Carol Tran, chief marketing officer at IntroMe, a social app that allows users to connect to other people with similar interests, recently took time to speak with Lioness Magazine about her unique product.
Described as a cross between Tinder and LinkedIn, IntroMe is a platform that allows users to “people shop” like Tinder, but has an added Trust Guard that ensures that people are who they claim to be. It’s not a dating app, but an app that is meant to bring strangers together in the spirit of friendship.
“Say you are going to Dallas, Texas, and you want to meet someone to go out to dinner with, and maybe see the sights. This app will output an algorithm of people who have been vetted and pass a background check of sorts. Much in the same way a trusted friend would make sure the person they are referring you to is real,” Tran explained.
While IntroMe features all the typical trappings of a social app, it goes farther. Users don’t have to import their Facebook friends to make connections; they’re immediately connected to people who are geographically close to them. Users can also add interests to their profile so people know what they’re up for, such as: dancing, events, entrepreneurs, music and food. A search filter for interests is also available, so with a few swipes users have a list of nearby people who love to dance, and are available.
Tran said, “Right now, it’s like any startup, it’s ‘glitchy’. It’s not exactly right, yet. Like anything it will go through iterations.”
And if anyone knows about going through iterations it’s her. Through her academic career alone she studied such disparate subjects as neuroscience, theater, marketing, finance, and law. Her family wanted her to be a doctor and so they pushed her toward the sciences. She won science fairs year after year and eventually competed at the state and national levels.
While in college she knew she didn’t want to go to medical school so she secretly changed her major to theater. Tran said, “It was something that I found I loved, and they had no idea that I was graduating with a degree in theater.”
After college she interned with Janet Reno in Washington D.C. and discovered that law was a fascinating field.
Back at home in San Francisco, Tran reached out to her old theater professors who connected her with talent agents. After acting for a year, her parents convinced her that she needed a career that was stable.
“They only wanted what was best. They thought law school was a legit career path and I could go along with that; so I did. It helped me to become a better writer. It’s one of the best skills I’ve gained. I’ve always been a great speaker, but law school was invaluable for critical thinking and writing. I didn’t enjoy the atmosphere though,” she said.
Tran believes in playing fair and while that virtue wasn’t exactly appreciated in law school, that quality shows up in every project she’s participated in.
During her time at law school Tran took classes in e-commerce and marketing, where she created her first business. It was a mobile app that was meant to help her friends navigate the complex parking rules of San Francisco. That was her first venture into the world of apps, and through that she started learning and understanding how to work with engineers.
While learning the tricks of the mobile app trade, she inadvertently started a second business. Tran recalled, “My grandmother had made me this shirt with little hearts all over it. I wasn’t really into it, but she kept saying, ‘Everyone is going to think it’s so beautiful! Everyone is going to talk about it!’ But instead, I took it apart and made it into a little dress for my dog.
“I stepped out of my house and a lady stopped me and asked where I got it. As a business student I just said, ‘Oh it’s my company.’ The lady asked me where it was and I said it was online. She asked me for the website name and I bluffed again, ‘It’s under construction.’ The lady said, ‘Nevermind. I’d like that dress for my daughter as a surprise. How much?’ I thought about the last time I was in a doggy clothing store, I remembered thinking how expensive everything was. The last number I remembered was $90, so that’s what I told her. To my surprise she said ‘Yes!’ She paid me in cash and I gave her the dress off my dog’s back,” she added.
Not the type to pass up a great idea, Tran went straight to Craigslist and hired a seamstress. Marketed as “limited edition,” Tran sourced materials from Goodwill and eventually sourced contracts with local manufacturers when business got too busy for the seamstress.
“I wanted to create jobs in the U.S.; that was important to me,” she said.
While her design business was growing steadily, she decided one day that she did not in fact want to be the head of a doggie clothing company. “I woke up one day and decided that I didn’t want to be a dog designer. So I moved on,” she recalled.
For her third business venture, Tran founded Chic Meets Geek, which began during her tenure on the board of directors for the San Francisco Opera. During that time their Youth division, Bravo, was trying to recruit more members but was challenged with fundraising during the worst time of the recession.
“The San Francisco Opera is the largest in North America and we were lacking young people, but San Francisco is the best place because we have young entrepreneurial geeks and movers and shakers in the fashion industry,” she explained.
While the opera wanted to continue with their long line of cocktail fundraisers, Tran presented an intriguing idea to get young professionals into the opera house and donating to the Bravo group.
“I wanted to do something that combined the two worlds of chic and geek. I created Chic Meets Geek to separate the branding from the Opera in case anything went wrong, and I completely understood that. The whole concept was this: All the people you thought were chic were really geeks. I gathered some incredible people that I had met: Aiden Dunn a football player who had a full ride at Stanford, Principal Ballerina Maria Korchkova, who was the first ballet blogger, Randi Zuckerburg who was a Geek, but she had also been trained as an opera singer. There was a good dynamic of speakers and I thought we would have 50-100 attendees, but 400 showed up. A friend of mine was the IT manager for the event, so we had live streaming and we even made a video that created traction,” she said.
By making the opera accessible and interesting to a new generation, the event was a success. So successful in fact that she was invited to work the same magic in Seattle, San Diego, Los Angeles, and Washington D.C.
“It wasn’t a business at first, but then it became one and I had to describe my mission,” Tran said. “When you bring two different minds and backgrounds together, inspiration happens, innovation is the result. Why not combine innovation and inspiration to support a cause? Every Chic Meets Geek is for a nonprofit local to that community. In order to save the world, you have to save your community. There might not be enough traction in community building to help those around you who are in need of help, but like ripples in a pond, small impacts become larger impacts. That’s what makes it fun.”
Tran offered the following marketing advice:
- Integrate marketing into your products on Day One. Build a product that is rigged so that it’s always evolving to fit the needs of the consumer and also be different from your competitor. If you are different, then you will stand out.
- Understand metrics and data so that you can understand consumer behaviors. Research and understand trends. Try to understand your consumer’s real behavior despite what they say their behavior is. You can use that as research and it also helps you to recognize trends so that you can be different from your competitors.
- Branding is like your little baby that grows up. Demand generation, branding, all types of PR and all that is really wrapped up in strategy. How people interact with your branding is important, if your branding has a personality, people will resonate with that personality.
Her advice for women:
- Do what it takes to get to your goal. Don’t walk away from challenges. You might have to work harder than everyone else in the room, but we can’t just have a pity party. Complaining and not doing anything defeats the purpose. Instead of being frustrated, stay professional. To every problem there is a solution.
- Sometimes working with men can feel like you are speaking a foreign language. I always take my emotions out of it, that doesn’t mean I don’t get emotional, but I don’t do it publicly. You want to be that lady in the boardroom in control of everything. The men don’t cry, and you need to go in there and show them that you’re not going to be bullied. Show them that you are the best.
- Other people might try to blame you or corner you, but one thing I like to do is to propose testing. For example, if I have an idea of how something should be done and someone else has a different idea, instead of fighting over who’s idea is better I propose that we test both ideas and check back to see which one works. See what the public responds to.
- Don’t quit your day job if you have an idea or if you want to start a company. Other people, like on “Shark Tank,” they say to quit your job, but I say no. It might start as a hobby, and you might love it and want it to be a job, but unless you have so much money that you can afford to quit or you are laid off, then do it on the side. Work on it every night; get into the habit of working on it. Generate revenue in an automated way if you can by using e-commerce, but look at it as testing. You have to complete the little steps, you have to learn and meet people. Get a mentor. Forget about the fancy logo; test your ideas. Once you see that you are generating consistent positive revenue then you can think about quitting your job.
Rachel Rojas is a freelance writer out of Springfield, Massachusetts. She writes local interest stories for The Westfield News, business articles for Lioness Magazine, and dabbles in short novels in between assignments. Despite the fact that she loves all things intellectual, she has a soft spot for trashy romance novels and pretty clothes.