Astute observers of the Arkansas tech startup scene will recall that last fall's ARK Challenge installment in Little Rock came up a pitch short on Demo Day in November.
Seven startups — six from Arkansas and one from Minnesota — were accepted into the ARK's fall run, the first based in central Arkansas, but just six presented on Demo Day.
Justyn Hornor's Politapoll of Rogers completed the three-month boot camp, and its progress throughout the program was steady and promising. As is the case with many startup founders, Hornor and his Politapoll co-founder Tim Brasuell had other irons in their entrepreneurial fire, one of which — due to tragic circumstances — demanded their attention just as the ARK was drawing to a close.
So, with a heavy heart, Hornor chose to place Politapoll, an app that would poll citizens regarding specific legislation and enable dialogue with members of Congress, on hold while he and Brasuell pivoted to Real Agent Guard, which provides security measures for real estate agents.
Now with 11 team members, Rogers-based Real Agent Guard is preparing for a big growth phase. Innovate Arkansas caught up with Hornor, who talked about the ARK pivot, the importance of Real Agent Guard's services and the state's startup ecosystem including access to capital.
IA: Give us the Real Agent Guard product summary.
Hornor: Real Agent Guard is an enterprise security solution for real estate agencies. Using a mobile device, agents can stay connected in real-time to their agency team. They simply login to our app before meeting a client and a countdown timer begins. If they don't check-in, their team gets an alert. Here's a full feature list.
IA: So, explain just how the Politapoll/Real Agent Guard pivot came about.
Hornor: While at the ARK Challenge, a local real estate agent was lured to a rural property, kidnapped, and brutally murdered. We had already been developing a security system for "lone workers," so when the local woman was killed, we saw a huge need for our product. We put the prototype in front of some local real estate agencies and saw immediate, near explosive demand.
IA: Is Politapoll simply on hold for now?
Hornor: Yes, but only temporarily while we stand up Real Agent Guard.
IA: Are there other products like Real Agent Guard on the market? If so, how is your product different?
Hornor: There are similar products, but none nearly as effective or affordable. The easiest differentiator is our price. We're a fraction of anyone on the market mostly because we can absorb so much of the development costs with our in-house team. We come in around $1/agent/month. We also incorporate the best-of-breed features: active monitoring, authenticated logout and timer resets, and real-time geo-location if something is wrong.
Lastly, we’re the only solution built for enterprises. Everyone else took a single-user approach, but we built our system for agencies. The reason being that we found agencies wanted to be able to offer Real Agent Guard as a benefit to their agents while also getting agents under a single security/safety policy. We're weeks from bringing to the table a way to also allow agents to use the app as individuals, meaning they won't have to wait for their agency to purchase Real Agent Guard.
IA: Would this pivot have happened without the ARK?
Hornor: No way! The ARK taught us so much about rapid prototyping and customer interviews. We were able to very quickly identify a huge need, understand core features, and determine pricing the market could bear in a matter of days. The ARK also gave us confidence we lacked. The mentorship and experience we received at the ARK was incredibly empowering.
IA: Was it hard to pull out of the ARK at the last minute?
Hornor: For me, personally, it was heart wrenching! But it was the right thing to do for several reasons. We all knew Real Agent Guard was a tiger-by-the-tail opportunity. I couldn't ethically get up in front of investors to pitch Politapoll not knowing when we could circle back. We were also already so busy working with Real Agent Guard customers in the last few weeks of the ARK that it became a matter of choosing to do a pitch half-heartedly or embracing the tiger.
IA: Give us your post-ARK impression of the startup environment in both NWA and Little Rock.
Hornor: If only we had known there were so many resources available for startups! Little Rock has incredible mentors across so many different industries. We had a term we coined at the ARK — "mentor whiplash." So many mentors made themselves available to us that it was a very real challenge to parse through their insights and ideas to know what was the best fit for our respective companies. NWA has the same benefits with the focus more on retail and IT-based startups.
In terms of mentorship, I’d put Arkansas up against any startup environment. In fact, we’re probably positioned better than anyone simply because we have incredible depth of mentors with few startups relative to other regions. The biggest challenge is access to investment capital for startups. We need more incubators and efficient ways to access angel capital, specifically.
My impression is that Arkansas angel investors are just now tuning into local startups and are reasonably hesitant to be first to invest. The startup environments in other regions seem to have angel investors who are ready to engage and invest.
IA: What's next for Real Agent Guard?
Hornor: We have just recently closed our first mega-agency of 150+ agents and we're in negotiations with several others that size. Now that our product is in place, we are hitting the road in a sales cycle. We anticipate a round of investments being needed soon so we can scale up properly. A number of other industries are knocking on our door as well, so we're hoping to bring a version of our product to market that is geared towards any small business with lone workers.
We even want to make our security solutions available to families who want to make sure their kids are safe. We’re also exploring the latest generation of wearable devices that can be tied into our system. For example, if the heart rate of, say, an elderly individual drops too far or goes too high beyond a threshold, their family or medical providers would be instantly notified.