By Trevor Hurst
Dayne Rusch, 21, was sitting through a lecture in his Pre-Business class at UW Oshkosh in 2014 when he had an epiphany that would change his life forever.
His professor was talking about the importance of major businesses having a social media presence. It was during this lecture Rusch learned about Hootsuite, a popular app for business professionals that allows them to access all their social media accounts from one convenient database. The app lets businesses track statistics on their usage and engagement, as well as respond to comments posted on their social media from customers.
Rusch loved the idea of centralizing all the social media platforms people use today into one location. Hootsuite was perfect for businesses, but there was still a hole in the market for everyday users. He wanted to develop an app that increased social media’s ease of access, while simultaneously ceasing the rampant growth of negative effects tied to social media addiction.
Rusch took it upon himself to fill that hole and, voila, Pyxsee was born— well, the idea at least.
According to the app’s website, “Pyxsee is to social media what a ‘Swiss army knife’ is to a bottle opener, a unique, easy to use social media complier that brings all of your favorite social networks into one unified place.”
Rusch said he knew he had struck gold with his idea and had to tell someone, and he wasted no time calling the person he knew could help his plan sprout some legs.
“After the thought, I stood up in the middle of class and immediately called my dad, who himself is an entrepreneur, to tell him my idea,” Rusch said.
From here, Rusch and his father began working tirelessly on bringing his idea to life. Neither Rusch nor his father had any technical background at the time, but both were determined to make the app a success. Unfortunately, Rusch said this lack of experience caused the duo to hit a snafu early in the developmental process.
“The first developmental firm we did a contract with ended up running out of capital and couldn’t finish our product,” Rusch said.
The two were left with 75 percent of the app’s coding completed, a heaping pile of debt and a surplus of questions regarding their next move. Rusch had a decision to make: either scrap the project he invested countless hours of hard work and resources into to salvage his financial crisis, or take a risk and trust that another developmental firm could complete the task of bringing his plan to fruition.
Driven by his belief that Pyxsee could change the face of the booming social media business altogether, Rusch chose the latter. He sent the ragtag pieces of his app to India, where, he said, “services tend to be cheaper and are done in a timely manner,” hoping developers there would send him back something that resembled a final product.
Rusch’s gamble paid off, and soon he had a working product on his hands. This left him with a new-but-welcomed problem: getting people to actually use it.
He quickly got to work, sending out emails in droves to anybody he felt could get his brainchild off and running. For months, he was either in meetings forming potential partnerships, or on the road trying to get to one. Rusch said his efforts did not go unnoticed in the startup community.
“After months of taking trips, meetings and email blasts, I was able to build a strong community and I quickly became recognized throughout the local startup community,” Rusch said.
His continuous grind paid off, and he was able to form an advisory board whose members boasted some breathtaking credentials. The three-member team is comprised of Nathan Litt, whose creativity and experience with startups has been invaluable in making Pyxsee come to life, according to Rusch; Neil Mix, who has spent more than 20 years in product development and was one of the original software engineers for Pandora Radio; and Roger Orlady, who specializes in strategic and financial planning for startups seeking aggressive growth.
Rusch and his star-studded team have utilized many of the resources offered through UW Oshkosh, where Rusch is a student. He has worked through the university’s Alta Resources Center for Entrepreneurship and Innovation (CEI) to research his target market and receive funding for his app.
The CEI offers a variety of programs to help entrepreneurs develop research strategies to figure out what products their target market is looking for and provides them with the resources necessary to create those products, as well as connecting them with interns and business associates who can help their ideas grow.
Through the CEI’s Accelerator Program, a 12-week startup program that provides resources and funding to budding entrepeneurs, Rusch spoke to 100 members of his target market and discovered that parents were frustrated with the amount of time their kids were spending on their phones, but were powerless to stop it.
He said this discovery was one of the key moments in his app’s development.
“One of the main reasons why I created Pyxsee was the simple fact of people spending too much time on their virtual worlds instead of exploring and experiencing the real world,” Rusch said. “Kids are getting social media at younger ages and parents have absolutely no way to control their kids’ social media use besides taking away their phones.”
Rusch used the funding he received from the Accelerator Program to overhaul his app. No longer was his main focus saving users time by conveniently placing all social media sites in one location. Now, he was using his main idea to make it easier for parents to regulate the time their kids spent on their phones.
Rusch developed a groundbreaking subscription service that gives parents the power to set limits on their kids’ online usage. For $50 a year, parents are given an account that allows them to set a timer that disables their kids’ ability to go on any of the social media sites within the app when the time runs out.
Rusch said he hopes these new features address the troubling trends of social media use among America’s youth. According to Pew Research Center, 24% of teens go online “almost constantly.” The continuous use of these sites causes many users to experience symptoms of addiction, feelings of loneliness and even depression.
While it is still early in the lifespan of these new features (they became publically available through Apple’s app store in mid-December), Rusch has already received validation that his ideas carry merit.
On Nov. 14, Rusch participated in UWO’s annual Culver’s Business Model Contest. He went up against eight other startups, pitching his business model to a panel of judges. Rusch went home with first place—and an $18,600 check to fund Pyxsee’s future expenses— for his efforts.
Two days later, Rusch took his idea to Madison to compete against 17 other startups in the Elevator Pitch Olympics at the Early Stage Symposium. He had 90 seconds, or approximately the length of an elevator ride, to explain his business idea to a crowd of 600 people, including more than 80 investors. Again, Rusch took home the gold.
Rusch said he plans to use his winnings to improve the marketing of his product through online ads and parental blogs and websites. Pyxsee already has more than 10,000 active users, but Rusch believes that number can increase dramatically if more people see the value in his app.
The young entrepreneur has big plans for the future: He hopes to be featured on ABC’s wildly popular show Shark Tank, which gives successful tycoons the opportunity to invest in startup companies like Pyxsee. Rusch said he also plans on fine-tuning the new parental features of the app.
Rusch said he knows the journey of turning Pyxsee into as recognizable a name as apps like Twitter and Facebook is just beginning. But Rusch, who is no stranger to hard work, said he embraces these challenges with open arms.
“In the words of Henry Ford, ‘Whether you think you can, or think you can’t—you’re right,’” Rusch said.
Image: Photo of Dayne Rusch by Trevor Hurst.