Say you want a purple couch. Easy enough to find on Overstock or Amazon, but what if you want to sit in it first? Using the internet to find the same item locally is surprisingly difficult. Many local businesses don’t keep updated online inventories, and even if they do, they are scattered about on various websites that may or may not rank on Google.
Enter trovi, an online platform built to help you find nearby goods and services, with the added benefit of retaining and creating local wealth. After all, the web may be worldwide, but our daily lives remain local. Founder Peter Herring tells us more:
The spark that inspired the birth of trovi: In 2007, I was working on a health startup with my tech partner Mark (who is now the lead architect on trovi). It was a combo offline/online complementary health clinic. We wanted a way for people to get whatever health information, including product information, that they wanted without revealing their personally identifiable information – which is a huge no-no around medical matters.
So we invented what we called the Permission Based Web. It’s the system behind trovi. We shelved that company when the crash hit, but it revived when I met my current biz partner Janice and we decided to spin out the more commerce-related aspect of the system. That’s trovi, but the company behind it is called Permission Based Web, LLC.
The problem that trovi solves: Why solve one problem when you can solve three? It’s difficult to find local (nearby) things on the web. trovi makes it easy to find what you want, when and where you want it, and in your price range, plus a bunch of other criteria – like locally owned.
Also, a lot of us are getting weary of being tracked, having our data harvested, and being advertised to everywhere we go on the web. trovi is a private, non-tracking network. Additionally, communities always need more money for improvements that people want and need – so trovi shares 25% of our profits with our partner communities.
The story behind the name: I went looking for serious Latin words – then I remembered that I love and want to learn Italian…trovi means “you find” in Italian. Plus it sounds like a cute pet you would want to take home. If you check out our site, it really is www.trovi.co – that’s dot co, not dot com. Unfortunately, a malware site bought that name, so we are looking into how we may change ours to avoid confusion.
The best thing about being an entrepreneur: The hours and pay! OK, kidding on that one. The best is having a vision and bringing it into the world. For me, just doing that means I can’t fail – failing is not trying. I’ve started some companies, didn’t get others started – but I’m always working on something that I care about.
The biggest surprise in your entrepreneurial experience to date: What people are willing to do just because they love an idea… really, if you created an economy out of the time and sweat that people put into startups because they love what those startups can accomplish, perhaps it would be larger than the monetary economy. Entrepreneurs want to make money, but I can’t think of a business partner I’ve worked with who was motivated by that. They were all there because they believed in what we were doing.
Your biggest success: Having been an entrepreneur for 23 years now – succeeding and failing – is my biggest success. So I’ll go back to my first company because that’s what got me going. I started a niche digital ad agency in a town already crowded with agencies, and ran it with two partners for ten years. It was there that I developed the motto: Everything we do is fun, it’s just that some things are more fun than others.
Your biggest failures: I don’t have room here to recount all the failures. I learned to keep going. I think we sometimes call it failure too early – sometimes the concept is not ready yet, and it’s a good thing it didn’t go or get funded, so it’s best to keep going until it is right.
What keeps you up at night: Are we doing what we said we would do? That’s it. Are we on track, hitting milestones, creating what we said we’re creating?
Best entrepreneurial advice you have received: Be a visionary. Be a realist. Do that in the right order. Think if Jobs had started out as a realist – he would have listened to the folks at Xerox PARC and concluded that there was no market for a PC. I’ve gotten that advice from so many fellow entrepreneurs and VC types that I can’t name names.
Your #1 piece of advice for a budding entrepreneur: Thanks for asking! This is my soapbox. Be in business for a purpose, not for money – money is a by-product of purpose. Pay attention to the planet and to society – they’re both in vast trouble, and vast trouble means vast opportunities to help, which is the basis of good business.
Pay attention to the “new business fundamentals”: 1. Be purpose driven. 2. Be stakeholder-centric, not just shareholder-centric – the world and its inhabitants are your stakeholders, and you are in business by their grace and with their support. 3. Collaborate whenever possible, great things come of a “how can we make it even better together” attitude. 4. Be transparent; social capital is the foundation of tomorrow’s successful businesses. OK, I’m done.
The song that best describes your entrepreneurial journey: Well, I used to like to sing, Ticket for a Runaway Train at work… Oh, wait, maybe that was about being a Dad!
What your typical day looks like: I’m working on trovi, plus a nonprofit called Shareconomy, while helping to put together a coalition of social entrepreneurs to build a social entrepreneurial “ecosystem” here. So a typical day is really atypical, but here’s my best shot. It’s probably about 25% of what I planned – that could be working, meeting with teams, meeting with others – and about 75% working on things that pop up. On a miraculous day, that ratio reverses.
What wild success looks like: trovi will look like a new web platform that empowers people to easily sell, share, find, connect, and buy in a non-tracking, privacy-respecting web without ads. We’re calling it “the web we want.” It will make everything local easy to find everywhere there is local – which is everywhere. It will make a lot of money, which is great because then it will share a lot of money with communities – the day we can up that 25% share to a higher percentage will be a great day.
Your favorite local business: Let’s see – I’m starting a company that will make it easy for local businesses of all stripes to be found by local people and tourists, and you want me to pick a favorite… What could possibly go wrong with that?
Here’s my clever dodge: I love IPA and we live in the IPA capital of the world. There is so much good IPA here that it’s ridiculous. I think we’re missing a great opportunity, which is to change our airport name to International Portland Airport – IPA. We have to do it!
What you wanted to be when you grew up: Everything. That was the difficulty. They didn’t have a major for it. The other problem was, I didn’t want to grow up. Blame that on Peter Pan, which I saw at an impressionable age.
Benefits and challenges of starting a business in Oregon: I think Oregon is a stupendous place to live, certainly one of the better parts of the universe. That’s a great foundation for starting a business. There is a ton of talent here, and a lot of innovation and enthusiasm, plus a lot of people who just like to share knowledge – all great!
That said, I think we have a ways to go on building a funding infrastructure that matches our entrepreneurial talents – especially in the social entrepreneurial arena. I’m pitching in with a local group on getting a state crowdfunding bill here (like Washington has – how did we let them beat us!?). I believe we can make funding as collaborative and innovative as some of our business startups. It’s central; if we’re to have more innovative companies here we’re going to need more innovative funding, and more innovative ways of creating acceleration for those businesses.
How to get involved: We’re crowdfunding on fundable.com. Why crowdfunding? trovi is a highly collaborative company, building a highly collaborative local search platform – we’re already incorporating ideas brought up by Portland business owners, and we’re discussing partnerships with other businesses that are working in search and cloud-based inventory functions. So it makes sense that we could take our funding “to the people” – that’s you. We believe that a network of people and local businesses can help us raise the rest of the money we need to finish trovi, so we can start connecting local people to local businesses and help community economies. Please check us out at www.fundable.com/trovi. Thanks!