Startup Seattle Stories: Bellom

Bellom CEO Jyde Ojo and COO Karina Krivenko.

If there is a “usual way” people meet their future business partners—maybe in business school, or at a networking event—then Jyde Ojo and Karina Krivenko did not meet that way. They met at a salsa dancing class three years ago. The pair now runs Bellom, an app that allows users to coordinate cleaning, pet care, meal prep and more.

The Bellom CEO and COO don’t appear to have a lot in common at first glance, besides that they are both immigrants to the United States. Jyde’s background is in tech; he moved to Washington for a job with Microsoft, where he worked for years before leaving to start his own social media platform aimed at the Christian community in 2004 (pre-dating Facebook, as he notes). Karina moved here from Russia six years ago and has a more varied professional history, having worked in every industry from beauty to heavy machinery, typically in “a support role, operations role, making sure everything runs smoothly and easily.”

Spend some time talking with the two and you’ll notice that beyond their immigrant backgrounds, they also share a common energy and curiosity, both always focused on moving Bellom forward. Throughout our conversation, the two trade off finishing each other’s sentences and asking me about my opinions on Bellom’s services.

Karina says that the idea for Bellom originated with Jyde trying to find a way to simplify his own busy life. “About a year ago Jyde shared his challenges in just a simple task, you would think: scheduling housecleaning. And it was such a, just a mess, trying to coordinate your schedule, and get a quote, and it’s so inconvenient, and they cancel on you, and you’re overpaying…” she explains. “He was describing all that, and he came up with an idea of creating something simple, a solution that will let you basically do all your chores seamlessly, in a few clicks. And so he started building the app that we’re using now.”

Bellom users can schedule and coordinate pet care, laundry, shopping, cooking, cleaning, and even ordering fresh flowers through the app. Customers aren’t obligated to sign up for a monthly subscription, and the app advertises simple pricing without surprise service fees.

Jyde explains that Bellom’s services are useful for over-worked techies, a demographic he can relate to: “When you work for companies like Microsoft, Amazon, you are working a lot…you code all night long. And as a result, you don’t have time for anything.” The goal of Bellom is to provide a “new approach to living for busy people, for busy professionals,” so that workers have leisure time to enjoy the money they’re earning. Jyde and Karina also see the service being useful for people who are less able to perform household tasks on their own, such as seniors and people with disabilities.

Karina and Jyde both have years of business acumen that have served them well in starting Bellom, and they also point to working with the Office of Economic Devlopment’s Startup Advocate, David Harris, as critical to their success. “One of the greatest things that OED has been helpful for us, is [making] connections,” says Jyde.

“David connected us with the Women’s Fund in Portland, and he’s been advising Jyde on other sources as well,” continues Karina. “We never would have met [our mentor], ever, otherwise, without a soft introduction from David.” Their business mentor is a Seattle angel investor, who now is serving on Bellom’s advisory board. Through working with David, Jyde and Karina met investors and entrepreneurs throughout Seattle and California, and built a network of people to call on for help and advice. “That support system, it’s priceless,” says Jyde.

“OED has been very very instrumental in our core survival and for us to be where we are,” Jyde says of working with David. Karina continues, “I come from a country where if you are a small business, you are in constant survival mode. It’s not because it’s hard and there’s competition, it’s because the government is trying to shut you down. Not helping you, just the opposite. So to me, [OED’s support] is a blessing.”

Karina describes Seattle’s startup scene as “hard, but exciting.” “There is a lot of help, definitely, that’s created by the City for example. But there’s also just huge competition, because just like Silicon Valley, this place is filled with smart people. And they’re all trying to start something new.”

Even in the face of all that competition, Jyde and Karina advise aspiring startup owners to dive in. “Do it now, don’t wait for the stars to align, because they won’t, ever,” Karina says. “Something will always come up, and something won’t be right, but just, give it some more, strategize, get feedback. Talk to people, get opinions, refine your strategy and go get it.

She continues, “You will always fail. As long as you learn from it and do something better next time, they’re learning opportunities.” Jyde responds, “If you’re coming back up, they’re not failures.”

Learn more about OED’s resources on our Startup Seattle page, and contact Startup Advocate David Harris at david.harris@seattle.gov.

Small Business of the Month: Flowers Just 4 U

When I was working, younger, I kept a pad by my nightstand.” Flowers Just 4 U owner Mary Wesley pauses to adjust a newspaper on her shop counter, miming writing in a notebook. “What would I like to do after retirement? And so I’d write down, ‘I want to have a boutique shop.’ I thought for a time I wanted to be a photographer, I wrote that down…I had a whole list of things that I thought I wanted to do. And way down the list, it said ‘flowers.’”

She continues, “I wanted to know, ‘Why would I really want to sell flowers?’ Well, number one, I love it, I’m creative. And the main thing is because the community needs a black florist. There is none! I go, ‘Hey, I’m going to be that flower shop.’ And so I did.”

“And so I did” is a refrain of Mary’s as she discusses her 37 years of running Flowers Just 4 U in the Central District. She worked as a manager at Boeing in the early 80’s and at the same time wanted to go to school to learn new skills, like photography, so she did. She decided she wanted to open her own flower shop, so she went back to school again. “I took small business, flower design. Because I’ve always been creative, but I wanted to be a professional at it. I wanted to prepare myself, to be good at it. So I did. So here I am,” she gestures from behind her shop counter.

While some things have changed at Flowers Just 4 U over its nearly four decades in business—the location, for one thing, as the shop recently moved to a new home at 701 23rd Avenue—the business still feels refreshingly old school in the middle of a rapidly-growing Seattle. Mary can name customers that have been buying flowers from her for over 20 years, including the Tabernacle Missionary Baptist Church, Seattle Unity Church and a customer Mary identifies as “Mrs. Flowers” who has been visiting the shop since it opened.

Flowers Just 4 U had to move from its previous location on 23rd and Jackson when the land was bought by a neighboring non-profit. While moving was difficult, Mary is a fan of the new location. “It’s a very good corner. It’s a very alive corner, there’s a lot of traffic…[and] foot traffic is good. They come in, buy their little bouquets of flowers, and the kids come and get their little single flowers for mom, or what have you.”

The business has just three employees in addition to Mary, plus two delivery drivers. While they’re a small operation, they provide flowers for big events like graduation ceremonies and same-day delivery services. Mary says a good portion of her business comes from the three wire services she belongs to.

Mary started her business because she “saw there was a need in the community,” and she attributes her long-term success to the support she’s gotten from that community. “I have weekly people, that want flowers for their homes for the weekend, when company’s coming, or a birthday, or they just want some beautiful flowers for their homes.” Mary smiles as she talks about her regulars. “I like those kind. They gotta educate the other ones that just come once a month.”

Asked for advice for aspiring small business owners, Mary says to have patience and to prepare yourself for the challenge: “You have to have the knowledge of how to run a business.” If you’re wondering where to get that knowledge of how to run a business: the Office of Economic Development can help connect entrepreneurs with business education, free consulting and more.

“My dad always said don’t set little goals, they too easy to reach. Set high ones and work toward it,” Mary says. “I did that. So here I am, 30 years later running my own flower shop.”

Become one of Flowers Just 4 U’s new regulars by visiting their website, or give them a call at (206) 324-1440. You can get connected with OED’s services for small businesses by emailing us at oed@seattle.gov.

Seattle Companies at CES

 

CES is ramping up in Las Vegas, and Seattle companies are out in force. Here are few Seattle-based companies we’re following:

Picobrew (@picobrewbeer)

Seattle-based Pictobrew boasts they created the “World’s first all-grain, fully-automatic, beer brewing appliance.” What could be more Seattle than that?
Gemio (@gemio)

This writer remembers friendship bracelets that were, um, low-tech… or rather no-tech. But Gemio, a Seattle-based company has reinvented the tradition with their light-up and friend-synched networked friendship bracelets.

Ram Mounts (@RAMMOUNTS)

It makes sense Ram Mounts has their roots fully planted in Seattle, where tech-savvy outdoorsy customers love using their USA made products to mount their gadgets to cars, bikes, and more.

Glympse (@glympse)

Glympse lets you share your location in real time with who you choose. Big things are happening for Glympse, including integration with Ford.

Glowforge (@glowforge)

Glowforge made history with the largest three-day crowdfunding campaign in history. Now the laser 3d printing company is working to bring their unique printers to the market.

Real Networks   (@RealNetworks)

Real Networks is a foundational tech company who called Seattle home longer than most. They were the first company to offer an audio streaming solution for the Internet, and they’re still building and launching technology to make access to digital content more accessible.

Amazon (@Amazon)
Amazon has a significant presence at CES this year, including several different business units:

 

Levl (@LEVLnow)

Levl is working on a device to help you track how well your diet is working by measuring the amount of fat you’re burning via a pod that senses the level of acetone on your breath.

Click here to learn more about CES and Seattle’s impact on this important international event.