Jodi Marchewitz, iGuiders, Woman Entrepreneur
I answer every email but I do not take out time to speak to everyone that contacts me. It is just impossible. I got an email from Jodi Marchewitz with the subject line; TALK?: Please don't skip this message! Her email was right to the point of why we should talk and she asked for 15 minutes. I took a look at what she was doing and scheduled a call.
In the tech hubs around the country; NYC, SF, Chicago etc there is not only a support system but the ability to educate yourself about investors, strategies, term sheets etc. When you are out of that hub you are relying on different information. I have spoken to a few companies (women led) that have not exactly been given the deal when it comes to funding for the value they have created. Yet, that is an entirely different story so I was happy to give Jodi some feedback that hopefully was helpful as she grows her business.
Jodi grew up in Cleveland, Ohio. A real buckeye. She went to Ohio State for college and majored in Business Administration and marketing. During school she landed a bunch of internships which really helped guide her job decision after school. She had an internship at Shelly Berman Communications, an internships at Vector Marketing in sales and an internship at Eaton in the marketing department of their tech division. Eaton loved her and gave her an offer in February before she graduated so she was set.
As a kid, Jodi would take apart the VCR's and radios and put them back together so she was always interested in how things work. At Eaton they made operator interfaces for the factory floor. Those panels allow you to visiually see what is happening on the floor and where interruption might be taking place. She did the marketing and communications for the product. Although she had taken some computer classes at the end of the day she was always more interested in the business side. Going to Eaton really set Jodi down a path of her job career. At Eaton she was the youngest person there and there were few women. It was 1994 and they asked her to figure out what this thing called the Internet was all about. That was key.
She was recruited to go to work at Rockwell in Cleveland. The job was for the division that did the programming for the logic controllers. At Eaton it was about hardware where at Rockwell it was about the software. She took the job as the commercial program director where she would travel all over Europe to the different divisions to teach them how to market and sell the product in their region. Each country had different needs in product development, marketing communications and infrastructure. She went back and forth from Columbus for two years to help the company understand how to work with their international offices.
Jodi decided it was time to move into sales if she really wanted to make more money. Rockwell didn't want to hire her into sales because she did not have an engineering degree. So Jodi decided to go back and get her MBA at night while working full time. The school was on Friday nights and all day Saturday for a little more than a year. She met a lot of interesting people from the community as many of the people who taught those classes were real world educators so she really learned about why some companies succeed and others fail. Great lessons.
After she got her MBA Jodi went to work for Ingram Micro. She was selling software to big companies such as Walmart and Best Buy. She would sell them the hardware and software that they would sell to their consumers. She learned about floor planning and even theft protection. After two years she became pregnant with twins. Not an easy pregnancy because after six months Jodi had to go on bed rest for 3 months. Her boss at the time was fine with it. She worked full time on bed rest and her customers were fine with it too. The twins came seven weeks early and had to stay in the hospital for 5 weeks. One of her twins was on a breathing monitor. She realized that there was no way she could work full-time. Her boss was gone and her new boss said full time or nothing. Typical of corporate America and a loss for them. Jodi said her kids came first and that was the end of corporate America.
About a year after the twins were born she started to get the itch to get her mind stimulated. She started a Biz Dev consulting company called the Fresh Approach dedicated to helping companies understand how to use the Internet for biz opportunities. She spent a lot of time digging and digging online over the next six years for her clients. She realized that is was all about key words that made the Internet easier to search.
It was 2007 when Jodi had the idea for iGuiders. She applied for a grant at the Civic Innovation Lab of Cleveland and she won $30K. That money started her business. She began looking around for a mentor to help her grow the business. Through her husbands partner in a fantasty football league she got connected to his wife, Lynn-Ann Gries of Jumpstart Ventures. Lynn recommended that Jodi speak with Charlie Stack, a serial entrepreneur in the Cleveland area. They met constantly for about six months and he helped Jodi develop the platform for guided search and selling. Charlie had just sold his company to Oracle so he wrote Jodi a check as the first investor in iGuiders.
Once she was up and running, Jumpstart gave her an entrepreneur in residence to help figure out the business model and market strategy. Jumpstart liked what they saw and put money into the business. With that money they were able to start selling the product and evolve through customer feedback. They also partnered with a media company to sell their product. The product guides people how to pick a color, pick a product and essentially make sure the consumer is purchasing the right product for their needs. For instance they would do a 3 week furniture campaign with Ikea to guide customers through the process.
The data that they were capturing was powerful. It showed how people were thinking about buying their products which would help the retailers think about how to be stickier with their consumers. The conversion in the store is lower than it should be so the next movement is mobile apps as consumers walk through the store helping them to make that purchase. IGuiders is now doing business with large retailers that want to use their software across each social media platform the company is using from email to Facebook to mobile. They are shifting the model so that the in-store model can spread through out the organization. iGuiders is part of the disruption that is changing the face of the retail world. These products will guide and capture how consumers want to purchase.
As for Jodi, she is impressive. She is out there looking for her next round of funding. If she resided in one of the tech hubs it would probably be a little easier to find the right financial partner. The amount of money put into the business in the past has been good money as the investors have helped her think about strategy and revenue models. Did they take more of the business then they should have for their investment? IMHO, yes but not to the point where it was blatantly wrong. There are a lot of smart people out there building interesting companies that are not on the radar of tech hubs where most of the VC's reside. I hope that Jodi is able to find the next group of investors who get what she has created and are interested in taking the company to the next level. If not, as the revenues come in the door she will be able to grow slower but she will be able to grow....and that is a very good thing.