Summer Wildfire 2017: Local Technologies

It’s no secret that college students are always looking for a little extra spending money. Whether it’s to help with groceries, hang out with friends, or even buy textbooks, a couple extra bucks never hurts. Students explore a wide variety of opportunities to make this extra money. From giving blood for mono research to random Kellogg studies on relationships, the possibilities are endless. But why waste your time with these inconsistent and strange methods of making money?

Local Technologies, a startup founded by Collin Pham, aims to solve this problem by connecting students interested in earning money with community members interested in getting tasks done. This will be a mutually beneficial relationship for students and local homeowners. After getting the ball rolling in Evanston, Collin plans to scale this platform to college towns throughout the nation. The Garage sat down with Collin to learn more about Local and its future plans.

Left: Caraline Pham, Right: Collin Pham 


The following interview was edited for length and clarity.

What sparked the motivation for your startup?
Collin: “So it’s actually kind of a long story. During the summer of my sophomore year of high school me and two friends, Charles and Cam, really wanted to make some extra money. We went to all the ice cream and pizza parlors but we weren’t hired because we were still pretty young. So we decided to put up some flyers around town and we called ourselves “Newton Odd Job Services.”  Our motto was “You name it, we do it.”  We mowed lawns, painted walls, and pretty much did whatever other opportunities presented themselves to make some extra money. And this really small idea started growing into something really big.

By my senior year I had bought out one of my co-founders and the other had left of his own accord. I had employed about 20 students from my high school and we were making about $20,000 per summer. I took a step back and thought to myself, “what’s going on here?” We learned quickly that there are already homeowners who are hiring general laborers to come into their homes. However, these homeowners are generally unhappy with the laborers because they’re expensive and can also be kind of strange — students are a lot more pleasant to hire. On top of all of this is price — if you hire a painter, they cost $40-$50/hr.  Students can come in at 50% under that cost . And because these tasks are so simple they’re pretty much commoditized; the quality of work we’re providing is the same, if not better than these adults.  We looked at this and were like, why isn’t everyone hiring students for their general labor needs?

Local aims to bring this solution to scale to solve this 2-sided problem. One, there’s no simple way to find general laborers as an alternative to the expensive labor homeowners are currently paying for. Two, there’s no highly flexible, simple way, for students to earn extra money. Now we’re building an online platform for that to scale across college campuses. My high school experience was what really sparked our idea and I want to take that and make it more efficient, profitable and impactful with a powerful tech backend.”

Who’s on the team?
Collin: “Right now, we have a team of six with three more that just came on board. I’m the founder and I have a computer science background. On campus, I’m involved in other entrepreneurial groups and I also run NU Tutors which has a similar business model and growth strategy to Local. My sister Caraline studies strategic communication at the University of Wisconsin and she’s currently building our brand. She’s making all the content on our website. Since our company’s name is Local, it’s really important to us that every time someone hires a student, they feel like they’re hiring someone down the street, someone truly local to the community. She’s working on our mission statement and core values and making sure we have a solid foundation. I also just recruited three Northwestern students to help out with tech for the summer. Each of them has an awesome background and I’m really excited for what we’re going to be able to accomplish. The sixth person is Abby Stratton and she’s the head of ISBE Mark. She’s a junior and she’s helping with a lot of operations to figuring out how we are going to scale.”

What has been your biggest failure so far and what have you learned from it?
Collin: “When I first started doing this, I dove into the code, and I was trying to create a login process to authenticate our users. I basically spent an entire month building everything from the ground up. I created our own authentication process and it was working about 90% of the time. But it just took so long and it still wasn’t perfect. Then I realized I could  use a third-party service and I was able to implement it within a day. Trying to build it out from scratch was a huge waste of time. I learned that you shouldn’t try to reinvent the wheel. There are a lot of free things out there that can help you and you should use them!”

Which entrepreneurs do you admire and why?
Collin: “ I think the entrepreneur I admire the most is Jeff Bezos, the CEO of Amazon, because of his ability to compartmentalize everything. When he was first building Amazon, he did this really interesting thing where he told everyone that they need to make sure everything they’re building needs to be able to communicate with everything else.  Apparently it was really annoying for every single team because they not only had to build what they were told to build, but they also had to make it really easy to communicate with everyone else. But that turned into Amazon Web Services (AWS), which is this huge thing today. So I really admire his ability to plan 5 to 10 years in advance.”

How as The Garage helped you with your startup?
Collin: “I think two things have been really helpful here. First is the space; it provides a location for me to come and work. And the second is the people I’ve met. Just the other day I met someone who was able to help me with our taxes. Just the broader network of connections that you make here is amazing.”

What do you hope to get out of the Summer Wildfire Accelerator?
Collin: “Hopefully by the end of the summer we will have our website up and running to scale. We’ll have our login features and our matching algorithm done and pretty much be able to pick up from Northwestern and go to any other location or college campus. The next place we are looking to expand to is the University of Wisconsin because my sister goes there. Although it doesn’t have the exact audience we are targeting, it makes the most logistical sense since we will have someone onsite to oversee things. Ultimately I hope to go national with this and to achieve this, we have a very slow growth strategy. Once we know this model can scale, we’ll be looking for investments to help accelerate it!”

To get in touch with Local, visit their website or shoot them an e-mail.

This article is part of an ongoing series highlighting the startup teams admitted to Wildfire, The Garage’s Summer Pre-Accelerator Program. For more information about Wildfire, click here.