Anyone who’s tried to start to start a business was probably told at some point that 95 percent of startups fail. While this figure is largely a myth, the possibility that founders end up back at their day job is still significant.
“If you have one foot in the safe zone and one foot out, you’re gonna have the tendency to always fall in the safe zone. And then stopping becomes easier, and then changing gears becomes easier.”
That’s Bryan Barringer, a 46-year-old entrepreneur with decades of experience in tech. He partnered up with Chelsea White, a 26-year-old with an impressive track record in the real estate business with Texas-based real estate firm Keller Williams.
Together, they identified a problem and addressed it with their product ProxBox.
ProxBox utilizes Bluetooth beacon technology. It interacts with the Multiple Listing Service, a real estate database that stays updated on property listings around the country, to download information about a home that is listed for sale. It then uses that content to create a digital flyer that’s viewable on a smart device using the ProxBox app. Agents can highlight points of interest about the home within the app, and those will also be placed on the digital flyer.
The listing agent attaches the beacon to a for sale sign or displays it inside the home. Then, the agent links the beacon to their ProxBox account, match the beacon to the listing, and ProxBox does the rest.
The app connects to any beacon in range, and the information is instantly available without having to leave the car.
ProxBox founders Chelsea White and Bryan Barringer (left and center) and sales and marketing coordinator Lindsay Gess. (Houston Cofield)
White thinks ProxBox puts power back into the hands of the seller rather than the listing agent. Because both the seller and the buyer usually hire individuals to represent them when buying a home, they’re usually the least informed parties involved, despite being the most important.
“The beacons really allow the seller to relay to the buyer directly. For me, that’s what I think is special about it,” she said.
White found that the lack of technology in the real estate market was costing listing agents and anywhere from $50 to $100 per listing in paper flyers that don’t actually give sellers usable information.
“If I take a paper flyer, the listing agent doesn’t know who I am. They can’t identify me. So that’s what really triggered us to say how can we create something that’s low-cost, effective and turnkey. We deliver them software that works,” she said.
Barringer elaborated on the data collecting capabilities of ProxBox. The details, including the price, of the listing aren’t viewable until you enter a name and an email address.
“You can say this many people downloaded the flyer and this many people sent me contact information, he added. “That’s huge for the seller and listing agent.”
For Alicia Teeter, a real estate agent for Keller-Williams and ProxBox user, that data is paramount.
“I saw the value in both time and money,” she said.
Teeter has used ProxBox beacons on all of her listings. At one point, she had fourteen current listings all using the service. “ProxBox doesn't sell them for me, but it definitely helps get the info out.”
The ProxBox office is located Downtown in ServiceMaster’s Ground Floor innovation incubation center, which opened in June of this year in the ServiceMaster building. Local entrepreneurs and startup companies rent space at Ground Floor from ServiceMaster.
Barringer pointed out some escalators leading up to the ServiceMaster offices, which are perpendicular to a wall full of monitors.“The purpose of this huge wall of monitors is, when they’re coming through, to see what’s going on in the space,” he said.
The ProxBox team at their office in the ServiceMaster Innovation Center. (Houston Cofield)
Many startups are crammed into the space, all sharing meeting rooms, presentation spaces, computer labs, and collaboration zones. Making sure your work is often displayed on those monitors could be the difference between success or failure, as a perk of renting space in the Ground Floor is ServiceMaster investing in your startup if they think it has impact.
Founded in 2015 and incorporated the following year, ProxBox gained significant ground just as an idea alone.
“We did about 120 cold calls a week to real estate agents and agencies,” White said. “Then, we basically door-knocked. We went out with one mission and one mission only — to sell some beacons.”
Related: "Real estate startup FrontDoor is the first tenant in ServiceMaster innovation center"
“This time last year we went to a conference in San Jose, it was pretty huge,” Barringer said. The conference was the Consumer Technology Association's Innovate Celebrate conference, at which ProxBox was named one of the Top 50 Startups. “We didn’t have a product to market yet. We had these prototype screens that I created, and I hated them, and I still hate now, but they were able to provide a concept to a lot of people.”
This year, ProxBox has a product, revenue, and one full-time employee — three things it didn’t have just one year prior. “We want to keep our team tight and small. But if we grow our partnerships, we could be at 10, 15 people by this time next year,” Barringer said.
ProxBox’s early success seems to come at a surprise to some. “Venture capitalists that were talking to us last year are now kind of walking up to us going ‘Hey, you’re still here?’ It’s a little bit of shock that we’re still around but also admiration,” Barringer said.
“Most of the time, I think it’s about the founders being able to deal with adversity, and giving up,” he added.
Barringer cites a variety of reasons why these fledgling companies fall, but he attributes failure closest to one’s temperament. Both Barringer and White consider their tenacity to be the most important factor in their success.
“Chelsea and I have faced a lot of adversity in a start up over the last year. We’ve seen other people fall to the wayside, and that’s just not something we ever considered doing,” Barringer said. “We both had full-time jobs during our accelerator program last summer, and at the end of the summer, we quit them. So we actually jumped in both feet, and did this thing 100 percent.”
Since last July, ProxBox went from use in only Memphis to use in four states by early October. They’re hoping to reach at least a dozen states by next year. “All while we’re developing the next version of the software, too,” Barringer said.
“We’re excited to say we have 64 customers here in Memphis right now,” White said. “We have about 96 beacons out total.”
A turnkey business that’s dependant on the housing market may seem like a risk considering the fickle nature of the housing market. Fortunately, White’s one step ahead.
"This technology can adapt to different situations,” she said. “Heaven forbid 2008 repeat itself, we can just turn this on to the rental market. We can help property management companies find renters. We can put these in commercial leases, storefronts.”
Barringer agreed, even to the point of admitting that rental companies could prove a more lucrative customer base than real estate sellers. “As people buy less homes, they still need a place to live. Rental companies don’t have agents, they merely have signs in the front yards,” he said.
On Memphis’s future as a tech city, Barringer speaks with optimism.
“I think Memphis is a fantastic place to start a company, at least over the last few years. I think there’s a lot of people that want to move here because of the cost of living, it’s really growing. From a resource perspective, I think it’s getting better day by day.”
So, in the face of big failure rates, adversity, and forgetful venture capitalists, Barringer says he and White remain grounded.
“It wasn’t about being stubborn, or stupid. It was about believing in what we had.”