Interview with Brandy Alexander-Wimberly

August 1, 2012

Series: Entrepreneurial Heroes

Brandy Alexander-Wimberly says that creating Buyvite has been the most challenging and also the best thing that she has ever done professionally, and she reminds entrepreneurs that "if you haven't had a tough career, then you probably haven't learned much along the way."

Brandy Alexander-Wimberly

Brandy Alexander-Wimberly has been working professionally in digital marketing for many years. She has extensive experience working as a project manager at the agency level on interactive design and development projects and consulting with clients on digital marketing strategy. The idea for Buyvite sprang from her existing technical and marketing background, but also came from seeing a need that wasn’t necessarily being addressed in the most user friendly way. Brandy says she goes into every interactive project with the philosophy that form follows function. From the smallest website build to a large scale Fortune 500 intranet project, Brandy always wants to make sure that the UX is intuitive and easy to navigate. “I like to look at how something is currently designed for the user and think of ways to make it a more satisfying experience.” She has a B.A. in Film Studies from Bowling Green State University and a M.A. in Journalism from Columbia College of Chicago. You can contact her on Twitter @buyvite.

 

 

Brandy Alexander-Wimberly

Transcript: 

Interview with Brandy Alexander‑Wimberly

Lucy Sanders:  Hi this is Lucy Sanders, the CEO of NCWIT, the National Center for Women and Information Technology. With me is Larry Nelson from W3W3. Hi Larry.

Larry Nelson:  Hi, I'm so happy to be here. This is talk radio show but we really like to do anything we can to help promote young girls, young women in business and technology and we have been lucky enough. We've interviewed seventy plus now and it's really great. Entrepreneurship is a big thing.

Lucy:  Right and we've been promoting in social media as well. Please pay attention to our Twitter and Facebook feeds and you'll hear more about these wonderful women. So today we're interviewing Brandy Alexander‑Wimberly, the founder and CEO of Buyvite. Buyvite is really, really cool. I've pulled a few tag lines from their site because I just love them so much. Never front the money for your friends and family again. Group pay for event tickets. Planning on getting your cousin a gift from your entire family? Now these are all situations that I think our listeners could really relate to because they volunteer to buy a group present or to pay for a group trip and they have the unenviable task of going back around and collecting money from family and friends which can be stressful.

So Buyvite ‑‑ and we'll hear more about this from Brandy in a moment ‑‑ is an online community that really facilitates and simplifies this type of group purchase. Basically, family and friends can all contribute to one transaction. You can invite friends to group purchase as well. A beautiful site. You're going to hear that Brandy is a serious user interface person as well and you can see this at her site. So welcome, Brandy.

Brandy Alexander‑Wimberly:  Thanks for having me.

Lucy:  So tell us a little bit about what's going on and Buyvite and how you make this all less stressful.

Brandy:  Yeah, Buyvite just went live in May, after about a year in development. So we are actually kind of happy to announce we just closed an angel round. We'll be doing some additional tweaks to our platform but we're really excited about the future of social commerce and group payments in particular. We see what we've created as almost like a Kickstarter or a Crowdfunder, but for retailers. So that is kind of the essence of our platform.

Lucy:  It's a gorgeous user interface. Let's just really go to the site and take a look at it and go buy something for Samba. And get your friends to buy it with you. Brandy, tell us a little bit about how you first got into technology and as you look out today on the technology landscape, what particular things do you think are pretty hot from a technical perspective?

Brandy:  Well, I actually had an interesting arrival into my career in technology. I was actually working in old media and I always tell people that I transitioned from old media to essentially new media. I started my career working in radio and television and saw that everything was essentially moving to the Internet, and I decided that's where I wanted to be as well, so I had additional course work and kind of worked my way up from a small web design firm back in 2005 to where I am today.

Larry:  Wow.

Lucy:  Wow that's awesome. So obviously you think online media is pretty cool?

Brandy:  Definitely, absolutely.

Larry:  Boy, I can tell you I can relate to that so much. My wife and I were co‑hosting on a couple Clear Channel stations radio shows and this Internet stuff started popping up and we decided, "We're gone."

Brandy:  Yeah right, exactly, exactly. I've worked in it since 2005 so many many years now at this point and in terms of what I think is cool right now, I have my eye obviously on social commerce, responsive design and the future of mole advertising in particular. Especially coming from kind of a traditional broadcast background, I really understand advertising and I see a really great future for mobile advertising. That space is just so kind of new, so there's a space for innovation there.

Larry:  I think I can take a few lessons from you and I certainly will. Here is a related question ‑‑ it's different, but why is it that you're an entrepreneur and what is it about entrepreneurship that makes you tick?

Brandy:  Well you know, that's a good question, and the true entrepreneur for me is someone who has a need to create. So if you're working inside a company, kind of functioning as an entrepreneur, people that have those needs are really essential for innovation anywhere from a start up to a multi‑national company in my opinion. For me personally I guess I like to infuse them in doing things, or what I see as cool concepts, and then try to make the idea into a reality. Going from concept to company is really the true challenge and great ideas are everywhere but making them a reality is what really makes someone an entrepreneur.

Lucy:  And so you just opened your company in May, you just closed an angel round, and along the way people have supported you in your career path as an entrepreneur. Can you tell us a little bit more of who is serving as your role models or mentors or have in the past?

Brandy:  Over the course of my entire career I've had the really great support system of personal and professional people in my life, and great friends and families that have always been supportive of my ideas. I'm just one of those idea people. I'm always kind of coming up with something but I've also been surprised at how supportive the tech start up community has been particularly because I'm a female founder. It is always important for me that the product I've built be the main recognition, but it's also been awesome that so many groups have been interested in promoting female‑run companies.

Lucy:  We like to hear that.

Brandy:  Oh definitely. You guys in particular for sure.

Lucy:  Absolutely.

Larry:  It sounds like you've done a number of very interesting things. I can't help but ask, what is the toughest thing that you had to do during your career?

Brandy:  You know that's another interesting question and I think if you haven't had a tough career then you probably haven't learned much, I would suspect, along the way. But creating this company, creating Buyvite was definitely the most challenging thing I've ever done professionally, but it's also been the best thing I've ever done. I'm currently in the midst of everything so I can't say what the end game will ultimately be for the company but it has been such an awesome experience so far that I recommend to anyone else that if you have the passion and expertise necessary to launch a venture, don't hold back from creating a company because the experience in itself would be worthwhile in the end.

Lucy:  Along those lines, you're sitting here with a young person, you're talking to them about entrepreneurship. What advice would you give them past the place where they decide they're going to start a company, what specific advice might you give them about entrepreneurship?

Brandy:  It's something that I get asked a lot and I would suspect a lot of people would say things like kind of go for it, but I would personally take a different approach. I would say get into a career first and build some experience then start your company, and I say that for many reasons. First of all, I know a huge trend especially with technology start‑ups is to give millions to recent college grads. Now it has paid off big time for a lot of investors, but how many along the way have failed ‑ not because the concept wasn't great but maybe because of execution. I'm not sure but I have met a lot of recent grads with great ideas but they have no idea how to run a business and what that means. So that's a gamble for both parties and I'm not saying that across the board for everyone. Certainly there are exceptions and it really depends on the person, but I know I could not have created my current company as a 22‑year old.

So my advice is you need a solid understanding in business to really take a holistic approach to running a company. Just because you can code and have a good idea at the end of the day does not necessarily make you a CEO. So I think investors are always kind of searching for another Mark Zuckerburg when he was really one in a million and also at the right place at the right time.

I would say to younger people right out of college, give yourself a few years to be able to intelligently answer things like what is a P and L sheet for example.

Lucy:  Right. Exactly right and I think that that's an excellent point. There is a report and I'm sorry I can't remember the exact name of it but I'm sure if you went to the Kauffman Foundation website you would see it. It talks about the average age of successful entrepreneurs and it's a lot older than what I think the public view is. Reinforcing your point.

Brandy:  That's right. Exactly. You know at the end of the day these things that we call start ups and companies, they really shouldn't be viewed as someone's baby. At the end of the day it's a business and that's where the investment should be made in the business for the long term.

Larry:  Brandy, you know that's some great entrepreneurial advice and I don't think I've heard that for a long time at all. So what are your personal characteristics that what are the things that give you the advantage of being an entrepreneur?

Brand:  Two things I think really give someone an advantage that is a successful entrepreneur may be, in my situation, would be not necessarily being afraid to fail, and having perspective, that's really critical to me personally. I've had a lot of people tell me they've had great ideas but they did not want to fail. Well I don't have a fear of failure and I see everything I do as a learning experience and I definitely enjoy the challenge. Now I'm not saying I'm fearless but having perspective is also key to being able to take risks.

For example one of my colleges came to South by southwest with me to help promote our start up, and her company t‑shirt did not fit right. We were kind of heading out the door for an event and she was upset but we both looked at each other and started laughing at the kind of "First World Problem" of it all. Whining about your start‑up t‑shirt not sitting at South by Southwest really kind of brings perspective to your world.

[laughter]

Lucy:  Well, I hope her experience turned out OK. So you just started a company I know things are pretty crazy and it's going to be an exciting year for you. What kinds of things, shifting to the rest of your life outside Buyvite, what kinds of things do you do to bring balance into your life? And we put balance in parens these days because we get a lot of answers around "I have no balance" or "I'm totally unbalanced" so what kind of things do you to keep sane? Maybe that's a better way to ask this question.

Larry:  Well, there you go.

Brandy:  Well it's interesting not only kind of working full time essentially, more than full time and I do have children as well so that also obviously takes a lot of my life. But again, organization is critical. The philosophy of doing one thing per day to move your start‑up forward is also something that I've taken with me along the way, and see that as something really important to do even if it's just kind of an exhausted tweak. One thing everyday that has always been my philosophy but it really comes back again as a perspective for me ‑‑ we are so lucky to be even be able to start a company in this country that I think keeping a more global perspective really keeps me balanced. My background really kind of speaks of that. My mother's family is from Lebanon. They had to flee the country back at the turn of the last century because of persecutions.

Here I am, two generations later, with nothing but opportunity available to me, especially as a woman. And then we just live a bit in a bubble here. My great grandfather was from Syria. I would say, "Well, what if I was living there now?" You know now, crazy. So a lot of people also ask me if I'm doing OK, working so hard, and I tell them that you know I not only love it but it's a privilege to have the education and professional experience that I've been given.

Not everyone even in this country has the ability to go to college let alone get a masters degree and do a lot of cool things that I've been able to do.

Lucy:  That's so well said and I really like this ‑ do one thing to move it ahead everyday and it's something I try to do with NCWIT because it's a start‑up in many ways and pretty time consuming. But if you do that with your family, if you do that with your job, your company, your non‑profit and then you also do it for your health, you know you make sure that you keep moving ahead one thing everyday. You just feel pretty good about that.

Brandy:  Right, absolutely, definitely.

Larry:  Wow that's super.

Lucy:  So Brandy, you've already achieved quite a bit. What's next for you?

Brandy:  I totally subscribe to a LEAN start‑up philosophy and I know that's really hot right now and everyone's kind of jumping on board with it but it's totally relevant to our product. Like I mentioned we just received an angel round of investment and are in the process of adding some very cool kinds of software as a service functionality that will essentially make Buyvite a group funder for retailers. In our minds retailers are missing out on a growing segment as payment vertical that is social commerce. The goal with our product is to give retailers that missing piece in their carts. Our API is really is seamless to any kind of checkout cart. Buyvite gives friends and family the ability to contribute individual funds to a single transaction, so like you mentioned, Lucy, it works well for group gifts, vacation rentals, all other travel costs really and especially event tickets. So these are the types of companies that we would like to work with.

Larry:  Well with many relatives and a father of five, I like this Buyvite idea.

Lucy:  I do too. I wish you all have been around when we had to be the chaperones on our son's soccer trips.

Brandy:  Exactly. You know I talked to tons of different people and people immediately connect with the concept so we're excited about the future of the company and where we can take it.

Lucy:  Well it's been great talking to you and the best of luck with Buyvite. We will tune in again with you and see how you're doing but I'm sure its going to be exceptional.

Brandy:  Looking forward to it. Thank you.

Larry:  We're really excited we're going to have this on w3w3.com and ncwit.org. See you soon.

Lucy:  Thank you Brandy.

Brandy:  Thank you. Bye‑bye.

Lucy:  Bye‑bye. [music]