Anyone who has been involved in the VegasTech scene for more than 10 minutes knows Mike Yoder. He’s involved with everything from TBAN to SxVegas. Recently I sat down with him to chat about ALICE, his amazing automated receptionist company.
VT: What was the inspiration for Alice? What’s the backstory? How did you get involved with this concept?
MY: ALICE, which stands for A Live Interactive Communication Experience, was created out of the need to solve a common business problem. Back in 2000 Frank (my brother and partner) and I were running a Software Development shop with 30+ developers. Our customers didn’t come to our office often, but when we did, because we couldn’t justify paying for a full time receptionist, they would have to ring a bell or they would start wondering around the office looking for someone. At the time we were competing with much larger national firms for development contacts, and the impression we gave when a client would came to visit us was important. That’s when the concept for ALICE was born. I developed a simple solution using instant messaging which we used, but realized it wasn’t a commercially viable product at the time. Fast forward 10 years and that problem still exists for businesses, but now the technology had advanced to enable us to solve it with 2-way video communications, voice & video over IP, touchscreens, remote receptionist and mobile device connectivity at a business friendly price.
VT: When did you start placing them in locations?
MY: Our first install was about 2 years ago, we setup a few beta clients here in town that helped us refine the system and get a better understanding of how the public would use a system like ours. After that period we started deploying to customers mostly throughout the US and a few overseas businesses.
VT: What are some of business in town that have Alice installed?
MY: Some of our local customers include Nevada Dental Benefits, Cornerstone Merchant Services, Provident Trust, Edlen Electrical Exhibition Services and Big Brothers Big Sisters of Southern Nevada. A number of other local customers including the City of Las Vegas and Switch have purchased systems which we will be installing at local locations in the next 30 to 60 days.
VT: Are they just here in Vegas or elsewhere?
MY: 90% of our customers are located outside of Nevada. We have installations all over the US, in Canada, the UK and Australia. Our solution is one that solves a problem common to business the world over. ALICE provides a new way to manage visitor traffic and improve building security, which is a universal concern for businesses worldwide. It’s a huge market opportunity. While we’ve tried to stay focused on the US, we’ve had strong interest from overseas companies.
VT: What brought you to Vegas?
MY: Frank and I moved from Virginia to Las Vegas in 1995, at a time when our software consulting firm was doing a lot of business in Silicon Valley and the west coast in general. We had a couple of contracts here in Vegas, and just decided the benefits of living in Nevada outweighed the challenges posed by being a business owner in California. That was over 17 years ago, and we couldn’t be happier to see growth of the #VegasTech community and all the entrepreneurs and technology startup that are planting roots here.
VT: Any major investors that you’d like to name?
MY: We secured a bit of seed money a little over a year ago, and are currently working on the process of securing our first round of growth and expansion capital. This will enable us to expand our markets quicker and open our technology to national and global distribution channels. While we are not limiting our search to the local investment pool, we would be excited to see some investor from our own community get involved. Interested investors can contact me for details and information on our PPM.
VT: What are your plans for the next 6-12 months?
MY: A lot will depend on the speed at which we secure the funding. Once we secure funding we’ll be able to build out a global distribution channel with companies we are already in talks with. We will be able to execute marketing campaigns that will allow us reach a largely untapped market that we’ve proven is ripe for our product once they become aware that this solution exist. And lastly we’ll expand our local business with added software developers and other team members to allow us to manage what we anticipate to be an explosive growth. Until that funding is secured, we’ll continue to sell direct to customers, build our book of active customers, establish resellers and refine the ALICE product and our product marketing message.
VT: How has the VegasTech community influenced Alice?
MY: We had already rolled ALICE out to a few of our early customers even before the VegasTech community really got started. I attended my first Jelly the week after the first Startup Weekend was held downtown. The energy I felt at that first Startup Weekend was something I haven’t seen in the technology community here in Vegas before. I knew right away it was something special. The VegasTech community has renewed my belief that we can get the word out to others that Vegas is a great city for entrepreneurs and technology companies to thrive. I got involved with helping organize the SxVegas initiative because I believe that will do a lot to further that cause. Through the people I’ve met and have become friends with in the VegasTech community, we’ve gained access to resources and an expanded communications reach beyond what we would have been able to do on our own. In return we’ve tried to be an active participant in that community and give back when possible.
VT: What advice do you have for young startups out there?
I don’t believe there is a single formula for a startup to succeed. Even the definition of success is subjective and personal. For me, I’ve always had a need to work harder, longer and smarter than those around me. Apply that approach to whatever you’re doing and you will greatly improve your chances for success. If you’re able to combine that approach with building something your passionate about you’ll be unstoppable. That doesn’t mean you won’t fail, but failures won’t stop you, they’ll inspire you to go harder and smarter at the next challenge.
I’m excited to see what Mike does with ALICE, but knowing him…ALICE is going to have a very big 2013!