Keith Fix shed tears the first time he saw his product in a Target store in Chicago.
The Norfolk native and founder of blabfeed — a digital marketing technology company — was so overcome by the moment, he couldn’t contain his emotion.
“I’ve had to hustle my whole life to get there,” Fix said of his struggles. “I had to walk to the back of the aisle, and I bawled. It was a very emotional moment.”
Fix — who once had struggled to find enough money for food and clothing for school — started blabfeed from an idea he had to make shopping and retail experiences more engaging, interactive and actionable for business owners and consumers.
About four years ago, Fix received a $150,000 investment from Ho-Chunk, the economic development company wholly owned by the Winnebago Tribe of Nebraska, to get his idea up and running. Fix has since brought a ninefold return to that investment and now, at 27 years old, is working more closely with the tribe to find ways for more tribal members to benefit from his company’s success.
Fix set out to create digital signage to help business owners enhance their in-store experience for customers while he was attending college at the University of Nebraska. During a business competition at the university, Fix stood on a stage and described the evolution of the web in three stages.
“The first generation of web companies — Web 1.0, if you will — was about getting people connected. ... Web 2.0 was about connecting people online, think Google and social media. ... Web 3.0 was about bringing those digital experiences into the real world,” he said.
Blabfeed’s products are part of that third generation. Many of its displays are touch sensitive, creating interactive opportunities that allow clients to collect analytical data to help businesses improve their clients’ and customers’ experiences.
“It’s all about creating the info we have offline and spinning it out in a digital format that’s cost effective and generates a really strong ROI (return on investment) for businesses that implement it,” he said.
The company’s client list include places like CHI Health, Target and Summit Dental. Most recently, it scored a contract to outfit hundreds of taxis in Dubai with unique signage and wireless internet technology.
While the analytics gathered is helpful for businesses, Fix said blabfeed has taken measures to make sure the information stays private.
“One of the big questions we always have is about right to privacy in public spaces,” he said. “We’ve taken additional measures to ... make sure none of the info we collect can be traced back to an individual.”
Fix is now working more closely with the Ponca Tribe to find ways for more tribal members to benefit from his company’s success. His plans for 2017 include creation of a native intern program, the launch of a web development school for tribal members and a micro-business grant fund.
Fix said his relationship with the tribe has made his company stronger, and he wants to help others whose ideas are in need of support.
“We want to get everyone to the same starting point to give everyone a chance. ... I don’t want start-up capital to be what holds someone behind,” he said. “Someone took a chance on me. It’s time we continue that circle forward.”
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Correction: A previous version of this story stated that Fix received a $150,000 investment from a Ponca Tribe member, which was an error. The story has since been updated.