What did Hip Pocket’s Mark Zmarzly think of Startup Voodoo?

SPN: You have done articles with SPN before, but for any new readers, what is Hip Pocket? MZ: We help banks and credit unions engage any online or mobile visitor in a consultative conversation that relies on both social influence and personalized consultation. The end goal is to generate a mortgage or retirement lead. The…

Hip Pocket 2
Hip Pocket 2

Credit: Startup Voodoo

SPN: You have done articles with SPN before, but for any new readers, what is Hip Pocket?

MZ: We help banks and credit unions engage any online or mobile visitor in a consultative conversation that relies on both social influence and personalized consultation. The end goal is to generate a mortgage or retirement lead. The social engagement component [means] we allow people to compare their current mortgage or retirement versus their peers as well as today’s rates so it creates some intrigue and curiosity.

SPN: You recently attended Startup Voodoo in Saint Louis. Can you describe what that was like?

MZ: A month and a half ago I found out about Startup Voodoo through Pipeline, an entrepreneurial fellowship organization. I am currently a 2015 Pipeline Fellow. Startup Voodoo was looking for the most promising startups in the Midwest. The Midwest is vague. I think they basically cover 18 different states from Ohio all the way out to Colorado, but the thing was you had to be under 2 years old, under, I think, $200,000 in revenue, and under $200,000 in funding.

A couple people had submitted an application for us, and then they came back to us for more information, and we talked about both where we’re at now, and where we’re going.

In the future we want to be the daily partner for people to help them make better financial decisions. Technology is a great way to facilitate better behavior but, psychologically, we know people are geared toward making good long-term decisions but bad short-term decisions. So, how can technology bridge that? What we presented at Startup Voodoo was a concept for that.

SPN: How was the reception to your pitch?

MZ: It was great. The only thing I’d say [is] we didn’t win. The team that won, they were awesome. They were from St. Louis, so you got the local situation there. They had a product that helped the blind, so that’s obviously very emotional, and they’re all veterans. Me and the other guy who was in it–he’s got a startup called [Donald] out of Chicago–we jokingly said, “It would take an act of God for us to win.”

When we did Finovate in San Jose people were like, “Are you from the Valley?”

But they were great, they had a great product, they were still working their full-time jobs and really trying to get it off the ground. They won $5,000 in cash and I think $5,000 in services that would help them, but we made some great connections. It was a good program, and the speaker lineup was phenomenal.

They had the president of Y Combinator Sam Altman, who’s originally from St. Louis, a hometown kid. He’s now at the Y Combinator in New York. Then Maxine Clark from Build-A-Bear, which is a St. Louis company. They had a VC out of the Berkeley area come down. So it was a great program. And it’s in its second year, so it’s something to be mindful of for the Midwest.

SPN: How would you compare it to other events that you’ve been to?

MZ: I’ve been to Big Omaha a couple times. That has a different vibe I guess I’d say. I think Big Omaha had more energy in it because it’s a multi-day thing. This is a one day thing, but St. Louis [has] got a huge ecosystem of startups, and afterward they coincided Startup Voodoo with a couple other things.

Arch Grants was announcing their new class, and that’s an interesting program for people in the Silicon Prairie. The Arch Grants gives $50,000 in grants to startups anywhere in the US. [When] they announced their new class, there was a big party that night at the T-REX building. It was amazing. It’s a huge 7-floor government sponsored area where startups can office out of. It’s gorgeous.

SPN: Do you think that other startups in the Midwest would benefit from attending an event like Startup Voodoo?

MZ: Yes, absolutely. From an inclusive standpoint, if you break it down to the micro level, when I meet entrepreneurs in Lincoln we’re all about helping Lincoln and each other, period. Same with Lincoln and Omaha. I’ve made a lot of great connections in Omaha like Josh from Viirt, David Arnold, etc. And I think it’s about helping the ecosystem win. The ecosystem is not just Lincoln or Omaha, it’s Nebraska.

Then when you extend beyond that, like with Pipeline, I see people in Kansas City want us to win. The Midwest is an ecosystem in and of itself. If we’re not looking after each other as an entire ecosystem then we are going to be doing ourselves a disservice when we’re trying to raise money outside of the Midwest, when we’re trying to get more traction, etc. I have a very expansive mindset. We all can win.

SPN: The Midwest as a whole can win.

MZ: Absolutely. When we did the Finovate Conference in San Jose people were like, “Are you from the Valley? Where are you guys from?” The assumption was, because of how we demoed and I think how we presented ourselves, that we were from the Valley. We said, “Oh no, we’re from Nebraska,” and they were just shocked. Then when they asked how big we were, and we told them how small we are, they were shocked as well, too.

I have a very expansive mindset. We all can win.

But the one who wasn’t shocked was a very, very good fund in Virginia. They were like, “We have a Midwestern mindset. Here’s how we invest versus VCs on the coast.” So the Midwest gets it. And if you find somebody who gets you, that’s the person that’s going to go along with you on the journey. So fuck it, forget the rest. Just find the people that get it.

SPN: That’s how you grow, because they’re going to know 10 people that get it as well and those people are going to know 10 more people.

MZ: Absolutely.

SPN: Then it’s this Russian doll thing.

MZ: Absolutely, Russian doll thing, perfect. The Midwest Russian doll theory. Awesome. You have to publish that now in a blog post. midwestdolltheory.com. There you go, perfect. Grab the URL now, folks.

SPN: So, what’s next for Hip Pocket?

MZ: I’m really driven by helping people make better financial decisions because finances are so personal. People are very emotional when it comes to money, but making wrong financial decisions can really be stressful on an individual, a relationship, marriage, family, etc.

We have the one product now, Hip Pocket, which is a one-time touch. We sell it to banks for use with their clients and prospects. It lets you see how you’re doing, whether it’s your mortgage or retirement. That’s a one-time touch. We’re moving to pitch a monthly monitoring service of a homeowner’s mortgage rate and that product would be sold to realtors and banks.

I’ve got two pitches this week on that product and, again, that is motivated by the problems that happened in the last refinance boom in mortgages. Nobody was using technology to monitor rates automatically but there’s high value in doing that!

The thing that we pitched to Startup Voodoo is a daily touch with the consumer. It’d be a direct download financial app. You’d tie it in with your checking accounts and your loans. It basically says, What do you want to accomplish financially over the next 1 year, 5 years, 10 years, 50 years? Do you want to save for retirement? You want to save for a vacation to Mexico? You want to pay off your auto loan or student loan early? Fantastic.

We would then monitor your daily spending to help you say, OK, looks like you actually could save $5.55 today. And it then shows you the future economic value of moving that $5.55 toward the goal. It’s still in development. You can go to www.hip.money and sign up now for the email list.

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