Sept. 21--Will AJ be an All American? Should Knoxville allow e-cigarette shops? Did Miley go too far?
These are among the questions currently trending on new social decision-making app bounceit!
Users can pose a question, an opinion, an idea or a photo and watch instantly whether people agree or disagree via a real-time line graph that serves to aid in the decision-making process.
"We are the app that has the Instagram, Twitter feel to it. People can go and post but they get true feedback from friends instead of a like. You can see if people agree with you or not. It's more fun and emotional," said Gary Hardin, founder and CEO of bounceit!
Hardin came up with the idea three years ago and has focused his efforts full time on seeing his idea launched as a mobile app. He is among an increasing number of local entrepreneurs who are capitalizing on the mobile platform to start a business or to promote an existing one.
From seizing opportunities to solving problems, this new breed of entrepreneurs and startups is creating a slew of homegrown apps in Knoxville's backyard.
"You have Silicon Valley in Northern California and Silicon Alley in New York. This could be Silicon Smokies," said Hardin, who tapped local software development company Efficience to build his app. "This is an area that is perfect for this type of development. We just want to help build that ecosystem. We want Knoxville to be proud that it's in that arena."
Ryan Waller, who expects to launch a comic book app series, ThunderGods, this fall through his company Forthright Entertainment, said he would love to see Knoxville make moves in the mobile app development space.
"We're really a tech hub that a lot of people don't seem to know about," he said.
Waller, a self-taught developer who launched his first app last year, said he got into it because he saw the business potential. Though he admitted that app flopped, he kept on with a strategy "to develop and learn."
"To me the mobile platform represents the entrepreneurial spirit at its best. There is a huge potential as a business owner. The customer base is growing. The ability to take your product to billions of people is literally available to you," he said.
That notion of using apps to reach a broader audience is gaining interest among existing businesses, according to Chris Rathgeb, who two weeks ago launched a web content management and design system called Apptova. It allows businesses to create their own app and manage it themselves.
Rathgeb, who also owns app development company Knox Apps, said businesses have so many platforms available to them that they need to integrate with mobile apps.
"Over the years as I talked with businesses about their needs, I have been on a quest to figure out how to make it more affordable while at the same time still create high quality apps," he said. "People are realizing there is a shift where businesses almost need mobile apps, and I only see that continuing in the future."
Within a month, Rathgeb plans to triple the number of features and functionality available, like adding a poll or survey or a user deal.
"The platform we've developed has drastically reduced the cost and it empowers them to really control what it is in their app to a finite granular level that they wouldn't have had before," he said.
High costs can be a challenge, and some say it can be a struggle to keep the funding coming, especially as some new startups put everything on the line to make their app noticed and used.
Richard Beaver left his job in the grocery business to launch gapNsnap, an app that allows users to snap a photo of empty retail shelves in exchange for cash and points.
The idea came to Beaver and his wife, Terry, about four years ago while shopping for something that was out of stock. It's a problem, Beaver said, that happens about 8-10 percent of the time for shoppers.
"The problem couldn't be solved before this new technology came along. That really was a game changer for us in being able to solve this old problem with a new technology," Beaver said.
The husband and wife team called it "an interesting time to live" as more heartland-based companies like theirs continue to sprout.
"A lot of these companies aren't typical Silicon Valley companies. They're all over the place. I don't know if it's because of people like us bringing our experience to it or people taking the technology and saying let's see if we can solve a problem."
Ryan Kelly said he didn't set out to build an app. He came across a problem, thought about how to fix it and the app was the answer.
Kelly and his brother, Patrick, in the next couple of weeks will launch iSpotlight, an aggregator app that allows user to follow their favorite celebrity, musician or athlete.
"I realized as a fan how much time and effort it takes to follow them on social media and on the Web. There are all these amazing forms of communication but because there's so much good stuff it's hard to define what it is you're looking for. This app is a way to filter news down to specifics of what people are looking for," he said.
Kelly, a financial adviser at Morgan Stanley who briefly played football at the University of Tennessee, said that as they started looking into it, it blossomed into a big project.
"One of the things I thought was so cool about it is we didn't try to build something bigger and better than Facebook and Twitter. Basically we could pull what is working into one place. We aggregate to the individual level."
Its success will be determined by the user experience, he added.
"It hasn't earned a single penny yet. That would be pretty nice, but the user enjoyment is probably the most important thing."