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App connects people for group outings

Creator goes from aerospace engineer to entrepreneur in one weekend after winning at the SCV Startup

Posted: November 1, 2012 2:00 a.m.
Updated: November 1, 2012 2:00 a.m.

Michael LaRue, creator of Zejoop, works with his team on the winning project, Zejoop, at Startup Weekend. Seated behind LaRue are (from left) Joshua Maddux, Bruce Whitney, Dennis Cheung and George Vamos. Not shown are Jeremiah Bergman and Brian Ragazzi.

 

Michael LaRue went from being a former aerospace engineer to entrepreneur in one weekend when he launched Zejoop, a mobile app for social event planning, at the SCV Startup Santa Clarita event held Oct. 5 through 7.

A former aerospace engineer for some of the world’s leading aerospace and defense firms — Boeing, Northrop Grunman and Rockwell — LaRue once worked on the B2 bomber, NASA’s space shuttle, and classified projects with national security implications.

But, within the engineer was an entrepreneur struggling and waiting to emerge.

“I’m an artist at heart,” LaRue said. “I’ve studied a lot of dance and played guitar. In the mid-90s I made it very close to getting into Disney animation based on my portfolio of life drawings.”



New beginnings

Winner of the Startup Weekend Santa Clarita event, LaRue brought his concept to a group of techies who joined him over the weekend to put together a startup company. Members of the high-tech community liked the idea and worked to support it at the entrepreneurial event.

“It was a trailblazing situation,” LaRue said. “The team formed around me for purposes of this weekend. Not everyone at the event was from Santa Clarita, but, the judges didn’t know where people came from. It was a feather in the cap of Santa Clarita that a Santa Clarita company won.”

LaRue won a working lunch with Clearstone Venture Partners of Palo Alto and Santa Monica, and a free incorporation package and six hours of legal counseling from Fortis General Counsel LLP, one of the event sponsors. His meeting with Clearstone Venture Partners takes place Nov. 5.

In the meantime, he’s been the recipient of lots of mentoring for which he’s very grateful. And that has given LaRue a greater sense of direction since the Startup Weekend, he said.



Mentoring

“I wasn’t prepared to win,” LaRue said. “I was prepared to participate. But then I went from being an engineer with a good idea to an entrepreneur starting up a business.”

Voldi Way, of Santa Clarita-based WayForward Technologies, was the first person to give me really positive feedback and good advice about Zejoop as a mobile app, LaRue said. Way has been very generous of his time and very helpful. He’s a great guy, LaRue said.

He has also had meetings with Erick Arndt and Brian Tippy, organizers of the Startup Weekend Santa Clarita, he said. Both have been very helpful, he added, because they’re both founders of local startup companies themselves. LaRue said both men are helping him formulate his plans and giving him tips to avoid the common pitfalls many startup owners fall into.

LaRue represents so many people in this economy, who after stellar careers are reinventing themselves, Arndt said.

“He’s got the courage to actually do something about it no matter how scary it is,” Arndt said. “He’s the underdog; Rocky of the current economic situation.”

People need to know that they can recreate themselves, Arndt said. And that’s especially important to know in this economy to know that a person can move on to something else.

“He’s just a great story about not sitting back and hoping things get better; it’s about taking the bull by the horns and making your own destiny and writing your own story,” Arndt said. “I think he is going to inspire a lot of people to follow suit.”

In the meantime, LaRue is busy building his new company.



Zejoop

Zejoop was designed as a social media app for people to easily plan informal get-togethers — like play golf or go to the movies, LaRue said.

In the few weeks since his startup idea won the weekend competition, he’s been busy not only getting good advice, but is also working on building experiments that validate the concept behind the social media app to prove its viability.

LaRue wants to be as prepared as possible for when he presents to venture capitalists  and angel investors. Having a concrete working model is more important than coming up with a really slick demo at this point, he said.

And LaRue has also been working on a model to create incentives for the planning of activities, by working with businesses to provide discounts if groups of people visit their venue based on Zejoop’s group gathering capability.

And, LaRue is also working on integrating the social media app smoothly with the calendars on smart phones.

“It’s a fantastic horizon-expanding experience for me,” LaRue said of the experience he’s had since the Startup Weekend occurred. “I’m ready to run with it and take it as far as I can go.”

More information can be found online at http://zejoop.com or by emailing michael@zejoop.com.

jadkins@the-signal.com

661-287-5599

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