This month Harvest New Founders Program brings you RedPost, a tech company that designs and builds digital signs that serve as a new and interesting way of display ads in public spaces. Eric Kanagy started his company in Goshen, Indiana earlier this year, and he is also preparing a line of digital displays for personal use.
Using open-source standards and a custom designed and manufactured case, RedPost plans to bring digital displays to lower-revenue colleges, hotel chains, and cafes. This is what Eric says about RedPost,
“We believe in constant innovation, good design, and great customer service. We also believe that we will change the way people think about communicating their location-based information.”
In this interview, Eric shares with us his story of starting RedPost, marketing the products, love and worries of owning your own business, and his tools of trade.
RedPost Kit, a do-it-yourself digital picture frame.
Why and how did you start RedPost?
Eric: I started RedPost Inc. after tinkering around in my garage (and in my head) with an idea for a locally-based digital sign system supporting the arts community. I hadn’t seen anything like what I was looking for, so I built a prototype (in my garage, not my head) and started working on the concept more. As I did so, the idea got bigger and bigger until a couple things happened:
1) I began to see the huge potential for the concept that I had
2) I couldn’t prove that it was a bad idea or completely dumb or 100% crazy
3) I couldn’t find anyone else doing exactly what I was thinking of doing
So last February I started RedPost.
What are the challenges so far in starting RedPost?
For any startup, cashflow is a problem. I want RedPost to be sustainable on its own, as quickly as possibly, so our biggest challenge currently is figuring out how to start creating something of enough value that people are willing to pay for it.
How are you marketing your two main products, Goshen & the home photo kit?
RedPost/Goshen is a pilot program, to test our concept, our software, and our hardware. Marketing is all local, word-of-mouth, or through press releases.
RedPost/Kit, which has not launched yet but will within the next couple weeks, will mainly be marketed through the blogosphere. RedPost/Kit is different and better than what’s currently on the market—whether it truly is will depend on whether the good folk of the blogosphere agree with us and get excited about it like we do.
Goshen sounds like an expensive idea – you need to invest in the machine, and it seems like maintenance would be a nightmare (an LCD screen in a public space). How do you handle these issues?
The initial investment was partially covered by local organizations who contributed to the upfront costs to get the system running. As far as maintenance, being in a small Midwestern town, vandalism isn’t as rampant as in a large city. The signs are also hung at locations conspicuous enough that you would stick out quite a bit if you were trying to destroy a screen. However, assuming a screen is actually destroyed, LCD prices are low enough that the cost of a replacement isn’t exorbitant.
What do you love most about running your own business?
Running your own business is such a double-edged sword. The best parts are also the worst. There are daily ups and downs, oftentimes too many.
It fascinates me how huge companies like Microsoft can create crappy software with so many resources and small companies with no resources can build incredible software. It ultimately comes down to culture and values. And this is my favorite part of starting and running my own business—building a culture and values from nothing and then actually living out those values as the company grows. And trying to compete with the Microsofts of the world because it really pisses them off when small companies do better with than they do.
What’s the biggest surprise/lesson you’ve had so far in running RedPost?
Everything always takes 4x as long as you want it to. No matter how well you plan. Especially when you have no economy of scale.
Please share with us some of your everyday tools.
RedPost Goshen in action, at a local coffee shop, The Electric Brew.
Is there a tool you wish you had, but does not exist?
An in-depth, localized directory of where and how to recycle everything that is recyclable.
Why do you need to track time, and how has Harvest helped you so far?
1) To pay people for the hours they work
2) To analyze the cost of what we do (labor being RedPost’s main cost) and the return on that cost
How do you see RedPost in one year?
I see a thriving community built around the Kit; many happy customers subscribed to our software (which hasn’t been released yet); and people generally being able to bridge the gap between the content on their computer and the physical locations they want that content to go in a way that hadn’t existed a year ago.
What are some most memorable things you’ve consumed lately (music, movie, book, food)?
Music: Adult Swim’s Warm & Scratchy Album
Movie: The Wind that Shakes the Barley
Book: The Last Colony, by John Scalzi
Food: Authentic Italian wood-fired pizza from Il Forno, an Italian restaurant 1 block from my office
One advice for people who would like to start a product business.
You can’t fail—you can only learn.