Entrepreneurs share stories, lessons at quarterly Columbia event

Representatives from three startups shared experiences and insights with members of the Columbia business community March 16 at the quarterly meeting of Columbia’s Regional Economic Development Inc. Billy Martin of Ulytic, Clint Matthews of Start Right Foods and David Frahm of Sworkit talked about their work, highlighting some of the lessons they’ve learned.

Martin is co-founder of Ulytic, a company that uses traffic cameras to generate data and analytics, typically for use by governments and transportation departments. Martin admitted that staying motivated through trying financial times can be difficult.

“There’s plenty of opportunities to get out,” he said. “And there’s plenty of factors and things that will come your way that, at least in my experience, made me think about it and still do sometimes.”

But Martin said a drive to fix and improve things keeps him going.

“Start a business that’s solving a problem that you care about,” he said, “so that motivation kind of comes inherently.”

Matthews’ company, Start Right Foods, makes high-protein waffles and waffle mix, targeting customers who are short on time but conscious of their diet.

“Problem is, people get up in the morning, they’re rushed, they don’t have time to fix eggs or various meats and anything like that,” he said. “So we wanted to do the work for them, and make it easy for people to eat a high-protein breakfast.”

Matthews has founded other businesses but said a food product company presents unique challenges. Even so, Start Right now has its products in 63 stores, Matthews said. One of the company’s next big hurdles, he said, will be automating production.

Frahm is co-founder of MidMoApps and director of engineering for Nexercise, which makes Sworkit, an app that provides personalized fitness videos. He’s learned that building an app that keeps users coming back is essential.

“It’s not hard to get someone to try it, but it is hard to to get someone to really engage with it and really give it a good try,” he said. “There’s a big difference.”

To combat this, Sworkit utilizes a “paid trial,” charging the user once the trial ends. This change led to a significant increase in engagement, according to Frahm.

“People take (Sworkit) more seriously because they’re actually paying for it now,” he said.

Sworkit recently became profitable, Frahm said. He attributed that to lots of experimenting without straying too far from the original concept.

“That’s the hard thing,” he said, “staying true to your mission while you’re moving around, trying all these different things to make money.”

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