By GREGORY ZELLER // In a world in which the social media have largely supplanted actual socializing, it’s strangely fitting that SavvyRoo cofounders Noah Blumenthal and Stephen Ostermiller have barely met.
Barely, as in once. Their paths crossed in April 2014, when Blumenthal was a guest speaker and Ostermiller an attendee at a TEDx conference at the University of Nevada-Las Vegas. By then, the two were already partners, and knee-deep in their new social media platform, designed to disseminate the data behind the day’s hottest stories.
Blumenthal, SavvyRoo’s CEO and a Binghamton native, and Ostermiller, the startup’s chief technology officer and a New Hampshire resident, were introduced by Blumenthal’s brother, whom Ostermiller hired while working for travel website TripAdvisor. A professional coach by trade, Blumenthal had an idea for a social media channel that looked past the flash and sizzle defining most major media, but being “a typical business person,” needed a tech-side partner to make it fly.
In March 2013, his brother suggested Ostermiller, and it didn’t take long before SavvyRoo was rooing savvy.
“My brother introduced me to Stephen on a Wednesday,” Blumenthal recalled. “Friday morning, we drew up and signed papers. On Saturday morning, I left for a week of vacation. When I got back, he had our alpha product ready.”
Blumenthal, who penned the biz-focused self-help books “You’re Addicted To You” and “Be The Hero,” traces his SavvyRoo inspiration to an early-2013 retreat for authors in San Francisco-based Berrett Koehler Publishing’s fold.
The group included human-rights champions and other activists who were “saving refugees in Sri Lanka and doing all this other changing-the-world-type stuff,” Blumenthal noted, and meeting them left him feeling “a little sheepish about helping successful executives become more successful.”
So he got to thinking, and the entrepreneur – who’d spent 10 years building up the Binghamton-based executive-coaching company Leading Principles Inc. – kept coming back to information. Specifically, the way information is presented by the major media.
“The news media are atrocious,” he said. “Television news in this country is a particularly flawed system.”
So his change-the-world epiphany was a social media network that made facts, figures and other data – not the headline-grabbing sexy stuff, necessarily, but the truth of the world’s myriad stories – “as interesting, exciting and fun for people as sharing their selfies.”
He shared the idea with Ostermiller, and SavvyRoo hit the virtual ground running, with beta-testers logging in, absorbing the graphics-heavy content and making suggestions. Before long, Blumenthal slowly began winding down Leading Principles’ operations to focus on his new project.
“I left a perfectly good-paying job, with a new child, a new mortgage and about three months’ worth of spending money, to start this,” he said. “It was an insane choice to make. My wife was very, very supportive … and very, very anxious.”
It wasn’t long before the partners realized they were actually sitting on two excellent opportunities. While the traction wasn’t there yet, there was clearly a market for a social media service that looked behind the curtain. Even more promising, according to Blumenthal, was the growing need to teach people how to consume and share all the data flowing around them.
This revelation came from an unlikely place: People using SavvyRoo were suddenly, in some cases dramatically, advancing their careers.
“Students who were using our platform were suddenly getting these amazing job offers,” Blumenthal said. “They were being told that their profiles, which included information from SavvyRoo, was what got them the job or got them the interview.
“Employers are desperate for people who understand data, who are thinking about data and using it to make decisions,” he added. “These students were posting all this visual data from SavvyRoo on their personal profiles, and it gave them an enormous leg up.”
Now Blumenthal and Ostermiller – and SavvyRoo partners Kathleen Reynolds and Alejandro Esquino – are splitting their attention between the social media platform and an educational platform that teaches users all about data. That educational platform is itself split in two, with disparate focuses on the corporate and university markets.
The video-heavy online classrooms encompass what Blumenthal called “a very gamified system” that allows users to compete with each other while learning to absorb and share information. Users might compete to win an Apple Watch, for instance, or a chance to interview with participating employers without going through an application review.
“The goal is to teach students at the university level and employees at the corporate level how to think about data and use it in their job-search and early-career stages,” Blumenthal noted. “In an increasingly data-driven world, the potential market for what we’re doing is enormous.”
With a second round of university-based beta testing happening now and a second corporate-based beta version coming in October, Blumenthal believes SavvyRoo has only begun to tap that potential. It will dig deeper as a member of the Start-Up NY program, which SavvyRoo will officially join when it relocates next month from Sea Cliff to the Brookville campus of Long Island University-Post.
The company could have gone anywhere, Blumnthal noted, though it turns out his wife’s appetite for adventure has limits.
“She has informed me that my marriage is in New York,” he said. “So I could be single in New Hampshire or married in New York.”
While anyone can log in and create a SavvyRoo social media profile, the educational platforms are subscription-based. To date, 13 universities have signed on – including LIU – and Blumenthal anticipates as many as 10 companies will beta-test the new corporate platform debuting next month.
The principals expect to officially launch SavvyRoo’s educational platforms next summer with 30 corporate clients and as many as 50 university clients – strong numbers reflecting the need “to develop data-driven people for a data-driven world,” according to Blumenthal.
“Companies will be scrambling to find people with the data-analysis skills to address the needs of a data-based economy and a data-based workplace,” he said. “So they’re either going to steal data-based talent from other companies or they’re going to grow their own. That’s exactly what we’re providing.”
What’s It? Part social media, part instructional platform, all data
Brought To You By: Cofounders Noah Blumenthal and Stephen Ostermiller, who barely know each other
All In: About $25,000, ponied up by Blumenthal, to cover lawyer fees, logo design and other “administrative stuff”
Status: Beta-testing now, preparing to change the world in the summer of 2016