Friday, September 05, 2014

Jimmy Odom: The Definition of a Starter

Jimmy Odom: The Definition of a Starter

Mike McGee
On December 21st, 2011, I met someone I knew would be a force in the Chicago startup scene for years to come.
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His name is Jimmy Odom, and I was interviewing him for a spot in our Winter 2012 class of Code Academy (now The Starter League).

The funny thing was I forgot about the interview! We had just finished our inaugural 3-month class and were in the process of moving to the John Hancock center when I got an email from Jeff Cohen saying that a guy named Jimmy was waiting for an interview.


I raced from my apartment to Groupon being a cool 45 minutes late and expected the worst. But as soon as I entered our space, Jimmy was in a lively discussion with our graduates. He was asking questions about the curriculum, student experience, and learning about why they risked everything to do this program. During the interview we spent more time talking about his life story instead of Jimmy wondering if we could teach him or not.

And boy, what a life story he had.

He went from being a chef and running his own restaurant to working on the Apple Store leadership team during the day and operating as an emergency medical technician at night. Oh and he's a husband with three young kids, while also spending his fourth life studying film at Columbia College.

To top that already full cake, he had just been in a car accident and totaled his car!

Now normal people would collect their insurance money and buy a new car. But by now you know Jimmy's not normal. He saw his wrecked BMW as an opportunity to invest in himself and do our program. As I learned more about Jimmy, I realized how "normal" of a decision this was. It's in Jimmy's DNA to make bold decisions, and it was in his DNA to be an entrepreneur.

He's always had ideas (he gave me about five during the interview), the problem was he didn't have the technical skills or the network to make them real. That's where our school came in.

Over the next 3 months, Jimmy learned enough web development to be able to prototype web applications, and became immersed in the Chicago startup scene. 

By the end of the program, Jimmy had prototyped This For That, a bartering platform for Chicagoans to swap items with each other.

But This For That was just the beginning for Jimmy.

A few months later I was a mentor for Startup Weekend Chicago and I ran into Jimmy. In one night he had built a team of 10 people to develop RatingsKick, an advertising research tool which mashed up Nielsen Ratings with data from the social interest graph to generate a "KickValue" for television shows. While they didn't win the overall competition, RatingsKick won the Most Innovative Idea award.

Later that fall, Jimmy was back at Startup Weekend Chicago, and he had no plans of settling for anything less than first place.
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In 54 hours, Jimmy and his team of Starter League and Mobile Makersgraduates built WhyDeliver (yes, it was WhyDeliver to start) a same-day delivery service for local merchants. But instead of just building a prototype, Jimmy went out to businesses and asked them to sign a letter of intent to use his service. Then during their final presentation, he scheduled a special delivery for the judges! The rest is history.
WhyDeliver won Startup Weekend Chicago and a startup was born.

The next 18 months was a whirlwind.

Jimmy changed the name to WeDeliver and liquidated his assets to go in 100%.

His team applied to TechStars in 2013 and made it to the final round butdidn't get in. However, he found a way to land Troy Henikoff as his mentor and to use TechStars space for a few months as he built his business!

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WeDeliver even delivered 10,000 bottles of water to TechStars' company Project FixUp for 2013 kickoff.
And to beat that feat a month later, WeDeliver won the $100,000 TechWeek Launch competition and got a new fan in Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel!
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In January of this year, WeDeliver closed a 800K seed round with 21 investors.

Three months later, Jimmy and his co-founder Daniela Bolzmann went to Silicon Valley to pitch at Google's Demo Day. They left that trip with another 100K from Steve Case, the founder of AOL!

And to cross off everything on the bucket list, they reapplied to TechStars and made it into the Summer 2014 class!
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Last Wednesday, Jimmy was on stage in front of hundreds of investors at TechStars' Demo Day. During the presentation he unveiled Locally, a new way for customers to buy products from the small businesses they love.

In just two and a half years, Jimmy has gone from idea guy to founder. He has learned how to code, design, and build teams to solve problems he sees in the world. Jimmy already had the passion and persistence to make it as an entrepreneur, he just needed the skills and network to make his ideas real.
The beauty of Jimmy's story is that there are so many other people like him here in Chicago. Through our 3-month classes and Starter School, we've helped over 150 other people become entrepreneurs in the past 3 years, and that number grows every week.

While we celebrate the IPOs and exits of our bigger tech companies, it's also important to celebrate to the people who are getting their start. They see Chicago as a place where they can get the technical ability, mental strength, and community to take control of their lives. Like Jimmy, I'm so proud of what they've already accomplished, but I'm even more excited to see these starters create the next big wave of startups in the next 3-5 years.

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