iotaGift Founder Credits Santa Cruz Tech Ecosystem Support
It all started in October 2011 as I sat in my car under a canopy of redwood trees. I needed shoes for my son – his were falling apart – but I was on a tight budget and would have to wait for another paycheck before I could buy them. I wished I could ask my friends to help out. But ultimately I realized I was too embarrassed to admit that I needed help. I wondered: am I the only one in this situation?
I found out that I had company, and lots of it. About 60% of the nation is struggling to make it – at best just one paycheck away from going under financially. I wanted to create a way for someone with a need to request help from their friends without feeling embarrassed – and the idea for iotaGift (http://www.iotagift.com) was born. [Watch iotagift video at bottom of this page or here.]
As the idea of iotaGift grew, I started looking at micro-giving and crowd funding websites wondering if a similar idea already existed. It turned out that nobody was offering what I hoped to offer: fund raising for a specific item and the option to remain anonymous in the request.
As I built a business plan I looked for incubator or accelerator programs that could help guide my process. There were programs in Silicon Valley, but I decided to get my feet wet at a weekend hack-a-thon called Santa Cruz TechRaising (http://techraising.com).
What’s great about Santa Cruz is that the culture is accepting of new ideas and nurtures the creative spirit. I’ve known this since I was a teenager hanging out, listening to the jazz band in front of [the old] Cooper House. I believe that it is this creativity and openness that gave me the courage to step into a completely foreign technical territory, defy my nerves, and just go for it.
The TechRaising weekend was exhilarating, nerve-racking, exhausting, and inspiring. Hosts Margaret Rojas, Andrew Mueller, and Matthew Swinnerton created a warm and energized environment. I worked with a small group and presented a rough idea of iotaGift at the end of the weekend. When a scholarship was announced for the Founders Institute (http://fi.co) Silicon Valley, I jumped at the chance and was accepted into the program.
The warm reception at TechRaising in April 2012 fueled my confidence to pitch frequently and boldly at the Founders Institute. Far from the comforts of the Santa Cruz crowd, this was a tougher, high-pressure experience. An insightful and supportive instructor, Adeo Ressi, was relentless in chasing his students down and exposing any weak point in them or their startup idea. His efforts were augmented by mentorship from a stream of Silicon Valley stars including Aaron Patzer of Mint.com (http://mint.com), Sami Inkenin of Trulia (http://www.trulia.com) , and Phil Libin of Evernote (https://evernote.com).
Every Tuesday after class we would head to a local dive bar in Palo Alto. One night Adeo told us he had a surprise special guest. When we got to the bar he waved a few of us over to meet his college roommate. It turned out that Adeo’s college roommate was Elon Musk of Tesla fame. Soft spoken and genial, Elon’s demeanor was a smooth cover for his bold and unconventional entrepreneurial genius.
By the time I graduated from the Founders Institute in September 2012 I had built the foundation of a company but had no product. I have been fortunate to draw on the world-class talent of local Santa Cruz Tech Raising mentors including Craig Vachon, Andrew Mueller, and Nadine Schaeffer. Their advice has been invaluable and their guidance leveled me through my search for talented developers and the ensuing growth of my company.
Local again, I tapped contacts in social services agencies in Santa Cruz County to find families needing help who might be willing to use iotaGift. My first four requests were all from Central Coast residents. As I build the user base at iotaGift I continue to look to the Central Coast where I hope to see givers interested in supporting those in need in this community.
Founder and CEO, www.iotaGift.com
Sara Isenberg curates and publishes Santa Cruz Tech Beat for the benefit of the extended business and technology community. When she is not volunteering her time for the tech scene, Sara makes her living by managing software projects, web strategy planning, and providing development team services (including account management, vendor management, strategic partner management, beta project management, referrals to qualified technical team members, and more). Please visit http://saraisenberg.com or contact Sara by email at firstname.lastname@example.org if you have any project management, account management, or Development Team leadership or service needs.