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BrandHoot grows despite rocky start

Nordstrom Wingren.jpg
Nate Nordstrom, Brandhoot founder, left, and Matthew Wingren, Brandhoot chief systems architect
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Nate Nordstrom may have stumbled at the starting line as an entrepreneur, but he has pushed ahead of the business pack in what he sees as a marathon instead of a sprint.

Nordstrom founded BrandHoot as a one-man operation in an attic in 2012. Despite setbacks, he now is preparing to move his six-person team into a new, cutting-edge downtown office.

"It's been one of the toughest things I've ever done," he said looking back at the journey of building his own award-winning company to design web pages and applications, as well as offer marketing and social media services.

He started out handling social media duties, such as updating Facebook pages and Twitter feeds, for local restaurants such as the Canadian Honker, Nupa and others. But from the start, he had a vision for something much, much bigger.

"I've alway had some sort of grand idea ever since I was a kid," he said. "I wanted to be an inventor or a missionary. I wanted some way to serve the world and make a big impact."

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So in the early days of BrandHoot, Nordstrom brainstormed an idea to create a phone application called HiveSync to help small businesses communicate with their teams. He made launching the application his top goal.

"I spent every profit we made in the first year on this app. I hired overseas developers. They were very affordable, but it turned out that the quality was very bad," recalls a sheepish Nordstorm.

When Nordstrom brought on local talent to look at the computer code, he got the bad news. HiveSync, his big idea, which had eaten up most of his early finances, was garbage and couldn't be salvaged.

What makes a small business owner move forward after such a crushing failure?

"I really, really hate to give up," he said. "Any sane person would have quit a while ago and just got a normal job, but that doesn't sound like any fun."

While his HiveSync blew up on the launching pad, BrandHoot's trajectory has made it one of the stars in Rochester's growing startup community in recent years.

It was named the Rochester Area Chamber of Commerce's Business of the Year in 2014. BrandHoot has won major contracts working for Mayo Clinic, Destination Medical Center, Powers Ventures and more.

Design and marketing services for clients have driven BrandHoot's success, but Nordstrom recently jumped back into the web application business with a new social media application called FanCoach.

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"I came back to my initial service in a little different way. We automated the guidance I used to offer," he said of FanCoach.

That means small businesses, such as restaurants, that can't afford to hire an outside firm to handle their social duties can sign up with FanCoach to get detailed monthly reports on how to do the job better.

FanCoach analyzes the client's social media streams and provides customized advice on what can be done to be more effective. The first monthly report is free, and it is $79 a month after that.

The application already is getting attention in its early days. Any success it achieves, Nordstrom attributes, at least partially, to the lessons learned from the failure of HiveSync.

"It helped me improve the process," he said. "I learned the hard way about system architecture. I learned to create a prototype first and then iron out the kinks."

Nordstrom's hope is to eventually have products such as FanCoach bring in enough revenue to cover his payroll. Then he could create small teams to work on other prototypes.

The next big project for BrandHoot is to move into the newly renovated, historic Conley Maass building in downtown Rochester. The new office in the brick and wood building will feature Silicon Valley-style amenities, such as its own indoor climbing wall.

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