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Business Observer Friday, Sep. 9, 2016 3 years ago

Instagram for grownups

Scott Relf sold his startup company to Google in 2011. His next company also has bold ambitions.
by: Jean Gruss Contributing Writer

Scott Relf is an entrepreneurial hero in Naples.

When he sold his startup, Zave Networks, to Google in 2011, no price was disclosed. But Relf says it was the 12th largest acquisition by Google to date.

Selling a company to Google may be considered the peak of success, but Relf is far from done. He and his wife, Renee, recently launched a new company, PikMobile.

PikMobile is a photo-sharing service that lets users create stories using their photos and videos without the clutter of advertising. “We're Instagram for grownups,” Relf says.

Once you download the PikMobile application to your iPhone (an Android version will come later), the service lets you add photos and videos and organize them into a story. You can invite friends to add their photos to your story and share them on other social media sites such as Facebook and Twitter. Users will be able to use the service with tablets and computers via a web browser next month. “It's very much blog-like,” Relf says.

PikMobile plans to make money by selling images and videos on the PikStore. For example, sports fans might pay $5 for a season's worth of photos from their favorite football team or 25 cents for a single video clip of a game-winning touchdown. Vendors will set prices for photos and videos.

Photos are a big deal in social media, and Relf says the average user spends about $20 to $40 on music and apps annually. But Relf says intrusive advertising on other photo-sharing services is a turnoff, even though that's a big moneymaker for social media companies. “That business model never appealed to me,” he says. “Our business plan was based more on
the iTunes store model.”

PikMobile has 5,000 users so far, and a national launch Sept. 15 at a technology conference in New York City could boost that number significantly. The launch will include advertising on social media sites such as Facebook, says Relf, who has invested about $500,000 into the venture.

Relf came to entrepreneurship via the corporate route. He worked at well-established brands such as Gallo Winery, Kellogg and Sprint, where he led the upstart cellular service provider's marketing and product-development teams to $10 billion in revenues in just six years. In 2003, Relf left Sprint and moved to Naples where he married Renee Relf, the former chief operating officer and co-founder of Hardy Development Group.

Relf started Zave Networks in 2006 with a former Sprint executive. “I became a mid-life entrepreneur,” he chuckles.

With $700,000 in capital, Relf built Zave, a company that created digital coupons for supermarkets and other retail customers. The company's growth took off when IBM embedded Zave software in its cash registers, speeding checkout for shoppers with digital coupons. Retailers loved the service because it immediately reported how well a promotion worked.

After he sold Zave to Google in 2011, Relf consulted for Fortune 100 companies. He co-founded PikMobile with Renee in 2014. Scott is CEO and Renee is chief operating officer.

Although Naples isn't a technology hub, after a nationwide search Scott Relf says he found a talented engineer in Southwest Florida, a graduate of the computer science engineering program at Florida Gulf Coast University.

Relf says he may turn to venture capital to fund PikMobile's growth once the service attracts more users. Although he says it's difficult to estimate how many users PikMobile will attract, he says venture capital firms that invest in this field like to see hundreds or thousands of users sign up per day. “What they say specifically is we want to see traction,” Relf says.

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