Never feel lonely again! Introducing technology that connects people off-grid
Remember that time you went to Burning Man, a concert in the mountains, or tried hiking? How you tried to use your cell phone for directions, or to meet up with friends? You know, that time when you realized there was no cell phone reception and you were pretty much on your own, unable to connect with the rest of the world?
We don’t mean to bring back past trauma, but we’ve all been there. However, while we were all busy complaining, there was someone in the crowd, who heard us loud and clear. Somebody who now grants us the gift of never having to feel cut-off again.
“I would see problems when I’m annoyed and ask myself, how do I make this better?”
After a few too many of these suddenly-solo experiences, Jorge Perdomo, decided to build goTenna, an on-the-go Bluetooth technology for your cell phone. An Ivy Leaguer and a self-described tech geek, Jorge has been a "debugger" from the beginning. He was intrigued by problems and loved finding innovative ways to solve them. Like a mixologist with different recipes, he had been constantly stirring up ideas for new businesses while attending the University of Pennsylvania.
Back To The College Days
Jorge’s first gig, with a frat brother, was a Wiki way of connecting venture capitalists with entrepreneurs. However, it didn’t go too far. Both partners lacked knowledge of the startup world. Start-up PSA: The process of building a start-up is meant to be fundamentally harder so that venture capitalists can weed out entrepreneurs that aren't truly ambitious. During this time, Jorge found a mentor who served on the Hispanic Chamber of Commerce and also owned a digital marketing agency. When Jorge was considering law school post-college, his mentor asked him instead to join the agency and gain some digital experience. During his three years at this agency, Jorge performed SEO, digital analytics and technology implementation for data for clients across the U.S. and Brazil.
But he hadn’t lost the bug for his own projects. On the side, Jorge wrote Soundgrail, a music blog, and created Audion Network, an ad network specifically for music events. Despite signing up 45 of the biggest websites in EDM, and getting several million page views, Audion Network didn’t succeed for two reasons: Jorge didn’t know the sales side of the business, and he underestimated the power of big brand influencers and the number of impressions they could buy. As he had to learn for a second time, having a solid foundation of the industry you are entering is so crucial to the future direction of the business.
“The problem was I was never fully committed to my past ventures”
Jorge thought up goTenna when his poor cell phone service got in the way of him enjoying several outdoor concerts. As a frustrated but gregarious fella, he started researching a solution. His original concept was to develop a massive wifi network. Only problem? It’d cost millions of dollars. Instead, he tried carrying a walkie-talkie to a festival—think Ghostbusters minus the orange jumpsuit—but that didn’t work out well (For those wondering, he didn't catch any ghosts either). After some deep research, Jorge realized that no one in the market had introduced a product like the one he wanted. And that is when that little light bulb we talk about so much lit up.
Putting The Pieces Together
Although Jorge understood the architecture required to develop the final product, he lacked the technical experience. With help from Penn professors and a developer, Jorge and his sister Daniela (more on her key role later) were able to show a prototype of goTenna at SXSW within months. They even closed their first round of funding in July 2013. The prototype, as Jorge describes, was basically “a board in a soap box, with a headphone jack and a screw on top because there were no Bluetooth capabilities.”
Today, the final product is a pen-size haven for cell phone service that has captured the hearts of burners, hikers, on-the-go travelers and basically anyone with a cell phone. It lets social people be social again, even at a remote campsites or desert concerts. It’s the perfect product for a specific purpose, but the success and popularity of goTenna really took off from their savvy pre-launch PR and marketing efforts. Similar to Kickstarter, goTenna created a buzz for the product through pre-orders on its own website. Their PR firm advertised the launch in most media outlets, which helped the team achieve 90% of the sales in the first few days. In another smart move, the goTenna team chose 100 users for beta testing, so they could get feedback on the range and UI of the product before it was finalized.
Whereas raising funds is difficult for many startups, fortunately, this is where Jorge’s sister Daniela stepped in like a boss. Daniela, who had connections and past experience in Silicon Valley, became the business side of the equation and the company’s greatest asset when it came to securing funding. On that note, Jorge says, "It is important to partner with someone from a competency point of view, someone who you trust and will fill in the gap." Plus it’s great when your best biz match has known you all your life! The partnership between the siblings has been imperative to the success of the company to this day, where Daniela operates as the CEO of the company.
While the product was received very well in the media (even winning numerous awards, go team!), the biggest challenge for Jorge and Daniela was "trying to educate and temper expectations of the users because people have expectations on what the UI looks like.” In the world of a million apps and products for our every whim, it seems we all have huge expectations for tons of special features and zero tolerance for what we think of as failure. And all entrepreneurs have to deal with the realistic limitations of their products, and how to communicate that. As Jorge says, “if [a text] sends and it fails, how do we help people understand that goTenna is not failing and that they are just in an area with bad reception?”
On Building Digital Legos In The Future
When we asked Jorge what was in the books for his future, he said: “If I were to sell goTenna, I would go to one of those coding bootcamps and learn how to make apps, because I have so many ideas that are not even complicated. I would make it as a hobby and do it very logic-based.” Whenever he gets time, he’s also got plans to relive his childhood by making digital Legos, or advise other startups. He also casually dropped that he plans to do space tourism in his lifetime. Who knows, he may retire on Mars. With goTenna, or his next venture, the reception may even be good up there!