Silicon Prairie: Startup Homes on the Range
Enriched by Google Fiber, an Internet connection that’s as much as 100 times faster than the speed most Americans experience online, the Kansas City Startup Village is home to numerous budding ventures.
Though still only his mid-20s, Scott Ferreira has already built quite a reputation for himself in the business world.
While a student at the University of Southern California, Ferreira started a company, My Social Cloud, which securely stores a user’s passwords so he or she can easy access them later. That company was able to get off the ground, Ferreira says, because of Richard Branson.
“I was on Twitter and Richard Branson had sent out a Tweet saying he was looking for young entrepreneurs to come meet with him in Miami and pitch him their ideas,” he says. “My sister and I—and we weren’t even old enough to drink yet—we asked if we could attend this event, and they got back to us and they said, ‘Hey, we’d love to have you guys.’ And sure enough while we were in Miami he loved the idea. We ended up getting some venture funding from Richard Branson to grow it.”
Newly armed with Branson’s financing help, the company took off before Reputation.com eventually purchased it, catapulting him at a very young age into the upper echelon of the tech world.
Yet Ferreira’s love of entrepreneurship, he says, began even before My Social Cloud. “I fell in love with starting things and finding solutions to problems all the way back in high school when I was with a team of people who helped found an organization that helped homeless people and families get back on their feet and out of poverty,” he says. “That was really my first foray into the world of creating solutions to known problems.”
These days, Ferreira can be found running his latest startup, Free Bike Project. The company evolved from an idea that two of his fellow students at USC dreamt up, he says, though it has since changed locations and honed its business model. “Every Thursday night I’d have entrepreneurs come over and pitch their ideas, and we’d discuss how we could improve them,” Ferreira says.
“One of those ideas was for Free Bike Project. Two international students from Denmark needed something for their entrepreneurship class, and they were toying with the idea of being able to give students free bikes. I took a real liking to it, and I thought it was a really cool way to get to the college market. While building My Social Cloud, I had been trying to get the word out to a lot of different colleges. But I found there’s really no good way to do that.”
Free Bike Project makes good on that goal with a straightforward business model. Students receive a free bike that’s outfitted with an advertisement from one of the company’s corporate sponsors, and all they are asked to do is upload one image to a social media site per month of them with the bike. Ferreira loved the idea so much, he says, that he became its first backer.
“My Social Cloud became the first client of Free Bike Project and students just absolutely loved it,” he says. “It was a best of both worlds scenario. They had transportation around campus that they didn’t have to worry about paying for, and we got word out about our company to students who otherwise would not have been seeing or hearing much about us.”
Still, though Free Bike Project was a hit at USC, the company hadn’t been able to grow beyond the Los Angeles campus. Ferreira, who was working at Reputation.com at the time, sensed an opportunity to help the business grow.
“They were having trouble expanding outside of USC, so I decided to officially join them last August,” Ferreira says. “It’s been about a year since we’ve re-incorporated and started fresh, moving to Arizona. Phoenix has a small startup scene, but it’s growing quickly and there are a lot of great resources here. Plus, the cost of living in Phoenix is so much lower than in Los Angeles, so it’s been a great place to get this going.”
Since Ferreira came onboard, the company has expanded to 20 campuses, he says, and it’s picked up clients such as North Face, Venmo, and the American Heart Association. What’s also helped draw students, Ferreira says, is the company’s commitment to giving back. “At the end of the year when the bikes are returned, we help donate bikes to third world countries,” he says. “I think because we have that kind of social angle and it’s a much greener way of transportation, students have really warmed to us quickly.”
As Ferreira steers Free Bike Project toward continued growth, he is squarely focused on improving the company’s bike distribution model and recruiting more student riders. Given his impressive track record, it’s probably a safe bet to say he’ll succeed on both counts.