Vernell Woods
Interview by Dylan Wolford

Vernell Woods

Building a revolutionary mobile ecosystem

  • Company: Moolah Mobile
  • Based In: Atlanta
  • Industry: Mobile
  • Alum: Georiga Tech

Tell me a little about yourself and your company.

I’m from Virginia, I went to Georgia Tech via the Presidential Scholarship for Electrical and Computer Engineering.

I was the first black in Electrical and Computer Engineering in their school’s history. I worked at IBM and did mostly Department of Defense related work. It was then I realized how much money the CEOs of the companies were making compared tp what the engineers were making; when we were doing what I felt like at that time was the majority of the work. It felt like no matter what I would always be chasing my tail. I wanted to innovate and I felt like I couldn’t do that within the confines of the government or corporations.

So I stepped out and started my first company, which was interesting. It suggested which clubs to go to in Atlanta. The idea was birthed out of how I made a living during school, DJ-ing. The application told people all of the night clubs in the region, and how many girls and guys were in each club. It then would let you see the people inside each one. So regardless of what the line outside looked like and what people were saying, you could actually see which one was the best to go to.

In order to achieve that, I had to invent a technology which is similar to what everyone uses today, geofencing; however it's not entirely geofencing. It's comparative geofencing, where I take what was going on in one region and comparing that to what was happening in another region. I had to basically create little bubbles everywhere. I got the patent and I was using that patent in 2015.

That's Amazing!

That’s what this new company is all about. Because we were issued that patent, it gave us this opportunity, where we hadn't started defending the patent yet.

It’s a very powerful patent even Google cited it, everyone had cited it already.

We thought, what do we do with this?

So what did you do given what was happening?

So do you know TI, The rapper? He’s the most well known rapper in Atlanta. When I first came to Georgia I needed help, and TI came in to my first company as an advisor and investor. At the time he wanted me to sell the patent and get the money, but right at the same time, these guys from Texas were doing Obamaphones came to us and we spotted an opportunity. They had 30 million people using their Obamaphones all over the country, and the government paid them $9.75 every month. That spawned our idea behind Moolah.

With Moolah we’re figuring out how to turn your phone into money without anyone else help, the same way the government was doing it. We said,

“what if we put ads on the phones, the same way Facebook gets $7 billion in mobile ad revenue every year, what if we just put it inside someone’s phone?"

People don't really want the ads, we thought what if you gave them a better experience and included the ads; taking more economical phones and giving users better experiences inside of them. We played with that concept, and people liked it. A mobile ecosystem, a collection of home screens in a marketplace. Inside each home screen you see ads; however, instead of us keeping all the money like all the other freemium models out there who offer their product for free while actually taking your information and selling it - we do it differently! Instead we’re saying we’re gonna keep your information safe and we’re gonna give you a 10% cut of whatever we make from the ads, allowing you to use that for something practical in your life.

Do you have any examples you could share?

One of the deals we did was with a phone company, Surge. First we gave users free phone service. Surge's deal was with 4 million phones. In their deal they pre-installed our home screens and sold the phones through their normal distribution channels. Now we’re giving users the ability to take that ad money that tech companies give them and use it towards having free phone service.

Did you have any challenges with launching this deal?

We started marketing it, and people were thinking, “this is too good to be true.” They were really skeptical, especially because they felt it took too long to make $10. On average it took 15-25 days. We had to introduce something to the market that was faster and easier to obtain. So we introduced gift cards. Inside our marketplace, there’s a way to redeem the Moolah for gift cards. This way you can go and take your moolah and get a gift card to Target, Walmart or wherever you want. Now people can use their phone as they normally do and it will generate money which they can spend however they like.

It' been taking off. We found we’re spending too much money on gift cards. We weren’t expecting the current users we have to adopt to this gift card model so fast. We expected it to be similar to the way they were adopting the phone service model, which was slower and it has just been completely different.

It is so awesome to hear that you have been so successful so far, and we’re glad we can help. But you had to have started somewhere. What are 3 things you wish you had known before you started?

I wish I had a better grip on the financial world in general. When it comes to investors, banks, cash flow, how much you can go in debt, assets. All of those things together make up so much of the question of, “Can I get the help I need to move forward?” If you really don’t understand, you can be the best inventor, you can have the best product, you can have the best business, but without that understanding, it's really hard to communicate to the people that you need to.

Second, how to effectively manage a team. When you’re building and innovating, its whoever can help, and you’re just glad to have their help. But as you are building and growing, the expectations start increasing. So the deliverables and the demand start going up as well, and when all those things are mixed into one, it creates a really difficult thing to manage especially when the wrong people are involved. So first you have to focus on getting the right people, then you have to focus on the best way to make sure that they’re working together, so you don't try doing everything myself.

That’s one of the things I realized going to all of these different groups, talking to different founders and CEOs and startup people, they believe have the power to do it all. When you understand you can’t, then you understand how you have to hack your team and balance it, then you have to figure out how to support that balance. Those were the missing pieces for me.

What makes your business unique?

One thing that makes our business unique is that we’re taking a model that’s almost as old ass the internet itself. The ad model in general. People have figured out that there are some difficulties around it, they haven’t really figured out how to balance it, and I think that what we’re doing different in the space, in the ad world, is really unique.

The fact that they had been using their phone for so long, and if it was possible here, why wasn’t it possible everywhere else. This was happening over and over again. So it’s a pretty reassuring thing that’s kept us going, its been a long time that we’ve been building our phone, our home screen, there’s a lot of things that have to happen, it has to be really stable, a lot of things have to work the right way. So it’s been a long process, but those stories have been helping us to keep moving forward.

Who in the world do you wish had advised you along your journey.

That’s a hard question for me! I normally don’t look at the world that way. Where I come from, there’s a lot of things that you can wish that aren’t practical. And the circumstances that you have to work through to get to the same place as everyone else, it’s more unbelievable, but regardless you still have to do it. So understanding the reality of the people around you, so I’ve learned to just pray. So working with the people around you and the circumstances that you’ve been handed, and then from there you move forward with what you have. And if you have the opportunity to get around someone like Elon Musk or Mark Cuban, or the guy that’s done this thing way more than you in TeleComm or the banking guy that just understands the banking industry. Regardless of who it is, there’s wisdom and understanding that comes from all of them, so you have to understand to take it in and soak it in from everyone allows you to move the furthest.

To do what we’re doing from where we’re coming from, that’s how you gotta move.

D: What company or founder has been your role model along your startup journey?

I’ve learned a little bit from a lot of people, right. I love Elon Musk’s ability to take risks and how out of the box he can be sometimes. I love how Mark Cuban is willing to stand up for what he believes in and how he can unite people. He is unwavering and unwilling to change from that, even if other people don’t see it the same way. I can definitely respect and see the value in that. Even down to the exactness of the financial model of Jeff Bezos and watching one business grow into two businesses and three businesses, I would be lying if I said I didn’t model my marketplace very similarly. I think I’m learning from all of the pioneers in the tech space and even some of the other guys, the IPO’s, the Ubers, the Lyfts, the social companies, the block chain companies. I’m learning from all of them.

  • Company: Moolah Mobile
  • Based In: Atlanta
  • Industry: Mobile
  • Alum: Georiga Tech

Tell me a little about yourself and your company.

I’m from Virginia, I went to Georgia Tech via the Presidential Scholarship for Electrical and Computer Engineering.

I was the first black in Electrical and Computer Engineering in their school’s history. I worked at IBM and did mostly Department of Defense related work. It was then I realized how much money the CEOs of the companies were making compared tp what the engineers were making; when we were doing what I felt like at that time was the majority of the work. It felt like no matter what I would always be chasing my tail. I wanted to innovate and I felt like I couldn’t do that within the confines of the government or corporations.

So I stepped out and started my first company, which was interesting. It suggested which clubs to go to in Atlanta. The idea was birthed out of how I made a living during school, DJ-ing. The application told people all of the night clubs in the region, and how many girls and guys were in each club. It then would let you see the people inside each one. So regardless of what the line outside looked like and what people were saying, you could actually see which one was the best to go to.

In order to achieve that, I had to invent a technology which is similar to what everyone uses today, geofencing; however it's not entirely geofencing. It's comparative geofencing, where I take what was going on in one region and comparing that to what was happening in another region. I had to basically create little bubbles everywhere. I got the patent and I was using that patent in 2015.

That's Amazing!

That’s what this new company is all about. Because we were issued that patent, it gave us this opportunity, where we hadn't started defending the patent yet.

It’s a very powerful patent even Google cited it, everyone had cited it already.

We thought, what do we do with this?

So what did you do given what was happening?

So do you know TI, The rapper? He’s the most well known rapper in Atlanta. When I first came to Georgia I needed help, and TI came in to my first company as an advisor and investor. At the time he wanted me to sell the patent and get the money, but right at the same time, these guys from Texas were doing Obamaphones came to us and we spotted an opportunity. They had 30 million people using their Obamaphones all over the country, and the government paid them $9.75 every month. That spawned our idea behind Moolah.

With Moolah we’re figuring out how to turn your phone into money without anyone else help, the same way the government was doing it. We said,

“what if we put ads on the phones, the same way Facebook gets $7 billion in mobile ad revenue every year, what if we just put it inside someone’s phone?"

People don't really want the ads, we thought what if you gave them a better experience and included the ads; taking more economical phones and giving users better experiences inside of them. We played with that concept, and people liked it. A mobile ecosystem, a collection of home screens in a marketplace. Inside each home screen you see ads; however, instead of us keeping all the money like all the other freemium models out there who offer their product for free while actually taking your information and selling it - we do it differently! Instead we’re saying we’re gonna keep your information safe and we’re gonna give you a 10% cut of whatever we make from the ads, allowing you to use that for something practical in your life.

Do you have any examples you could share?

One of the deals we did was with a phone company, Surge. First we gave users free phone service. Surge's deal was with 4 million phones. In their deal they pre-installed our home screens and sold the phones through their normal distribution channels. Now we’re giving users the ability to take that ad money that tech companies give them and use it towards having free phone service.

Did you have any challenges with launching this deal?

We started marketing it, and people were thinking, “this is too good to be true.” They were really skeptical, especially because they felt it took too long to make $10. On average it took 15-25 days. We had to introduce something to the market that was faster and easier to obtain. So we introduced gift cards. Inside our marketplace, there’s a way to redeem the Moolah for gift cards. This way you can go and take your moolah and get a gift card to Target, Walmart or wherever you want. Now people can use their phone as they normally do and it will generate money which they can spend however they like.

It' been taking off. We found we’re spending too much money on gift cards. We weren’t expecting the current users we have to adopt to this gift card model so fast. We expected it to be similar to the way they were adopting the phone service model, which was slower and it has just been completely different.

It is so awesome to hear that you have been so successful so far, and we’re glad we can help. But you had to have started somewhere. What are 3 things you wish you had known before you started?

I wish I had a better grip on the financial world in general. When it comes to investors, banks, cash flow, how much you can go in debt, assets. All of those things together make up so much of the question of, “Can I get the help I need to move forward?” If you really don’t understand, you can be the best inventor, you can have the best product, you can have the best business, but without that understanding, it's really hard to communicate to the people that you need to.

Second, how to effectively manage a team. When you’re building and innovating, its whoever can help, and you’re just glad to have their help. But as you are building and growing, the expectations start increasing. So the deliverables and the demand start going up as well, and when all those things are mixed into one, it creates a really difficult thing to manage especially when the wrong people are involved. So first you have to focus on getting the right people, then you have to focus on the best way to make sure that they’re working together, so you don't try doing everything myself.

That’s one of the things I realized going to all of these different groups, talking to different founders and CEOs and startup people, they believe have the power to do it all. When you understand you can’t, then you understand how you have to hack your team and balance it, then you have to figure out how to support that balance. Those were the missing pieces for me.

What makes your business unique?

One thing that makes our business unique is that we’re taking a model that’s almost as old ass the internet itself. The ad model in general. People have figured out that there are some difficulties around it, they haven’t really figured out how to balance it, and I think that what we’re doing different in the space, in the ad world, is really unique.

The fact that they had been using their phone for so long, and if it was possible here, why wasn’t it possible everywhere else. This was happening over and over again. So it’s a pretty reassuring thing that’s kept us going, its been a long time that we’ve been building our phone, our home screen, there’s a lot of things that have to happen, it has to be really stable, a lot of things have to work the right way. So it’s been a long process, but those stories have been helping us to keep moving forward.

Who in the world do you wish had advised you along your journey.

That’s a hard question for me! I normally don’t look at the world that way. Where I come from, there’s a lot of things that you can wish that aren’t practical. And the circumstances that you have to work through to get to the same place as everyone else, it’s more unbelievable, but regardless you still have to do it. So understanding the reality of the people around you, so I’ve learned to just pray. So working with the people around you and the circumstances that you’ve been handed, and then from there you move forward with what you have. And if you have the opportunity to get around someone like Elon Musk or Mark Cuban, or the guy that’s done this thing way more than you in TeleComm or the banking guy that just understands the banking industry. Regardless of who it is, there’s wisdom and understanding that comes from all of them, so you have to understand to take it in and soak it in from everyone allows you to move the furthest.

To do what we’re doing from where we’re coming from, that’s how you gotta move.

D: What company or founder has been your role model along your startup journey?

I’ve learned a little bit from a lot of people, right. I love Elon Musk’s ability to take risks and how out of the box he can be sometimes. I love how Mark Cuban is willing to stand up for what he believes in and how he can unite people. He is unwavering and unwilling to change from that, even if other people don’t see it the same way. I can definitely respect and see the value in that. Even down to the exactness of the financial model of Jeff Bezos and watching one business grow into two businesses and three businesses, I would be lying if I said I didn’t model my marketplace very similarly. I think I’m learning from all of the pioneers in the tech space and even some of the other guys, the IPO’s, the Ubers, the Lyfts, the social companies, the block chain companies. I’m learning from all of them.

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