How economic downturn helped Ed Vining refocus his software startup
“I realized around 2001 that TV news would be forever changed by the internet,” says Ed Vining, a sports broadcaster turned entrepreneur.
But the internet didn’t just change TV — it changed him too.
Ed’s company, iCapture, is the product of over a decade of online businesses, starting in the golf space, where he met co-founder Brady Roberts.
“Brady contacted me and said, ‘You’ve got the connections, I’ve got the technical, programming side.’”
And with that, they created a lead capture company focused on golf courses. Golfers could enter their contact information — name, phone number, email — in kiosks stationed at the golf course, and start receiving news, discounts and promotional materials. Golf courses across the country signed up. The company found a market and businesses willing to pay for it.
Until 2009, when the economy took a nose dive.
“Our big fish [company] started to rot as a result of the real estate market crash,” says Ed. The money they were relying on just wasn’t there anymore.
“But we retooled. We took the same data collection interface and created an app: iCapture.”
iCapture is an electronic way to capture contact information and other pertinent details from interested customers at conferences, trade shows, events, universities and more.
Right out of the gate they integrated with email marketing service Constant Contact, where a free version of iCapture was made available in Constant Contact’s marketplace.
That’s when it took off.
“We are, to this day, Constant Contact’s number one most downloaded app.”
Instead of starting completely from scratch, Ed believes there is opportunity in what’s already out there. “Integrate with something that’s really popular and make it do something it can’t do currently,” he advises.
As customers started using the free application, they wanted more flexibility and customization…which happened to be available in a paid version of iCapture.
“The app is completely customizable and open. Businesses can create a VIP sign up form or a contest giveaway, add their branding and they’re ready to go,” says Ed.
And with the flexibility of the app, customers from all around the world in various industries went for it.
“There are a lot of uses we didn’t really think of,” Ed says.
One of those places is university graduate recruitment. In the past, a potential graduate student would handwrite information on a paper form. University recruitment staff would have to interpret and re-enter information, potentially misspelling an email address or fudging a number, thus missing out on that lead.
“And when it comes to graduate and medical schools, losing just one lead is hundreds of thousands of dollars.”
To Ed and Brady, iCapture isn’t for any one kind of customer, and that’s by design.They’ve found a niche doing what their bigger competitors — SurveyMonkey, Typeform, Formstack — don’t do.
“A lot of our clients don’t want to have to deal with always having to be connected to the internet,” says Ed. iCapture works without an internet connection.
And when they noticed inefficiencies in the tablet’s virtual keyboard, they built one from scratch.
“There are four different keyboards [on the iPad]! Numbers! Symbols! Lower case! Caps! We had to create our own keyboards to expedite the process.” And so they did, creating a smarter keyboard with larger and simpler buttons.
This never ending process of learning and experimenting has taken hold elsewhere, even in the information they collect.
“What we found is, people are a lot more honest with their answers when they can enter the information themselves. There’s anonymity [in iCapture], that enables more truthfulness.”
Their goal with iCapture is not to replace the human connection, but to strengthen it.
“There is nothing more valuable than interacting with a customer,” says Ed from his new half- unpacked Parkcenter office.
The team spent the last few years growing the business out of the Nampa TECenter, an incubator for entrepreneurs needing space and guidance on starting a business.
Ed and Brady’s future for iCapture? Keep building features and tools that help businesses of all types.
“Our goal is to reach more people. From the little mom-and-pop shop to the pro football hall of fame.”