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Tech Alley Presents

Thanks for taking the time to sit with us to share your Startup Story with our readers. Can you start out by sharing a little bit about yourself and your company?

Thanks for having me! So, my name is Joseph Haecker, and I'm a startup addict.

I say that, only partially kiddingly.

Currently, I own twenty-three tech companies, a media and broadcasting company, I am the Tech Alley Chapter Organizer for Denver, and I am COO for The International Association of Home Staging Professionals.

My more notable startups are, Top of Mind Digital Magazines, Publik Speakr, Scavenger Fest, and Join inCrowd.

I did say that this was an addiction...

With a million business ideas out there, what makes your business unique?

So, my career started in high-end custom decorative lighting, specifically for hotels, casinos, commercial and high-end residential. I had worked for two custom lighting companies up until December of 2008. After leaving Alger in 2008, I started my first lighting design consulting business called, OC-3d Solid Design. At the time, I thought consulting was for "old people". But my former employer, Mishel Michel met up with me for lunch and encouraged me to start my own consulting business.

So, over the next few years, I would contract lighting design work from twenty-eight of the top lighting manufacturers, and design projects globally. It was in 2010, that I was sitting in the lounge at the lodge in Big Bear, watching my kids and thirteen of their friends snowboarding. I was drinking my whiskey and Coke, looking out the giant lodge windows, thinking "I had made it. Life was good." Then, I looked down at my laptop, at the project I was working on and realized..."I would be sitting in front of a computer for the rest of my life in order to earn a buck..."

Now, mind you... I was billing at two-hundred and forty dollars an hour and earning well over the hundred grand I had been at, working for my last job. And in hindsight, I'm mixed on going into the world of entrepreneurialism. I guess you can tell me if I made the right decision...

My "Ah ha" moment was right then. I wanted to figure out how to earn passive income. Months would go by before I stumbled on the idea that the interior design world was progressively looking to social media for design inspiration and product sourcing. I would spend over a year, calling up friends from the design industry to float my concept by them for feedback.

So, in 2012, when I launched what I initially called, "CPAD". Or "Computer Personal Assisted Design"...I know, horrible name, I thought I was rally on to something. Now, I'll put a pin in that thought and rewind. I did not know the difference between a "startup" and a "small business". As a child, my mom did taxes from home. And my father worked a machinist job and welded on the side. So, I knew "small business". But not "tech startup". So, after paying a ton of deposits with development companies, graphic designers, PR companies, renting an office overlooking John Wayne airport, and not having any idea of simple concepts like, "runway", "ROI", "Burn Rate", etc. By August of 2013, I had watched all of my cars get repo'ed, rented a room from a friend, then moved into a one and a half bedroom apartment in Santa Ana, California, in order to keep a roof over me and my kid's heads. I would end up riding a bicycle over one-hundred and thirty miles a week, to earn twelve dollars an hour. It was during this time that I discovered the startup ecosystem in Orange County, California. I began attending the Irvine 1-Million Cups.

It was in the Orange County startup ecosystem that I learned concepts like, distribution of equity, building a team, what a pitch deck was, dilution, burn rates, churn, and simple things like "what a startup is". It was in the Orange County startup ecosystem that I was able to find and recruit a team that included, the brand strategist from Adobe, the Marketing Director for the Honda Center, the Founder of Bright-White, the President of Tech Coast Angels, the CFO of Olliclip, the former CTO of Gateway Computers, the Director of UI/UX for Auto Trader, and developers from Nortel Systems, Google and Amazon. We would go on to attract five-hundred thousand monthly new members by a year an nine months. We were able to batch upload thousands of new products to our system, instantly. And we created countless innovations. But, ultimately, we failed to pivot into revenue. We tried. But, we just couldn't make that pivot.

Every business has some sort of catalyst for getting started, or some inspiration. What was your "ah ha" moment?

So, I'll focus on Join inCrowd. Join inCrowd is a digital contact card platform. You might be thinking..."You mean, digital business cards?" And the answer is "no". I mean digital "contact" cards. We launched Join inCrowd in February of 2021, as a digital business card platform. But by May of 2021, when we looked at our member data, what we found was that our peak user times were Thursday through Saturday, from 9pm until 3am. Who was using our digital business cards? Not, business people. It turns out that our primary member was a person going out to bars and wanting to swap contact info. So, we drafted up some changes and added a "Send Text" button. This made swapping contact info incredibly fast. In fact, most digital business cards try and force people into "downloading contact info". And we do that too. But we have the "Send Text" button right below the "Download Contact" button. And it's this button that changed our member traction.

The problem we solve is simple. We make it easy for people to swap contact info. As of the end of 2022, we have over eight-hundred thousand members. And we send no money on marketing. Why is our solution "unique"? It's not.

There are plenty of other digital card options. But ours is FREE. You can create unlimited FREE cards. And upgrading is only one-dollar per month, or nine-dollars and sixty cents per year. In February of 2022, we introduced Join inCrowd "Enterprise", for companies with two or more employees. Now, businesses can create corporately branded and managed digital cards for all of their employees for less than two-dollars per month. And what makes that different? We know what we are, and what we aren't. We are a platform for people to easily share their contact info. The other guys are in a constant drive to sell wearables, cards and other merchandise, along with crazy subscription plans, in order to gain market share and cover all of their expenses. We spend nothing. And we are growing like crazy.

Launching a business is hard. Do you have a team or people that have helped you along the way? And, can you share a little bit about that?

So, our team is Lisa, our developer. Paul, our investor. And me. I had ordered the Blue Social Card, in September of 2019. When I went to my mailbox, my neighbor and landlord, John, was getting his mail too and saw that I had received my Blue Card. We went upstairs to try it out, and it sucked. Basically, it worked sometimes. But not others. So, with some egging from John, I drafted up the specs and wireframes and shot them over to Lisa. Lisa thought it was pretty doable. So, I went looking for an investor. I had met Paul in Orange County. He liked the idea and was in. By December of 2019, we went into development. Our team is small. And, truth be told, none of us actually work on the platform. We have no customer service. We spend nothing in marketing. And we are not in a constant state of development. Our digital contact cards are fully automated. And we leverage a concept I call, "Turning your customers into your marketers". If I were to hand a person my Vistaprint business card, Vistaprint isn't involved in the transaction. When a person shares their Join inCrowd digital card with someone at a bar, or a networking event, Join inCrowd is the small logo in the top left-hand corner, and the menu in the top right-hand corner. Our team, is really every person that signs up for and creates a Join inCrowd Card.

People love an inside scoop. What is something most people might not know about you or your company?

This is a fun one. So, most tech companies track all kinds of information. We don't. My mom text me one day, saying that they had set up a card for my dad and his dog walking service. She asked if they had set up the card right. I had no idea. We have no back end to browse your cards. Truth be told, I don't care. Your card is your card. Our "all in" startup cost was ten-thousand dollars. Our cost per user, is seven-thousandths of a cent. And we spend ZERO money on marketing. Which means that for every seven thousand members, our cost is one-penny. So, we do not spend any effort in trying to snoop around your cards. Those are yours. And we have no incentive to change that.

Every business hits that wall, or hurdle. What is a major hurdle your business is facing?

We recently redesigned our landing page.

Join inCrowd is a responsive website. Yet, a lot of people think digital cards must need to be an "app".

The reason we are not an app, is simple. You can not boost cell phone coverage. If you have back cell coverage, you can't boost cell coverage.

But you can boost a WiFi signal.

When you attend conferences or expos, you may have trouble with your Verizon or AT&T coverage. But you can always connect to the free WiFi.

So, our original landing page was designed to look like an app.

The concept was that we should help our members connect the dots.

Turns out that in only two-years and five months, our landing page looked "old" and outdated.

So, in the Fall of 2022, we asked our members for feedback and redesigned our landing page.

Did that "overcome" anything?

That's really up to our members. Do they now understand what we offer? And do they understand our value proposition better?

The jury is still out on that one.

Starting and running a business is a major learning experience. Up until this point, what is the biggest lesson you have learned about running your business and the field you are in?

Patience.

Everyone thinks, "I'm gonna get rich fast".

We have zero illusions of grandeur. Join inCrowd is not the only digital card out on the market. We will not be the last. We are not the most innovative. And we will not roll out new features each month, with a billion updates.

What we are is consistently yours.

You can make as many cards as you want. You can use your card how ever you want.

We are simply a platform for you to make more friends, stay connected and grow your network.

We know our role.

For those first learning about your business, could you share three key takeaways that you believe our readers should know about you, your business or your product/solution?

Key take away about me...I have benefited from the startup community. I have done it wrong, and have learned a lot of lessons. If you are in the Denver area, or you want to reach out to me on social media, I am always available to fellow startups and entrepreneurs who might want someone to work some ideas out with. I am not a coach. And I don't charge for mentoring. Just call me.

Two...Try out Join inCrowd. It's free.

And take the extra two seconds and support a charity. It's free. Join inCrowd does not touch any of the money. And we are not part of the transaction. You simply display a logo and a call-to-action, and when people click the link, it takes them directly to the charity's donate page.

The last thing...If you have an idea, or a business concept. Go pursue it.

Find your local 1-Million Cups, or Tech Alley, or go on Meetup and get plugged in. There is never the right time to get started. And there is never a wrong time to get started. But if you never try, then the world is missing out on a solution or a concept that someone needs.

And I'll throw in a fourth take away....Don't be afraid to fail.

Life has ZERO guarantees. You were not put on this planet to be comfortable. We were put on this planet to do the thing you were gifted with.

So, go live your gift.

Your gift, could be the thing that changes someone else's life.

Why should people use your company or solution?

I have no idea. Why would you need a digital card?

Are you spending a lot on business cards? Well, we are free.

Are you just starting your business and purchasing business cards is expensive? Well, we are free.

Are you not sure if your branding will change, and so buying business cards seems like a waste of money? You're right! And, we are free...

Are you headed to a bar, or a nightclub and don't want to share your real name with people that you meet? Well, you can create a digital card with a fake name on Join inCrowd.

Are you a drug smuggler, or have an Only Fans page, and want to share your contact info? Well, we don't have any employees at Join inCrowd snooping around your info.

So, why should you join? That's completely up to you.

Are you currently seeking funding, co-founders or building out your team?

Nope. We are possibly looking for acquisition in 2024. By February, we will all fully vest, and we would be open to being acquired.

So, if you know someone that wants a turn key tech platform, with zero overhead and no marketing spend...Then, send them my way.

They could easily spend ten dollars a month on Facebook, and multiply their return on investment.

Well, it has been wonderful sitting with you today to learn more about you and your company. How can people find out more about what you guys are up to?

Sure. If you are in the Denver area on the 3rd Friday of any month, come swing by Tech Alley Denver. We are in the Santa Fe Arts District. We have breakout sessions and panel discussions from 9am until 4pm. And for the past few months, LoCo+ has been sponsoring the Happy Hour, from 4-6pm.

You can get more info at www.techalleydenver.org

You can also follow me on Linkedin, by searching Joseph Haecker.

And, if you would like to be featured on my Join inCrowd Podcast, just fill out the form at www.joinincrowdpodcast.com

Thanks, Josh for letting me share. This may be your longest interview yet...

Thank you for taking the time today to sit with us and share your Startup Story.
Contact
Joseph Haecker
at
joseph@joinincrowd.com
Every startup has a story. We want to share yours.
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