stay motivated during these peak summer months?

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Congrats to PopBookings On A Major Investment Milestone!

This week I'm proud to highlight the success of SparkLabKC Class of 2015 graduate company PopBookings, founded by Erika Klotz and Scott Hanson. PopBookings connects event staffing companies with qualified talent in their market and provides the resources to manage them. They allow their clients to save time finding, booking, scheduling, and paying qualified, pre-screened event staffing professionals. Their platform has made event staffing simple in the up-and-coming experiential marketing and event space.

This past April, PopBookings opened their seed round with $100,000 from a local investor, which will allow Erika and Scott to continue developing their platform and providing solutions to their expanding customer base. I had the opportunity to speak with Erika about this exciting achievement and how she and Scott are achieving success after the accelerator program.

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What Does Kansas City’s Smart City Initiative Mean for Innovators?

Kansas City's reputation as a center for technology and innovation is on the rise, and as of last month the city is poised to become a whole lot "smarter." The city recently launched a public-private Smart City partnership with Sprint and Cisco that will include public Wi-Fi, community kiosks, traffic sensors, and smart lighting. The Smart City will be based around the 2.2 mile streetcar starter line in downtown Kansas City, which will travel between the River Market and Union Station. The agreement also involves a joint proposal with Cisco and Think Big Partners for the Living Lab, "a development data portal that will connect entrepreneurs to smart city data for rapid innovation of new applications that can be developed, built, tested and validated using Kansas City data before being launched in a full-scale, industrial-user environment."

This is more great news for Kansas City entrepreneurs and innovators!

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Class of 2015 Profile: Royal Loyal Lands a High-Profile Partnership

The days of customer loyalty punch cards and keychains are numbered. Babir Sultan, creator of Royal Loyal, is bringing customer loyalty programs into the digital age. Through a mobile app, Royal Loyal makes it possible for loyal customers to get royal treatment at their favorite locally owned convenience stores and gas stations.

I recently had the chance to catch up with Babir and discuss his experience as a member of SparkLabKC's Class of 2015, what’s new with Royal Loyal, and his plans for the future of the company.

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Position Yourself for Success: How to Apply to an Accelerator Program

Do you have an idea you think might make it big? Or a product with market potential that just needs a little boost? A small business with a proven track record that's ready to reach a wider audience? If you've been following our recent blog series, "After Startup Weekend," you know that one of the things that can hold startup companies back is the lack of access to resources for growth. One of the best ways to access those resources, and much more, is to participate in an accelerator program such as SparkLabKC.

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After Startup Weekend: What Comes Next? Locate Resources

First you had an idea — now you have a business. You’ve put together a great team and begun to test your product for validity in the market (if you haven't yet, read our two previous blogs on team building and product testing). So what’s your next move? There are many different aspects of the business you still need to acknowledge and deal with: legal, accounting, HR, etc. These seemingly menial, less-than-glamorous aspects of the business world can make or break your business just as easily as your product design or sales team if they are neglected.

Once you know you've got a product with sticking power and a team committed to building your company, it's time to locate and lock down the resources you'll need to take your business to the next level.

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After Startup Weekend: What Comes Next? Test Your Product

Many local entrepreneurs are still riding the high of Startup Weekend Kansas City, which took place May 29th-31st at the Think Big Partners space in the Crossroads district. Our last blog post addressed the first questions many Startup Weekend teams face the Monday after the event — should we keep the momentum going? And how do we structure our team for success?

The Startup Weekend global organization says that,

Over 36% of Startup Weekend startups are still going strong after 3 months. Roughly 80% of participants plan on continuing working with their team or startup after the weekend.

If you're one of those participants who continues to work on your idea once the event has concluded, this blog series is for you. Aside from structuring your team to give you a competitive edge, there's another big question that needs to be answered before you commit all of your time to this exciting new venture:

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After Startup Weekend: What Comes Next? Build Your Team

Startup Weekend Kansas City has come to an end, capping off 54 hours of intensive innovation and education. Congratulations to the winners and to all who participated! I have no doubt that many interesting ideas were discovered and explored over the course of the weekend, and many new connections were made between local entrepreneurs. Events like Startup Weekend refresh and re-energize our startup community and help make Kansas City such an exciting place to be an innovator.

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It's Time for Startup Weekend: Are You Ready to Pitch?

It's that time of year again and budding entrepreneurs are preparing their one-minute pitch for the spring Startup Weekends. All over the world, Startup Weekend organizers are getting ready for the 54-hour experience by recruiting sponsors, nailing down the venue, and ordering a truckload of beer and pizza (or whatever is the equivalent in their country). This May, 79 Startup Weekends are being held around the globe, from Kansas City, MO to Sevilla, Spain, Caxias do Sul, Brazil, Siem Reap, Cambodia, Johannesburg, South Africa, Chengdu, China, and Los Angeles, CA just to name a few. 

In Kansas City, Startup Weekend will be held this Friday, May 29th through Sunday, May 31st as part of the kick-off of1WeekKC (our week to celebrate entrepreneurship in KC). Our fellow accelerator friends at Think Big Partners are hosting the event in their impressive new space at 1712 Main Street, 2nd Floor, Kansas City, MO. And our own Steve Stava, from Creelio(a 2014 SparkLabKC graduate) is one of the judges for the weekend along with Wes Bergman from BetaBlox. It promises to be a great week devoted to entrepreneurship in our startup city.

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Maintaining Relationships: Making the Most of Mentorship

One of the things we're proudest of at SparkLabKC are the connections we help our entrepreneurs form with established and knowledgeable members of the Kansas City business community. Our startup companies have access to more than 80 mentors from virtually every industry, including seasoned entrepreneurs and successful business leaders. These are some of the most experienced business mentors in the Kansas City region, and they bring a wide range of experience from Internet startups to major corporations and universities including the University of Missouri-Kansas City, the University of Kansas, and the University of Missouri-Columbia. 

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Where Are They Now? Featuring: Life Equals

Life Equals started in our program with the idea that a better ‘you’ could create a better world, and their growth since proves that they're on to something special. Founders Kyle Fitzgerald and Chris Thowe embraced a "one-to-one" business model, in which each purchase of a vitamin product corresponds with an equal amount of multivitamins given to malnourished children worldwide. Now a year out of the SparkLabKC accelerator as members of our Class of 2014, their health, vitamin, and lifestyle company is thriving!

I recently had a chance to catch up with Kyle and Chris to discuss their progress since Demo Day 2014 and hear their insight on growing a startup company.

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