Chris Travis of Nidiant Talks about His Startup
Where are you from originally?
I was born in Dallas, raised in Waco, went to school in Austin. (I am a "son of the Republic of Texas" so my family has been here since Texas was a Republic.)
What university did you go to?
I went to school at UT Austin, McClennan Co. Community college and at St. Edwards University. To be honest, mostly I partied. Life is the university in which I learned the most.
What brought you to Austin?
The architecture firm of which I am Managing Partner has an office there. Two of my three children live there and all my grandchildren - but since early February I have been coming there to network and get involved in the startup community as we are getting close to going to market and plan to have our offices in Austin.
What is the idea behind your startup?
We help people design the lives they want to live...then help them create homes that empower that life.
Looking at it from a business model view however, we are implementing on the Internet a systematic process we developed in the real world with our architecture clients over a ten year period that basically is user experience for architecture. To accomplish that we use psychological testing and a variety of other techniques from behavior-environment sciences to collect data from people for the purpose of helping them develop detailed criteria for a home that fits who they are, how they live and what they care about.
What need does it fulfill?
1. Turns out that same technology also identifies the "why of buy" when it come to residential real estate, home improvement projects, home furnishings and home project components. We have both free and paid exercises that are project specific.
2. We are a referral service for home professionals (realtors, architects, interior designers, contractors etc.)
3. We also offer "Healing Home" exercises (again some free, others paid) that range from "greening your home" up to flat out self improvement applications. (Again our process is about getting at the Home in your Head - which is of course where the "experience of home" exists. Then taking those goals and implementing them in a real project.)
4. We are also host an online collaborative web2 workspace that allows people to "play house" with their friends who also take our exercises and products - and to collaborate on real projects with home professionals online.
5. We offer both consumers and pros the option of working with people outside their normal geographic markets. Pros in one marketplace can collaborate with pros and consumers in another marketplace on a common project.
6. Our testing collects a lot of data about consumer preferences for specific products, product types, their priorities, budgets etc. That allows us to deliver pay per click advertising to home products and furnishings advertisers that is very drilled down.
7. After we have enough users, we will have a vast source of a new type of consumer analysis based not just on what people say they want, but what their emotions and values predict they will actually buy. So we will offer predictive consumer analysis, do product testing etc.
What exactly does your product do?
As noted, we have a lot of products.
1. For pros, it offers referrals and offers a totally new and better type of "human centered" sales process.
2. It reduces showings per sale for realtors (As it is known in real estate - it improves the "buyers are liars" problem), lowers production costs for architects and interior designers (how many revisions required to get client buy in).
3. It helps build more powerful and trusting relationships - so it enhances client retention and customer satisfaction.
4. It also saves pros money and time as you get a much higher percentage of the details associated with what a client wants down in advance - so fewer change orders, misunderstandings, lost clients and law suits.
5. It makes it easier for an interior designer in Detroit to collaborate with a contractor and his client in Austin (or anywhere else)
1. For consumers, it helps them clarify what they want before they approach the professionals they hire.
2. It helps them find pros that are compatible with their needs, values and budget.
3. It help them learn how to approach a project with the life they want in mind, not just their tile selection and type of refrigerator.
4. It helps them find and work with designers outside their geographic market which will likely help them save money and give them more choices.
5. It gives women a fantasy place to "play house" online.
6. And most of all, it gives them a lot more control over the final outcome of a project that for many of them is the most expensive investment they have.
Who is it for?
Women especially like it. But is is for anyone creating a living space that fits their life - their values, relationships, personal goals, tastes, lifestyle, family background, financial priorities and psychological makeup. And it is for saving home pros time and money, enhancing their image and improving their customer satisfaction. It is for making client relationships work in the largest and most fragmented industry in the U. S. - so it is for anyone who wants a home that fits who they are and anyone who wants a home related project to be less stressful and more successful.
What was the most challenging aspect of starting up a business?
I am 58 and have been starting businesses since I was 24. So my biggest challenge has been the learning curve associated with a technology startup. This is my first one and the learning curve has been steep. We had this process very vetted in our architecture firm but turning it into an online technology - particularly the UI and UX issues - has been a challenge. We have gotten there slowly and painfully. But we are finally very close now.
What is the next step for you and your startup?
We are pretty far along. We have a UI-UX fix that needs to be implemented after a lot of focus group testing and are looking for a little bit of money (Maybe $50,000 more than we have already raised) from 2-3 angels with strong experience in small B to B and consumer based markets (ideally some experience in a webII startup would also be nice). We want investors who might want long term management roles after we get to market and start our first "real capitalization. We are currently self funded and shopping for people more than for money. We want to identify some really good management partners some time soon and would like to get them involved as investors in this proof of concept roll out. We expect to be "at market" by late Summer or early Fall and need to find that team soon as the founders do not see themselves as top management long term.
What advice do you have for entrepreneurs?
Grow big ones and never quit. A lot of making a business successful is getting a really great idea you truy believe in, listening to others enough to get it right and never giving up. We think "following your bliss" makes money. Counting all the development and research involved in the project - not just the web development phase - we have been working on this project for a decade. So I had to love this sucker to stay with it. And I do love it.
What Austin-based resource have you found to be the most helpful and why?
There are a lot of great resources in Austin for entrepreneurs - but frankly I think the best resource is just the culture of the community itself. Austin is an awesome mix of business and social entrepreneurship. Smart, helpful people are everywhere and the "spirit" of the community is not only about innovation but also about giving back. We are a group that is very committed to that view of business - so Austin feels like home to us. (And given I was there from 1968 to 1974 - the CEO was quite happy to find the town is still about breaking boundaries and making a difference.)