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Alum calls Brown experiences key to business success

Bryan Davis ’94 created a virtual lost-and-found system to end the search for misplaced items

By
Staff Writer
Tuesday, April 2, 2013

Bryan Davis ‘94 and his business partner A.J. Bontempo began working on Bungee in 2008. The service now has a 90 percent accuracy rate.

When Bryan Davis ’94 presents the lost-and-found product Bungee to a crowd, he always starts with an all-too-familiar situation.

“(By) a show of hands, how many of you have lost a cell phone before?” Davis asks. “How many of you have lost a set of keys? How many have lost something over $100 that was a pain to replace?”

Almost all crowd members raise their hands.

Davis and his business partner A.J. Bontempo designed Bungee to help people recover lost belongings. The ticket to Bungee’s system is the company’s symbolic blue boomerang bearing a unique phone number Bungee assigns to each user, which the user attaches as a key chain, sticker or card to an item. Upon finding a lost item, an individual can text the phone number, notifying the owner and connecting the owner and the finder in an anonymous conversation. They can then agree to meet so the owner can recover his or her possession.

Davis and Bontempo first developed the idea in 2008 and released the product in 2010. Davis said a large part of the idea came from his own problem with losing things. At one point the company that insured his cell phone “cut him off” from new phones because he had lost so many, he said.

Before starting Bungee, Davis owned a nightclub in New York three blocks away from a restaurant Bontempo owned. The two became friends and opened a nightclub and restaurant together. Every night, three or four valuable items were lost, and “the problem was constantly in my face,” Davis said.

The two decided to leave the restaurant and nightclub industry to start their own business. After the product’s initial launch in 2010, the founders released Bungee on bungeetags.com, which went live March 18, 2013.

 

‘Mr. Spring Break’

Though the idea for Bungee came after Davis graduated from Brown, he first tried his hand at entrepreneurship as an undergraduate in Professor of Engineering Barrett Hazeltine’s class ENGN 0090: “Management of Industrial and Nonprofit Organizations.” A psychology concentrator, Davis said he never really knew what he wanted to do, and while he found psychology interesting, he never intended for it to drive his career.

Davis said Hazeltine had the greatest influence on Davis’ career in entrepreneurship. In the class, Davis had the opportunity to design and implement a business plan. He developed a spring break program out of a local travel agency on Thayer Street, through which he put together packages of plane tickets and hotels to sell to students going to Cancun, Mexico, Nassau, Bahamas and Negril, Jamaica. “I became like Mr. Spring Break,” Davis said. He traveled to the three locations to arrange deals with hotels, and his business sold to students beyond Brown’s campus.

“It was a cool first business experience at 20 or 21,” Davis said. He estimated that about 75 percent of Brown students who went to these places for spring break bought their tickets from him. “I didn’t make a ton of money,” he said, “but I had a ton of fun.”

Hazeltine has taught ENGN 0090 for around 25 years and has been a professor at Brown since 1959. His course has helped encourage entrepreneurs like Hyun Kim ’01, who created Mama Kim’s, and Tom First ’89 and Tom Scott ’89, who created Nantucket Nectars. Both business plans were first proposed in Hazeltine’s class.

Hazeltine said he was glad to hear of Davis’ success and that many other people have good ideas but do not pursue them or give up.

“(I) respect very much somebody who had the initiative and made it work,” Hazeltine said.

Hazeltine has continued to help his former students, including Davis, with their businesses after they graduate. “Mostly entrepreneurs need encouragement more than they need strong advice,” Hazeltine said. “They need somebody to take them seriously.”

Davis credits his success as an entrepreneur to his education at Brown. “Truthfully it’s the freedom I had (at Brown),” he said. “It can be a blessing or a curse, but (without it) I wouldn’t be doing what I’m doing for sure.”

 

On the rise

Davis and Bontempo first launched Bungee with an infomercial in 2010, but the product did not sell well. Davis said it was difficult to demonstrate how the Bungee process worked in the two minutes of television time. At the time of Bungee’s release, texting was not popular enough for people to fully grasp how the product worked, he added.

“(We were) kind of ahead of our time,” Davis said. “I was texting like a maniac, but text messaging really hasn’t taken off until recently.”

In the five years since the idea for Bungee was conceived, texting has grown much more prevalent as a means of communication. Between 2000 and 2010, the average number of text messages sent per month in the United States increased from 14 billion to 188 billion, and the numbers continue to rise, according to a Sept. 2012 CNN article.

The company’s more recent success is partly due to this rise in text messaging because texts are so integral for Bungee’s system to work, Davis said. “It’s a product whose time has finally come, and we just stuck with it,” he said.

When Davis and Bontempo regained the rights for Bungee from the infomercial company, they were excited to have the opportunity to sell Bungee as an online product, Davis said.

The two set a goal of raising $10,000 before March 15 using the online funding platform Indiegogo. Davis and Bontempo raised $10,542 through the website and the product was released online three days later. Customers can purchase packages varying in duration and covering either an individual or a family.

Before the product was released, Fox News contacted Davis and Bontempo and asked for the right to use the product on a segment entitled “Honesty in America” that would air on the “Fox and Friends” morning show. With Fox, the two founders took a road trip to five cities in five days, testing the product in Las Vegas, Dallas, Miami, Charleston, S.C. and Washington, D.C. In each city they tested Bungee by “losing” items on purpose and seeing whether the items were returned. Davis said the return rate was about 90 percent.

It was “a huge, huge thing for us … showing that the product works,” Davis said. The show premiered the same day Davis and Bontempo launched Bungee. It was a “free commercial,” Davis said. “It was awesome — really awesome.”

The two have also tested Bungee on their own and have gone to places including the Pennsylvania State University campus, Cleveland, Chicago, St. Louis, New York and several Wisconsin cities. Davis said they have probably tested Bungee in New York over 100 times.

Wallets, passports, digital cameras, iPods, iPhones, other smart phones, sunglasses and keys are typical items used in the tests.

Davis said he has one set of “lucky keys” he loses in every city and has always gotten back.

Davis said they not only want the product to work, but they want it to work quickly. He once purposely left his laptop on a plane to see how quickly Bungee would work. He got a text in less than 10 minutes, before he had even gotten his bags. He turned around to go back to the gate where he retrieved his laptop from the flight attendant who had found it and texted the number on the Bungee tag.

 

A Future for Bungee

In the future, Davis said he hopes to continue advertising Bungee through Google AdWords and Facebook.

Bungee was designed as an original equipment manufacturer product, meaning that it can be integrated into other companies’ products, he said. He added that he hopes Bungee will eventually be built into expensive sunglasses, car keys, book bags and cases for iPhones and tablets.

In the first 10 days of the product’s availability, an estimated 600 to 700 people purchased Bungee, Davis said.

“The one thing we are about is if you lose your stuff, you get it back,” Davis said. ”

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