For those of us constantly using the Trimet system in Portland it can be a pain handling exact cash for the buses or when the Trimet ticketing stations start to malfunction. These hassles may soon be avoidable with a new ticketing application for smartphones designed by MIM alumni Nat Parker’s startup, GlobeSherpa. The concept for GlobleSherpa began in Professor Brian McCarthy’s Marketing class while Nat was working an an assignment to create an business plan for a new product. The iPhone had just recently debuted and Nat, realizing the potential for this Star Trek-like communicator, dreamed up an app with complete travel guides and location based services. His classmate, Michael, read the business plan and like many Portland businesses begin stated, “Let’s get some beers.” Michael also happened to be a software developer and was keenly interested in Nat’s ideas, but believed it could be optimized for B-B solutions.
Of course, that isn’t the whole story. During his talk on GlobeSherpa last week, Nat detailed his company’s painful process in getting started, almost failing, and then the rise to a deal with Trimet. There were five key lessons from this whole experience that Nat shared with his audience. First was that ideas are essentially a commodity and that “execution will differentiate a good idea.” The second was persistence. Gaining investment through angel investors and venture capitalists is a tough business, and it’s important to realize that most people will say no. However, this leads into Nat’s third point: serendipity does exist. At the lowest point in GlobeSherpa’s momentum, Nat had written a letter of defeat to friends and family who had supported him thus far, stating that he and Michael were going to put the project on the back burner. The next day as he was biking through downtown Portland to Music Fest NW, a yellow Tesla Roadster pulls up next to him. Noting the expensive car and geeky looking guy inside, Nat immediately asked the driver if he would invest in the start up. While at first laughing it off, the driver invested $50,000 into GlobeSherpa.
With this boost in self confidence, Nat once again plunged into the world of searching for investors. However, his charisma still wasn’t enough for some investors who wondered why he still held a job while attempting to run this start up. Hence the fourth lesson: either commit full-time to a start up or invest all of your money. Nat describes this more as a change in himself than in external factors. When everything was riding on the line, Nat’s pitch to investors was more passionate and inspiring: “I am risking everything because I believe in this so much.” Within five weeks, Nat raised $500,000 and began recruiting software developers.
The last takeaway is about marketing solutions, specifically, “What pain are you solving?” For years, Trimet has had issues with expensive maintenance and complaints about their ticketing booths at Max stations, as well as a long lead time on conducting and analyzing research. GlobeSherpa is not only offering a cheaper solution than the ticketing booths, but has also developed an internal system that Trimet can use to track online sales of tickets, system use, and rider activity which updates automatically. The inspector system of visual validation is also being enhanced through innovative app designs, animations, and QR codes to ensure that people aren’t cheating the system by taking a picture or video of an iPhone ticket. This app will also make it easier for Trimet to change ticket designs, fares, and even give refunds.
The ultimate vision for GlobeSherpa is to change how people go about their daily lives through commercial transactions. Nat has plans to take his ticking system to other cities in the country, and perhaps delve into the ticketing systems of gated parking structures as well. As for the current MIM students, we’re exciting to begin using the app later this summer and proud that such an innovative system came from one of our alumni.
Juli Tejadilla is a full-time student in the Masters of International Management program. She previously graduated with two Bachelor of Arts in Marketing and Studio Art from Linfield College. While her interest in international business began as an undergraduate student, she has been traveling around the world since she was nine months old. She hopes through the MIM program to learn key insights to conduct business internationally and to establish herself as a global citizen.