by: Megan McPherson
This summer, the Dingman Center will be conducting interviews with the eight student startups who are participating in the Terp Startup summer incubator phase of our Fearless Founders accelerator program. Participating student entrepreneurs received $3,500 stipends that would enable them to work exclusively on their startups over six weeks in the summer.
The plight of the American small business owner is an issue so ubiquitous, it can be easy to take for granted. Even if the product is excellent, a business can easily fail if customers don’t have a strong identification with their brand. Against the immense advertising budget of a competing corporate Goliath, small business owners attempting to promote their business are armed with a futile collection of advertising options that feel cripplingly expensive as well as ineffective. But now small business owners can rejoice knowing they have a new champion fighting on their behalf, a veritable David with a slingshot: founder Dustin Ecton and his startup, TapTime TV, a fully customizable entertainment channel installed on televisions in bars and restaurants that doubles as a platform for local advertising.
So how does it work? Dustin partners with a local bar or restaurant to set up his TapTime TV channel either for free on an existing TV, or they can buy a new one (which they then own). The channel itself is a rotating slideshow of sports updates, weather forecasts, jokes, trivia and ads, with ample space for the bar or restaurant to place their own ongoing promotions. The remaining ad spots are sold to non-competing local businesses for as little as $19.99 a month for three plays per hour. For the restaurant, Dustin says, “It’s a win win because they get to put all their promotions up, they get entertainment, and they don’t have to pay for it.” And as for local businesses, Dustin told me that his first customer, a hair salon, gained a new client only a day after placing their ad on TapTime TV. The client saw the ad in their local bar, probably while awaiting the answer to a particularly perplexing trivia question. Compare TapTime TV’s inexpensive, customer-facing approach to advertising in a local paper, which can cost up to hundreds of dollars for a small area of a page that may never be noticed at all, and you can see its immediate appeal for small business owners.
Dustin’s passion for fighting on behalf of the little guy is well-written in his history as an entrepreneur. Like many small business owners, Dustin has been unafraid to take the road less traveled and get his hands dirty. He dropped out of college after his first year to start a business. When his business didn’t take off, he sold cars to make ends meet while working on side hustles, including a Go Green retail stall in his local mall. In 2009, he started working for a local ad agency for small businesses called DigMe TV, which attempted a business model similar to TapTime TV that was unfortunately too ahead of its time (televisions were more expensive back then, making the margins too low). In 2011 he left to start his own ad agency, Ecton Media, where he discovered firsthand the kind of obstacles local businesses were facing: extremely low ad budgets, poorly designed websites (or no website) and some businesses even lacked logos. Moved to provide better service for his customers, Dustin went back to school to study marketing, splitting his time between community college and his ad agency. Eventually he was able to transfer to the Robert H. Smith School of Business at University of Maryland, where he completed his bachelors degree in Marketing this past May. At the same time, he was able to sell Ecton Media and make strides in launching his next big entrepreneurial venture, TapTime TV.
During his time at Terp Startup, Dustin was able to reach out to bars and restaurants in the Bowie and Crofton area and install TapTime TV at several sites. While his website was being built, he was going out and getting to know his customers and their needs. When I asked him plainly what drove him to consider the needs of small local businesses over more lucrative possibilities, he answered honestly, “Helping local businesses is what I like to do.” Rather than trying to squeeze his budget-conscious customers for the highest price point possible, he is focused on a more lofty goal: to help small businesses grow their brand and to build a flourishing sense of community between customers and their local businesses. If he installs TapTime TV at enough sites, he hopes to expand to downtown Frederick and beyond, spreading the TapTime TV message: Food. Beer. Fun. I’ll drink to that.
To learn more about TapTime TV, visit the website: www.taptimetv.com