John Boyd, founder of MeetingWave, shares his experiences transitioning from lawyer to entrepreneur.
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What's the name of your business?
I founded TTB Technologies, LLC, which owns www.MeetingWave.com, and the MeetingWave applications on Facebook and Bebo, its mobile version and related properties.
Where is your business located?
The company is based in Ridgefield, CT. We're a virtual company with team members in Boulder, CO and Livingston, MT.
Tell me about your current business. What are you doing exactly?
MeetingWave is a patented online tool for networking off-line for business, professional or social purposes allowing its members to set up networking meetings that are open to people they have never met.
Members can create Public Invites for networking meetings that specify the types of people they want to network with or the purpose of the meeting. MeetingWave then notifies the member by email each time someone accepts their Public Invite. The member must then approve or decline each acceptance -- and can do so for any reason. MeetingWave then notifies the other individuals whether he or she may attend the member's proposed networking meeting. Only "approved" individuals may attend. Thus, members ultimately control whether the meeting will happen and who may attend.
Members can post Public Invites for coffee, lunch, dinner, drinks or any other activity to meet new clients, network with others in their industry, recruit new team members, connect with potential investors, find new opportunities, or make new business contacts or friends. Or, a member can browse through Public Invites posted by others and accept those of interest.
TTB Technologies, LLC was founded for the purposes of creating, developing, licensing and commercializing new technologies and intellectual property. In addition to MeetingWave and related intellectual property including US Patent No. 6,963,900 entitled "Computer-based networking service and method and system for performing the same", the company owns U.S. Patent No. 6,484,148 and related patent assets, pertaining to technologies for delivering targeted advertising.
When did you start the business?
MeetingWave launched in alpha in June of 2007. Originally called TravelersTable.com, it launched in beta in June 2008 as MeetingWave. MeetingWave also launched applications on Facebook and Bebo. Since the beta launch, MeetingWave has experienced significant growth in the number of registered users and meetings posted on the site.
What were you doing before this, and is this your first business?
I practiced intellectual property law for over a decade before launching the site. My experience includes working behind enemy lines as a patent examiner at the US Patent Office, toiling away as an associate at private law firms in NYC, and later serving as Chief IP Counsel for biotech companies and most recently a semiconductor technology company.
This is my first business, unless you count the business I started in high school called "Underwater Maintenance" which provided services such as underwater boat maintenance (cleaning boat bottoms), salvage (lost moorings and jewelry) and zinc replacement. I became a certified scuba diver at 15 and started the business shortly thereafter.
Where did you get the startup money?
We are currently privately funded. Initial seed funds came from hard work, savings, options, stocks, real estate, luck, coupon cutting and generally from being a compulsive cheap bastard.
Who are your main competitors? How do you compete against them?
Depends on how you define the competitive landscape. If business networking generally, that would include the conferences/tradeshows (many register for networking opportunities), the Harvard Club, bar association meetings, the golf pro, the bar car on the LIRR, etc. If you focus on online tools for meeting people offline, there are some sites that provide similar functionality. However, MeetingWave is laser focused on becoming the "1st in Class" online tool for networking offline for business, professional and social purposes providing a free, seamless, versatile, flexible tool for our members.
Core focus: Control & Flexibility – MeetingWave allows its members to control who they meet and when, where & if the meeting occurs.
Features: (a) mobile version; (b) sync with online calendars; (c) post recurring invites (e.g., daily, weekdays, weekly); (d) Facebook & Bebo applications; (e) import contacts from other sites; (f) SMS/RSS notifications; (g) export widgets…
There are a few sites that offer similar functionality, but each appears to lack features (a)-(g). Moreover, we believe the following provides MeetingWave with a competitive advantage:
- Built with the Ruby on Rails web application framework.
- MySQL used for the database.
- Protected by U.S. Patent No. 6,963,900 granted Nov. 8, 2005 (effective filing date of Feb. 29, 2000).
- Potential further protection from pending related U.S. patent application and an international patent application filed for improvements.
- MeetingWave offers a high degree of control for setting up face-to-face meetings with new people.
How has your experience in running the business been different from what you expected?
It can be challenging to anticipate all the pain points from a user's perspective. We have many improvements in the pipeline and it's sometimes difficult to prioritize. We try to rely on user feedback to help prioritize our efforts.
Is there anything you wish you had done differently?
I wish I thought more about the name before we launched the site. We started with the name TravelersTable.com, but soon realized the reference to "travelers" was too limiting since most of our users post invites for networking meetings near their home or work, in addition to when on the road. Finding a new name was difficult with so many domain name squatters, potential trademark issues and conflicting opinions. We are happy the new name and have received favorable feedback so far.
What have you done that has been very effective in helping to grow the business?
I think doing our promotional activities phases. We first launched the alpha version and received some user feedback that helped us prioritize what features to add next. We then launched a Facebook application that provided immediate traction, and recently we made SEO optimization improvements to the site to increase hits based on our content and also started a promotional campaign to gain more even more traction. We have also focused most of our advertising on large cities.
What advice would you give to somebody else who wanted to start a similar business?
Hire individuals with as much drive as you. They need to be as bullish as you and believe in the concept. The person you engage to run the development efforts needs to be a good fit and have a complete skill set. That is, a skill set that fills almost all the holes in your skill-set from the development standpoint. Need a team that is competent, flexible and versatile, each member contributing. Must be able to work independently with little supervision and have solid work ethic.
That is great advice, John. Thank you for taking the time to talk with us.