The steady paycheck from First National, the benefits, the 40-hour workweek… Why would a fourth generation banker trade that kind of stability for the uncertainty of entrepreneurship – self-funded no less?
“My wife asked me the exact same thing,” laughed Omaha’s Matt Medlock, founder and President of PaySAFE Escrow, Inc., a one-stop, “online closing table” where buyers and sellers can create, negotiate, document and close transactions with financial protection.
“It wasn’t a natural decision,” Medlock continued. “It was one where the idea – and the market validation – grew to a point that it had to be acted on. I wasn’t looking for it, but it found me.”
And now, the concept is resonating with others – a growing customer base and investors such as Ho-Chunk, Inc., an economic development corporation owned by the Winnebago Tribe of Nebraska.
“Ho-Chunk is willing to nurture start-ups and provide corporate resources and capital. They’ve offered us a great deal of operational and administrative support,” Medlock said.
Initially a “bootstrap” operation, PaySAFE launched in 2012, a year after the idea first bubbled up. The company’s growth, Medlock said, comes with the growth of the Internet marketplace.
“People are buying very expensive, high-value goods over the Internet, everything from cattle and artwork to classic cars and farm equipment.”
PaySAFE helps facilitate these big money sales – whether domestic or international – for two unknown parties. In addition to providing that “online closing table,” the company offers an escrow service.
“We collect the buyer’s money and make sure it’s good. Then, we hold it in escrow as a neutral third party until the transaction is closed,” Medlock explained.
He said that starting PaySAFE wasn’t easy; it was a long, hard road driven by a lot of passion and plenty of help along the way.
“The article isn’t long enough to list all of the many gracious people who have willingly offered resources,” he said. “It isn’t capital that’s most crucial when starting a business; it’s the resources of knowledge and expertise in a plethora of fields, from legal to marketing to pricing and tech.”
Location, he said, has also benefitted the start-up.
“We’re very proud — and we put on our website — that we’re from Omaha and Nebraska. It gives us credibility. People are comfortable, at some emotional level, that it’s an Omaha, Nebraska, business and not a foreign or east coast/west coast company they’re dealing with. People have expressed that over and over.”
After working 20 years in the banking industry, Medlock likens the whole entrepreneurial experience to tipping back in your chair, “the excitement of balancing, off-set by the fear of falling over.” He has no regrets.
“The best part is you have the opportunity to execute on a vision exactly how you see it,” he said.
Father-and-son team Jim and Ryan White have set their sights on the elusive “big game” known as success – and the hunt brought them to Greater Omaha.
“It’s been the most rewarding experience I’ve ever had,” Ryan said, juggling a phone interview while making a debut at the massive Archery Trade Association (ATA) Trade Show in Nashville, TN.
In early January 2014, the Whites formally launched HuntForce, a tech startup that promises to revolutionize the way deer hunters identify their targets and strategize. The web-based application lets users easily sort through and manage the hundreds or thousands of photos gathered from their trail cameras, trimming time commitments from hours to seconds.
“My Dad and I and our group of hunting friends had first-hand experience with the problem,” Ryan said. “Trail cameras have become this indispensable tool for the hunting industry. There’s probably 15-20 million actually in use today in the United States. The biggest problem was – there was no good way to download, search and manage all of the images they take. We said that’s something we can sink our teeth into.”
To realize their idea and bring it to market, the Whites (Jim, Ryan and their spouses) uprooted from Louisville, KY, moving to Omaha in June 2013 to work with Straight Shot, Omaha’s innovation accelerator.
“Straight Shot was invaluable. We were immediately plugged into this network of influential people,” Ryan said. “I was in Louisville for 10 years, and I didn’t have anywhere near the network that I gained in Omaha within a couple of months.”
Product development was equally swift. HuntForce worked with computer scientists at the Peter Kiewit Institute to create the company’s proprietary antler-recognition software. It partnered with local tech firms Aviture and GoodTwin on website development.
“Aviture did all the back-end development. We worked with GoodTwin on front-end design and development. They really worked well together,” Ryan explained. “Within six months, we were able to go from an idea to a market-ready product.”
Omaha’s venture capital community also rallied around the HuntForce concept with a funding infusion of $400,000 – $250,000 from Treetop Ventures, an investment firm that focuses on Omaha-area tech startups; $100,000 from Dundee Venture Capital, which invests in e-commerce and software-as-a-service companies; and $50,000 from Omaha’s Mark Griffis, the president of Aviture.
“We’ve worked with awesome people,” Ryan said. “We’re now hiring our own development staff and our own marketing people. I’m kind of in awe of how it’s all come together.”
Prior to devoting full attention to HuntForce, Ryan owned a car detailing business in Louisville; Jim worked in manufacturing. Ryan’s advice to others who have a particular passion and are thinking of turning it into an entrepreneurial endeavor: “You only regret the things you don’t do.”
As for the Whites – and the whitetails – it seems the buck starts here.
“We have a really great product; everyone loves what it does,” Ryan said. “We’re really living the dream right now.”