The story of BlackLocus starts with an unlikely beginning: three wantrepreneurs who didn’t know each other and didn’t have an idea. But that didn’t stop them; in fact it’s what got them going.
The three met at Carnegie Mellon University. Two of them, Rodrigo Carvalho and Lukas Bouvrie, met during the Swartz entrepreneurial bootcamp that precedes the start of MBA classes. They were instantly drawn to each other by their mutual desire to start a company. But the two not only didn’t have an idea for a company, they didn’t have technical talent, so they wanted to recruit a third founder who would bring technology expertise to the startup table. Through Project Olympus, an initiative within Carnegie Mellon to foster and encourage entrepreneurship among faculty and students, they found and interviewed Francisco Uribe, a masters student in CMU’s EBusiness program. They knew he was the guy because, as Rodrigo put it, “Francisco came in talking about entrepreneurial ideas. We liked him right off the bat.” And so did Kit Needham, the Senior Business Advisor for Project Olympus, “There seemed to be some magic between the three from the very beginning.”
Through Francisco’s influence, the three focused on ecommerce and with a few fits and starts became what BlackLocus is today: real-time intelligence for retailers so they can act today and, therefore, achieve a more profitable future. But if it sounds easy, think again. The trio faced issues relating to funding, immigration, and the usual startup challenges of finding customers and product development. And, given that they started while still graduate students, the team worked hard, really hard. They still do, putting in easily over 80 hours per week each. And the challenges keep changing, making them even more challenging.
About BlackLocus. In today’s world, pricing is hard – a delicate balance between staying competitive and not leaving money on the table. Forrester found that price checking, high prices, and shipping costs represent three of the top five reasons for cart abandonment. BlackLocus help e-tailers attack these concerns with a simple SaaS platform that provides “pricing as a service,” and delivers actionable pricing recommendations using the company’s advanced technology.
Though a combination of machine learning, image similarity, named entity recognition, and text-mining BlackLocus finds and matches competitors for any product being sold in the web. Using its Price and Revenue Management Intelligence system, BlackLocus provides optimal pricing, and integrates with an e-tailer’s shopping cart platform to allow clients (online retailers) to quickly and easily adjust prices and significantly increase sales.
The origin of the name, BlackLocus, comes from the psychology term “internal locus of control.” Lukas explained, “Those with a high internal locus of control believe that the actions that they take today will have a positive impact on their future.” Francisco chimed in, “The black represents profit as in Black Friday.”
About Rodrigo. Rodrigo Carvalho was always entrepreneurial. Originally from Brazil, Rodrigo moved to the US for college, attending Penn State and majoring in business. During high school and college he was involved in numerous small ventures. After college he turned one passion into a small business: BDDogs.com, a site for clothes for English Bull Dogs. At the time he was working for IBM, and the site seemed a fun distraction, although Rodrigo knew that it would never amount to much financially. “I didn’t care if BDDogs.com never grew big; I just loved English Bull Dogs and this was a business vehicle to express that,” he explained. Rodrigo did well at IBM. He took initiative and IBM encouraged him, fueling the thoughts that he should strike out on his own. Rodrigo was very influenced by his grandfather, who had immigrated with his parents to Brazil from Poland with nothing and built a family business. “My grandfather always told me that there was nothing better in life than running your own show,” Rodrigo reminisced.
About Francisco. Francisco Uribe hated the jargon around the word “entrepreneurship” but he knew he was one regardless. Never having worked for anyone else, he started numerous small businesses in his youth and during his education in Chile. Most of them were small service-based companies, and one of them is still going today earning revenues for his friends still running the company. But Francisco wanted to do much bigger things, “It was painful for me because I saw many of my friends coming out of college and getting good jobs with real money. I was doing my own thing and was not making any money. And I wanted to change that in a big way.” That desire brought him to CMU to the EBusiness masters program in the School of Computer Science because he knew that it was top-notch in both computer science and business and entrepreneurship. “I knew I would have the chance to meet people outside of my normal friends in a new country and new environment,” he stated.
About Lukas. Lukas Bouvrie is one of most enterprising young men I have ever met. He didn’t call himself an entrepreneur until recently, but he sure moved to the beat of his own drummer. He has never really done anything that wasn’t entrepreneurial. From dog sledding in Alaska and competing nationally (although he was from Boston), to mountaineering in the Himalayas, to starting an arts management firm to showcase visual, performing, film, and digital arts, Lukas always knew that his risk tolerance profile was off the charts, “I didn’t think I was crazy, but a lot of other people sure thought so!”
BlackLocus today. Since May of 2010, when BlackLocus completed its prototype, to launching its product in January, 2011, to closing on its Series A funding in June, 2011 ($2.5M from Texas-based DFJ Mercury and Silverton Partners, and Pittsburgh-based Innovation Works), BlackLocus’ progress has been impressive. From their origins nurtured and supported by Project Olympus, they received a $50K Fellowship from economic development organization, Idea Foundry, and went on to the Pittsburgh-based AlphaLab incubator which provides $25K in funding and mentoring support. BlackLocus was also part of CMU’s Don Jones Center for Entrepreneurship Summer Accelerator program, which provides funding and support to Tepper business students. Additional funds were raised through winning business plan competitions. At one of those competitions, the team met their future Texas funders. The funders require part of the company to relocate to Texas, but they will be keeping R&D in Pittsburgh.
BlackLocus is solving some real problems for etailers and, given the team, we expect great things. Best of luck, BlackLocus!