Andrew Warner, host of the wildly popular Mixergy podcast, loves to talk to entrepreneurs about how they started their companies. His interviews are legend. Always exceedingly well-prepared, he peppers guests with tough questions, diving deep to uncover the essence of what makes each company unique and the insights other entrepreneurs can apply to growing their own business.
Ara Bagdasarian, Omnilert’s CEO and co-founder recently braved the Mixergy inquisition. Here are some of the highlights of the interview. To listen to or read the entire Mixergy interview, Mixergy members can go to http://mixergy.com/interviews/ara-bagdasarian-omnilert/
If you're not a Mixergy member, you can listen to the audio podcast here: https://itunes.apple.com/us/podcast/1153-how-newspaper-article/id348690336?i=342068103&mt=2#sthash.skI3eeqA.dpuf
New mobile technology sparks an idea
In 2002 Ara and his friend Nick Gustavsson were looking for a way to leverage their combined expertise in web development and mobile technology to create something new.
“[We] were texting one another back then. You remember back in 2002, texting on a Nokia phone or Motorola Razr was a cutting edge phone, you had to press the one key three times to get the C character. So, it was very cumbersome.”
The friends had been working on an idea called HomeSync, which used text messaging to prelist homes for sale via a blast to the real estate community to set up viewings for an instant sale. Over the course of six months, however, they found out through validation that Realtors found the thought a service like HomeSync off-putting and they weren’t ready for text messages yet.
“Back then, most adults had no idea what a text message was. It just was not well-received. That’s when I was actually doing the research online and came across the article about Jeanne Clery.
“At that point in time, in 2003, the only demographic that was using text messaging was the 18-24 year old college market. It just seemed to be a much greater problem than selling homes at the time, the campus safety conundrum.
From Heartbreak to Inspiration
While researching the college market, Ara happened to see a heartbreaking archived newspaper article about Jeanne Clery, a student at Lehigh University who was murdered by a rapist in 1986. Sadly, she had chosen Lehigh over Tulane because she and her family felt it would be safer. Had the school warned students that campus crime had increased dramatically and other coeds had been attacked, Jeanne might have locked her dorm door. She and her fellow students would have known to be more vigilant about security. If she had been properly armed with information, Jeanne might still be alive.
The Clery family used their settlement from Lehigh to start the Safety on Campus advocacy group and channeled their grief into action. In 1990, Congress passed the Cleary Act requiring colleges to disclose campus crime statistics and provide timely warnings to students and staff of safety threats.
“I was doing research on the first iteration of our concept that became the emergency notification system. The article was actually published in 1990; it was an archive article… So, reading that article just triggered that aha moment, if you will, that we can use text messages as a way to communicate with students on a campus to keep them safe, as a way to bolster the Clery Act to communicate in a timely fashion.
Ara and Nick had found a worthy inspiration for their new company: keeping students safe. Starting with this goal, Ara and Nick built and launched e2Campus and began talking to schools. They launched service for businesses shortly thereafter.
“One of the key things about entrepreneurship that I think is so important is what I call a receptivity to opportunity, being receptive. What most people see as a problem, an entrepreneur sees as an opportunity.”
“We did not have the technology yet … We created the outcome.”
“But it was just the core ability to have people sign up for the system and to send out messages to thousands…It’s proximity independent communication. ‘You can be anywhere,’ as we were trying to foster this whole new industry which exists today.”
“Back then it was called My Google. This was years before Facebook, years before Twitter, and years before the iPhone. So, when you try to envision 2004, it’s almost difficult right now given all the technologies that have flourished over the past several years.”
Omnilert’s Commitment to Safety and Innovation Continues
Today the company known as Omnilert has more than 22,000 clients including U.S. Army, DuPont, Bayer, Mazda, American Red Cross, University of Arizona, and Cal Poly, and more than 10 million opted-in users. e2Campus remains a market leader and the company’s industry-leading innovations continue to shape the emergency notification market.
“We started from a very different place 11 years ago based on that article about Jeanne Clery and the desire to solve that problem, if you will, of campus safety communications.
“We just launched a brand new app called Scenario Launcher which is really cool… from a native iPhone or Android app, it allows you to select a scenario and it triggers a series of actions. For example, it will update your website with a central message. It will send a text message to students. It will call parents. It will initiate a desktop alert on all the campus televisions, and desktops. It will send a tweet about the lockdown, ‘More information to follow.’ It will post to Facebook. The things that you can do–it will trigger the public address system.
Ara, Nick and their team remain committed to the company’s mission to leverage technology innovation to keep people safe, and will continue as the team finds new ways help individuals and organizations make the connections that count.
To listen to or read the entire Mixergy interview go to http://mixergy.com/interviews/ara-bagdasarian-omnilert/
To listen to the interview podcast free in iTunes go to: https://itunes.apple.com/us/podcast/1153-how-newspaper-article/id348690336?i=342068103&mt=2#sthash.skI3eeqA.dpuf