Welcome to another profile of a dynamic African-American female in the tech space. I’ve got a special treat for you today that should touch many of the fans of this series. I recently had the opportunity to connect with a fellow tech colleague in the mobile space, Michelle Fisher. She is CEO and Founder of Blaze Mobile, a technology company that develops innovative mobile commerce, health care, banking and advertising solutions. The company’s product suite includes a mobile wallet, mobile advertising network and NFC-enabling payment stickers. Now, some might not understand what all that is just yet; but Michelle will certainly explain. And given that we African-Americans out-index in mobile usage and expenditures, I know you will find her profile and company of interest. Read on!
Current Occupation: CEO and founder of Blaze Mobile
Favorite website: www.blazemobile.com …of course! =)
2012′s ultimate goal: Blaze Mobile becomes the clear market leader for mobile wallets and mobile contact-less transactions including payment, ID, funds transfer, and more.
Quote that Inspires You: ”The arc of the moral universe is long but it bends towards justice.” – Dr. Martin Luther King
Twitter handle: @BlazeMobileNews
LdC: So I learned that you attended Stanford. No doubt it gave you a foundation for what you are doing today. What was it like attending that university?
MF: Igot my Master’s degree there and loved it. It was challenging intellectually. The professors, some of whom had Nobel Peace Prizes and were leaders in their field, were friendly and supportive.
LdC: I know that shortly after Stanford, you were offered a position at Microsoft. How did you obtain that position and what was it like?
MF: After launching Media Park at Pacific Bell, there was a lot of press coverage and I got a lot of job offers including one from Microsoft, which was a very challenging environment. A lot of smart people. A humbling environment. Exciting time to be at a company and work in a new part of the business – the Internet Group as it was being born and that was run like a start up . Microsoft gave me opportunity to try something new every year and learn how to develop commercial internet services on a global scale.
LdC: Fantastic. So from there, what were the series of events that led you to start Blaze Mobile?
MF: Afterleaving Microsoft, I took a year off to recharge. I knew I was ready tofinally start a company. I was at a small specialty retail store near my house. When I got to the check-out stand the cashier asked for my loyalty card, which would enable me to get a great discount. I didn’t have it with me since it was a store that I rarely shopped at. I didn’t have enough space to carry all of my loyalty cards, like most people unless you carry a backpack. I was literally hitting my pockets wishing I had the card with me on something I was already carrying like a credit card or my mobile phone. That’s when the light bulb went off and the idea came to me to develop software to enable me to not only track my loyalty points, but to pay for goods, check my account balance and more.
LdC: Talk to me a bit about how important patents are in this space and how your company uses them specifically?
MF: Extremely important. They level the playing field. Become a barrier to entry and source of revenue. Patents are a true asset.
LdC: So, what was it like raising money for your venture and what advice do you have for others?
MF: I raised money for my venture all from angel investors which include family, friends, former co-workers, classmates, colleagues, and complete strangers. My advice is to tap into your network for angel investors.
LdC: There aren’t a ton of Black women in exec positions in the mobile space right now. What are your suggestions for encouraging more women of color to get involved in the mobile space from a career stand point?
MF: Do it. I decided to work in corporate America first and hone my skills and save money. Then, I started my company, But, if you have a great idea and it does not cost a lot to start, I encourage you to go for it. The most important thing is to first file a patent for your idea before you share it with anyone else to protect it.
LdC: Michelle, have you ever felt that race and/or gender what a hurdle for you to cross? If so, how did you handle it?
MF: Yes,especially in raising money from venture capitalists. They are trained to fund in companies that they have invested in the past – pattern recognition. Since there are very few women and people of color that have been funded by VC’s, by definition we don’t fit the criteria for a company to invest in. Unfortunately, I have seen them invest money in intheir portfolio companies who fit the “pattern” and copy my ideas. So, I kept raising money from angel investors and continued to patent my ideas so that I would be protected.
LdC: Love this work with Media Park (a forward reaching broadband service that connected creative professionals in Hollywood, Silicon Valley and New York to digital content libraries.) How did you get involved in that?
MF: Iwas working at Pacific Bell at the time and selling executives at our largest companies on using telecommunications services to network branch offices and deliver value added services such as video over broadband. During the evening, I was taking classes on how to make multimedia CD-ROMs using a MAC. I made one for Motown that I got to pitch to them which was exciting. I found myself going to store every weekend to get things I needed like additional storage to encode video, clip art. Etc., It occurred to me that during my day job I was promoting networked service to transfer digital assets, but during the weekends, I was driving around in my car to get digital assets. It occurred to me that a network service could be used to provide me with access to all the digital assets and supplies I needed for multimedia production and that other creative professionals might benefit from it too. So, I pitched a senior executive at Pac Bell on the idea. She likedit and asked me to develop a business plan which I did. I presented it to her and the CFO and got $2M in funding to develop the idea.
LdC: You are no joke! What has response been to it?
MF: I ran it for a year and the response was overwhelming. As mentioned earlier, there was a lot of press coverage from the SF Chronicle, Wall Street Journal, etc. After I left and went to Microsoft, Pacific Bell couldn’t find anyone else to run it and they decided that their core competency was network services vs. content and value-added service so they didn’t continue it.
LdC: Wow, so after all this; what’s your greatest hope for the mobile arena for 2012?
MF: Mobile payment [industry] continues to grow.
That does it for this installment. Stay tuned for the next profile. Until then stay up on all the tech events and more by following me on Twitter @mediaempress.