"Student-Led Detroit Startup Makes Semifinals at Student Startup Madness"
January 30th, 2018
By: Kavya Davuluri
Sergio Rodriguez and Jose Romo-Puerta, two friends from Grosse Pointe, Michigan, had similar experiences in doing odd jobs around their neighborhoods to pay their ways through college, with Rodriguez pursuing a masters in biomedical engineering and Romo-Puerta seeking a bachelors in business at Wayne State University. They had found numerous challenges in keeping track of their own work and decided to create an app that would enable casual workers, small businesses, and homeowners to create invoices, find local jobs/workers through mutual connections, access geolocation, and receive text updates. Of course, their idea did not begin with such clarity.
ToDoolie was first introduced to the world as ClockIt, a simple app that was meant to solely allow clocking in and invoice generation features at the pitch competition for the student entrepreneurship organization, OptimizeWayne in April of 2017. After receiving $2000, ToDoolie was registered as a Limited Liability Company (LLC) on May 16, 2017, beginning their official startup process.
After registering their company, the students also applied and received admission into the DTX Launch program housed at the Detroit nonprofit TechTown, along with Soheeb Wains, who joined the team as CFO. DTX Launch aims to help student entrepreneurs launch their tech companies, for which ToDoolie made a perfect candidate. While in the program, the co-founders began to conduct extensive customer discovery research, thereby understanding what they had to do to make themselves unique from their competition, which ranges from the local QuickHelp to the national Task Rabbit. In interviewing suburban homeowners, their target audience, the founders quickly realized that they needed to prototype their idea to see if it was suitable to their customers’ needs and own expectations for scalability.
During a pilot program, the three students booked 270 hours of high school student labor in the Grosse Pointe community by charging homeowners $15 per hour but taking a $3 commission, generating $4,000 in revenue and finding that 35% of their customers were using them on a weekly basis. This gave them the traction they needed to apply to the programs gBeta, Startup Boost Detroit, and the Wayne State University STEAM Challenge. While waiting to hear about their acceptance statuses, the team proceeded to present their work at the DTX Showcase and the Pitch313 competition, which solidified their belief in their value proposition.
Thus, when rejected by gBeta and the STEAM Challenge, the cofounders were at a loss, wondering where the future of their company lied when they failed in spite of relative success over their summer pilot program, which they had completed at this time. However, as the homeowners they serviced continued to call in asking for more ToDooers for odd jobs and their inboxes dinged with an acceptance into Startup Boost, they renewed their confidence and persistence.
While in Startup Boost, the team found something that they’d never felt before: immense support within a network of mentors who used all their contacts to help these startups. In addition to learning market sizing, pitching, and understanding their position in the gig industry, the team faced their biggest challenges yet: the loss of their CFO, the pressures of time management, and the confusion of what their mission was. While in DTX, the team thought that they were going to solely be a student-oriented marketplace, but, after seeing their competition and their potential, the team realized that they could do something unique, but it would require abandoning their original idea. The team realized that if they could provide freemium services—that is, giving some services for free, like invoicing, and some at a low-cost, like geolocation and text updates—they’d be unique compared to their competition, especially because this would allow them to divert from their competitors in that they would no longer have to take a commission.
With this new idea in hand, the team pitched at Accelerate Michigan. And although they did not win any funding, Sergio and Jose had grown since their losses of gBeta and STEAM Challenge acceptances: they realized that even failures were successful learning experiences. So, they continued to persist, creating an online MVP with the help of a Startup Boost mentor’s contact, Darren Riley, that enabled them to continue their pilot program on a need by need basis.
Since the launch of their first MVP, the team also recruited their own CTO, Armando Arteaga, who has begun to code their second MVP with the intention of including more of the original features they’d envisioned. Before the second MVP launches in March of 2018, however, the team is preparing for their second pilot program, which will launch on February 1, 2018, utilizing their first MVP to optimize their original pilot model, which they determined to be successful but unscalable. In this Pilot 2.0, the group is aiming to determine how they can beat out their competitors by cracking the code to scale the business beyond a small community and the limited efficiency it currently exists within.
In addition to working hard for the launch of their second prototype, the team also has been celebrating their advancement to the semi-final 32 teams in the Student Startup Madness tournament, a national competition for digital startups from college students. Student Startup Madness has had over 192 teams vie to compete in the program in the last three years alone. The prestigiously selective program narrows the competition down from 64 teams to 32 before announcing the final “Entrepreneurial Eight” who will get to oppose each other in the finals at the South by Southwest Interactive in March in Austin, Texas. ToDoolie has successfully passed through to the semifinal round and the team is hopeful that they’ll proceed to the final round to get a shot at this astounding opportunity to pitch their company, network with individuals that can help their LLC thrive, and, of course, win the competition for ToDoolie.
ToDoolie has grown exponentially in the months that have passed since that first pitch for OptimizeWayne, but their goals for the next six months are just as grand. They aim to launch a Kickstarter campaign (including a launch party) for $20,000 before beginning their seed round where they anticipate they’ll seek up to $200,000. Afterwards, they intend to launch their ToDoolie beta, or their MVP 3.0 where they want to have over 1000 profiles. And finally, while awaiting their acceptance to the TechStars program in Texas, the team has the goal of launching their final application on both iOS and Android in July of 2018.
Although their success is not for certain, Rodriguez, Romo-Puerta, and Arteaga are eager to face the risks and continue to grow their company, being unique enough with their freemium model to beat out their other gig industry competitors like Task Rabbit as they work to provide their customers the tools to manage their own work.