Market research is key. The best question to ask yourself, “is there a need for my app?” If so, how can I make my app more efficient to compete in the market? Who are my potential competitors? What’s my niche in the market? What makes my product different?
As part of my series about the “5 Lessons I Learned When I Created My App or SAAS”, I had the pleasure of interviewing Jamel Robinson, the Founder and Chief Executive Officer of Melini. Jamel is disrupting the review market with an online bodyguard that prevents misleading reviews. Melini is giving consumers “a review with a view’ from real people, not bots. Jamel has been featured on Entrepreneur Magazine Elevator Pitch Season 4, where he showcased Melini for the first time. With a B.S. in Criminal Justice, Jamel has seven years of experience with UI/ UX development. As a part-time travel blogger, he shares his expertise and reliable recommendations to help people find the best places to eat, shop, and hang out all over the United States.
Thank you so much for joining us! Our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better. Can you tell us a bit about your ‘backstory’ and how you got started?
I have been an entrepreneur with a strong passion for art and technology since early childhood. On October 23rd, 1990, in Queens, New York, my life took a spin as I was delivered into this world. I was listed 12 pounds 7 oz.; the doctor decided to pull me out instead of considering other options. As a result, he tore the nerves in my left arm, which left me partially paralyzed. As a child, I experienced physical and mental abuse, which led to depression and anxiety. I was not aware of my limitations physically until society went out of their way to acknowledge. My mom told me at an early age that I’m an overcomer, anything I put my mind too I can accomplish. Those words lit up this fire inside of me, gave me the drive to fearlessly strive for big goals, and inspire others around.
My first job at the age of 7 was as a sales rep/chef assistant for my father’s catering company. I went door-to-door in Brooklyn, NY, promoting and selling services and stayed up long hours preparing food for events.
As a student to my father, I was inspired, through his setbacks and success, to remain persistent under pressure. My father taught me that “things don’t always go as planned, you must push through with resilience until you reach your goals.” Working with my father and brother was priceless; the wisdom and insight my father allowed us to experience, lead me to my entrepreneurial path.
I started Melini during the summer of 2014, in my college apartment. My father and I had the vision to create a local video guide app that was created by real people, not bots. We experienced firsthand how one fake review can make or break a business. My father’s catering service was doing great until a customer made him aware of phony Yelp reviews left by distinct fake profiles. The misleading reviews deterred potential sales and affected his bottom line. Shortly after my father and I created the concept of what is now known as Melini, he passed away. This traumatic event shifted my life and was a significant turning point that allowed me to manifest this vision for my father and family legacy. The growing problem of fake reviews on the top review is how Melini was born. As such, Melini protects local businesses like my father’s business. Melini targets millennials, an age group that wants to see it, to believe it.
What was the “Aha Moment” that led you to think of the idea for your current company?
Can you share that story with us?
Ayesha Curry’s restaurant in Houston, Texas, was hit with tons of one-star reviews on Yelp by salty NBA fans before her restaurant even opened. This event was breaking news on every major network (CNBC, FOX, CNN), which validated the problem with fake reviews.
Every day small business owners are exposed to the power of online reviews. Third-party companies or fake customers create 90% of the top review site recommendations. This problem is influencing the buying power of millions of people who can make or break a business.
Knowing this resulted in me researching and scoping out a plan to create a video only local guide app that’s protected by an online bodyguard and powered by Artificial Intelligence. My vision is to enhance the experience for consumers to be able to search less and experience more by watching 30 sec verified video reviews without second-guessing the review recommendations.
Can you tell us a story about the hard times that you faced when you first started your journey? Did you ever consider giving up? Where did you get the drive to continue even though things were so hard?
The road of entrepreneurship is not easy, but worth it. Yes, I’ve struggled along the way. I had a tough time staying focus after my dad passed away. I battled depression and anxiety back then, and I still do. I had to sacrifice a lot to get to where I am today. When I started Melini, I had to hire a development team and fund the company. The need for funds required me to max out student loans, take out personal loans, and work for Uber to fund my start-up. To explain further, it’s nothing like being on a strict app development budget to only get scammed by developers. The development team I hired in Kansas claimed they had knowledge and experience with coding a video platform, but time revealed the truth. It was an expensive lesson I learned, but I’m happy it happened. As a result, I reshaped and strategized my ideas as I searched for the next team and created a better, more innovative, Melini.
Throughout all of these downfalls, giving up was never an option. I invested so much time and resources into a vision that I know will innovate the review market and help small business owners.
When times get tough as an entrepreneur, I remember the multiple obstacles my mom faced to ensure that she was able to provide for her children. My mother’s strength, resilience, and optimism are why I push through every challenge, no matter what. She made a way and never made excuses; that mindset was instilled in me and helped me get to where I am today.
So, how are things going today? How did your grit and resilience lead to your eventual success?
Everything is going great! Through the good and bad moments of my journey, I know that each setback is a blessing in disguise. Staying prepared even when there were no opportunities, led to Melini’s debut feature on Entrepreneur Magazine Elevator Pitch (Season 4). Soon, Melini will be showcased at Forbes Under 30.
Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lessons or ‘takeaways’ you learned from that?
It’s funny now that everything worked out, but in October of 2014, I made the biggest mistake! I hired my first contract developer and believed I could have an App ready to launch in 90 days with no problems. I was wrong! Development takes time. I was rushing only to fail, but I quickly learned that I need to be patient and let Melini grow in all areas of business.
What do you think makes your company stand out? Can you share a story?
Melini is where customer reviews come to life. We made it simple! With Melini, customers can only share their experience at the business location in real-time or verify through QR code. Our 30-sec video only reviews allow users to capture consumer’s experiences with fun gif animations and filters. Customers need to “see it, to believe it!” We take the second-guessing out of reviews with our online bodyguard that blocks fake reviews at the front door. Melini’s user-friendly platform allows people to “search less and experience more” and gives users direct access to a community of expert friends, bloggers, and influencers.
Which tips would you recommend to your colleagues in your industry to help them to thrive and not “burn out”?
My approach to minimize burnout is to be patient and work smarter, not harder. I like to plan my day by making a power list of 5 essential tasks that I need to complete. It’s vital to take care of your mental health. Be sure to make time for yourself outside of the business. I realized that taking power naps help recharge my mind and allows me to have more clarity and focus.
None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful to who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story?
I am grateful for my mother; she has given me the confidence to overcome any obstacle. She pushed me to dream bigger despite being partially paralyzed, always to strive for more, and make an impact. My mother worked her way to the top with grit and without a degree or excuses. I always knew my mother was a superhero. If it were not for my mother praying over my life and believing in me at an early age, I would not be where I am today.
I will never forget, I wanted to play sports in elementary school, but the doctor said: “You’re not cleared to play due to your condition.” Instead of hearing about possibilities, I was told what my limitations were. My mother pulled me to the side and said: “don’t let a doctor discourage you from your dreams; you can do anything you put your mind to.”
Ok, thank you for all that. Now let’s shift to the main focus of this interview. Approximately how many users or subscribers does your app or software currently have? Can you share with our readers three of the main steps you’ve taken to build such a large community?
We have 5,000 subscribers that are ready for the soft launch on October 23rd in Atlanta, Georgi. Melini will be available in the Apple store only. The Android release date is TBA. We had a successful private beta with 500 testers to help us ensure the app is user-friendly while debugging the glitches.
What is your monetization model? How do you monetize your community of users? Have you considered other monetization options? Why did you not use those?
Melini is free for all consumers/users to explore through the app.
We offer advertising space for business owners using a cost per click auction model. This model helps business owners create exposure on our explore page, search engines, and competitor pages. The minimum budget to advertise is $5.00 per day or $150/monthly.
Based on your experience and success, what are the five most important things one should know before one wants to start an app or a SAAS? Please share a story or an example for each.
The five things you need to know to start an app company is:
1. Market research is key. The best question to ask yourself, “is there a need for my app?” If so, how can I make my app more efficient to compete in the market? Who are my potential competitors? What’s my niche in the market? What makes my product different?
2. Join an accelerator program near you. These programs help you learn what you need to be most effective when starting your company. They provide additional resources, such as mentors, events, and investors.
3. New ideas will begin to flow the more you focus on your craft, so be sure to write all your ideas on paper or smartphone.
4. Create a functionality plan for your app. Visualize how it will look and sketch it on paper. I use a software called “Sketch” to create UI design mock-ups.
5. If you don’t have coding experience, there are online classes and tutorial programs on YouTube. If you’re able to hire a contractor, you can find experienced developers on Upwork.
You are a person of great influence. If you could start 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. 🙂
My movement would be changing the perception of reviews. I would call it, “The Honest Reviews Movement.” I’m passionate about utilizing social media and video platforms to protect local business owners’ online reputation. Statistics show that 55% of people watch videos online every day. Since more users are engaged and inclined to share video content, I know that this movement would have millions join. It’s incredible what verified reviews can do to a business’s reputation and bottom line. As a millennial, I know how important it is to provide value to potential consumers. We’re in the day and age where consumers want to “see it, to believe it.” This movement will allow local businesses to become the go-to source, offer creditability, and help gain social/community presence.
How can our readers follow you on social media?
This was very inspiring. Thank you so much for joining us!