New media design students lead startup in promising direction

Aug 19, 2017

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The Ripple group on the Saunders Summer Startup Program's demo night. From left to right: Arpan Shah, Ishan Chhabra, Madison Yocum and Chase Poirier.
Thumbnail for New media design students lead startup in promising direction
The Ripple group on the Saunders Summer Startup Program's demo night. From left to right: Arpan Shah, Ishan Chhabra, Madison Yocum and Chase Poirier.

by Aaron Garland

Once Chase Poirier and Madison Yocum had a business idea, they went full speed ahead.

Armed with plenty of design skills and desire, they have taken advantage of Rochester Institute of Technology’s available resources to develop their business IQs, and, in turn, expand what they can accomplish in design.

Ripple is a startup Poirier and Yocum — who are set for their thirds years in RIT’s new media design program — have been working on since October 2016. It’s morphed into something that Poirier said he believes in 110 percent.

Ripple is a web platform centered around helping freelancers in web design, web development and copy writing find consistent work and income. It’s a unique communication tool that affords them the opportunity to search for and connect with fellow freelancers to create “virtual agencies.” The idea is for them to team up and blend their skill sets together to increase their appeal to clients and take on bigger tasks.

That’s the concept the Ripple group pitched at the Saunders Summer Startup Program’s demo night, the culmination of the intensive, 10-week course sponsored by both the Simone Center for Innovation and Entrepreneurship and Saunders College of Business. The event, held Aug. 9 in the Simone Center, gave the 10 Summer Startup Program teams a stage to pitch their business ideas to potential investors.

Demo night yielded positive results for Ripple’s team — which also includes newly acquired members Arpan Shah (RIT computer science major) and Ishan Chhabra (mechanical engineering major) — as its presentation was successful, Yocum said.

Yocum said the four-person group is moving forward with momentum and will build a minimum viable product (MVP) in the fall semester, operating from an obtained work space in Institute Hall. After a certain amount of interest from users is expressed through MVP iterations, the plan is to work with an interested Rochester investor to create a larger-scale platform, according to Yocum.

Poirier said he feels Ripple can better market freelancers’ abilities and enables them to take on more substantial assignments than if they worked alone. It’s a system striving to make gaining steady work markedly easier for freelancers.

“They can have the benefits of freelancing, which is the flexible schedule and the ability to work remotely, while also having the benefits of what an agency job would offer, with the larger projects, the ability to work in a team,” said Poirier, a New Hampshire native.

Poirier and Yocum, from Elysburg, Pa., have been unwavering in their commitment to the startup. They were unafraid to follow up on their original ideas and took a learn-as-we-go approach.

And, boy, have they learned a lot about business in the last seven months.

The two completed the Applied Entrepreneurship course through the Simone Center in the spring. Ripple’s early-stage business plan then got the team accepted into the Saunders Summer Startup Program.

The spring class, Poirier said, introduced critical business principles to the business partners. Poirier said taking that course greatly boosted their business sense and provided new perspective. It sent their plans in a research-based direction, while keeping core concepts intact.

“Beforehand, as designers and creators of products, we were like, ‘Oh if we just make this awesome product, people will just start using it,’” Poirier said. “We learned there is a lot more that goes into it. It’s a whole process of testing assumptions, validating your hypotheses and slowly iterating forward.”

This summer, Ripple took another step forward with the Summer Startup Program, aimed at giving business teams the chance to enhance their ideas to the point they’re ready to seek support from possible financial backers.

Yocum said there are not enough thank yous she could give to the Simone Center for the aid it’s provided.  

“We were two new media design students with an idea in October and through the mentoring, coaching and resources, are being able to excel in our idea and move it forward each day,” Yocum said. “The Simone Center is one of the best programs at RIT and I love learning from all of the wonderful faculty and staff there. I know this summer our team learned more than we ever thought possible.”

Poirier, Shah and Chhabra each received $3,000 stipends as Ripple’s representatives in the Summer Startup Program. The team was given an additional $1,500 for prototyping and other costs, too.

Shah and Chhabra were recruited since Yocum couldn’t participate in the summer course in-person due to being on co-op in San Francisco as a design intern for Flickr. Yocum was back for demo night.

A product mock-up, created by the Ripple team, of a virutal agency team profile page.

During the summer program, the Ripple crew led over 100 interviews with full-time, part-time and aspiring freelancers to validate there is a problem worth paying money to solve, and then determine how much the service might be valued.

The interactions gave Poirier reason to be confident about Ripple’s prospects.

“It’s really cool to see where it’s going,” Poirier said. “And we strongly believe, just from talking to actual freelancers, that this is something that we could do to help them.”

Poirier lauded the guidance of the Summer Startup Program’s leaders and how invaluable it’s been to receive help from coaches with real-world experience along the way.

“We’d be nowhere near where we are now if we weren’t able to have that Applied Entrepreneurship class, as well as be in the Summer Startup Program,” Poirier said.

While both original Ripple members have grown their business acumen alongside each other, their primary concentrations differ a little. Poirier’s interests rest more on business and coding elements, and Yocum is heavily involved in product development. She ensures problems have effective solutions that satisfy users’ product-design needs, and also designs the user interface and user experience while creating an overall brand.

Overall, their strong chemistry has helped Ripple mature. The new additions have buoyed the team, as well. Shah, Yocum said, works on the back end of things while Chhabra is the other main business and financial figure.

“There is no other person at RIT who is my go-to for a project, and I would rather work with,” Yocum said of Poirier. “Each of our skill sets complements the other in the way a startup needs — we balance each other out.”

Ripple’s model has pivoted several times over the last 10 months, but the one that was pitched Aug. 9 was the result of Poirier and Yocum being receptive to advice and suggestions.Ripple’s refinement can be attributed to its leaders’ ambition, coupled with them utilizing the resources available to them at RIT.

In every sense of the phrase, they’re giving it their best shot.

“Our team has grown and so has our idea,” Yocum said, “and we are ready to create a viable business.”

To learn more about Ripple and its team, and/or to express interest in what it can offer, visit its website.