PostEgram’s Facebook-By-Mail Service Bridges Generation Gap
The grandkids never call. They never write. They do something called Facebook on their laptops, and something called texting on their phones, but what good is that to a grandma who doesn’t have a computer or a cell phone?
Enter PostEgram, a 6-month-old Detroit-based startup that wants to bridge the gap between the greatest generation and the Facebook generation. For $4.99 a month, PostEgram creates a monthly digest of your Facebook activity, including your status updates and photos, formats it as a 12-page color newsletter, then prints it out on paper—the kind that comes from trees—and snail-mails it to the Facebook-phobe who wants to stay in touch without getting on the computer.
CEO Judy Davids hatched the idea while she was a student at Bidzom U, the not-for-profit entrepreneurship bootcamp launched by Quicken Loans chairman and founder Dan Gilbert. Davids’ inspiration: Her mother-in-law. “My mother-in-law was Facebook 1.0,” says Davids. In the pre-Facebook era, the elder Davids stayed in touch via phone calls and letters, and served as the family’s communications hub. Want to find out what’s up with the cousins? How did Aunt Selma’s surgery go? Ask her.
But once the family’s younger generations discovered Facebook, Davids recalls, “She was completely out of the loop! She was seeing less pictures, less phone calls.” Facebook had made her obsolete. Davids wanted a solution that would keep everyone in touch without requiring anyone to change their communication style. Her answer: PostEgram.
PostEgram now claims more than 3,000 subscribers. “It goes in spurts,” Davids says of growth in the subscriber base, which is driven by PR events and media coverage like a mention in the November 1 issue of Woman’s Day. In addition to seniors and their families, PostEgram appeals to men and women in military service, who “have very limited time and access to Facebook.” PostEgram recently entered into a partnership with the Michigan Army National Guard which, Davids says, gives Guardsmen access to a wider circle of family and friends than they can reach during their brief phone calls home.
But the PostEgram idea didn’t come easily. It was the product of a “disciplined dreaming” exercise at Bizdom U that required Davids and her classmates to “look at inflection points” in the market (Davids’ choice: social networking), identify target markets (seniors), and then brainstorm 100 business ideas around the intersection of the two. “PostEgram was something like idea number 70,” says Davids.
Davids credits Bizdom U, which she attended in the fall and winter of 2009, with PostEgram’s rapid evolution from an idea scribbled on a whiteboard to a living, breathing business. There she met co-founder Ken Bloink, who helped develop the PostEgram application. She and Bloink pitched the idea to Bizdom U’s funding committee in February of 2010, and by March, the pair had secured $115,000 in Bizdom funding, to be distributed at set progress milestones. Davids estimates that PostEgram has used $70,000 of that sum so far, and she believes that PostEgram won’t need to tap into additional Bizdom U funding for at least another six months.
Bizdom U currently retains 67 percent of the equity in PostEgram. If PostEgram is able to pay back that initial investment, with interest, and Bizdom U’s share of the startup will flip to 33 percent and the repayment will be spun into future Bizdom U startups. Davids appreciates the karmic elegance of this arrangement: “If my business is successful, someone else will be able to start theirs.” Bizdom U also continues to provide support and advice to keep PostEgram and the other businesses it funds on track toward their goals. “You are never not in the Bizdom program,” says Davids. “I’m forever grateful: If I were doing this on my own it would be a thousand times harder.”
The Bizdom U funding comes with another stipulation: Startups must agree to set up shop in Detroit, and stay there. In May, PostEgram moved into TechTown, the ten-year-old Detroit business incubator, where Davids and Bloink joined a community of entrepreneurs who share ideas at regular networking events. “In suburban Detroit, you wouldn’t know who your neighbors are,” says Davids, but at Techtown, “We’re all connected. We all need each other.”
“Working in the city has been amazing. I drive past Berry Gordy’s mansion, Henry Ford’s mansion—they all used to live within walking distance” of TechTown’s New Center home, says Davids. Her message to other Michigan entrepreneurs is simple: “There are so many really talented people out of work,” and there is no shortage of mentors. “The time to start a business has never been better.”
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