MindShare is D.C.’s premier invitation only program for CEOs of the most promising companies in the region. Founded in 1997, the program provides CEOs unparalleled access to well established and respected mentors and unrivaled business opportunities. To date there have been more than 550 CEOs who have graduated from MindShare, who have in turn gone on to create a unique and valuable alumni network. Past alums include Tim O’Shaughnessy of LivingSocial; Rick Rudman of Vocus; Hemant Kanakia of Torrent Networking Technologies; and Philip Merrick of webMethods.
The MindShare Organizing Board provides a forum exclusively for CEOs to share success stories, as well as some of the biggest challenges that they have faced during their rise to the top. Each session focuses on a differing aspect of nurturing and growing an emerging business.
Two rising stars from this year’s graduating class are Blake Hall of TroopSwap and Hulya Aksu of CriticMania.
HULYA AKSU OF CRITICMANIA
What is CriticMania?
CriticMania is a few things to few groups. CriticMania Expert is a platform where small businesses must qualify and meet criteria set forth by the experts on our staff to have their business information published in a narrative. Most small business owners need support, education and online partners to improve and expand their online identity. That is what we do. CriticMania is a strong ally to the small business community, not another extortionist made to look like a social media platform such as Yelp and the others. This year we will also launch CriticMania Social where users will be able to use a mobile app to check in and post their own reviews with people that matter to them.
Where do you envision CriticMania in five years?
I can’t speculate as technology is constantly shifting and I don’t have a crystal ball. I can only tell you that we will be quick to adapt, adopt the necessary advancements, and improve as quickly as the marketplace demands us to.
From where do you draw your inspiration?
Ive been publishing in print successfully for the last six years. We have won national acclaim, plenty of awards and have met some of the country’s most talented people. Although it’s flattering to be where we are in the community, nothing inspired me the way the small business owners have. Their needs, their passions and their problems have driven me to come up with solutions that are effective and affordable. Our success is measured in the success stories of every single one of my customers.
BLAKE HALL OF TROOPSWAP
What is TroopSwap?
TroopSwap is the first e-commerce platform exclusively for the military and veteran community. Over 23 million living Americans have served in uniform, yet, prior to TroopSwap, there was no efficient way for brands to reach this demographic online because the government doesn’t provide a digital ID for service members and veterans. We are solving this problem by building a fully integrated marketplace where merchants can retail to verified military users via fl ash sales, permanent military discounts and virtual stores. We also plan to give our military members the ability to create their own stores so they can interact with one another inside of a trusted environment. If you can imagine a military marketplace along the lines of an “eBay meets Amazon” then you can see where we are headed.
Where do you envision TroopSwap in five years?
The best brands build an ecosystem that creates value for everyone who interacts with that brand. I love the story of how Vans became a national brand by organizing a world championship for skateboarders. They had no idea that by crowning a champion they were creating an aspirational brand that would position Tony Hawk at the top of the pyramid and young teenagers who wanted to be like him at the bottom. They just decided that the community needed a world championship and that it was the right thing to do. The coolest part of being an entrepreneur is that I have no idea what TroopSwap will be in five years. We simply want to focus on building great products and services that will create tangible value for our community – if those products and services happen to spur massive externalities then so much the better. Ultimately, Matt and I want to create a vibrant community and a platform that will enable the free market to serve the military in ways that the government simply cannot.