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Krystal Zheng: “Do not get overly protective of your “idea””

With SAVR, we’re disrupting the traditional divide between digital and real-world experiences by creating an easily accessible mobile platform that provides gamified content and AR experiences reflective of your real life location. At this crossroads of digital and physical, we can quantify digital engagement with foot traffic, using real life key performance indicators for proprietors […]

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With SAVR, we’re disrupting the traditional divide between digital and real-world experiences by creating an easily accessible mobile platform that provides gamified content and AR experiences reflective of your real life location. At this crossroads of digital and physical, we can quantify digital engagement with foot traffic, using real life key performance indicators for proprietors and brick and mortar businesses.


As a part of our series about business leaders who are shaking things up in their industry, I had the pleasure of interviewing Krystal Zheng.

Krystal Zheng, a marketing maven turned tech founder is making waves in the South Florida tech scene with her new SAVR app, which is designed to draw foot traffic to parks, recreation centers and shopping malls by creating incredible Augmented Reality gamified experiences.

As a young, minority woman in the male-dominated tech industry she’s already getting a lot of praise. In the last year alone she’s been acknowledged by several nationwide competitions, programs and conferences such as Babson WIN (Women Innovating Now) Lab, Google Cloud Startup Program, Forbes 30 Under 30 Summit , U.S. Senate Entrepreneurship Round Table and the Miami Herald Business Pitch Competition.


Thank you so much for doing this with us! Before we dig in, our readers would like to get to know you a bit more. Can you tell us a bit about your “backstory”? What led you to this particular career path?

I’m a marketing professional in the technology space. Back in college as my graduation approached, I blasted my resume to tech companies around Miami in search of a marketing position. I was lucky enough to start an internship at a mobile gaming startup called Let’sRumble. Throughout my time there, I had the opportunity to learn and work closely with the founder and CEO, who was a seasoned entrepreneur.

Throughout my early career, my focus was on improving user growth, retention and engagement. From my experiences in both tech and consumer industries, whether digital or brick and mortar, I noticed that customer engagement was the most crucial and evolving aspect of the business. However, I wasn’t seeing the connection of our real life and digital life; there wasn’t an engagement platform merging the two experiences. So with my technology background, I started to research how to create a platform to connect these valuable customer engagements based on their locations with static and augmented reality. This led me to create SAVR, a real life location based engagement platform with gamified experiences and augmented reality content to create engaging experiences that are fun for the user.

Can you tell our readers what it is about the work you’re doing that’s disruptive?

With SAVR, we’re disrupting the traditional divide between digital and real-world experiences by creating an easily accessible mobile platform that provides gamified content and AR experiences reflective of your real life location. At this crossroads of digital and physical, we can quantify digital engagement with foot traffic, using real life key performance indicators for proprietors and brick and mortar businesses.

Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?

I have made many funny mistakes throughout my entrepreneurial journey, and I’m sure will continue to make more and learn from them. I remember when I first started SAVR I was told to make a business plan. Everything was about making a business plan. I probably spent more time writing and decorating business plans than doing actual market research. Then it came time to start fundraising with the business plan. I was lucky enough to set up pitch meetings with multiple well-known angel and early stage VC groups. I walked into these meetings asking for close to a million dollars to build my platform and soon realized I should have spent more time arming myself with more research to support my ideas, instead of focusing so much on one pretty powerpoint presentation. Looking back now, it was comical how unprepared I was and how people viewed the startup journey. Now after years of learning, building and executing, I’ve realized it’s not just about having an idea and raising capital for it. Maybe that works in a romanticised Silicon Valley TV show, but it’s not enough for a first-time founder in Miami.

This was an important learning step for me to understand and build the current relationships I have with funders in my field. They’ve all known me since the beginning when I was starting with just a pitch deck, to now with a fully operating and revenue generating platform. My investors and I often look back and laugh at how far we’ve come together.

We all need a little help along the journey. Who have been some of your mentors? Can you share a story about how they made an impact?

I’ve been so fortunate to work with some of the most experienced and successful mentors in my field; from my first mentor who guided me through the basics of the startup world, to now operating SAVR under the impact of COVID. One of my mentor group is the Venture Mentoring Team (VMT) in South Florida, we have monthly meetings to ask questions and strategize for SAVR.

My mentors and advisors have provided value and impact to my organization by lending their sharp industry insights. For example, last month my team was approached by a group of real estate developers in Ecuador to establish possible distribution partnerships. Our first reactions to this proposed partnership was to hold our rights to the platform we have developed. However, my mentors provided a different viewpoint with a more constructed evaluation of this partnership opportunity. Having second opinions and an outside perspective is so important to entrepreneurs who might be too laser focused in solving a problem.

In today’s parlance, being disruptive is usually a positive adjective. But is disrupting always good? When do we say the converse, that a system or structure has ‘withstood the test of time’? Can you articulate to our readers when disrupting an industry is positive, and when disrupting an industry is ‘not so positive’? Can you share some examples of what you mean?

Calling a company, technology or product “disruptive” was used to show a valuable new concept, though now can feel like an overly used buzzed word. When I was invited to exhibit at Disrupt Conference 2019 in San Francisco to represent the Miami growing tech space, I saw many innovative concepts and companies at the conference. Some of them are certainly bringing a positive solution to a current problem in their industry or providing a better user experience. But some are just flashy, trying to change the status quo without bringing any true value.

I’ve come across two common ways of thinking amongst fellow entrepreneurs. The first one thinks positive disruption always involves technology or more specifically a mobile application, and the second sees positive disruption as the breaking of traditional patterns in an effort to improve efficiency, user experience, or logistical hurdles.

I’ve spoken with founders who wanted to create an app for pretty much everything and they need to create the app before doing anything. Yet sometimes the problem these apps are aiming to solve can be solved more effectively with different channels, contrary to the popular belief that an app = disruption. I fell into this category when I was starting out. I thought I needed to create an app to achieve SAVR’s goal of connecting consumer engagement with real life locations and digital interaction. I spent time, money and energy into building out my app. Eventually I learned the same goal could be achieved more effectively with a web based platform, and it could potentially bring more growth in the future.

Positive disruption should be the progress of a company or concept evolving to industry problems in search of solutions. Otherwise disruptive ideas can become a time-sucking distraction.

Can you share 3 of the best words of advice you’ve gotten along your journey? Please give a story or example for each.

1). Do not get overly protective of your “idea”

This piece of advice has continuously spurred my business growth to this day. As most entrepreneurs do, I view my company as my baby, which I built from a scribbled napkin to a fully operating platform.

Earlier this year, I was approached by an investor/real estate developer to partner on a Latin America pilot launch and work together by giving them a distribution license. Initially my co-founders and I all felt overly protective of our distribution rights and delayed the process. Thankfully, with the advice of our mentors, we came to realize this was a great opportunity for us to expand and gain market share.

2). Just because it’s outside of your wheelhouse doesn’t mean it’s impossible

As a location based experience platform for popular high foot traffic areas, our platform was greatly impacted when COVID hit. However one of my shipping center clients asked for a web based virtual reality shopping experience that we had never provided before. During my meeting with advisors, I mentioned this service was out of my wheelhouse, but my advisors quickly got my team back on track. This particular customer was asking for a service that presented itself as a need, and I had considered it less just because it was a little out of my comfort zone.

3). Traditional fundraising is not the only source of capital

Since the beginning of my startup journey, everyone I meet at every meeting I attend always wants to know “Have you raised?” or “How much are you raising?” Raising capital has become pretty much every entrepreneur’s goal. It’s true that as a founder, you should always be raising, and being able to raise money will be the only large revenue your startup will see in the beginning phases. However, raising money is certainly not the only source of capital to build a fast growing business in the beginning. This advice was given to me by the author of The Evergreen Startup, I had realized that I was doing it without knowing. I had already been securing and building my business with alternative sources of capital such as an equity incentivized team and revenue share partners.

We are sure you aren’t done. How are you going to shake things up next?

I’ve really honed in on my problem solving skills this year. With these skills, I have been identifying and solving problems I see in my day to day life or in large scale industry shortages. While my team and I work to adapt SAVR to this constantly changing world and prepare to roll out new partnerships, I’ve also branched out a bit into other sectors. Because of COVID, I created another organization that at only 6 months old is revenue generating with sustainable growth that meets and solves industry pain points during the outbreak.

In your opinion, what are the biggest challenges faced by ‘women disruptors’ that aren’t typically faced by their male counterparts?

As a female founder and disruptor, many conversations I’ve been part of have centered around inequitable access to capital. I agree there are gaps of access to capital between male and female founders. But most importantly, if we look at the amount of female and male founders, we have much more male founders than female founders. This is not because women are not disruptive thinkers, but women took longer and more careful measures before becoming a “Founder”. This in fact makes female founders with higher funding returns.

Female founders face a lot of inner challenges and societal stereotypes about how feminine traits affect their speaking, word choice, reactions and responses that could potentially lead to the challenges of acquiring capital, sales, business partners and so on. Understanding our own personal obstacles and how they’re viewed by outsiders and investors is crucial to lock in funding and run a successful business.

Do you have a book, podcast, or talk that’s had a deep impact on your thinking? Can you share a story with us? Can you explain why it was so resonant with you?

I am a big fan of “How I Built This” and “Female Founder Fridays”. Listening to stories of successful disruptors and founders, I often notice the similarities between their processes and experiences before they “made it” and my own. Sometimes I find myself in situations of many pivoting points, so the stories of other disruptors helps me learn to trust the process and understand when to go with my gut.

Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?

“It is all about energy.”

What I have learned from business and self development is that in the universe of energy, you experience and attract similar energies. This is why small affirmations like looking into the mirror every morning and saying “I’ve got this” can be so helpful. It flushes you with positive energy, builds up your confidence and reminds you of your goals. The energy you bring to the table will ultimately change how you approach challenges and bring about innovative solutions.

You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂

As I continue my journey to be an active member of my community both socially and professionally, I see many inequalities hinged on race, gender, and location. Many of these inequalities are caused by lack of access to education, not only in the traditional sense of schooling, but also access to the sharing of content, information and ideas. My movement would be to push for expanded access to information for disadvantaged or often overlooked communities.

How can our readers follow you online?

They can catch up on my company’s news online at https://savr.live or connect with me via LinkedIn.

This was very inspiring. Thank you so much for joining us!

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