George Sibble, the 28-year-old founder, president and CEO of Iridium Development, got about 24 friends and Angels to put $500,000 into his startup's gas tank to launch its SmartFuel gasoline-shopping app on iTunes.
Sibble's not saying how much capital Iridium burned during the six weeks it took for Apple to approve SmartFuel for its dominant online store. Neither would he comment on the financial squeeze that might accompany giving consumers a free 30-day introductory period and then waiting for Apple payments to showup in the driveway, perhaps 90 days after the customer subscribes.
The recently launched SmartFuel app has "more than 2,000" downloads and strong consumer ratings, Sibble said yesterday.
Sibble also declined to comment on plans, if any, for raising further money or whether he'll reapproach investors that have included a privately held regional oil company.
Thus far, Angels from Nashville, Boston and Chicago are in on the deal. There are currently no institutional investors at the table, said Sibble. Sibble confirmed that Germain Böer, head of the Vanderbilt University Owen Graduate School of Management's Owen Entrepreneurship Center, is an Iridium investor, as well as himself.
SmartFuel helps motorist compare gasoline prices among retailers along the driver's route. Asked whether SmartFuel is destined to become a platform for additional services and revenue sources, Sibble acknowledged only that "it's well known that gas stations and convenience stores don't make much on fuel" sales and 80 percent of their profits flow from sales of goods inside the store. He said the company is in talks with "national brands" and is preparing to roll-out an approach to reducing consumer card-swipe fees, while "aligning stores' interests with consumers'" using a "unique rewards program."
Asked about leveraging social media with SmartFuel, he said only that social media, which already factor in subscribers' ratings of retailers' bathrooms and neighborhoods, would play a significant role in SmartFuel's growth. "We think that we've got a real winner on our hands," he added. Asked about competitors, Sibble noted GasBuddy, a price-focused intelligence service that does not provide facility ratings or other services.
Iridium has applied for a patent in which Sibble is the inventor; is preparing to pursue additional patent applications; and is already working with a strategic partner on a second venture concept consistent with Iridium's role as a mobile technology company that builds businesses around content domains, Sibble said.
SmartFuel intellectual property will be held by SmartFuel Technologies, which, like Iridium, will be a Delaware entity, Sibble said. The Technologies unit is to be led by President Michael Sohr, whose is also associated with Keller Williams Realty. Jim Thomasma is an Iridium advisor, Sibble said. Thomasma's LinkedIn says he is a former Alcoa business-development executive and a consultant on mobile, automotive and other sectors.
Prior to founding SmartFuel, Sibble was vice president at Score Holdings, a video game and entertainment retailer; and, director of finance and strategy at Change:Healthcare, which is backed by VC Solidus Co., among others. Sibble earned his MBA at VU's Owen School in 2009 and his Vanderbilt bachelor's in computer engineering in 2006. Prior to Vanderbilt, he attended Milton Academy at Milton, Mass.
Iridium's advisors include Bone McAllester Norton and Tim Osborne CPA in Brentwood, for accounting. Pinnacle Financial is the company's bank. SmartFuel data is drawn from the Oil Price Information Service (United Communications Group). VNC