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Student startup BlabFeed aims to make waits worthwhile with ads

A 15-inch BlabFeed screen sits in Wohlner’s Grocery in Aksarben Village. 

The grocery store check-out line. The movie theatre box office queue. The dentist office waiting room.

Where most people find only interminable waits, Keith Fix found opportunity. 

“How do you get people (in those places) to forget that they’re waiting?” Fix said in a phone interview last week. “Well, you fill up that time with something that’s relevant and benefits them.”

Fix and Derek Stearns aim to do that with BlabFeed, a network of digital advertising boards housed in the “waiting areas” of businesses.

Fix (below left), a University of Nebraska at Omaha senior, and Stearns (below right), a recent UNO grad, previously helped launch DailyMav, a daily deals service at UNO. Fix said that opened his eyes to the needs of local businesses, and BlabFeed — initially known just as Blab — was born in January. “Basically, I wanted to take digital advertising and bring it back to the real world and localize it,” Fix said.

Blab won $3,000 at a UNO business plan competition in the spring, which Fix said “was just enough to keep us going.” Last week, BlabFeed announced $100,000 in funding from Ho-Chunk, Inc., an economic development corporation owned by the Winnebago Tribe of Nebraska.

Fix said BlabFeed will use the funds to make up to three new hires, to do additional research and development and to ramp up efforts to get its digital screens into more businesses. “We’ve got to grow as big and as fast as we can,” Fix said.

For a deposit on the screen and $45 a month, a business can be a “Blab host,” housing a digital screen (15-, 19- and 42-inch displays are available) and having its custom messages displayed on screens at three non-competing businesses. For $10 a month, a company can “Blab post,” displaying its messages on a screen without housing its own screen.

Fix believes the opportunity for one business to reach a captive audience in another business’ waiting space — say, a dentist advertising to someone in line at the grocery store — is what really drives BlabFeed. “I think the thing that business owners are most excited about,” he said, “is the opportunity to create this referral network.”

All BlabFeed messages, which are 5-8 seconds long, are stored on a remote ad server and fed in a rotation to the screens. Currently, BlabFeed creates profiles for each client it brings on board and helps tailor the stream of messages displayed at each location. Eventually, Fix said, businesses will be able to navigate most of that process themselves.

As of Aug. 9, BlabFeed had 20 locations registered, including Omaha’s Wohlner’s grocery store and Aksarben Cinema. Fix said there’s been high interest from attorneys, realtors and other people interested in advertising professional services. 

That’s a far cry from a company like Zoom Media & Marketing, which offers similar capabilities and has 25,000 screens at 6,000 locations nationwide. But it’s not a bad start for a company that was little more than an idea earlier this year.

“For a student startup that didn’t exist (a few) months ago,” Fix said, “it’s kind of just been a whirlwind.”


Credits: Wohlner’s photo courtesy of Fix. Headshots of Fix and Stearns courtesy of Fix.

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