Interview with Ideablob winner, Tom Krieglstein

Tom Krieglstein won the $10,000 indeablob.com award for his business idea and concept – a freshman orientation software, Red Rover. Ideablob helps provide this exposure to a large and supportive group.  People submit business ideas; community members give and get advice and then, each month, the community votes for the best idea to win $10,000. Here is the interview with Tom:

Cristian: Hi Tom and welcome! I will start directly with a question about your company, Swift Kick. Can you explain a little bit about Swift Kick and how it works?

Tom: Swift Kick is an education company with the goal of solving student apathy. We do this through training and technology.

Our two trainings are “Dance Floor Theory Leadership Training” and “The Secrets Behind Facebook and Myspace.” We’ve spoken at over 120 schools and were named the best campus trainer for 2007 and 2008.

Our technology is Red Rover, Red Rover is online software designed to increase student engagement and retention by facilitating comfort, connection, and contribution. With Red Rover, students will learn how to build and effectively manage their online identity (Facebook, blogs, youtube, etc.) to connect with their peers, role models, mentors, and faculty.

Cristian: You were the first winner of the ideablob.com $10,000 prize for your freshman orientation software, Red Rover. Tell us a little bit about Red Rover and how you came up with the concept.

Tom: Red Rover is an extension of our Dance Floor Theory Leadership training. In DFT we talk about the importance of social integration as a key to retention. To integrate students on campus we want to connect them to groups they might enjoy based on their interests, but most schools have very little aggregated knowledge of their students on an individual basis. As we watched student’s behavior, we saw that they are actually sharing massive amounts of information about their likes and dislikes online, so we developed Red Rover as a tool to aggregate that data into a usable form for schools that also gives value to students.

Cristian: Who typically uses Red Rover?

Tom: Red Rover is asking schools to stop hiding the work of their best students behind passwords and closed systems and connect the institution and their students into the public internet. With that said, we are working with schools that see this shift happening in education and are willing to explore. We’re more interested in a mindset of openness than the makeup of a particular school.

Cristian: What are the first 3 strong points of using Red Rover?

Tom:
When a student signs up for Red Rover they will be able to:
1) Find classmates like them
2) Connect to campus groups they’d enjoy
3) Contribute to the college community

Cristian: Why do you think the ideablob.com user base chose your idea to win the $10,000 prize over the thousands of other ideas on the site?

Tom: I think the Ideablob community saw our current successes and detailed road map for Red Rover as signs we were serious and the money would go right into good use. They saw value in the idea too, because many commented on how they wish Red Rover was around when they were in college.

Cristian: Did you ever think you had a chance to win the $10,000 prize?

Tom: At first we had no idea. Then after we won the weekly ‘sprint” we knew we had a chance so it was all hands on deck to rally up votes in the final.

Cristian: How did you spend, or plan to spend the award money?

Tom: The base Red Rover software is free and we want to keep it that way, so the money was directed towards hosting, upkeep, and maintenance costs.

Cristian: How did you hear about ideablob.com?

Tom: I originally heard about it through my RSS reader from an article written on Mashable.com.

Cristian: You started your first business – an online retail store – at the age of 20, about 7 years ago. Wasn’t that immediately after the dot-com crash?

Tom: Yes it was, but my business wasn’t affected by the dot-com crash. I was selling old edition textbooks through eBay and Amazon.com. I expanded to sell electronic items via drop shipping so the product would go directly from the manufacturer to the customer. I was then just a storefront with a positive reputation on eBay and Amazon.com.

Cristian: You were in college back then, so how were you able to manage running the site, shipping the items, and all of the other duties required?

Tom: It was my only job. After I would come home from school, I’d pack and ship the books one by one all night. Once I expanded into dropshipping, it was no longer about packing and shipping, it was all about order processing and moving one order from my inbox to the manufacturer. Oh and I didn’t sleep much ☺

Cristian: Coming back to Red Rover, it is an online student orientation tool that integrates with Facebook. Is Facebook a tool for both business and personal development? Why not Linkedin or any other social medium?

Tom: We went where the students were, instead of asking them to come to us. If students used Linkedin we would have gone there, but they don’t. One survey out of NDSU found that 93% of it’s students use Facebook and Myspace.

There is also a technical challenge. The kind of integration we are doing was only possible with Facebook because they opened to third party sites to link into the user data. Myspace and Linkedin are catching up, but for now we’ll stick with Facebook.

Cristian: How is Red Rover being implemented? In conjunction with educational institutions? If so, please name a few.

Tom:
In the fall we ran a pilot program with 40 schools at various levels of activity. Right now we are in our second round of pilot schools. In April we except to open the free version to another select group of schools. Schools currently active in Red Rover include, Augustana College, Ashland University and San Antonio College.

Cristian: What other projects does Swift Kick work on besides Red Rover?

Tom: Our two trainings are “Dance Floor Theory Leadership Training” and “The Secrets Behind Facebook and Myspace.” We also support The Student Leader Blog www.theslblog.org and The Student Affairs Blog www.thesablog.org

Cristian: Why do you think so many college students are able to come up with such innovative ideas?

Tom: It’s a combination of freedom, innocence and gumption during the college years that makes it such a great time to explore new ideas.

Cristian: Do you find that there is a sort of innocence lost after starting your first 9 to 5 job?

Tom: I think innocence is lost when you don’t pursue what makes you happy. School should be about helping people discover their passion then help them build a career around it. I think we skip right to building the career.

Cristian: One last question about ideablob.com: Do you think there is a specific type of business that is more likely to succeed on ideablob.com? If so, what makes them more appealing to the ideablob.com community than others?

Tom: I do think the community has a soft spot for businesses that are out to do good in the world by helping others, but if you look over the 1000s of ideas on Ideablob, it’s hard to find a common thread except everyone is an entrepreneur who has a dream and wants to make it happen.

Cristian: So Tom, what’s next for you?

Tom: Continue to happily explorer the world of education. We have lots of seeds planted right now and with a little water we’ll see which ones sprout.