Welcome to Trep Talk! Trep Talk features some of our city’s compelling entrepreneurs who are boldly building what is uniquely Memphis. The spotlight series is curated by Elizabeth Lemmonds, Director of Talent Programs for the EPIcenter.
Today we take another look at a tech startup company in this year’s groundbreaking collaborative Summer of Acceleration. I’ve introduced you broadly to the teams, and to Soundways from the new MMT program managed by Start Co. in partnership with The Consortium. This week I want you to meet ZoomThru with Lexi Sprague and Richard Malone, members of the Upstart accelerator cohort focused on women-led startups.
I won’t completely steal Lexi’s thunder below, but as someone who both takes my 10-year-old daughter through drive-thru lines and also regularly uses parking garages (for both work and play), I am completely down with their technology. The idea that it could be piloted in Memphis also excites me, as does the fact that they moved to Memphis for this rigorous 15 week program of business building curriculum, connections and seed funding.
Memphis is rightfully proud of our entrepreneurial heritage. One reason that Trep Talk is so much fun, is that we get to shine a light on some of today’s hottest concepts and boldest entrepreneurs. And this week we’re focusing on an entrepreneur who moved to Memphis to launch her company!
But that isn’t what immediately drew me to ZoomThru. As I mentioned, I am intrigued by the concept and am absolutely their target consumer. I also love – surprise! – Lexi’s and Richard’s energy, approach, complementary skill set and tenacity. I hope you’ll help welcome them to Memphis, and feel confident that you’ll share my enthusiasm in seeing ZoomThru launch here in the Bluff City.
Give us your elevator pitch! We are a company focused on making payment as seamless as possible. All you do is download our mobile application, take a photo of your license plate and every drive thru service you attend will have completely secure hands free checkout.
What was your inspiration? I am all about how technology interacts with and changes worldwide culture. I am constantly editing so that I am only working on key ideas that have the potential to truly change the world. The way ZoomThru can in the payment industry.
Did you always know you were destined for entrepreneurship? I don’t know how to do anything else. I went from having $100/week lemonade stands, to running my first company, Chadder, when I was 19. My family, every time I came home after a bad day, always pushed me to go beyond complaining about my problems and actually fix my problems.
What are the most rewarding parts of owning this business? I live for the smile on someone’s face when we make their day a little better. It is those moments that I live for. I can say with the ZoomThru team my proudest moment is watching my co-founder work through how to do mockups and wireframes. Even if they aren’t his strong suit, he jumps right in and there isn’t anything more I could ever ask of a co-founder. It has been awesome to work with him and help each other grow along with our company!
What are the biggest challenges you face as an entrepreneur? How do you overcome them? Lonely nights, if you are the lead on your team prepare for the long, lonely nights full of existential terror. I typically overcome this by working more until I actually cannot stay up, or talk to a family member to calm my nerves. I also keep a journal, this way my stressful thoughts and work can be in one place every night. If I stress I read that journal to realize how far we have come as a team, and how much farther we can go.
What is the best piece of veteran advice you have for those launching your own business? Don’t waste time working on copycat ideas (with the exception of bringing one of the Uber-like services to a new country, etc.) This is a waste of your ability. If it can easily be achieved, chances are you are not taking on a large enough problem to solve. And PS: always sign assignment of rights documents with your entire team.
What additional resources would you like to see developed in Memphis, to help smooth the path for future entrepreneurs? Have get-togethers with all the local business owners. Easily accessible to entrepreneurs. Also incentivize local business owners to work with entrepreneurs to bring Memphis on the map as a technology hub.
How do you maintain the elusive work/life balance? What are your favorite ways to unwind? Magic the Gathering Tournaments on Sundays. This is my moment to do something fun with cool people anywhere in the world. Memphis surprisingly has an amazing community of MTG players that come out every week to play! Balance is something I never totally achieve, I would be lying if I said I didn’t spend every day all the time talking and or thinking about ZoomThru, analyzing my MTG parking experiences has lead to some interesting company developments.
What should be on every entrepreneur’s bookshelf? Lean B2B: Build Products Businesses Want (by Etienne Garbugli), a required reading for Upstart and a book now very close to my heart. Even if you aren’t running a B2B startup.
Who’s on your playlist right now? Spotify list: Entrepreneurs Jam is my soul in a playlist. Listing one artist wouldn’t do my music justice. It is full of motivational songs that help me focus.
Got any guilty pleasures you’re willing to share? Movies, I love the opportunity to escape for a few hours and really let my mind wander. My cats are like my children, I may spend a bit too much time spoiling them. Also, pizza is actually a girl’s best friend.
Anything else you want to share that we didn’t ask? Remember as an entrepreneur you are the guardian of your vision. Understand and be flexible on anything surrounding your core vision and hustle. If something in the vision has to change. Consult customers, advisors, and mentors. But more importantly, trust your gut. No one knows your company better than you do. If they do, you have some research to do.
What is it like being a business-oriented founder in a technology startup? This is a hard question to answer but I think I have it down to something simple: without the idea, the ability to present, and the ability to sell your product, the technology is nothing. Balance between technical and non technical cofounders is essential for a successful startup. Here is the common trap: the CTO wants to build a unique product with unique coding solutions to hard problems, while the CEO wants to build a company that solves a customer’s pain point and makes money. But without these two in line, the company will often fail.