While the world often looks to Silicon Valley or San Francisco to provide the technological advancements and innovations that it constantly desires, many overlook the startup-rich Boston. While it is home to several major companies, such as Facebook and Dropbox, Boston is also home to countless smaller startups that have come to garner more recognition. Among these are Drizly, an alcohol delivery service; Jebbit, a new face to website advertising; and RunKeeper, an effective way of keeping track of runs, bike rides, and other workouts. An app might catch fire in a particular city, but the origins of such apps are usually not known well, if at all, to the general population.
Starting an app or company from scratch and garnering a large base of users is a daunting task. Tom O’Keefe, a Boston College alumnus and the man behind the popular Twitter account @BostonTweet, wanted to create a way for Boston startups to hit the market running and steadily gain name recognition. In January 2014, he created #DownloadBoston, which strives to boost local startups by advertising and lobbying for local businesses to promote the startups. #DownloadBoston currently only lobbies on behalf of digital startups-and at this point all but a few are apps-but O’Keefe hopes to expand to other consumer goods in the near future.
O’Keefe, founder of five previous internet startups in the past decade, including @BostonTweet, draws from his experience with them to build a successful organization. @BostonTweet is both a blog and a Twitter account that O’Keefe started during the 2008 recession to help raise awareness about local companies and businesses. Now, it serves to inform consumers about company’s promotions or hiring terms, and O’Keefe has used the account’s substantial following to spread the world.
“The large following in Boston, I think over 100,000 through Boston Tweet, really helped put #DownloadBoston out there,” he said.
O’Keefe doesn’t promote the startups individually. Rather, they are presented as a group, or a selection from which consumers can choose. “The idea is to work with retailers and cafes that we as consumers go to and target their consumer base,” he said. “We give them apps that their consumers will find useful.”
O’Keefe explained that, although there might be some sort of technology exposition in the city, there won’t necessarily be the common person there. “Not everyone will go to a tech expo,” he said. “You have to get the everyday consumers involved.”
Boston has to be able to compete with New York City and San Francisco in terms of the amount and quality of startups, O’Keefe said. In his eyes, they are the model that Boston needs to match, and he hopes that #DownloadBoston will help to level the playing field in some sense. Through social media such as Facebook and Twitter, O’Keefe wants to have major media sources recognize Boston startups and get their names out.
To all the future startups in Boston, O’Keefe has some simple advice: “Truly believe in yourself and your product,” he said. “Otherwise, no one else will.” In his own experience, O’Keefe said that loving a product is essential to a startup’s success because those ventures require one’s attention during nearly every waking moment. If the startups aren’t a passion, he argued, they will quickly transition from being a pleasure to being work to being a burden.
O’Keefe made it clear that startups are not always the success stories that everyone dreams that they will be. Several of his startups were not successful, but they provided valuable learning lessons that translated into @BostonTweet, and he hopes that the same will be true for #DownloadBoston. “Everything before Boston Tweet was a failure, at least financially, but they were an amazing learning experience,” he said. “They taught me what you need and what you don’t need to be successful.”
In the face of failure, however, O’Keefe remained optimistic, and he said that aspiring entrepreneurs should do the same.
“There is nothing wrong with failing,” he said. “It’s all one big learning curve.”