June 29, 2016

The Asheville-based tech company is scaling up and putting a better touring experience in everyone’s pocket

Paul HedgecockPaul Hedgecock describes himself as an ideas guy, a serial entrepreneur with would-be businesses always bouncing around his mind. So in 2013, when he realized he had an insight that could really be something but needed time to develop, he pulled another related but less disruptive business out of his head to bridge the financial gap between idea and go-to-market. Fast forward to today, and he’s now focused full-time on his high-potential bright idea turned reality: the touring app UGoTour. In fact, he credits these practical business decisions—to take time cultivating a concept then give it undivided attention once ready for execution—with his success.

Just what was the spark that started it all? After Hedgecock moved to WNC in 2013, he and his family hopped in the car every chance they could to explore their new backyard. They quickly logged many miles but also racked up disappointing experiences. For example, while driving down I-26, they noticed the sign for Historic Saluda. It piqued their interest, so Hedgecock looked on his phone—don’t worry, he was in the passenger seat—to see if and why he should pull over for a visit.

“I take a couple of minutes, but I can’t find anything that engages me,” he recalls. When he gets home, he realizes they missed Historic Thompson’s Store, the oldest grocery store in the state. He’s disappointed, and thinks to himself that touring should be much easier in this day and age.

Engaging Touring Experiences Made Easy

The seed for his UGoTour app was planted. Its aim? To create deeper, more meaningful touring experiences by creating deeper, more meaningful connections between people, places, and stories.

It’s audio stories—along with curated tours—that distinguish UGoTour from other travel apps, Hedgecock says, although it provides the basics as well, such as a map, image, and text. UGoTour becomes a “friend in your pocket,” he describes, letting tourists experience destinations as a local would and locals experience a more profound relationship with home.

“When people listen to our stories, they’re 90 percent more likely to visit the place,” Hedgecock shares. That’s a big deal to the restaurants, shops, and other businesses that have signed up as part of the tours—Hedgecock’s entrepreneurial dream helps support theirs. Because visitors have listened to an engaging story about the business or historical site, they’re more engaged when they arrive, staying longer, spending more, and coming back again and again.

Hedgecock refined this idea for about two years before an official launch. In 2013, he knew the concept was too early to attract funders or qualify for a loan, so he founded eCBiz Solutions, a web development agency. After all, he had expertise in e-commerce from earlier entrepreneurial endeavors, including a thriving chain of eBay consignment stores in Arizona. eCBiz quickly became a success, and he applied for and was accepted into our ScaleUp WNC program. His growth plan was to scale the agency, get it thriving even more, then focus on building UGoTour into the company he knew it could be.

Scaling Up By Narrowing Down

UGoTour AppBut, he quickly realized that wasn’t the right, well, trip to take. “One of the biggest things I got out of ScaleUp was realizing I wasn’t going to be able split my time effectively between both businesses,” Hedgecock says.

From that point on, he used the program to get serious about UGoTour, and to hone core business elements, including the product-market fit, pricing model, and customer adoption process, so the company would be ready to grow efficiently.

“Being successful in business requires a wide variety of skills. If you could learn it all in a classroom, then an MBA would be a golden ticket,” he chuckles, acknowledging that, while helpful, a degree certainly doesn’t guarantee a successful company. “The reality is you build these skills experientially by applying new ideas or tactics in your business and learning from the feedback. For me, going through ScaleUp helped me work on the business in addition to in the business, by harnessing the experiences I had and then adding to and enhancing those skills for this specific company.”

He graduated from the program in September of 2015 and by December had landed several paying customers, including Black Mountain Chamber of Commerce and McDowell County TDA, and launched the app with their tours. The business was revenue positive.

Building a Tour Team

At that point, he approached Mountain BizWorks for a loan, which he received through our Advantage Opportunity Fund—a fund focused on early-stage, often tech-based, companies with strong growth potential. He used the money to improve UGoTour’s technology—there have been several iterations of the app to date—and to attend an important trade show to open expansion opportunities.

The funds also allowed him to hire a team; before the loan it was just Hedgecock and a couple of others whenever he could pay them. It was a “lonely road,” he describes. He now has a total of eight full-time and part-time employees. As a result, he’s shortened the time it takes to develop their trademarked StoryPoint™ tales from six weeks to two weeks. And, he has the support of the Mountain BizWorks team and the fellow entrepreneurs he met through ScaleUp WNC, as well as Venture Asheville’s Elevate program.

“I’ve always believed that a rising tide lifts all boats,” he says, acknowledging that he’s part of an emerging tech sector here in WNC. “There are some companies that could be seen as competitors,” he notes. “But programs such as ScaleUp and Elevate allows us to meet and build relationships with people in similar industries…to share resources and lean on each other.” In other words, while building UGoTour into a thriving tool for connection, Hedgecock has built deeper, more meaningful relationships himself—success all around.

To learn more about UGoTour and put the free, friendly touring app in your pocket, visit ugotour.com. For information about working with Mountain BizWorks to launch or grow your business, visit the lending, learning, and ScaleUp WNC pages of our website.