Madison Lai and Lutz Lai from Wichita Kansas worked on their start-up while travelling in Europe

How our hurricane honeymoon inspired our new tech start-up

After escaping the devastation of Hurricane Irma, Lutz and Madison Lai headed to Europe to rethink their lives and create their tech start-up

If Lutz and Madison Lai succeed in their venture then the destructive power of hurricane Irma will have played a part.
And  a UK stop off in Norwich, UK, will also be a footnote in their story.

The couple, both in their 20s, met while studying at Wichita State University and later married when they got caught up in Hurricane Irma in September 2017. founders were seeking a fresh perspective on life and work

They gained a fresh perspective on life while on honeymoon on the Caribbean island of St Maarten, jointly administered by France and the Netherlands.

“It destroyed the entire house,” Lutz, 27, recalls. “We were five days without power and water.”

“We hid in the bathroom,” said Madison. “It was the only room where the ceiling was still intact. There was stuff flying out everywhere.”

The pair were flown by a C130 US military plane to Puerto Rico as part of a large-scale US evacuation of 5,000 American citizens.

But returning home to Wichita Kansas, they started to reassess their lives and decided it was time to pursue their dreams of starting their own business.

And that was when was born

“I was in HR and had got my degree in that after switching from engineering,” said Madison. “I’ve worked in HR for three years but always knew I wanted to do something with technology.”

Lutz, meanwhile, had been working for software and technology companies, and when his most employer closed down, it opened up the opportunity to travel in Europe while working remotely on freelance projects.

Madison also had a momentous decision to make

“I had to quit my stable job, which was quite scary, but the time was right and we both knew we wanted to work on our own project,” she said.

From there the notion of was formed, a virtual CV, or resume service for students and businesses attending US university careers fairs.

It was an idea that they had been kicking around for about a year and a half. But seeing life with a new perspective has given them the impetus to take it forward.

“Recruitment can be expensive and time-consuming,” says Lutz. “This can be a way for small to mid-sized employers to digitise their process. The app gives the students power. They are in control over who gets their information.”

Creating an MVP

The couple have since been working on the coding to create an MVP (minimum viable product) for release in early March 2019. They have also been contacting potential customers to test the appetite for their product.

At this stage they envisage the primary customers will be the 1800 accredited universities in the US holding the careers fairs, and they are working on a pricing model which sees the universities adding a surcharge to employees attending the events to give them access to the app.

On the technical side, Lutz is writing the code for the platform using React JS and Node JS frameworks and it will be hosted on Amazon Websites.

European Vacation

It was June 2018 that the couple decided to head for Europe, originally on a six month trip but they cut their travel time in half, in part because they weren’t keen on leaving their two dogs seven-year-old Rottweiler Sammy, and three-year-old Yorkshire Terrier Chewy.

“We were having a hard time finding someone to watch them, so we cut it down to three months,” Madison said.

But once they set off, they started with a visit to Germany where Lutz’s mother Rita had family.
From there they travelled to Berlin, Cologne, Heidelberg, Paris and Prague, before heading to London.

Coding in the fine city of Norwich

However, keen to take a break from sightseeing they headed to Norwich staying in an Airbnb accommodation giving them time to work on their business idea.

Days would be spent coding and emailing potential customers before walking into the city for some sightseeing.
“We wanted to get to a smaller town which still had things to do around it,” Madison said. “We knew we were going to be working on this.” aims to improve graduate recruitment processes through an online platform where students attending a university careers fair can input their data and share it to all the relevant employers attending.

Streamlining university recruitment fairs

“Students can input their information once and then choose which employers they want to go to,” said Madison. “It’s easier for employers as they are not fighting against each other. It just gets the paperwork out of the way.

“There is a lot of overhead – you have to write the notes by hand, store them somewhere and then enter them on to a computer,” said Madison. “For smaller employers who were less well-known, they don’t have the time. They don’t want to waste time getting students to input their information while they are there, so they will look at them later.

“Recruiters don’t get back to students as they should because it’s a pain. They will only get back to the ones they like.” plays on the sound of resume (the US word for CV!)

The pair are currently bootstrapping the venture themselves but are aware that they may need to attract funders going forward.

But their stay in Norwich has given them time to develop the platform, time Madison says would not have been available had she still be working back home.

“If I was working at my job I would never have persevered with this,” she said. “When you’re working all day by the time you get home, you just want to relax. The great thing about being here is we have a schedule and can work on our own terms.”

Developing the venture has certainly fuelled their ambitions

“We think it can turn into something,” Madison said. “The more equity we can keep ourselves the better. Hopefully we can get to a point where we need to start bringing in investors.

“I’m taking it one day at a time,” said Lutz. “If it does become a big thing we can pursue it, or I wouldn’t mind selling it off and using it as a stepping stone for other ventures. Madison has really good ideas!”

The New Post - sharing stories from Norwich and beyond

Note: I met Lutz and Madison, founders of US tech start-up when they turned up at a library talk I was giving at BIPC Norfolk. Intrigued by their story I met them for coffee a few days later to find out more.

Link: If you’re interested in finding out more about them then check out the website

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