February 10, 2017
Blake Norman joined the Arkansas Small Business and Technology Development Center (ASBTDC) Lead Center as a business consultant in 2015. He advises potential and current small business owners on a variety of topics, including business startup, the business planning process, and customer retention.
Norman received his bachelor’s degree from the University of Arkansas at Fayetteville and a Master of Business Administration from Harding University. He is also a certified Kauffman FastTrac New Venture facilitator.
Prior to coming to the ASBTDC, Norman started his own small business from the ground up. His experience owning and operating a startup gives him a unique perspective on small business development.
Those looking to start a new business or improve upon the business they already own should listen in or call in with questions on Friday at 2 pm. 501.433.0088 or email email@example.com
Blake Norman also brought along Corey Boelkens, RaftUp developer. Up In Your Business is a Radio Show by FlagandBanner.com
[0:00:03.2] TB: Welcome to Up in Your Business with Kerry McCoy. Be sure to stay tuned till the end of the show to hear how you can get a copy of this program and other helpful documents.
Now, it's time for Kerry McCoy to get all up in your business.
[0:00:19.7] KM: Thank you, Tim, and thank you to our listeners. I’m Kerry McCoy and it’s time for me to get all up in your business, and we’ll be giving advice to small business owners and to people who dream of owning a small business. You may be asking yourself, “What makes this lady to do this?” I’ll tell you, experience.
40 years ago with just $400, I started Arkansas Flag & Banner. Since then, it’s morphed into simply flagandbanner.com with sales nearing 4 million. That’s worth saying again. I started Arkansas Flag & Banner with just $400, and today our sales nearing 4 million.
I started by selling flags door-to-door, then went to telemarketing. Next, mail order and catalog sales. Today, we rely heavily on the internet. In addition, over the last 40 years I’ve navigated Flag and Banner through two recessions and two wars.
When people find out I’m that woman who owns Arkansas Flag & Banner they often say, “Oh, I’ve heard about you,” and begin asking me business advice. I amaze even myself with all the knowledge I’ve gained.
If you call me for advice from me or my guest, you will not be given textbook answers or theory, but you will be given candid advice from our real-world experience, so be prepared to hear the truth. It’s not always easy to hear.
For instance, you may not want to hear this; in business, there are very few overnight successes. Starting and owning a business takes persistence, perseverance, and patience. When I started Arkansas Flag & Banner, I supplemented my income by waitressing all while I pedaled my flags door-to-door. After nine years. Did you hear me? Nine years of working a part-time job, the company began to grow and solely support me.
My first hire was a bookkeeper. My first expansion was to begin the manufacturing of custom flags. The next decade ushered in desert storm war. Flags were scarce, so a screen printing department was hardly built to make consumer demands.
In addition to sales and manufacturing, Flag and Banner now has a purchasing department, a shipping department, a technology department, a marketing department, a call center, and a retail store, and I spearheaded each of their development. My experience is deep and wide and my advice is free. I hope you’ll take advantage of this unique opportunity by calling or emailing me on today’s show.
Before we start taking calls, I want to introduce you to the people at the table. We have Tim Bowen, our technician, who will be taking your calls and pushing the button. Say hello, Tim.
[0:02:54.0 TB: Hello, Tim.
[0:02:55.6] KM: My guest today are Blake Norman from the Arkansas Small Business Technology and Development Center, previously known as the SPDC and today known as the ASBTDC. He’s nodding. With Norman is his client, Corey Boelkens, founder of this cool new startup called RaftUp. It’s a phone app for late goers. Oh! I would have loved in my younger days.
Norman’s qualifications for helping small business owners and startups is this. He has an MBA from Harding University in Searcy, Arkansas and he is a certified Kauffman FastTrac NewVenture facilitator. Prior to coming to the ASBTDC in 2015, Norman founded and operated his own small business. These two dual experiences give him a unique and well-rounded perspective on how to help small businesses develop.
As I said, with him today is his client Corey Boelkens, founder and CEO of RaftUp, a niche social network for recreational boaters. On your smartphone you can download his free app and get pizza delivered on the lake. Fast 911 help and other services we’re going to learn about today.
Welcome to the table, Blake Normal and Corey Boelkens.
[0:04:17.6] BN: Thank you very much.
[0:04:18.2] CB: Thank you.
[0:04:19.0] KM: I can’t wait to talk to you Corey about this lake app.
[0:04:23.6] CB: Thank you. I can’t wait to tell you about it.
[0:04:25.5] KM: Good! Before we get started, how did you two come to meet each other?
[0:04:28.5] BN: Yeah. I think the kind of Little Rock small business community I think brought Corey and I together and kind of running in the same circles when you bounce ideas off of people, enough people, then it kind of starts just to form and you start grabbing cups of coffee and talking about what ifs. That’s kind of up to this point how it’s kind of played out.
[0:04:48.8] CB: I think a little bit of our passion is kind of aligned. His past business that he had, outfitting kayakers and canoers and things like that totally mesh with what I was starting up, so the conversation has really kind of blown up into, “Hey, let’s start talking to each other about how we’re running a business.
[0:05:04.0] KM: You know, Blake, on your bio on the Small Business Development Center’s website, you don’t say what your prior business was, because I was wondering. Thank you, Corey, for telling us.
[0:05:13.6] BN: Yeah. It was smooth transition. Yeah, a previous business that I owned, we actually sold in September of 2016. The start of the operation, then the exit, all kind of came in the period of three and a half years. We started a retail business, outdoor retail business called Beyond Boundaries Outdoor and Adventure, and so we sold kayaks and backpacking equipment and hiking apparel and alike. So that business still operates today. I still work as an advisor for it and still operates at Searcy, Arkansas.
[0:05:44.9] KM: I don’t understand why you got out of that business, and I’m not sure that was in my questions today to ask about your business. We’re here to find out about the Small Business Development Center, but I’m curious.
[0:05:54.5] BN: No. It’s kind of a fun story. I think a lot of people kind of relate to something like this. Real people start real businesses. You talked about your experience. Corey has his individual experience. We all kind of bring our lives and our issues and our fears and dreams. We bring all those to the table when we start these businesses, and so it worked out where my wife and I are pregnant, we’re having a baby. It made sense to take one thing of the table and selling the business so that something else could be put on to the table. I’m just a real person with real issues just like anybody else and it worked out where the timing was perfect.
[0:06:28.9] KM: Is it hard to sell a business? I’ve never done that.
[0:06:31.0] BN: No. You take the emotion out of it, right, and that you’ve started this business and it is kind of your baby. You try to void yourself of the emotional component and make it about the business itself and what gives it the best chance to succeed moving forward. No. It’s not difficult. I didn’t think it was.
[0:06:50.1] KM: I often call Arkansas Flag & Banner my first born. When you say it’s your baby, that is so true. Corey, tell us how the idea came about.
[0:07:00.4] CB: RaftUp is a social experience. We get out in the water and you want to find out what cool things you can see, and not only that, not play phone tag with your friends and waste time. What inspired me was I was tired of wasting time, which we all don’t have enough when we’re in the water. I built the app to actually fix my own problems which was, “Where can I go? I’m not very familiar with this area and, “Guys, I don’t listen to my phone when I’m in the water having a great time.” I created it and people started showing up to the boat when they wanted to or we went and found new places that we added and it’s kind of grown from there.
The story goes, “You’re always going to get stranded. Something is going to happen.” Even in today’s world, when you call for help, good luck. Even if you know, you’re the expert on the lake or the river, when you call that person, then you have to explain to that person where you’re at and it’s not very easy or it’s not the right person. If it’s an emergency, there’s a real big problem on your hands, and so I wanted to solve that problem as well.
[0:08:09.4] KM: We’re back. You’re listening to Up In Your Business with Kerry McCoy and I’m speaking today with Blake from the ASBTDC and Corey from RaftUp. Is it really 9 to 5 when you’re on your own business?
[0:08:20.5] BN: Never
[0:08:20.7] CB: No. It’s like a child. You don’t ever stop. When it starts crying, you go and try to do something with it or spend more time with it.
[0:08:28.3] KM: Corey, you had a career before.
[0:08:30.1] CB: My dad. Yeah, I had a couple of careers.
[0:08:32.8] KM: Yeah. You had a marketing technology strategist from Merkel.
[0:08:36.0] CB: That’s right.
[0:08:36.5] KM: Five years. Similar role at Axiom for seven years, and I think this is interesting about you. You interned in the research and development at a company that was working on a top secret product called Segway.
[0:08:48.7] CB: That’s right. Long time ago, in the 90s, Dean came and actually did a lot of — Had some products. I don’t know if you’re familiar with Dean Kamen who’s invented several different technologies, some of which are in the health space and there’s a manufacturing plant in Mountain Home, Arkansas which developed this dialysis product of his. He also invented the Segway, which is that machine that balances on two wheels and you see in malls and Paul Blart: Mall Cop, and you see it in airports. I worked on that project when it was called the ginger project when it all under wraps.
Long story short, I was on a robotics team in high school, in Mountain Home High School, go bomb squad, and I was able to earn an internship working for Dean Kamen up in New Hampshire at his research and development facility and some days I would find myself sitting on top of his house fixing his internet or I would find myself building little gadgets to help test devices. Yeah, on the day that they announced certain things, I’d get to hang out at his cool mansion in Manchester, New Hampshire. It was a weird experience. It was really something that inspired my entrepreneur spirit right to this day, I think.
[0:09:51.2] KM: That came from being on what?
[0:09:54.3] CB: I was on a first robotics team. It’s basically a high school robotics team up in Mountain Home, Arkansas and now they’ve spread across the state and obviously around the world, but we are in the first team, 1996.
[0:10:07.0] KM: That got you noticed as a person who works on robotics and that’s how you ended up getting a scholarship?
[0:10:13.8] CB: Yeah. It inspired me to get into math and science and go after a degree, computer engineering. Before, I was really interested in graphic design and art and a little interest in this robotics realm. I was obviously was working [inaudible 0:10:26.4] at the same time, so it’s just like, “Okay, what do I want to do? I would love to become somebody that creates software or builds technology. Be an inventor.” This program really inspired that, so I went to the University of Arkansas for computer engineering right out.
Through that I evolved into going into an information systems degree from the University of Arkansas and got that from the Walton College of Business.
[0:10:47.7] KM: You got your idea to want to own your own business at a young age.
[0:10:51.1] CB: For sure. I was inspired by Dean Kamen.
[0:10:53.1] KM: But you didn’t go on your own business. You went to work as a marketing technology strategist for Merkel, and then Axiom.
[0:10:59.8] CB: That’s right. I didn’t feel like I had enough entrepreneur experience to start a business. I need to really kind of figure out who and what I wanted to be. Just like most of us who go to college, you follow this track where you get your degree and you go work for a business, another business, and you work in that cube and you get the 9 to 5 job and you get that salary and then you save and then you build your life around that.
As I started to grow more in my profession, I started to realize, I wanted more and then I wanted to do more and I actually would get in trouble for trying to do more because it wasn’t my responsibility to do certain things. I was just like, “Okay, maybe this isn’t a good fit,” so I got to go work for Merkel, and really Merkel really allowed me to express my consulting business strategy experience across Fortune 500 companies.
[0:11:49.6] KM: You lived in Arkansas when you did that?
[0:11:51.1] CB: That’s right. I’m here in Little Rock, Arkansas. There was one project I was working for Dell, and it was a global consulting engagement, and here I am six months in and I’m giving a presentation to the CMO of Dell and why I believe that they should change certain things no how they’re managing customer preference and privacy and how you’re managing their business or the relationship that you have with those customers because they want to understand more of the consumer versus the business side, and that really feels like, “Okay. If I’m telling a CMO what they should be considering, it’s time to start doing some little self-searching and seeing what else could I do.”
[0:12:27.3] KM: But you didn’t have an idea.
[0:12:28.3] CB: No.
[0:12:30.1] KM: That makes it hard to start a business if you don’t have an idea.
[0:12:31.9] CB: You know what? No. The biggest thing that they always say is the best ideas are the ones where you’re selling a valid problem. As me, a passionate lifelong boater, I’m a professional scuba diver.
[0:12:42.7] KM: Wait. I just want to tweak that. The best ideas are what? Say that —
[0:12:45.7] CB: The ones where you’re solving valid problems.
[0:12:47.4] KM: That’s true. That’s kind of like the mother —
[0:12:49.2] CB: The mother of all invention, right? Yup.
[0:12:50.6] KM: Right. Okay. I like that. That’s good. You came up with this problem.
[0:12:54.2] CB: That’s right. As a boater, someone that’s always spent time on the water, I was like, “Okay. Well, let me look around and see what problems we’re solving today or what problems still exist.” Obviously, apps are a diamond dozen, so I was like, “Okay, well I have some experience in technology development and ruling out software, so let’s look at how an app potentially could allow someone to have a better and more enjoyable time on the water.”
We spent lots of time at work trying to go on a vacation, or we don’t have that much time to go on the water on the weekends. When we do go on the water on the weekends we spend a good portion of it, guess what? Waiting around. You’re waiting for your friends. You’re waiting for your family. You’d get out to where you want to go then you realize that there’s somebody already there. Maybe the water temperature is not the right for fishing or something along those lines. We’re waiting. We’re wasting all of these time that we don’t have. I said, “Okay. There’s got to be a better way.”
Then I started to look at the marinas and people around us and they’re spending lots of money on these navigation apps. They’re giving away free maps. These maps have been printed since the 70s. Okay. When the water levels change and things change, sorry folks, we got to do something better than this. We’re not using phonebooks anymore. Why are we still using printed maps?
I looked at — I originally worked at a marine at Bull Shoals, like a boat dock up in Bulls Shoals, Arkansas, and I looked, they’re still handing out the paper map to those people that ran boats. I’m like, “You got to be kidding me,” because here we use our phones every three seconds it feels for anything that we want to do. Decision on where we want to eat or where we want to go or who said what about which politicians, so we can’t put these phones down so why are we still using a printed thing to tell us what we want to go and do? I wanted to build a better map. Not just a navigation app, one that shows you things that you’d really want to care about.
Second of all, let’s stop playing phone tag. Yeah, there’s finding my friends, and yeah there’s this. Seriously, it’s convoluted and a little complicated. Why can’t we just say, “Hey, this is where I’m at,” and if you want to hide your location and you don’t want to showcase your position, fine. Make it easy. Do that way, right?
The second point, that’s important because if you’re hunting or if you’re out on the water fishing, your husband is away or if you’re in a fishing tournament or if you got people that are working on the water as a marina or if you’ve got a responder, where are they at? Not only that, but they’ve got an $800 GPS device that’s called a smartphone in your pocket, how come we’re not using more of those to do that? I started to look at that, and then naturally I moved into this thing called social SOS, right? I built a feature where you can send a real time SOS notification to anyone that you friend in the app and they’ll know where you’re at in real time anywhere in the world that they’ve run in this app. If they’re in Sydney, Australia and they had their phone on them and they had friended you once in RaftUp, they would get a notification. You could click on it and they would see where you’re at on a map in real time. I don’t stop there. I also let this app notify anyone within five miles of your location, if they said, “Hey, if you’re nearby, can you come and help this person?” Then I didn’t stop there. I showed this to a fire chief up on Lake of the Ozarks, which by the way, Lake of the Ozarks in Missouri is the number one recreational boating lake of the country according to U.S.A. Today.
[0:16:00.9] KM: Really? Who knew that?
[0:16:02.4] CB: It’s also in the top 10 number of most dangerous bodies of water in the country. It’s very dangerous at times, but it can be very enjoyable too, but there are some things to happen there. I went up there. I used to spend some time there, and I showed this to this fire chief who’s over a water rescue and I showed him what it is and he goes, “Corey, I think it’s a great idea. I think what you’ve built is fantastic, and I don’t talk to product guys. I don’t talk to salesman.” He goes, “I want you to something for me. If you can build this other system where my 911 and my rescuers can see and respond and interact, then you’ve really got something.” I said, “Okay. Chief [inaudible 0:16:36.8], I can do that.” I turned around and I built it.
In November of 2016, we C-trialed and now my application, not only notifies your friends, family and people around you, but also emergency response and 911 all at the same time. They can track you. They can see your emergency contact number. No longer do you have to feel like you’re stranded.
[0:16:58.7] KM: But you got a cell tower service, which is an issue on some of those lakes.
[0:17:02.6] CB: It can be, but what do you do when you do when you don’t have self-service and you still need to do something. What do you do? You find that cell tower signal and you do what? Still make that phone call.
[0:17:13.0] KM: Oh, okay. Yeah.
[0:17:15.3] CB: Here’s a statistic —
[0:17:16.8] KM: You can find a connection somewhere.
[0:17:18.9] CB: Now, you’re more lost. Now you’ve gone away from what happened and now you’re even most lost than you were.
[0:17:23.0] KM: You don’t have to just use it on the water.
[0:17:24.9] CB: That’s right. We actually have hunters. We have hunters using it. We actually have some people using it on the golf course and areas because their family members know that they have health issues, and yes you can have a wrist band and everything like that, but we’re a button click away to 911.
[0:17:37.2] KM: I never went on the lake with my husband and children that we didn’t get stranded. I never went on the lake with my husband and children that we didn’t have to wait hours on somebody who said they were going to be a dock at the right time and they never showed up and we’re circling and I’m furious. To not get furious, I’d drink more. That’s not good. This is a perfect solution to all of that.
[0:17:59.2] CB: I hope so. It’s at least an attempt to solve that problem.
[0:18:03.2] KM: Blake. Are you feeling neglected?
[0:18:04.4] BN: No. Not at all. I love Corey’s stories and what he’s trying to create here. He said it before. He’s solving a real problem here. Kerry, your story just now, it speaks to that.
[0:18:14.5] KM: It’s everybody’s story.
[0:18:15.3] BN: Exactly. It speaks to that. Now, I think what he is saying is truth and the problem that he’s solving is real.
[0:18:21.4] KM: How do you keep other people from taking your idea? You’d just be the first one out.
[0:18:24.6] CB: It’s execution.
[0:18:26.2] KM: You’d be the first one out.
[0:18:27.7] CB: I’m a true person. I do what I say I’m going to do it. I believe the people that worked for me and I make strong lasting relationships. To be honest, that’s how you win, because there will be people that will copy me. There will be people that will want to do the same thing. You know what? Fantastic, because if they do, they’re solving a problem too, right?
[0:18:44.9] KM: It increases awareness about your market. I was the first person out probably on the internet with flags and banners and now there’s ton of people out. The first person out, what is that? The bell curve, you get to the top and then other people are chasing in and you all do get there, but what it does is it increases your whole market share. Everybody is using an app. You’re not going around having to educate everybody about flags anymore.
[0:19:04.0] CB: Right. They’re going to say, “Oh, the RaftUp, such and such.” Right? I hope so.
[0:19:08.9] BN: Part of that too is the first one may succeed. They may not, but no one should be really concerned with. I don’t think anybody that’s creating anything should be concerned with someone copying them. It requires work and a lot of people are scared of hard work. Whether you have an idea or not is really kind of a moot point. It’s whether or not you’re willing to stay up late, work around the clock and make it happen.
[0:19:31.7] KM: That’s exactly right. Hard work, because people call me and say, “I would like to give you my idea, but I want you to sign something saying that you won’t steal it.” I’m like, “I don’t have time to steal your idea. I can’t even keep up with all my own ideas,” and then even when I started hiring my first couple of employees, my mother is so funny, she said, “Don’t teach anybody what you’re doing because they’ll steal it from you.” I said, “Mother, nobody wants to work this hard.” He’s like, “Oh, okay.”
[0:19:59.7] CB: Yeah. That’s the truth. I’d like to this, if somebody has enough money to try to go and tackle and compete me with, why don’t you just call me and I could make you really rich and successful. You don’t have to try to beat someone who knows this game really well.
[0:20:12.9] KM: When we come back, I want to find out how long it took from the idea to fruition when we get back.
How long did it take from when you were sitting on the lake stranded and waiting for somebody or doing whatever you’re doing and you thought, “This is my opportunity to become an entrepreneur and filling the need.”
[0:20:43.3] CB: You’ll laugh. It was December of 2014 and I just freshly would turn 35 and I looked and I was like, “I don’t want to be doing what I’m doing anymore. I want to do something else.” I called an army recruiter — Laugh. I called an army recruiter. I was like, “Listen —” and they were like, “You’re too old.” I was like, “Wow! Okay. I’ll do that one.”
Then I went online and I saw this ad in one of the local news websites and it showcased this opportunity to apply for a class, that entrepreneur class.
[0:21:14.7] KM: At Small Business Development Center.
[0:21:15.9] CB: That’s right. One of the things that I did was, “Okay. We’ll, I’m going to plan for this.” I’m not going to assume that I think I know my stuff with business as a strategist. I’m going to start from scratch. I’m going to go and participate and starting my business. I went in and met the wonderful folks at the ASBTDC and sat through courses every Monday for three hours for several weeks and started to learn how to take my idea. My idea, by the way, started out to be delivery assistance.
When you pick up and you bought a refrigerator at Home Depot you could almost find an Uber or someone to pick that up and take it to your house for you. That was the original idea. It was a pivot. It was a huge pivot, and then I took my idea further on [inaudible 0:22:02.2] it through the class and I went through a thing called startup weekend. It was three months later.
[0:22:06.0] KM: Is that at the Small Business Development Center?
[0:22:07.4] BN: No, that is not.
[0:22:08.3] CB: It’s a separate program that you take your idea and you compete against other people with your idea and you can win $5,000 to $10,000 to go into your business.
[0:22:16.7] KM: Is that local?
[0:22:17.5] CB: It was up in Fayetteville. It was hosted by the Startup Junkies up in Fayetteville Northwest Arkansas.
[0:22:22.3] KM: Is that their real name, the Startup Junkies?
[0:22:24.0] CB: Mm-hmm. My wife and I took the idea and we competed. I won the chance through a 60-second pitch to move on to the next round and then I curated a pitch deck and we pitched it on Sunday. All of these happens in three days, by the way.
[0:22:38.0] KM: You’re pitching not the rest of that idea.
[0:22:40.9] CB: No. In that weekend, I met some mentors. You know, you talked about giving some hard advice and the gentleman that sat down, he goes, “I think you’re trying to do too much and you’re trying to do delivery services and some water related stuff.” He goes, “Why don’t you focus on what you really have a passion for? Do you really want to be doing to Home Depots and hanging out on delivery docks, or do you really want to be on the water,” and then a light bulb clicked.
Then we focused and we — Customer discovery, I went to five marinas that one weekend and it happened that weekend. My wife and I pitched and we got second place. We got behind somebody that was pitching party in a box. Retailers up in North West Arkansas loved the idea of that, but there were several people on the judging panel, they were like, “I’ve been stranded on the water before. This is a really great idea.”
[0:23:23.2] KM: I think all of our listeners are probably going, “That’s me! I’ve done that! I’ve been there.” Sometimes, I’d go to the lake, but it’s going to take longer than you think because you’re going to have something unforeseen come up always.
[0:23:32.7] CB: Yeah.
[0:23:35.0] KM: Tell us about your classes Blake. I didn’t know you had real classes.
[0:23:38.2] BN: Yeah. The trainings that we offered through the ASBTDC, and this class specifically, was the Kauffman curriculum that’s created by the Kauffman Foundation up in Kansas City. A lot of us, or all of us business consultants that consult business owners every day in our office, we help teach the fast track curriculum during this class. It meets once a week, Monday nights. It’s about a two, two and a half hour class and we go through how to write a business plan, how to find your market. How to create financial projections. All these things that we may or may have not learned in college if we went to college. We may or may not have learned kind of what a PNL maybe is maybe in high school maybe
[0:24:21.4] CB: Or you didn’t care at the time when you were in college.
[0:24:22.5] BN: Or you certainly didn’t care. Exactly.
[0:24:23.6] KM: PNL means profit and loss.
[0:24:25.5] BN: Profit and loss. In to Corey’s point, when you’re learning about it in class, it’s all theory. To your point in the opening statements, taking the theory and applying it, there’s a gap there. What this class does is it kind of helps break down what this big pie in the sky kind of thing is that we’re trying to achieve in starting a business. That’s what the curriculum is based on is kind of putting in bite size pieces and making it so that it attainable.
[0:24:53.9] KM: Can you just get a one on one counseling?
[0:24:57.7] BN: Yeah. That’s primarily a lot of what we do at ASBTDC.
[0:25:00.8] CB: That’s the best part, by the way.
[0:25:02.2] BN: Yeah, the one on one consulting is completely free. Yes.
[0:25:05.9] KM: That’s the best part. No! That’s the best part.
[0:25:09.7] CB: Yeah, free is nice. Free is very nice.
[0:25:12.7] KM: It’s like the advice you’re giving right now. Free.
[0:25:14.5] BN: Yes. The ASBTDC, the Arkansas Small Business and Technology Development Center, the ASBTDC part is almost shorter than the full name. We are funded in part not only by the university. Our offices are on the University of Arkansas Little Rock Campus, but we’re also funded impart by state and federal grants. What that does is that allows the services that we provide and the one on one consulting, the market research, the helping and create financial projections. It makes all of those services completely free. What we do as business consultants, and that’s my role, I sit down with someone like Corey who’s got this crazy idea of delivering appliances to people and I say, “Hey, let’s figure out what this idea is. Let’s figure out what this idea is not and who are we talking to.
[0:26:00.9] KM: Identify your customers you mean?
[0:26:02.3] BN: Yeah, correct. I think the other benefit out of this class is that I think the best is the people in the room. These other aspiring entrepreneurs, these people —
[0:26:10.6] KM: Likeminded people?
[0:26:11.7] BN: Likeminded individuals or people that have just really wonderful and they’re just — You know how it is. It’s like, “Oh my God! I have this great idea. I’m going to do something,” then they’re going to tell everybody about it. Then they go to this class and they get scared. It’s like the deer in the headlights, like, “Oh my gosh! I got to do a business plan and a forecast and a PNL.” It’s all of these things and they didn’t expect it. They’ve got this wonderful idea. A big part of it is this little commodity that comes out of the class and people wanted to help other people, or they may actually find that somebody they want to go in a business within the realm or they’ll find that their idea is — There’s no new ideas. They’ll find that their ideas is not new.
[0:26:47.1] KM: I don’t know yours is pretty new.
[0:26:49.2] BN: Yeah. Maybe. We’ll see.
[0:26:52.8] KM: It’s a support group I think you’re trying to say.
[0:26:54.0] BN: Right. Oh, for sure.
[0:26:54.4] CB: Yeah, in a sense it really is. We’re not —
[0:26:56.0] KM: You can’t underestimate a support group.
[0:26:58.5] CB: No, you cannot. We at the front of the room that are talking through the curriculum, we are not the heroes in this story. The small business owners are the heroes in the story. We’re just the guides. We’re just kind of helping steer the ship. The folks with the ideas that are sitting in the seats, that are working a 9 to 5 and then coming to this class after the fact and trying to start this business idea. Those folks are the heroes.
[0:27:17.4] KM: They’re the passionate ones.
[0:27:18.6] CB: Is it easy? No. I’m not saying it’s easy. Please don’t hear me say that it’s easy. Is it worth it? For some folks it is. Yes.
[0:27:25.4] KM: Do you know that the Small Business Development Center taught me how to write a business plan?
[0:27:29.0] CB: Look at you now.
[0:27:30.5] KM: Do you know that’s how I bought the Taborian Hall?
[0:27:32.0] BN: I didn’t know that.
[0:27:34.3] KM: They were on Main Street in downtown Little Rock and this gentleman, he did exactly what you said. Mentored me one on one and he helped write a business plan and think through all the things that would happen and i don’t think I would have gotten the Taborian Hall without his help.
[0:27:50.4] CB: If you talk about the business plan, that’s this big scary monster that nobody really wants to uncover.
[0:27:56.3] KM: But it’s not really.
[0:27:56.8] CB: It’s really not. You’re talking about your business. That’s what I tell people when I sit across the table from. I say, “This is your business. Nobody is writing me a check. I’m not writing a check. Blake Normal is not writing a check to anybody on behalf of your business. This is completely your idea. I want to come alongside you and help make this a reality.
[0:28:14.7] KM: Let’s talk about funding. Do you all help people with funding?
[0:28:16.6] CB: We do not. No, we do not write checks. We will help people find the right avenues for funding options, but a lot of people come in and say, “Well, I want a grant. I hate to bust your bubble here, but I kind of equate grants to the tooth fairy. We talk about the tooth fairy. I’ve just never actually seen her in action. No. I say that grants are available, but they are far and few between. They do exist, but for your run-of-the-mill restaurant —
[0:28:44.1] KM: You can’t be for profit.
[0:28:46.1] CB: Yeah, it’s difficult to kind of have your cake and eat it too in that regard. Yeah.
[0:28:51.4] KM: You do help people with funding in the respect that you put the business plan together. That they cannot go to a bank and get money for without that.
[0:28:59.2] BN: That is absolutely right. Yeah. If you try to walk into a bank without a business plan or financial projections and ask for a loan, they will kindly send you right to our office.
[0:29:08.9] KM: I like to do a business plan for myself when I’m just planning a new project even though I’m not even going to go get a loan. Just to force me to go through the steps of thinking about what the income is, what the expenses are, and is it a viable decision. I did it for the Dreamland Ballroom, and it was not a viable decision.
[0:29:27.3] BN: That’s a great realization to come to before you’ve invested all these time and money and resources into making something that nobody wants to buy.
[0:29:36.2] CB: There’s one more thing you can do. I don’t know if you’ve heard of the lean canvass. Almost, lt’s a one sheet business plan. It can take maybe 30 minutes to fill out. What you can do is it’s a lunch time exercise. Learn about the lean canvas. It has all the different functions of a business, but you can bullet them. Then you can go and then test the waters on each one of those. You can go and sit with a customer and go, “Hey, would you buy this and would you pay this much for it?” Then you can start to figure out how often they say yes and how much they’re going to say that. What challenges, or what they’ll you what competitors are out there. Guess what, all of those things that you need to build your business plan start to fall out of that lean canvass. All that little — That plate that you put together.
[0:30:18.2] KM: Does the lean canvass help you write the income statement, the profit and loss?
[0:30:21.0] CB: No. The ASBTDC does.
[0:30:22.8] KM: The lean canvass is about marketing?
[0:30:25.6] BN: It can be in a sense. Yeah. Kind of to Corey’s point, what it does is it’s another tool to get your ideas out of your head and on paper.
[0:30:31.6] KM: But it’s about the product. It’s not about the business plan.
[0:30:34.7] BN: Yes and no. It kind of forces you to get — Once you’ve got your ideas on paper, to kind of get out of the building, right? Okay, if we’ve got this idea of this product or service that we want to bring to market, who are we going to sell it to? When he talks about going and sitting and talking with someone about them identifying competitors, or yeah, “I know I really like that component of the business model that you’ve got there and this variance of the product or service that you’re trying to offer —
[0:30:58.7] CB: How do you differentiate.
[0:31:00.3] BN: Yeah. They’ll tell you what they like or don’t’ like about it and then it’s your job not to get your feelings hurt and then go make that thing that they want.
[0:31:07.0] KM: It sounds like they’re going to keep you from letting the tail wag the dog, which I think happens all the time. You get in love with your idea.
[0:31:13.0] CB: No. Yeah, do not fall in love with your idea. Absolutely. It will kill you.
[0:31:17.5] KM: If somebody wants training, they can come one night a week.
[0:31:23.6] BN: The specific class that Corey spoke about was it’s a partnership with the City of Little Rock, and I know there’s another class coming up. I’m not sure where registration stands on that particular class. They can go to our website, asbtdc.org.
[0:31:42.2] KM: ASBTDC.
[0:31:42.8] BN: .org. Yes.
[0:31:43.2] KM: Could you get more acronyms there?
[0:31:45.3] BN: Right. Yeah. Exactly. LOL, go to asbtdc.org.
[0:31:51.5] KM: It does kind of flow though.
[0:31:51.8] TB: OMG.
[0:31:55.1] BN: That’s exactly right. Yeah.
[0:31:55.9] KM: Go, Tim.
[0:31:56.5] BN: Yeah, you can also — If you reach out to Chauncey Holloman. Chauncey, she’s the one over supporting the small business for the Little Rock side about of that relationship.
[0:32:06.8] CB: That’s exactly right.
[0:32:09.2] KM: Corey, is your app for your smartphone free?
[0:32:11.2] CB: It is.
[0:32:12.0] KM: How do you make any money, honey?
[0:32:13.4] CB: Yeah. Initially, I started out of the gate trying to charge for it. Just to back it up, I am now a fulltime running my career, or running RaftUp. I didn’t leave until February. Actually, this is my anniversary of this week.
[0:32:27.2] KM: Of one year?
[0:32:27.5] CB: A one year anniversary of leaving my job.
[0:32:29.2] KM: Yeah, when we were talking about that earlier, you started — Whenever we’d get to the end, you started on started on 2014. It was your idea at that place in Fayetteville.
[0:32:37.2] CB: I raised some friends and family funding. So you go out and you raise quite a lot of money for my idea, because by the way no one will loan you money for a technology startup. It’s purely a different beast. Raising friends and family money, your own money, and then building software. Through that process, I’ve built software. Everything we built for RaftUp has been built in Arkansas. Nothing has been outsourced to another country or anything like that. Okay?
[0:33:02.9] KM: Thank you very much.
[0:33:04.6] CB: Every dollar has been spent in Arkansas as well, so all the marketing material, things like that, everything is Arkansas made. We launched Memorial Day of last year and we did a full press release and we initially gave a one month free app and then we started to look at presales, of preselling memberships, app subscriptions through Marinas because we provide service to marinas, which is they get to see whether our customers are on the water. The customers get to find out where they want to go and then really inspired a lot of marinas to go, “Yeah, this is a no-brainer. We’ll do it.”
Then we’d come to find out that, A; people don’t want to buy apps these days, and B; you’re adding one more thing to a marina to sell and they don’t really know to sell it. It’s technology. It’s an app. It’s something that doesn’t happen.
We learned through last year’s revenue that selling the app is not a good approach, which is also funny because you think people with disposable incomes who buy boats don’t care about buying an app.
[0:33:59.8] KM: Yeah. That’s a good point.
[0:34:00.8] CB: What we found is free is for me. Everyone wants a free app. This free app will actually save your life. They could potentially could save your life. It could save your kid’s life or someone in your family or someone you know. We’ve given this out. What we do in turn is we also have — I didn’t pivot, but I evolved. I’ve also accidentally created this other 911 monitoring solution. This is real time. It’s not tower based technology, and they’re willing to pay me for this service. I’m getting revenue through —
[0:34:29.3] KM: 911?
[0:34:30.7] CB: That’s right. PCEP centers or —
[0:34:33.4] KM: What’s PCEP mean?
[0:34:33.2] CB: The PCEP is like a 911 dispatch center. Yeah, I always forget the terminology there, but basically it’s a 911 call center. They want to know exactly location so they can cut down their response times.
[0:34:44.4] KM: Is this app a GPS?
[0:34:46.4] CB: That’s right. We provide responder tracking and victim tracking and things like that, and so this is perfectly what they need. They have a solution for.
[0:34:55.8] KM: I can’t believe they don’t have that already really.
[0:34:58.3] CB: There are requests, there are solutions out there. Surprisingly, when you call 911 on your mobile phone, they really don’t know where you’re at.
[0:35:05.3] KM: I really cannot believe that.
[0:35:07.4] CB: There’s a huge misperception that they’ll know where you’re at. Not only that, but your call is based on a tower that it hits. Sometimes towers can be tricky. Here’s the other thing, did you know that your cell signal actually go further on water than it does on land because it can bounce off the top of the water, right?
Here’s the situation. You could have a tower that’s near 430 and it’s way, way, way, but it’s bouncing its signal and you call 911 from that bridge, it will go to a dispatch center in a totally different district and then that person has to dispatch to another dispatch center and now you got phone tag and trying to orchestrate response units to that position.
[0:35:41.7] BN: Don’t call 911 form the 430 bridge.
[0:35:43.7] CB: No. Do call 911. Always call 911.
[0:35:46.4] TB: Unless there’s an emergency.
[0:35:48.4] CB: What we’ve done is we’ve totally removed this whole tower bouncing around triangulation issue and gave the exact location on your mobile phone.
[0:35:56.7] KM: I bet you’ve learned that part in the last year. You probably didn’t know that when you started.
[0:35:59.8] CB: Yeah. To be honest, three months ago, I didn’t know I was taking on this whole new evolution. Now, the state of Arkansas is very interested in what I’m doing. There are government entities that have asked me to do other certain things with my technology not just trying to solve social boating.
[0:36:16.9] KM: I love it. I need to get this right. I think that if I was to go on Lake Ouachita and download your app, I could text my friends.
[0:36:24.4] CB: You still could text with your phone. We didn’t want to try solving texting [inaudible 0:36:27.5].
[0:36:28.3] KM: All I can do with it is find my friends?
[0:36:29.9] CB: Yeah. If you have friends download it and you friend each other, you’ll be able to find each other on the water and where you want to go.
[0:36:36.0] KM: What if I did have an emergency? How would I contact them through your app?
[0:36:39.5] CB: If you could help me reach out to the Garland County sheriff’s department, I already showcased this to them. Getting your OEM, that’s the office of emergency management officials. If you want this in your area, it takes five minutes to set up and 30 minutes of training and your area can be covered. It just takes a conversation. I’ve now have — This is just recently. I now have Baxter County up in North Central Arkansas. I have other counties next to them that are very interested. I just spoke Yell County today, which on Lake Dardanelle, and it just takes a demonstration and some attention and I’m hearing, “Yes. Yes. Yes.” I sat down with the director of emergency management for the State of Arkansas, that’s Ajay Gary. He looked at one — Looked at this and he went. I have no advice to give. I would love to see a statewide rollout. You need to go and prove it out.
[0:37:25.5] KM: You know what this reminds me? Kind of Facebook. Nobody could figure out how to make money off of Facebook, and then all of a sudden everybody was using it and then all of a sudden money started rolling into that guy. What’s his name?
[0:37:35.9] TB: Mark Zuckerberg.
[0:37:36.8] KM: Thanks.
[0:37:37.7] CB: We also make other money another way.
[0:37:39.5] KM: You do?
[0:37:39.9] CB: Yeah. We don’t charge a lot for this service to the 911s because we know that their budget is strapped, and so what we do is turn around. We do geo-targeted advertising. So, “Oh, my background in marketing strategy and technology is now coming to play.” Businesses who want to get in front of disposable incomes can.
[0:37:57.0] KM: Like Snapchat? Didn’t it do a geo-marketing?
[0:37:58.6] CB: They do some of that. Yeah. They do some of that. What we’d be able to do is based on where you’re at and what your interests are, we can then have banner ads. It’d be associated to your interest. Your business can actually showcase their location. What events that they have going on and those sort of things.
[0:38:12.0] KM: I think I want to do that. Boaters are big flag buyers.
[0:38:14.6] BN: I was about to say that 4th of July weekend, they’re going to be out and about.
[0:38:17.3] KM: I have lots of boaters that come by, because flags were out on — They have to replace them every year — Do you have a flag on your boat?
[0:38:24.8] CB: We did. I actually want to talk to you about getting a custom flag for my lifestyle business that we’re launching.
[0:38:31.6] KM: Another one?
[0:38:32.5] CB: RaftUp is actually a lifestyle. Rafting up on the water as a community. It’s a known thing to do in the boating circle. If you raft up, it’s actually getting together and it’s a social event.
[0:38:43.6] KM: It’s like a floatela.
[0:38:43.8] CB: It’s like a floatela, and so what we’re going to do is we have branded clothing that we’re kicking off you can wear. We sell through marinas too. Not only do you download the app, but you could wear our clothing and the response has been overwhelming. One of the things that we actually want to do is I want to burgee. I want a custom burgee in the teleconference room.
[0:39:00.4] KM: For everybody that doesn’t know what a burgee is. It’s like a swallowtail flag. Little points on the end.
Y’all recognize that song? It’s from the movie Working Girl, a 1988 romantic comedy drama film with Melanie Griffith, Harrison Ford, and Scrawny Weaver, and I love that show and I thought my listeners might want to go, “Oh, yeah! We really like that,” and remind them to go watch it.
What’s SOS mean? You said it’s a social SOS. What does that mean?
[0:39:44.3] CB: There’s actually not a real meaning for it. Save our soul is used to be the term used for mariners on the water, save our soul, SOS. Actually, SOS is really just a Morse code. That sort of thing. Yeah.
Social SOS because we’re socializing our request for help not only with our friends and family but people near us. Save ourselves, that’s another one. Social SOS, or you could play with the idea of social outdoor safety, SOS.
[0:40:16.2] KM: Oh, I like that. How do people get your app? Where do they find it?
[0:40:18.8] CB: You can download the app in both the Apple Store, Apple App Store, or the Google Play Store for Android. It’s made for Android and Apple phones.
[0:40:26.8] KM: is that hard to do, to make an app?
[0:40:30.3] CB: Yeah. It was a challenge. Just to say that for sure, and very expensive.
[0:40:33.4] KM: Is it? That’s what you spent most your money on? Does your wife work?
[0:40:36.6] CB: She does. She is a finance and accounting manager.
[0:40:39.3] KM: Oh! You had to go to the Small Business Development Center. I guess you and your wife just couldn’t work together.
[0:40:44.4] CB: No. Her accounting is focused purely in a different area, not just managing a business. Yeah.
[0:40:53.1] KM: Blake. What do you think the Small Business Development Center’s biggest strength is?
[0:40:57.5] BN: Biggest strength? I would say the resources that we have available to us. I spoke earlier about the consulting services, the training services that we offer. The market research that we’re able to provide for our clients is immense. If we’re going to know a certain demographic, where they’re located, how many of those people are there.
[0:41:15.6] KM: Oh, you got data.
[0:41:16.2] BN: We have lots of data.
[0:41:17.5] KM: Let’s go back to what your strengths are.
[0:41:19.6] BN: Yeah. In talking more about the market research, the data that we have not only at the state level but on a national level and even international level is pretty immense. If we’re talking about how many potential customers might be in a specific trade area, say, a 15-mile drive radius from a specific location, if you’re looking an open and a retail store. We can look and find how many of those exact people it is that you’re trying to reach.
[0:41:43.9] KM: Is that because you’re using Axiom’s information or you’re using the city’s information? Where are you getting your data from?
[0:41:48.7] BN: Yeah, I’m not sure what Axiom does behind the scenes as far as kind of generating and kind of —
[0:41:53.7] KM: Corey ought to know. He worked there.
[0:41:54.7] BN: No. I don’t want to put him on the spot. No. Big brother knows a lot about us, right? We can use that information not to our benefit which is helpful. Yeah.
[0:42:05.0] KM: You know, I didn’t know that. I may have to consider using that Arkansas Flag & Banner. I didn’t know. We do a lot of mailing. How do you advertise, Corey?
[0:42:14.1] CB: Right now, what we do is we do a lot of social posting and we’ll be doing — No direct mail. I don’t like direct mail. I just come from that background. A lot of it is just press releases and social posting and we will be doing dome email, but not outbound email. We’ll do a lot of — If you become of RaftUp, we’ll send out a newsletter. You could share with your friend. We’ll try to do some social. We have a website, so some inbound traffic. We don’t pay for any SEO or SEM.
Then I do have some print material, but it’s really for — I put fliers up in rack cards in marinas and in different areas. We’re going to have a unified social posts through our 911 units and the marinas that we’ll be doing businesses with. That’s how I’ll be doing my advertising. Once I have more revenue, then we’ll talk about what are my marketing mix is going to be from an outbound perspective.
[0:43:04.1] KM: What is your email? What is your web address?
[0:43:06.6] CB: Our web address is raftup.com.
[0:43:09.8] KM: That’s a good one.
[0:43:10.1] CB: R-A-F-T-U-P.com.
[0:43:13.4] KM: Your Facebook, probably.
[0:43:13.7] CB: Our Facebook is @theraftup, theraftup, R-A-F-T-U-P. Yeah, that’s for Facebook, Twitter and for Instagram. You want to see some of those wonderful pictures that we take every so often. You can follow us —
[0:43:24.9] KM: You just make us want to go to the lake. Just make us realize while we’re sitting at the desk, you’re out there with your GPS going, “Ain’t this good? I’m working.”
[0:43:33.4] CB: Yeah. I try to remind people that I get to work from the goad sometimes. Yeah.
[0:43:37.3] KM: Yeah. I bet your bet wife likes that a lot.
[0:43:39.3] CB: Yeah.
[0:43:40.1] KM: Blake, what do you think the biggest mistake is that people make for small business owners make besides believe I their own BS?
[0:43:45.1] BN: Yeah. Sure. I think beyond just not taking in to that objective advice from whomever it may be that gives it to them, because often times our family and friends are our biggest cheerleaders, so they’re not very good at giving us objective advice, but most of the time they’re not at least. I think probably the biggest mistake is not taking into account everything that goes in to starting a business.
[0:44:09.6] KM: Is there something you didn’t realize was going to happen, Corey? You thought people would buy your app and they’re not.
[0:44:16.3] CB: The first thing that I realized is if you watch the TV show Silicon Valley as a tech startup, you’ll want to eat every word that ever had said or think that you said. One of the things is that I try to check my stereotypes at the door. One of the things is, yeah, you’re going to work —
[0:44:30.7] KM: Why? I don’t understand what that means.
[0:44:33.9] CB: In most startup space, you’re talking about scaling and how do I scale and how do I go viral? How do I — Ecosystem, pitch, raise. How do I do a 10x my return on my investment? It’s all the difference nuances around trying to pitch your business and then you start to realize that, actually, you should stop pitching the business and start selling what you’re selling rather than trying to get raise and funding and investment.
[0:44:59.8] KM: You’re saying that all of the textbook kind of terminology and theory is just exactly that, and that when you get in the trenches it’s different.
[0:45:08.5] CB: Oh, yeah. I think it’s still there but it’s as real as it’s going to be and it doesn’t show its face. When you’re talking about how do you differentiate your product, you’re like, “Okay, this is how I sell.” Okay. That’s differentiating your product. How are you different — How is Apple different than android? They’re all about taking pictures and not so much on all the different features, and then how does Android do? They throw all of the things that you can do. That’s how they differentiate. That’s how I have to look at my business and figure it out.
[0:45:37.0] KM: I have enjoyed y’all so much. This has really been interesting show. I want to thank both of you all. Because we talked about it earlier, the birth of your businesses, here’s a cigar.
[0:45:48.8] CB: Thank you.
[0:45:49.0] BN: Wow! Thank you very much. I appreciate that.
[0:45:51.8] KM: Blake, I keep calling you Normal. You got two first names.
[0:45:55.1] BN: I’ll answer in any of them. That’s fine.
[0:45:56.9] KM: They’re both good.
[0:45:57.6] BN: I’ve been called a lot worst things. I can assure you that.
[0:46:00.2] KM: Well, you get a cigar from the Humidor Room at Colonial Wine & Spirits on Markham Street in Little Rock, Arkansas because you birthed businesses. Like Blake said, it’s like your first born child.
How do they get in touch with both of you again one more time?
[0:46:16.4] BN: Yeah. Again, the Arkansas Small Business and Technology Development Center, our website is asbtdc.org and the best phone number is 501-683-7700.
[0:46:30.5] KM: And Corey?
[0:46:31.1] CB: You can reach RaftUp at raftup.com or you can find us on social media. Facebook is theraftup. Twitter is theraftup, and Instagram is theraftup. If you want to email me directly, it’s firstname.lastname@example.org.
[0:46:46.2] KM: Good luck. I’m excited about your — I’m going to get the app and go on the lake. I’ve got a boat.
Who’s my guest next week, Tim?
[0:46:53.4] TB: It is going to be the advertising firm, Thoma Thoma.
[0:46:56.2] KM: Oh! I love them. They’re married, so we’re going to have a husband and wife come on and talk about nepotism and about their business, and they’ve been in business a pretty good while.
[0:47:04.6] BN: Yeah, Martin is great.
[0:47:05.4] TB: An advertising.
[0:47:07.0] KM: Yeah. Aha. Oh, yeah.
[0:47:08.3] TB: We covered that yet.
[0:47:10.0] KM: You know, we haven’t had an advertising group. This will be the first one. Excellent point. Al right, if you’ve got a great entrepreneurial story you would like to share, I would love to hear from you. Send a brief bio and your contact info to email@example.com. and someone will be in touch.
Finally, to our listeners, thank you for spending time with me. If you think this program has been about you, you’re right, but it’s also about me. Thank you for letting me fulfill my destiny. My hope today is that you’ve heard or learned something that’s been inspiring and enlightening and that it, whatever it is, will help you up your business, your independence, or your life. I’m Kerry McCoy, until then, be brave and keep it up.
[END OF INTERVIEW]
[0:47:50.7] TB: You’ve been listening to Up in Your Business with Kerry McCoy. Want to hear today’s program again or want someone else to benefit from it? Jot this down. Within 48 hours the podcast will be available at flagandbanner.com. Click the tab labeled “Radio Show”, there you’ll find today’s segments with links to resources you heard discussed on this program. Kerry’s goal: to help you live the American Dream.