SocialFly Photobooths

SocialFly Photobooths – Texas

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Where did the IDEA come from?

In 2011 we had just left Hawaii and were living in Austin.  Our friend Kris, who is ex-military, worked on the side for this little photobooth company doing weddings & other events. One day he needed help, and asked my wife if she could come to a wedding and help him out. She agreed, went to this wedding, and came back that night screaming at me “WE HAVE TO DO A PHOTOBOOTH! THERE WAS A CRAZY LONG LINE FOR PEOPLE WANTING TO GET IN THIS BOOTH!”

So like any other idea we talk about, I jumped on the computer and started looking up the competition.  I realized that the majority of the booths were all tiny, had crappy cameras, printers that took over a minute to print, and were just ugly.  I opened up Illustrator, and started sketching out what we could do to improve on the outside structure of the booth.  Then I started researching small commercial printers, touchscreen computers, and any open source photobooth software we could start with.

First PROTOTYPE booth

I figured out the size of the booth, how we could transport it, found a small commercial printer that would print in less than 10 seconds, and even found some photobooth software that looked pretty good that we could purchase to get us started. Our first booth we had a carpenter around the corner from my house build us for $700.  It was bulky, heavy as hell, but it was built really well.  (So well that a year later it was in a car accident where it flipped inside of a trailer, and didn’t even have a scratch on it) So we had a booth, I created some simple white vinyl graphics since we know the majority of our audience would be for weddings ($450), we bought some photobooth software for $500, commercial printer was $1200, and the and we were ready to roll.

Obviously I built us a website, Chris setup some adwords for us, but we knew we needed to let the people know we existed and we were different than the competition. The timing couldn’t have been more perfect cause the next week was the Austin Bridal Show.  We quickly signed up and got a booth for the event.  We were all a bit worried, cause this was new territory for us, and there had to be at least 5 other photobooth companies at this event.

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Something really amazing presented itself about an hour into this event.  People realized that we had a bigger booth, our touchscreen software had effects, we had a pretty wallpaper background inside the booth, and our printer was super fast.  Everyone commented on it, when they would take a free photo.  We gave people a signup form, everytime someone took a photo, and here’s where it gets crazy.

That next week our phone rang off the hook.  We were booked up nearly for the whole year from this event.  But we kept getting more calls, so we realized we were gonna have to build another booth.  This time I wanted to do it the right way.  I had aluminum laser cut, our logos cnc’d out to reveal the lighting, pieces of the booth connected smoother, all of the welds were on the inside of the booth so from the outside it was completely smooth.

Things are GREAT right?

Not quite.  So we’re rockin and rollin.  We have 2 photobooths, me and Doan would go to 1 event, while Kris would go to another event.  We were making money but there was a MAJOR MAJOR MISTAKE we made.  See we decided from the beginning, cause we all liked driving, that we would service the entire state of Texas. We were STUPID!

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For an event in Dallas or Houston sometimes we would have to leave at 10am…drive there…get to the event early to setup….work the event…then break down and load up….then drive all the way back home.  Sometimes we worked 14 hour days.  It was, say it with me, STUPID. We were making money, only having to work on the weekends so it shouldn’t have effected us quite like it did.  But it was extremely draining.

During that year we moved from Austin to Dallas, so things got even crazier when we’d have to go from Dallas to Houston and back in a night.

Why didn’t you just HIRE people?

We tried. But how many people that are somewhat pretty, know how to talk about the business so that we can get referrals, that can also back a 6 foot trailer into a blind spot at a wedding venue? It doesn’t exist.  Well I’m sure it does, but we couldn’t find anyone.  We hired a guy that seemed great.  Had worked at a photobooth company before, knew how to drive a trailer, but after his event our booth was just trashed.  He didn’t take it apart correctly, stuffed it into the trailer, scratching and breaking things with every bump he hit on the way home.

What went WRONG?

Well this is where the stories you read about partners butting heads after a business starts growing comes into play.  I was tired of doing events, hate drunk people getting in my face, and people treating you like your time didn’t matter.  So I was looking to move our booths into a different direction – Bars or places where they didn’t move – Possibly selling our software to SEGA (yeah SEGA is still around), but he was perfectly find continuing to run the business.  On top of that we had done a good job of creating a quality product that we could charge more for, but he wanted to constantly do these super cheap jobs cause it looked like we were making money.  But when you take into account the gas, food, our time we were losing money on cheap small events.

Where is the company NOW?

It’s sitting in my friends garage :)  We came to an agreement where we would split the assets (at this time we had 4 booths & 2 enclosed trailers), and he would work the remaining events we had booked. What ended up happening is that, he didn’t end up showing up for events (we had to deal with calls & give people back their money), he didn’t end up paying our internal bills (credit cards, gas cards, etc), and he still took half of our product.

Not that I care, cause I was done with that business.  I used to always hate when people said that Money didn’t Matter, but this was one of those times I could care less about making money.  I just wanted to have a life and be happy.

What did you LEARN?

So I learned a few things.

1) Go to events to market your product, let people play with it and touch it.  They will instantly know what they are paying for and can compare yours to others.

2)  Vinyl Wrapping your car WORKS – People would call us as they are driving next to us, or wait for us outside in the Walmart parking lot to ask about the product.

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3) Choose your partners wisely.  If the goal, work ethic, and even style of work is totally different than it’s NOT GONNA WORK.

4) Most importantly – START GHETTO! We bought some software anyone could use, had a ghetto wooden booth that looked pretty with vinyl, and were renting a Uhaul trailer for our first events to get us started.  It doesn’t have to be perfect to make yo

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Ninja Shaved Ice – Food Truck

Me and my wife had come down to southern California to visit with her parents and sisters.  On one of those days, we went to get shaved ice.  Shaved Ice seems pretty generic right? Like a snow cone, or maybe like Hawaiian Shaved Ice that has a bit of ice cream at the bottom.  To my surprise, taiwanese shaved ice is nothing like those.  NOTHING LIKE THEM!

Taiwanese shaved ice is looks like you’re making extremely thin pasta, except that pasta noodle is really a flavored ice.  Top it with fruit, crazy jelly/bean toppings, and condensed milk and you have this magical creation.

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The whole Food Truck scene was really hot at this point, and we were in the mecca living in San Francisco (Walnut Creek). So my brain started churning:  How much does a machine to make this cost? how much can we get a truck for? how much to renovate the truck? how much are licenses? how much could we charge per shaved ice?

So while sitting in a Los Angeles shaved ice shop, I’m craigslisting looking for food trucks, ice cream trucks, and any other cool big truck I could convert. I found a mail truck that they had turned into an ice cream truck that was about $5k. It was ugly, but I saw the vision.

When I got back to the Bay Area me and my brother inlaw went to go check it out.  Oh I forgot, at this point we had told the idea to our sister/bro inlaws that live in the Bay Area as well, and they decided to go into the business with us as well.  So anyway, we roll into the ghetto to take a look at this truck.  And when I say ghetto…I mean holy crap ghetto.  We get out of the car to cross the street to look at the truck, a car rolls up to me (2 dudes inside) stop the car in front of me, and just stare me down.  They literally just sat there for like 15 seconds…and I just walked off and went around them.  Then they burned off and never came back.  Anyway that was pointless info, but both me and my brother thought I was about to get shot up.

So this is the truck we went to look at:

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Me and Kevin (bro-inlaw) are pretty creative guys.  He’s big into building things and renovations & I’m good on the graphics and crazy ideas.  So we had some grand plans to fix this bad boy up.  Those dreams ended up costing way more and taking way more time that we both thought.  But after a summer of renovations in his driveway this is what Ninja Shaved Ice’s truck looked like:

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The inside got the real deal treatment as well.  Here’s the nasty grease fest that it was before:

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So as you can see from the photo above, this truck was disgusting.  We had to totally strip this thing down to the bare walls.  We built a brand new inner structure, rewired the whole truck safer than a house, put in some extreme electrical convertors, shelving, fridge & topping station, and a sink with a tankless hot water heater. Oh and we put a whole new window in the side of the truck.  It was a massive project.

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So WHAT happen?

Well what happen was that we all had full time jobs, we both had a new baby & another on the way, and no time to work the truck.  We tried hiring a friend, but he went home for the holidays for a month, and the truck just sat there.  So rather than continuing to lose money, we decided to put the now finished truck up for sale.

What did I LEARN?

I learned that anything dealing with food, there is tons of red tape.  And customizing is probably the worst idea for “any business”. If we would have just got a truck that was ready to go, we would have saved months of rebuilt time, and would have had more time to sell product in the truck.

Start with something simple that can just get the job done.

LikeUs Network – Vending Mobile Payment Hardware

LikeUs Network

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LikeUs Network is a mobile payment hardware device for vending machines. When our hardware is plugged into vending machines, it enables them to accept payments from paypal, google wallet, saved credit cards, and other payment solutions. Mark Cuban was an investor in the company, giving us a seed amount of $75,000.

Where the IDEA Came From

So me and Steven Ray were out for a job in Dallas, and I was so tired & thirsty.  There happen to be a vending machine on the trail, so I sprinted for it. Once I arrived Steve let me know that I had no way to pay for it, cause I left my wallet in the car. I said outloud “Why can’t I login to Facebook, and let people spam me for a free drink!”

At that second, I realized we needed to make this a reality. That night I got an old 70′s Dr Pepper machine from my dad’s friend, and had a couple of friends help me get it into my apartment. Then I bought an Arduino and a Make book on Arduinos.  Steve did some wiring, my friend Keyston built us a quick android app, I did some Arduino coding, and before long we had a working prototype. You logged into facebook, it would post an advertisment on your wall, and once it was posted it a credit was sent to the vending machine.

Mark Cuban INVESTED???

About a year before we built our initial prototype me and my wife had dinner with some friends in Dallas.  In some drunken conversation my friend told me about how his brother plays basketball with Mark Cuban at his gym all the time. I asked him what gym, and instantly started talking my wife into going to that gym so that I could meet Mark Cuban.

6 months later we finally shifted over to Lifetime Fitness and I started playing basketball with a group of guys everyday.  I had been going there for a couple of months and no Cuban sightings.  So I had given up on that whole idea of meeting him, him giving me millions investment money, and us screaming at refs together at Mavs games.

Then one day I’m getting ready to play, and in he walks.  Already trying to hold in my crazy fanboy face…who do I get matched up against on the court.  Yep, I am guarding Mark Cuban on a basketball court.  How crazy is this? Let me just add that I was on my game that day.  I drained 5 or so three-pointers in his eye :)

So now that I know he’s really a member, and I may have a chance to talk to him more we decide to throw a wrench in the gears.  So at this time, my wife is a couple months pregnant.  Her sister, who lives in Walnut Creek, is also pregnant.  We decide we’re going to move to Walnut Creek so that our children can grow up playing together.

Literally on the last day we’re in Dallas, I go to the gym to play one last round of basketball.  I had already told myself that if Cuban was there, I was going to tell him all about my idea. We start playing, and BAM, Cuban walks in and starts playing with us. We play a few games, and we all finish up.  I tell myself okay lets do this…and then…”nope I can’t do this”. I felt like I was being a dick, going up to him at the gym when he’s just trying to workout. At this time Cuban goes into the treadmill room. I tell myself “I’m gonna go run too, and maybe I can grow some balls and talk to him.”

This is where it gets crazy. So Cuban is in the first row of treadmills, I’m in the 3rd row, and this 7ft tall guy we were playing basketball with gets in the 2nd row.  So we’re all jogging, and suddenly 7 footer stumbles on the treadmill.  I try not to look, cause that’s crazy embarrassing when you get a shoelace caught or something. So a few more minutes go by, and 7 footer goes flying off of the treadmill. I run over there “My pacemaker went off for the first time, it felt like a horse kicked me in the chest” he said.  Cuban runs over, we get the paramedics, people are coming over, tons of water, and bags, and people freaking out.  After about 20 minutes, the paramedics roll this guy out on a stretcher, and it’s just me and Cuban standing there.  He looks at me and I say “Can I be dick, and ask you a business question even though you’re at the gym and all of this?” He quickly responds with “Sure, what’s up”.  ”If I have an idea I want to show you, what’s the best way to go about that?” He says “Well here’s my email, I promise I’ll read it, but I don’t promise I’ll respond”

Seemed completely fair to me.  He walks off and heads for the locker room, and I’m still kinda standing there in shock.  When he spins around and comes back to me and asks what the idea is.  I tell him that we’re doing a social currency idea around vending machines.  And how we’ve developed this hardware that plugs into vending machines, and yadda yadda.  He quickly starts thinking about other things this could fit into, and says “lets go look at this vending machine over here.” I tell him how we have this tablet on the machine, and you login to facebook on it. He looks at me and says “THAT IS THE WORST IDEA I’VE EVER HEARD”. Can you imagine the security risks when people are behind you watching you login.  He looks at me dead in the face and says “If you can do it all from your phone, I’M IN.” My cocky ass replied “Give me 2 weeks and I’ll make it happen.”

So a month of emails, charts, talks with vendors, and Cuban’s lawyers he officially invested in LikeUs Network.

What Went WRONG (the first time)

So there was a list of things that went wrong, but the biggest one was that our entire business was based fully around Facebook. We found this out the hard way.  We spent so many hours getting things working, and then overnight Facebook decided to change their Terms of Service to banning 3rd parties to post message on a personal wall in exchange for a reward. Overnight our brilliant idea burned to the ground.

The PIVOT

So during these first phases, we had gone to this giant international vending expo in Vegas and talked to all of the big wigs in the beverage industry.  The beverage guys were all OLD! Like OLD OLD! We told them we were doing things with Social Media and they either said “We already do Social Media” (referring to sending emails – not social media) or “What is Social Media?”

We quickly realized that social media, although extremely current, wasn’t going to work in the vending industry.  But what would work? MONEY. We already had the backend system to send credit to a vending machine, so we brought on Angelo who designed a custom control board for us.  On top of the board design he created custom protocols for adding credit, listening to the machine for errors (things like power outages, errors from other devices, and even cash transactional data), and remotely updating the firmware onto our new hardware.

Once we made that switch, the flood gates opened. All of the same vendors that just didn’t get it, where calling us up trying to buy the device.  We even were asked to come out to New York and demo our device for Pepsi (which wasn’t as great day as it sounds).

How were we DIFFERENT

The biggest feature that made us different is that we were platform agnostic.  The products that are available today are NFC based.  Which meant that a vendor had a buy and install a NFC reader that cost nearly $1000, and it left out all of the iPhone, Windows, and Jitterbug phone users.

Where is it NOW?

As of March 1, 2014 we decided to shut down LikeUs Network.  It was probably one of the hardest things I’ve ever had to shut down, but we just weren’t in a position to continue.  Hardware is really expensive to get rolling, manufacture, etc and we didn’t have the working capital. The product is still around, and we’re in talks with a few folks about taking over the project.

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LikeUs Network is Coming

Our team has been working on a new product for the last few months, and it’s almost time to reveal it to the world. I know…I know you hear this fake anticipation all the time, but this one is gonna be good.  We’re bringing physical world items to consumers, and still making our digital counterparts happy.  It’s gonna be a crazy, bumpy, fun ride.  Get ready.

www.LikeUs.co

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TwitterFox/EchoFon Themes???

So I’ve been using the TwitterFox extension since it came out.  I really like having applications I used daily built into my browser.  Since that’s where I spend most of my day.  And that’s also why I need someone to help me build ThunderFire.  But that’s another post.

Anyway, I’ve been using TwitterFox for some time now, and really like it. But I’ve never really liked the themes or lack of themes that it came with.  At first you just had the baby blue twitter-ish look.  Which was pretty damn ugly.  And now that they’ve been bought or partnered or whatever with EchoFon you have a grey and a black theme.  And I don’t want to sound like a dick but I really don’t like them either.  Don’t get me wrong, it’s not like they are bad, they are just kinda boring.

So rather than just bitching about it, I decided to do something about it.  After a couple glasses of wine last night, I decided to go ahead and design a couple of themes that I’d be happy to use.  I finished them up just a second ago, and sent them over to the guys at EchoFon.  I don’t know if they are gonna trash it or what, but it would be pretty damn cool to have some themes I did thrown into their extension.  -hint- -hint-

Anyway…here’s what they look like.  These aren’t anything crazy fancy either, cause I do realize there’s not much you can do with a box.  I just prefer a larger icon, larger font, brighter colors, and some clean backgrounds.  So that’s what I did. Let me know what you think.

Grey Theme 1 – “Gravy”

Blue Theme – We’ll call it “The Lazy River”

And the Grey Theme – AKA “McGruff”

Super Hero Party!!!

We’ve been lucky enough to find some really cool friends here in Austin.  We work out at a place called CATZ, and most of the trainers there have become some of our best friends.  Scott, one of the trainers, had a birthday party and everyone went all out with the costumes.  I thought I’d share.  See all the photos

F(%# Dreamhost, Hello MediaTemple

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Well as you probably saw, my site has been down for a couple of weeks.  This was due to some leak in Dreamhost where someone was able to inject spam links into all WordPress blogs.  Pretty much it sucked balls, and I had to hire someone to move all of my domains from Dreamhost over to Media Temple.  Oh and this wasn’t an easy process.  Not just because of the amount of stuff I have on the old server, but mainly because the Dreamhost server was so slow, that I couldn’t connect to it most of the time.  This made the process take forever.

But thank god, I’m finally on a blazing fast Media Temple Grid Server and I couldn’t be happier.  Thanks Tej for your hardwork.  And sorry to everyone that I host your site, or to you people that just wanted to see my pretty site :)

Hope this never happens again.  F&$^ Dreamhost!

The end.

ThunderFire – Firefox extension

I’ve wanted to make this Firefox extension for some time now, and wanted to mock up how I wanted it to look and work.  The basic idea is when you get a new email, rather than having to change applications, a message could slide down right on your Firefox window.  You could then reply to the message, and carry on with your day.

You might only be saving seconds each time, but throughout the day if you get as many emails as I do.  You’re saving a lot of time.

If there are any developers out there that would like to work with me on this project, please hit me up.

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