Area of Focus: Engineering and Business
Graduation Year: Aaron: Spring 2016, Clay: Fall 2017, Anthony: 2011, Paul: 2015 (Master's degree)
“While growing the business, we have had a lot of changing roles, and each one of us has had to learn new skills outside of our comfort zones.”
Four Friends and a Business
Novy Media is an innovative digital advertising business. Established in 2015, the company focuses on connecting businesses to the hard to reach market of travelling business professionals and vacationers. And how does it go about doing this? Novy Media partners with hotels and installs TV screens, connected to the 4G network, in the hotel shuttles. The screens provide a unique benefit for the advertising businesses and their hotel partners. Unlike traditional advertising media, Novy Media allows their clients to rotate through multiple advertisements to promote multiple products or benefits. The hotels benefit by having a dedicated section on the screens to promote their services to their guests. The screens also provide entertainment to the guests, displaying news highlights that are updated twice daily.
The Faces Behind Novy Media
The company is the product of four inspired friends with diverse yet complementary backgrounds, and all sharing similar goals.
Aaron Bartnik is a spring 2016 graduate of the Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering. As an undergraduate student he ran cross-country and track for the Gophers.
Anthony Iverson graduated from the University’s Carlson School of Management in 2011 with a degree in Marketing. While at the University of Minnesota, he was a member of the rugby team, enjoyed intramural sports, and interned with Gopher Sports Marketing.
Paul Hilsen graduated with a master’s degree in Mechanical Engineering in 2015, and like Aaron, ran cross-country and track for the Gophers,.
Clay Kimber is working towards his degree in computer engineering while also working for the University’s OIT Support Services.
Anthony and Paul were friends in high school and their connection continued as roommates in college. Paul and Aaron ran track and cross country together for the University of Minnesota cross country and track teams. Aaron and Clay met when they became lab partners in EE 4341 , the embedded system design course offered by the department.
How was Novy Media born?
The idea took shape when the four friends sat down at Campus Pizza for a meal. By the end of the meal, they had made a decision—they wanted to be their own bosses. And the yet to be named Novy Media would help them achieve their goal. Of course, the particular details of the business would be a matter of constant refinement as the four young men honed their individual strengths, defined their business direction, and sculpted its value proposition.
The process of building the company began with the search for hardware that could wirelessly connect to the Internet and run a display with rotating photos, text, and video. Several levels of prototyping were conducted with a Raspberry Pi, Android PC, and Smart TV.
The Envision Fund functioned as seed money helping the team explore their ideas, and test them and their proposed markets as they first set out. It provided them the opportunity to buy and tinker with various hardware modules including an Android operating system, Raspberry Pi, GPS receiver, 3G USB modem, and Wi-Fi USB adapter.
Each team member harnessed their individual strengths in building up the product and the business. Clay took ownership of the software end of things, while Aaron spent his time evaluating options for supplying wireless data, GPS modules, and powering the device in a vehicle. There were other details to be considered—online platforms built for digital signage, industrial grade televisions bright enough to be viewed outdoors.
For Aaron there were lessons to be learnt every step of the way.
“One of the lessons I learned while working on Novy Media is to make sure you know specific design requirements before you start building. We were so eager to start designing prototypes that we neglected exactly what we wanted our final solution to look like. If we were to start the process over again, I would start by making a list of necessary features (examples: video, sound, news, weather), and then build from there.”
For Anthony, the diversity of the team’s background was an energizing experience. “I really enjoyed working with our team because of our different educational backgrounds. It provided us with a system of checks and balances. We wouldn’t always agree or want to go in the same direction, which allowed us to explore several ideas at the same time to their fullest extent. On my side, I wanted software features that weren’t always feasible; while the engineers wanted hardware with costs that were too high for us to be a viable business. We worked together to come up with the most efficient solution to get our business started.”
Novy Media Now
Currently, the business is partnered with the Embassy Suites in Bloomington and the Quality Inn and Suites in Eagan. The company has a client list from the Minneapolis-Saint Paul Airport (MSP), Mall of America, and the surrounding community. The company is continuing to grow its client (advertisers) and hotel bases. The Novy team is enjoying its contact with local businesses, helping them connect with travelers, and driving business to them. But they are also looking forward to working with bigger brands as they increase their reach on expanding to additional hotels. The goal is to have a presence in 3 to 5 hotels by the end of 2016, reaching approximately 17,000 travelers every month.
The Road Ahead
With most of the technical details having been ironed out, the task of running the company has transitioned to primarily a job of marketing. Having reached this stage, Aaron and Clay decided to move on and continue down their respective technical paths. Anthony is managing the company, and Paul is currently in the National Guard, due to be returning shortly.
For Aaron, finding spare time to engage in entrepreneurial work as a fulltime student was not easy. “I worked it into my schedule as I would a hobby. To be successful in the long term, I believe that the work must truly be a passion. If the work is fun, you can have a healthy work-life balance even while spending most of your free time on work. When we started Novy Media we were aware of the statistics indicating that the majority of startups fail. We certainly never used this as an excuse to give up, but we knew that even if Novy Media never brought in a steady paycheck we could move on knowing that much of our time working on the company was fun and exciting.” Asked if has any takeaways for students interested in exploring the entrepreneurial path, he says, “While growing the business, we have had a lot of changing roles, and each one of us has had to learn new skills outside of our comfort zones.”
* In the photograph, from left to right: Aaron Bartnik, Paul Hilsen, Anthony Iverson