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Tech magic transforms Blinder idea

Blinder founders Ross McConnell and Caley Wilson

It started with a blinder of an idea. Caley Wilson was working as a media manager for the NZ Rugby League, regularly handling media requests for the likes of Sonny Bill Williams, Keiran Foran and Shaun Johnson. Caley was frustrated by how difficult it was to make his athletes available to the media, without sacrificing their privacy. While many Media Managers would simply share their player’s contact details with journalists, Caley believed doing so infringed on their privacy. He’d often end up using his own phone or the team physio’s phone keep numbers private, which wasn’t ideal for anyone.

He believed there must be better way to protect the privacy of top athletes, while ensuring media had easy access to speak with them. So, he started searching for a solution, turning to his respected mate and entrepreneur Ross McConnell, to discuss the problem.  The two began throwing concepts around and came up with the idea for Blinder – a cloud-based phone system, which would enable media to connect with athletes on their own mobile phones – without giving out private phone numbers.

Fast forward two years and Blinder is now a Kiwi tech start-up taking on the world. At ClearPoint, we know how hard it is to get a tech based company off the ground – we’ve been there done it. So, when the Blinder team came knocking, we were stoked to be able to roll up our sleeves and help bring their idea to life.

The team at Blinder love a good story, so we sat down with CEO and Co-Founder Ross McConnell, to get his take on how our specialists helped them create some phone call magic.

You had an idea, what came next?

Throughout my career, I’d seen plenty of start-ups that created tech solutions which didn’t necessarily solve a problem. We didn’t want to fall into the same trap, so we invested a lot of time looking at Caley’s problem from different angles and understanding where other potential solutions were falling short.

We felt that we were onto a good idea, had Caley’s media industry expertise and knew how to get a new business established; yet neither of us were a “technical founder”. So we turned to my old friends at ClearPoint for some help.

Why did you choose to partner with ClearPoint?

We shared office space with ClearPoint in their early years, so we already had a good relationship with Bain and the team. We knew they were leading innovators working with some big players and they had a lot of credibility in the tech space. And we trusted them, which is important when you’re exploring a new and exciting idea.

When we initially met with them, I remember our ideas were met with blank stares. In talking it through, we realised we were still a bit all over the shop and hadn’t nailed down what we wanted the system to do yet. Bain and the team encouraged us to focus on defining the minimum viable product (MVP) to solve Caley’s problem. We went back to work and nutted things out and then returned to ClearPoint for round two.

Nailing our MVP concept was a major turning point.  Blanks stares became genuine interest and enthusiasm for the solution we envisaged.  We knew we there was a genuine problem and now we knew we could solve it – ClearPoint gave us that confidence.

We also saw this technology had huge potential well beyond sports – from famous musicians to business executives to politicians. We believed it would be a game-changer for any public figure needing to manage their accessibility and availability for interviews or comments.

You started by building a product demo. Why?

Seeing is believing – especially for an online product without a well-known tech founder behind it. We knew our solution needed to carry enough credibility and pizazz to capture the attention of busy media and sports professionals. So, we decided to build a product demo which would knock people’s socks off and help us win early clients.

ClearPoint was up for the challenge and helped us develop a user-friendly web application for media managers to easily schedule calls between journalists (on their regular landline or mobile) and athletes on their personal mobile phones – with the contact number masked.

For us the demo was a real winner. It allowed media managers to see how well the problem could be solved. Seeing the demo in action was just as exciting for us – our vision was starting to become a reality.

What did you most value about ClearPoint’s approach to development?

ClearPoint understood the need for us to take a staged approach and make continual improvements over time. When we advanced to building the beta version of Blinder, they supported us to do so in a lean way. They enlightened us on their FDD approach to building software – just enough design initially. This enabled us to be flexible in the pace and scale of development, which as a tech start-up with limited resources, was hugely important to us.

Another thing we value about ClearPoint’s approach is their people. They assigned one of their talented Software Development Managers, Jesse Jose, as our project lead. While Jesse’s become a key part of our team, he’s just one of many ClearPoint people who’ve been involved along the way. ClearPoint were happy and able to switch out required skillsets as our demands changed. This “one team” approach is a great fit for us and gives us access to the right resources at the right time.

Blinder’s been incredibly successful in a short amount of time. What are your greatest achievements so far?

As a start-up you always focus on what’s next, but looking back, we’ve achieved some pretty cool things. For me, a few of the standouts include securing customer relationships with four of the biggest sports in New Zealand and the AFL. Caley likes to say we’ve been working with Olympic champions to Grammy winners, and plenty of other champion people in between.

Our team has achieved some amazing results in a small amount of time, and ClearPoint has played an integral role in that progress.

What’s next for Blinder?

There’s a lot more phone call magic to come. We’re currently working on an app which is launching soon and are stepping up our expansion in the entertainment space. Behind the scenes our team’s investing in more R&D, to investigate ways we can share the benefits of Blinder with other industries, and potentially consumers.  We’re really still just getting started, there’s still a long row to hoe – but we’re excited about the opportunities ahead.

Ross McConnell is CEO & Co-Founder of Blinder. If you’d like to find out more about the work we’ve done with Blinder please get in touch. Email lou.eaton@clearpoint.co.nz or call 027 925 3912.

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