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Zoo app Wazoo takes top prize at Startup Weekend Kansas City

Kelly Tomlinson delivered the pitch for Wazoo, the winning team at the sixth Startup Weekend Kansas City.

Without proper planning or the right tools, a day at the zoo can become, well, a zoo. Long walks, overlooked attractions and missed events can leave a patron full of frustration.

Just ask Kelly Tomlinson. Tomlinson, a Kansas City-based UI designer, recently listened to her roommate complain of all those issues upon returning from a trip to the zoo. But a bad day at the zoo for Tomlinson’s roommate led to a good night Sunday for Tomlinson and her team at Startup Weekend Kansas City.

Wazoo, Tomlinson’s idea for a mobile application aimed at helping zoos provide a better experience for visitors, won Kansas City’s sixth Startup Weekend, which wrapped up Sunday evening at the Ewing Marion Kauffman Foundation. BroVille, an application that provides relationship and dating advice for men, finished second. Shop Startup, a site for connecting shoppers to startups with unique gifts, took third. The top three teams all received prize packages, as did a handful of other teams that won specialty awards.

SWKC, a weekend-long sprint to build the foundation of a viable business, started Friday night with 60-second pitches from more than 50 of the event’s 100 or so participants. Teams formed around 18 of those ideas. After working Friday night, all of Saturday and most of Sunday, 16 teams presented during Sunday night’s finale. 

Afterward, SWKC organizer Nate Allen said he was impressed by the diversity of ideas on display and the heavy concentration of SWKC newcomers in attendance. Allen said an informal count on Friday night revealed about 75 percent of participants were first-timers.

“I am continually amazed at how swiftly we sell out these events year after year with mostly new people,” Allen said in a phone interview Monday. “The people that we attract continue to be interesting people from all walks of life bringing really interesting ideas.”

Ideas like Wazoo, for which Tomlinson and company built a working prototype by Sunday night. The app features geolocation on a live map of the park to help users find their way through the zoo and a real-time feed featuring updates from other zoo-goers to help users stay in the know on what’s happening. Other features include photo-sharing, coupons and in-app games.

The team built Wazoo with zoos as its target customers, but Tomlinson said the idea could be duplicated for theme parks, fairs, music festivals, aquariums, conventions, conferences and more. “The sky is the limit,” she said during her pitch Sunday.

Tomlinson attended her first SWKC in April but didn’t pitch an idea then. She said she pitched this time around because “really believed in the idea” behind Wazoo. She found plenty of people who shared that belief among a team that also included Siobhann Williams, Julian Builes, Vin Kamat, Rajiv Jain, Abdul Syed, Nickalas Collins, Darrin Ragsdale and Ned Hancock.

“I was kind of nervous because I had a lot of confidence in the product and what we were developing and the progress we were making there,” Tomlinson said in a phone interview Monday. “But I wasn’t so sure about the market validation and the business plan, because that’s not really my background at all.”

But her more business-savvy teammates assured Tomlinson the team had a viable model. And, on Sunday night, the judges agreed. Davyeon Ross, a Kansas City entrepreneur and KCSW judge, called Wazoo a “disruptive concept.”

“Every zoo is looking for ways to not only bring users in but to provide a different type of experience,” Ross said, “and maybe an interactive experience.”

The team’s market research turned up several zoos that already have apps and others that are in the process of getting them. Some, Tomlinson said, were “pretty cool.”

“But the thing that we saw (lacking) in all of them was that they only had a few features and their maps weren’t interactive — they were flat and static,” she said.

Tomlinson said that on Sunday night people approached her to discuss everything from investment to consulting to space for the Wazoo team to work. And work is something the team has continued to do since Sunday. On Monday, after a whirlwind weekend, several Wazoo team members collaborated on the team’s submission for the Global Startup Battle.

“We’ve made a lot of contacts and are all, as a whole, very excited to keep going,” Tomlinson said. “In fact, just about all of us called into work today so we could keep working on it.”


Credits: Screenshot of Tomlinson from livestream.com. Image of phone from getwazoo.co.

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