In late 2009, onetime Walt Disney Interactive and Hasbro executive David Etheredge read a report from technology research firm Gartner that predicted 70% of all Web access would be mobile by 2014.
While that projection didn't totally come true, mobile entry to the Internet is clearly the future of technology. And Etheredge wanted to get in early. Says Etheredge: “We knew consumers were going to get to the point where they are searching for services on their phone long before businesses adopted to it.”
The answer to meet that opportunity, hopes Etheredge, is SavvyCard. The St. Petersburg-based firm allows users to create their own personal mobile Web application, akin to a digital business card with lots of tech-heavy bells and whistles. The features, from proprietary software, include call, text and email buttons, business profiles and a share component, where SavvyCard can be a landing page in a marketing campaign.
A SavvyCard user can sign up initially for free on a basic model. Others require a onetime fee and a monthly maintenance fee, under a software-as-a-service model. Advertising through the apps, say company officials, will eventually be a sizable revenue source.
Etheredge co-founded SavvyCard in 2010 with his wife, Lisa Nalewak, and two other entrepreneurs. The ultimate goal is to go beyond a company that creates a platform to communicate and connect on the Web. Instead, says Nalewak, SavvyCard can provide a way for clients to sell more products and services to its customers by being a go-to shortcut to help weed through Internet clutter. “We're not WordPress,” adds Etheredge. “We don't want to be an app company.”
The firm's main market so far is residential real estate, including Realtors, brokerage firms and county and regional Realtor associations. Current clients include the Pinellas Realtor Organization, the Miami Association of Realtors and the Realtor Association of Greater Fort Myers and the Beach.
St. Petersburg luxury real estate agent Bonnie Strickland uses SavvyCard, and she's so impressed she recently invested in the company. Strickland says the application is quicker than real estate listing services, which makes it valuable for finding properties to show clients. “I use it a few times a day,” Strickland says.
SavvyCard executives say 2015 could be a breakout year. The firm currently has 14 employees, and Nalewak says that figure could double in the next year.
On clients, the firm seeks to expand in Florida and nationally. Potential new markets in the state include Orlando and Palm Beach, while non-Florida targets spread from Las Vegas to Boston to Chicago. Etheredge projects the firm will also surpass
$1 million in sales next year. “It could be significantly north of that,” he says.
Another big aspect of 2015, projects Etheredge, will come from raising capital. The firm has raised about $2.5 million in the past year or so, mostly in angel capital. But like many startups in Florida, raising funds has been a struggle. “The challenge has been we've had to scrape for every nickel,” says Etheredge. “That's starting to change.”
A key element in that shift, says Etheredge, is a decision to move from Tampa to downtown St. Petersburg in August 2013. That move led the firm to the St. Petersburg Downtown Partnership, which, in turn, led to a series of introductions Etheredge says have brought in at least $1 million in capital investments. The firm now works out of a 2,000-square-foot office in One Progress Plaza on Central Avenue.
Etheredge expects to raise $6 million to $10 million in new angel capital in 2015. Those funds will go toward growing the firm's presence in real estate and improving the overall product. Some of that capital might come from the SavvyCard advisory board, a starry group that includes former Bloomberg LP General Counsel Karl Kilb and former Valpak President Jim Sampey.
One more part of SavvyCard's 2015 plan, which also requires capital, is to introduce two new pilot products that will take the firm into markets outside of residential real estate. The idea there is to create pillars, says Etheredge, in the same way Amazon started out with pillars that leveraged more pillars, in books, then music, then movies. Says Etheredge: “We want to own mobile engagement for businesses.”
— Follow Mark Gordon on Twitter @markigordon