It’s an everyday situation; you and a couple of friends go out to a restaurant and all of a sudden someone’s phone dies. And, of course, there is no charger in sight. Portable chargers, or power banks as they are sometimes called, are ideal for anyone always on the go with their job or if they have an active social life.
Gavin Gray and James Riel are two first-time entrepreneurs who tried to come up with a solution to this ongoing problem by creating and developing their own portable chargers for bars and restaurants. After building out a small team of engineers and developers, Oomf was founded in the August 2015. Gray is currently the CEO and Riel is the CRO.
The chargers are activated after plugging in a device with one of the cables and logging onto the Oomf website through an activation code, along with an email address. This allows the company to keep track of which chargers are being used and, just in case, a user takes one for themselves by accident. “The alpha version of the product was actually created in just six months,” Gray says. “And it has been improving ever since.” Oomf is also using a cloud-based software platform that allows users to connect with one another through social media.
For the company’s first year-and-a-half, they created a business model exclusively for bars and restaurants in the South Boston area.
“At the beginning, we charged users a dollar to use the product,” Gray says, describing Oomf’s early days. “Turns out, people will always pay a dollar.”
While having consistent clients is great for any early-stage startup, Gray and his team realized they were not making a lot of money off of this business model, and tried selling the product to bars and restaurants.“We found a deal with Anheuser-Busch, and they were willing to put Oomf in 20 locations across New York City,” he says. “They said they can price out 10,000 locations, but they wanted us to have at least one million users. It was kind of a ‘chicken-before-the-egg’ situation.”
After trying to work with the bar and restaurant industry, Oomf started experimenting in putting their chargers onto campuses across Boston, starting with Northeastern University. “The university actually paid for the service for the students,” Gray says. “We found that Northeastern had an immediate adoption rate. Students were using them in the cafeteria, the library and the gym.” It was on college campuses where Oomf found success. Oomf began providing chargers to other schools during for the Fall 2016 semester, including Suffolk University.
Oomf is one of the 128 unique companies participating in the current 2017 MassChallenge cohort. Prior to being accepted into the program, the company was using a small space in Cambridge for business operations and engineering.
Earlier in this month, Oomf began another round of fundraising. The company has received angel funding from investors from Gray and Riel’s previous careers working in software. One of the investors, Gary Walker, an angel investor from the Dallas/Fort Worth area, saw the product first hand from his own son, who is attending Northeastern. “He was up visiting his son and saw what his son was using and asked, ‘What’s that?’” Gray recalls.
The company has also launched a new product called the Omnicharge, which is powerful enough to charge a student’s laptop. By creating a service in which their consumers are sharing a product, Oomf has made what they call a “sharing economy.” Gray believes Oomf’s technology can be applied to other businesses and not just portable chargers.
“I’d like to think what we are doing benefits all types of people,” Gray says. “There are all different apps on a smartphone made for sharing different things. As a consumer, I don’t want to sift through 40 different apps to find a product to share. I want one concise app and we can be that app.”
Images courtesy of Oomf, Inc.