Photo: You Tube
Nick Chmura came up with the idea for his startup because he was fed up with getting nutcrackers for Christmas.”For my first fifteen Christmases I got 35 nutcrackers,” he tells us. “These people loved me and wanted to get me something but they didn’t know what to get me. I know they love me, and I’m grateful for that, but what was I supposed to do with 30-five nutcrackers?”
He founded BetterBoo — essentially a “Pinterest for gifts,” he says — in August 2011 because he wanted people to be smarter about gift giving. He originally caught the attention of investors with a YouTube video, where he had crafted his pitch for a startup competition.
Prior to the video, Chmura had never pitched before, nor had he worked closely with or spoken to investors. Now a year after its launch, Chmura is ready to launch a new version of the site that he’s sure will take off.
Betterboo’s purpose is to make shopping for gifts an easy, interactive experience for users. It uses Facebook and Amazon to help users find the best presents. When BetterBoo went live last year, it acquired 500 users within the first month. Before undergoing renovation 6 months later, its user base had increased more than three-fold, with 1,600 users going to BetterBoo to choose gifts. At that point, there was no money spent on marketing.
As of now, BetterBoo.com‘s main page prompts visitors to enter an email address, where they’ll be notified when the relaunch is officially live. The new version will feature an improved design and mobile app integration.
“On Pinterest, you pin different things onto boards,” Chmura explains. “On BetterBoo, you add gifts you want to different boxes. Users are allowed to build multiple boxes for different occasions.” In addition to this, users will be able to comment on friends’ gifts and see what gifts others are adding in real time. “I want to make shopping more social than ever,” he adds.
After entering a national pitch competition hosted by the Collegiate Entrepreneurship organisation and becoming a finalist amongst more than 100 participants, Chmura’s school, the University of Tampa, posted the pitch video on its YouTube page. An alumni of the University saw the video and reached out to him.
When Chmura received word that an investor was interested in BetterBoo, he was stuck at home missing a New Year’s party after having his tonsils removed. The email subject read: “Interested in investing in BetterBoo.” Suddenly, missing one of the only parties of the year in his small hometown didn’t seem so bad.
Negotiations followed during the next two months. While Chmura had been a part of a couple of web startups before he founded BetterBoo, he had never experienced what it was like dealing with serious investors.
“They were asking for term sheets, growth charts, pro forma balance sheets, and income statements,” says Chmura. “They wanted me to make predictions on the success of a company that was still in its idea stage. I turned to professors for help, and I got chewed out by a lot of them. But I wanted to be confident talking to my investors about the things they needed.”
During meetings, Chmura discussed the team that would need to be put together to take BetterBoo to the next level, the share in the company the investor would get and for what amount of capital. To get the site running and for marketing, Chmura estimated that he’d need $40,000—which is exactly what they invested.
Over the next few months, BetterBoo would catch the attention of a local news station and Inc. Magazine, who listed the company as one of “America’s Coolest College Start-ups” for 2012.
Chmura is a non-technical founder and has hired other people to do the coding, such as Brady Churchill, whom he met at a CEO conference in Omaha. While originally intending to take summer classes for programming, he veered in a different direction after a professor advised him to focus on his strengths instead of his weaknesses.
As a college student, Chmura majored in an unlikely field: marine biology. “As soon as I learned how much chemistry was involved in marine biology, and how little scuba diving and dolphin training was involved, I was out. Eventually I ended up with a financial degree. It was much more helpful to know different financial statements during the formation of my business than where Stone crabs are becoming extinct in South Florida.”
Social media has been a huge pusher for the business. “I like being in the trenches with my customers and figuring out what they want us to provide for them. Twitter has been the best medium for these conversations. I chat a lot with people looking for gift help.”
The enhanced version of BetterBoo will be launched exclusively, with availability extended only to former users, those who submitted their email addresses, and those invited by current users. “I am dreaming big,” says Chmura. “Looking back to when I started, I wasn’t at all qualified to start this business. I knew so little, but was too ignorant and ambitious to realise. I finally feel like I am in a good position to make BetterBoo bigger than ever.”
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