PerfectCube co-founders and Kansas City entrepreneurs Mark Calhoun and Jim Starcev are native to the KC entrepreneurial scene. After selling their financial technology company, Etelligent Consulting, to Charles Schwab in 2008, Mark and Jim decided to pursue a side project on data analytics for retail businesses (spoiler alert: it became PerfectCube).
Instead of just focusing on developing the platform and creating a product, they decided to learn the needs of their customers by opening a brick and mortar store, and eating gelato.
As PerfectCube developed into more of a startup than just a side project, Mark and Jim did what any good Kansas City tech startup should do—they brought their idea to Digital Sandbox KC.
For PerfectCube and 99 other Kansas City startups, the Sandbox was the starting point, providing that critical step and just-in-time funding to move an idea from concept to commercialization.
Here’s how the Digital Sandbox KC connection helped PerfectCube move forward faster.
Why does PerfectCube exist?
With Etelligent and now PerfectCube, we’re working to help the little guy compete with big firms. Small businesses are the backbone of America. They are creating the most jobs. They are selling the most goods. Big businesses are more visible but it's the small businesses that carry the load.
PerfectCube provides small retailers the analytical capabilities of much larger chains so that can easily track their performance and even forecast the near future.
How did PerfectCube get started?
We thought retail would be a good market for this data analytics project. And what better way to get retail data than to open a retail store. So we opened a gelato store, first in Oak Park Mall then another one in Texas.
You can talk to people in the market, but when you live it you get a different perspective. In any market, but especially in retail, you may not realize the pain points and may not think about the innovative ways to approach problems.
We were taking our own data and analyzing it, figuring out what we really needed to be successful. We built PerfectCube first for ourselves to run our own stores. We were always thinking, “How can we make things better?” We began showing the online platform to other people and talking about how easily it could track metrics and trends. Eventually, PerfectCube became the company and we sold off the retail stores.
How was your startup experience with PerfectCube?
When we started Etelligent, we weren’t connected to the entrepreneurial ecosystem in Kansas City. We were just two guys who had an idea. We had no clue what we were doing or how to do it. We just fell into it along the way. We made a lot of mistakes (the name of the game) and tried a bunch of new things and eventually we made a successful business.
To our delight, by the time we launched PerfectCube everything was different. Digital Sandbox KC was around and there were other entrepreneurial resources that we could rely on. Even though we’d had a business, the world had changed.
You must stay alert and aware, because business changes and what it means to be an entrepreneur changes. You can’t keep doing things the same way.
How did the Sandbox help?
Digital Sandbox KC made a huge difference for our business! The funding helped us test the PerfectCube platform with a series of small businesses. And more importantly, people knew the Sandbox enough to know that if you’re a Sandbox company, you’re a real company. It doesn’t guarantee success, but they knew “Ok, you’ve been vetted.” Early-stage investors want to see that you’ve been through that process.
As a startup in Olathe, what can cities offer for entrepreneurs?
Not everyone can live and work in downtown Kansas City—and they don’t have to. The entrepreneurial spirit is huge and it’s growing. Every community has something to offer and an opportunity to build a supportive environment for startups. Every city can capitalize on the ecosystem and what makes them unique. Olathe has a great downtown area and a history that they can use to tap into the entrepreneurial spirit and build that culture and environment that helps entrepreneurs.
This is a community where people want to help each other out. People are approachable. If you’re raising money, you can go get a cup of coffee with a venture capitalist or an angel funder —even if they won’t fund you, they’ll talk to you. That’s invaluable.
What’s your advice for other startups?
Don’t be afraid of bouncing ideas off other people. Everyone thinks their idea is awesome. But you probably don’t have the most awesome idea out of the gate. By bouncing ideas of other people, getting some advice and trying it, you will come up with what will ultimately make you successful. Or you’ll learn from it and move on to the next thing. The idea is 10 percent of the equation and 90 percent is execution.
Are you ready to move your idea forward?
Digital Sandbox KC accepts online applications
on a rolling basis. Many concepts that eventually received funding didn't get it the first time around, so don't hesitate to get your idea out there to start receiving feedback and guidance.