As I write this, Celebrate 2015 is two days away. The path so far has been very informative and fun. I have made a few great contacts and most likely upset a couple of people. Such is the way of the internet. There is no way to make everyone happy.
I reached out to the GemPhones team a few times via Twitter. They did respond once, but we couldn't connect on a time to chat live. Here is my rundown of their idea and team. I plan to speak with the ladies when I get to Las Vegas and fill in any holes.
This is a fashion brand. The actual product being sold here is ear buds decorated with sparkling beads, chrome accents, and colorful designs. The quality of the buds is similar to what you can purchase online. The upgrade comes from the fashion statement the buyer wishes to make based upon the design choices available.
Kelli Meade is the CEO of GemPhones. She founded the idea over two years ago after being a real estate investor for five years. Kelli earned a Masters in Information Tech from Florida Institute of Technology in 2012, and also served in the Navy.
Rajnesah Belyeu is the software brains of the team. She worked as an engineer for several companies. She matriculated to Auburn and graduated in 2009.
Tenika Johnson is listed as the Project Manager. Information is not readily available on LinkedIn and refined Google, Crunch Base, and Angel List searches don't reveal more than a few short recommendations. I will work to speak the the team and learn more about Tenika's background.
Tammi Nguyen is the PR and Communications Director for the team. I did find a few listings for the same name on the LinkedIn. The pictures didn't match enough for me to have confidence I had the correct person. I would rather not include incorrect information and then add later than attribute something to the wrong profile. I will investigate Tammy along with Tenika in Vegas.
Funding and Mentors
There is no Angel List entry for GemPhones. The team has their names along with shared recommendations on the site. THIS Crunch Base listing shows one seed investor as Start.Co in October 2013 after GemPhones graduated from UpStart. No amount nor valuation is listed. Further investigation into the UpStart site shows seed funding money of $25,000 given to graduates. This is similar to The Mill and other accelerators
There is no mention of what amount of equity GemPhones had to give in return for the seed funding. UpStart is a Memphis-based accelerator with three different layers of cohorts. This will be an interesting investigation for me down the road.
This is a team of smart ladies. I like that Kelli Meade served in the Navy. It means she knows how to work and be a positive team member. Having a founder who is software savvy like Rajnesah is extra nice. It means she has already bought into the vision and there is no need to contract for technology services. Great cost control and branding for the future.
This is a fashion brand and therefore will be built upon perception. If Beats by Dre can turn high end headphones into a major brand through partnerships and sponsorships, then GemPhones can do the same with their focus on women and style.
The physical product is common. The fashion and feel of the upgrades is what will sell. GemPhones should seek out name brand designers for their unique spin on the product. The celebrity endorsements will also be a major turning point for the brand. This will be a cult of personality product for millennials.
Selling the social aspect and creating the community is where this will find traction. By looking at their front page, I see they are focused on Pinterest and Instagram. These are the two biggest platforms for young independent women, and a great place to build. There is not a team member listed in a marketing role. That means Kelli Meade is in control of that aspect with Tammy Nguyen.
I believe there is an opportunity to build a community with a concept similar to a Spice Girls/Boy Band idea. The message would be that each founder has a style that would resonate with a particular targeted market segment.
As an example, Rajnesah would be nerdy/geeky girl segment focus with her quirks and confidence. It could really ring true for tech-focused young girls seeking a role model for success and a brand to get behind with style to match.
The ethnic young girl demographic is definitely the place to go with fashion. Finding an anchor point with the right celebrity endorsement would be a home run here. Additionally, pairing with a young and talented fashion designer could also bring some real brand power. What I'm driving at is partnerships and collaboration; community creation is what will bring growth and longevity to the company and provide good ROI to investors.