Jeffrey Schwartz, BHP ’07, BBA ’07 feels he has found his true calling in the creation of NOOM (Next One’s On Me), a new mobile app he and business partner Sara Rodell created and launched in March. We sat down with Jeffrey to find out more about NOOM and what he has been up to since graduation.
How does NOOM work?
It is focused on product-based gifting. Right now it is only integrated through Facebook, but we are working on adding the ability to send NOOMs via text message and email. The sender sends a NOOM in one of three categories: treats, beer, and bar & bites. The recipient will receive a notification and it will go into their NOOM bank account. When they are ready to redeem it, they can then pull up a map of nearby NOOM merchants by category, and show the redemption screen to the merchant. The app is great because it doesn’t limit by geographic location. Once we are in multiple cities, users will be able to buy someone in a different city a drink or treat them to dessert in an easy way. We are aiming to be in three cities by the end of our first year. You can actually view a demo of NOOM on YouTube.
How did the idea come about for NOOM?
My business partner Sara Rodell came up with the idea. Friends had been doing her a lot of favors and she wanted to thank them, but didn’t have time to take them all out, so this idea emerged. My best friend from college connected me with Sara and we met at Spider House when I was in Austin for business to discuss her idea. I knew after only 30 minutes that this was what I wanted to do. It just clicked. Three weeks later I quit my job and moved to Austin.
What drew you to the idea?
I loved having a simple way to make someone smile. “The Art of Spontaneous Giving” is not just a tag line that we came up with for NOOM, it is really the reason we created the app. We want to be able to brighten people’s days.
What challenges have you faced or do you anticipate facing?
Merchant training will be difficult, as will user education. Making sure the merchants’ staffs understand what it is and what to do when someone redeems their NOOM is critical. We have also faced some challenges developing the app. We worked with a company in Dallas for the initial development and are currently looking to hire a developer in Austin. We were recently asked to join ATI (Austin Technology Incubator), so we are very excited about that.
How do you think UT and BHP helped prepare you to take this on?
In BHP I did case-based exercises and was in small classes that really fostered learning. I think BHP helped form the foundation of what I am doing now. At UT I was able to develop my leadership skills by getting involved in organizations on campus. Through those organizations, I also grew my network and learned the skill of networking.
How did your career path begin after graduation?
Right after graduation, I went to work for Jefferies in NYC, doing investment banking. I was working about 14-15 hours a day. I was working in Restructuring and Recapitalization. I was there during 2008, so there was plenty to do during that time! I decided I wanted to do something that allowed me to create and not just restructure, so I started looking into business development and business strategy jobs. I took a job with Sony Pictures in LA in their Home Entertainment Division, doing business development and strategic planning. It was pretty much an in-house consulting job. I still felt I wasn’t able to create and cultivate like I was longing to. Around that time is when I met with Sara about her idea and the rest is history.
What lessons have you learned so far in your career?
One of the most important things I have learned is the importance of managing expectations. It is a skill. You have to be able to clearly establish what is expected and when you expect it by. Managing a team can also be difficult, especially when you are younger than some of the team members you are managing. Even now when I am meeting with investors, I really have to convince them that I am capable of doing this, because I am so young. Another thing I have learned is that being able to put together the right team to support you is critical to your success.
Any other parting thoughts?
Being an entrepreneur is not for everyone, but it is definitely for me. If I don’t know the answer, I know that I have to find a way to figure it out or find someone who can help me. I like that and I think BHP prepared me to think in that way and be confident in my ability to get to solve problems.