By Bradley Warshauer
The entrepreneurial scene in New Orleans is burgeoning, with new companies appearing, it seems, every week. They have been accompanied by an expanding collection of support organizations such as the Idea Village, whose goal is to guide new entrepreneurs through the often-challenging start-up experience — a necessity in what is still a developing community.
The New Orleans-based PollBob, an integrated website and iPhone application designed to provide real-time, on-the-go community polling data, has found the local entrepreneurial experience both challenging and rewarding.
“You face unique challenges being a start-up in New Orleans,” said PollBob co-founder Ben Jacobson. “For example, it’s hard to find coding and programming talent in the area, and also hard to attract outside programmers to New Orleans to work for a start-up. The way I see it is that there are actually lots of programmers here locally, but the vast majority of them are designing websites for existing companies rather than seeking work developing for new online businesses.”
Fundraising is another issue — challenging for any start-up, regardless of geography, but often specifically daunting for New Orleans entrepreneurs.
“Local fundraising sources aren’t always sure just what to do with some of the new start-ups appearing on the scene,” Jacobson said. “I think we’re still in the midst of a culture change in our business community, so it’s beginning to change.”
Still, facing a cultural shift from the insular to the creative and entrepreneurial means that to have real fundraising success, start-ups have to look outside the immediate area.
“We’ve had two rounds of fundraising,” Jacobson said. “The first was friends and family for seed funding, but the second was an angel investment out of Atlanta.”
Those investments have paid off, and PollBob is seeing fast progress now. In the five months since its March 2011 beta release, PollBob has generated more than 8,000 polls that have resulted in more than 300,000 votes, and has seen social media communities build around those polls.
“Instead of an open-ended discussion,” Jacobson said, “our polls drive a pointed dialogue around a specific topic of interest where opinions can be expressed and a consensus can be reached, according to the community that takes part. And we make it fun and social, with game mechanics and the ability for users to track their friends’ polls, and level up and earn badges and other rewards.”
PollBob is built around discovering opinions. By compiling a massive database of interactive polling data, accessible both by website and iPhone app and designed with fun game mechanics, Jacobson hopes PollBob will become a massive one-stop shop for popular opinion trends and insights.
“There’s an appeal in it for people who may be overwhelmed by the constant stream of information on, say, Twitter, who prefer a more passive approach,” he said, “while still obtaining the same kinds of information from social media. And we think it could be huge. The product is a consumer-facing model, but on the back-end it provides companies with a massive yet affordable data collection and marketing research tool.”
Early user stats have been encouraging — 15 percent of first-time visitors take more than 100 polls, with 80 percent of first-time visitors taking at least 20.
“Users return about twice per week and spend over three minutes per visit,” Jacobson said. He finds such early success particularly rewarding given the challenges faced along the way.
PollBob will officially launch and begin marketing its product at the end of the month.
Bradley Warshauer writes about the New Orleans entrepreneur community for Silicon Bayou News and Nolavie. Follow Silicon Bayou on Twitter: twitter.com/SiliconBayou. For more information on Silicon Bayou, visit SiliconBayouNews.com. For more information on NolaVie, visit NolaVie.com.