Q&A with HeyKiki founder and CEO Joseph Vadakkekara
HeyKiki is a crowd-sourced local activities site focused on connection instructors and motivated learners in specialized activities. The New York City-based company was founded in 2009.
SUB: How would you describe your service in one or two sentences?
Vadakkekara: HeyKiki.com is a simple, user-friendly site that’s designed to connect users with trusted local instructors and practice partners for a wide variety of activities.
SUB: What is the value proposition you are bringing to market?
Vadakkekara: HeyKiki is setting out to help people lead more active and interesting lives. In a city as big and fast-paced as New York, there’s so much to do that it can be overwhelming at times. People want to do more with their time but they often don’t know where to start. That’s where HeyKiki comes in. The mantra is simple – You know nothing – Learn. You know a little bit – practice. You know something – teach. So it really draws people in from a multifaceted approach to crowd-sourcing. From participants to instructors alike. All through a location-based platform designed to foster a community of like-minded activity enthusiasts.
SUB: What is the user experience like on HeyKiki?
Vadakkekara: HeyKiki members enjoy the simple, user-friendly design of our site to connect online with instructors/practice partners/students and then meet face-to-face to participate in their activities of choice. Most social media connections only revolve around online connectivity which is more of the same thing…tech-bound, virtual encounters. We specifically wanted to provide a social platform where people connect online to actually meet off-line, to become more active and social in real life, rather than virtual time. There’s something to be said about personal interaction, and with everything going digital/mobile these days, we are quickly losing face to face contact.
SUB: How did the idea come about?
Vadakkekara: It was a Sunday afternoon at Sheep’s Meadow in Central Park. We saw activity all around us…running, walking, cycling, blading, frisbee, etc. People were genuinely happy to be enjoying activities they liked with people they liked. We realized then that people would be more active if they had a credible source to find trusted instructors to learn new hobbies or someone nearby with whom to practice an existing one. At the same time, we realized there must also be many people with a special skillset (who may or may not be professional instructors or trainers) that could find new students in their neighborhood and make some extra money. We wanted to build a platform where people could get out of their ordinary routines, meet like-minded people and make life more exciting by participating in their activity of choice.
SUB: And what’s the origin of the name?
Vadakkekara: We geared our site towards people who love life and live it to the fullest. Someone that gets a kick out of life. So "Kiki" just became a playful twist on getting a kick out of life.
Our mascot is a fun-loving activity monster who embodies the spirit of life, enthusiasm, and curiosity that we promote on the site. Kiki acts as a motivator and represents the side of us that wonders "What else is out there? What haven’t I tried? What can I improve upon? What can I teach?" We think everyone has a bit of Kiki in them and we ask them to embrace that side and Say Hey to Kiki!
SUB: What were the first steps you took to launching the service (for example, did you beta test some versions of the site or technology first, or did you assemble a team first, etc.?)
Vadakkekara: Initially we did some market research around the industry and spoke to industry participants (instructors and activity enthusiasts) to get a sense of what would be helpful in the market. After confirming that our idea had the potential to be successful, we formed a team with expertise in web development as well as experience in web startup, business and capital raising. We went through several iterations before launching an alpha version of our site last year and have recently launched our beta version last month incorporating additional site enhancements.
SUB: How many registered users do you currently have?
Vadakkekara: We have seen significant interest and member registrations during our alpha period and that momentum has carried into our recently launched beta version. At this time we are not revealing specific company metrics.
SUB: How are you marketing the service?
Vadakkekara: Although the site is functional nationwide and globally, we are focusing our initial marketing efforts in one market-NYC metro area-to establish a footprint and then expand city by city from there. We are looking to attract local instructors and practice partners to build a trusted community through targeted channels-social media, public relations, partnerships, etc.
SUB: How has the company been funded to this point?
Vadakkekara: To date, we are self-funded by the founders.
SUB: Do you plan to seek outside funding in the near future?
Vadakkekara: We do plan to accept outside funding this year and are in the early stages of that process.
SUB: What have some of the challenges been to building the business so far?
Vadakkekara: The greatest challenge, as is with many startups, is increasing brand awareness while moving forward in a timely and cost efficient manner with limited capacity and capital.
SUB: Where do you see HeyKiki in roughly a year from now?
Vadakkekara: We plan to have an established footprint in the NYC market and expand into additional cities. In the process, we plan to add key members to our team while increasing site traffic and membership.
SUB: Finally, a question I always ask: as an entrepreneur who has weathered the down economy, what advice do you have for those just starting out—especially in an economy that remains less than dynamic?
My advice to aspiring entrepreneurs is to be patient and persistent. There will be many challenges along the way both internally and externally. It’s important to keep your goals in mind and keep moving toward them in an efficient manner.
HeyKiki – www.heykiki.com