The Maharishi of Marketing ROCKS!
Entrepreneur, rock guitarist and concert organizer - wearing three hats at once comes naturally to Kettering senior Steve Schwartz, who is rapidly becoming a major Internet player in southeast Michigan.
They are the self-titled Marketing Maharishi and Infrastructure Guru for Alfa Jango Software and Marketing and the lead guitarist and lead vocals for “Moment of Inertia” alternative rock group. They are also still in college – for a few weeks anyway.
Steve Schwartz and Ben Talavera take their work and their music seriously --– not so much themselves. “People always have important sounding names with big titles to define them professionally,” said Schwartz of their tongue-in-cheek Alfa Jango titles. “We wanted to steer away from any sense of exaggerated importance,” he explained.
He and Talavera have launched Alfa Jango (http://www.alfajango.com/) in preparation for graduating from Kettering this June. “Ben always wanted a company with word ‘alfa’ in the name and I always wanted a company with the word jango in the name,” said Schwartz, hence the web, branding, marketing, infrastructure and information management company with the quirky name.
Quirky names are somewhat of a specialty with Schwartz, a Mechanical and Electrical Engineering major from Wilmington, N.C., who is also a founder of “Moment of Inertia,” which is an engineering term used to describe the rotational analog of mass, and co-founder of RateMyStudentRental.com, a website that allows students to rate the apartments, houses, even dorms where they stay during their terms on campus (www.ratemystudentrental.com).
“Moment of Inertia,” or MOI, is a popular party band at Kettering and they manage to keep up a healthy concert schedule locally when they are on campus. They are currently working on their second CD, recently recording some of the music on campus, and trying to launch an independent rock tour of southeastern Michigan called “Rock D-Town,” featuring local bands in local concert venues.
Juggling all this AND their last semester of college, Schwartz and Talavera seem very calm, almost laid-back. Schwartz casually explained how Alfa Jango was a spin off of his original company “No BS Web Design and Development,” started when he was a sophomore.
“Alfa Jango came about because I started doing more marketing work and consulting than actual web development,” said Schwartz. “I partnered with Ben Talavera, a Computer Engineer with a minor in Computer Science. He does the information and infrastructure work and I handle the web, marketing and business development.”
“A number of ‘No BS’ clients started asking for marketing advice so it morphed into Alpha Jango and Ben came on board,” Schwartz explained. “We do any kind of marketing, but we try to specialize in companies who need to market to our generation, the Echo-Boomers. Who better to market to us, than us?”
Indeed. For both their “No BS” clients and their new Alfa Jango clients, Schwartz and Talavera start out with traditional marketing plans and media, and then branch into the “new” media of Facebook, Twitter, Myspace and other online social networking venues to market to their peers.
“A lot of companies that specialize in this type of marketing STUDY how to reach people with this media, but we’ve been using it from the inside out,” said Schwartz. “We use it just as a matter of course, so we have an edge in how to use it for marketing.”
Beyond marketing to fellow Echo Boomers, Alfa Jango helps companies utilize new technologies to grow their businesses from the inside out. “As companies grow, they have trouble with how they share information within the company,” explained Schwartz, “we build custom software to help companies grow and continue to operate efficiently, by solving internal communication infrastructure problems to help deal with growth, what we call scalable infrastructure,” he added.
To keep ahead of the technological curve Schwartz is involved in networking groups and professional associations in the Ann Arbor, MI, area. He helped organize Digital Edge Michigan (DEMI - www.digimich.com), which started out as networking group for web entrepreneurs. Schwartz, Kristen Winter, a fellow RateMyStudentRental.com founder and Kettering student, and Joe Minock, founder and CEO of WhatUNeed, LLC, saw the potential for DEM and began working to turn it into a non-profit incubator for web start ups in Michigan. “Digital Edge is about bringing together the web community,” said Schwartz, “we have more than 100 casual members and 75 active members now. And actually a few people over 30 have joined,” he joked, referring to the average age of Echo Boomers who are mostly under 30.
Running with the big dogs of the new technology-based business model, Schwartz is fast becoming recognized as a Michigan Internet player, serving as the youngest “expert” on discussion panels such as the “Internet User Experience Conference” at Washtenaw Community College, sponsored by the Usability Professionals' Association, and the New Enterprise Forum, focused on innovative new business models, sponsored by the Michigan Small Business & Technology Development Center (MIsbTdc) and GLEQ.
Fellow expert panelists for these events included Scott Collins, Slashdot; Derek Mehraban, CEO, Ingenex Digital Marketing; Ed Vielmetti, director of Social Media, Pure Visibility; Howard Brown, co-founder and CEO, CircleBuilder Software; Joe Minock, founder and CEO, J. Edward Media Group/AccuGet.com; and Rick Warner, CEO, Parking Carma.
In between classes, serving as expert panelists, calls from clients and MOI gigs, Schwartz and Talavera are dreaming big for their Rock D-Town Michigan rock tour (www.RockDTown.com). The plan is to get five or six of the best area bands from southeast Michigan to perform at locally-owned venues in a summer concert tour in July and August, and throw in an element of community service.
Their goal is to promote the creative culture of Detroit and get people involved in charitable work. “We’re trying to work it out to give all proceeds from the Rock D-Town tour to charity,” Schwartz said. To get people involved in service, the plan is to have participating band members do community service projects in the areas where they will be playing that night and invite fans to join them.
To make the Rock D-Town Rock Tour dream a reality, Schwartz, Talavera and Winter are putting their new technology skills to use to help find funding for the project. The Rock D-Town idea is one of eight finalists for the month of May on the web site IdeaBlob.com, where users vote on their favorite ideas, and at the end of each month, the idea with the most votes gets $10,000 to help make it happen.
“If we can win this $10,000, we could really make the rest of the nation stand up and listen to what’s going on in Detroit,” said Schwartz. But that $10,000 prize would be just the first step in making the Rock D-Town Rock Tour a nationally recognized event. “We’re also in the process of working out some major sponsorship and bringing a nationally known band to headline the tour,” added Winter. The band under consideration is originally from the area, keeping in line with the tour’s Detroit focus.
Contrary to how he appears to people with half his energy, Schwartz claims he is not a work-a-holic. “I like working if its fun and my thing,” he said of his hectic schedule. “I work a lot, but I still have a healthy social life. Sometimes the social life wins over the work or school life,” he admitted.
He indirectly credits Kettering for fostering his entrepreneurial endeavors. “Kettering is not exactly known for having a lot of social activity,” Schwartz said, “but it’s a great place to make connections, to network, to meet a lot of people like me who are ready to start stuff. If I were at a state school, I probably wouldn’t be doing half of this,” he said, referring to Alfa Jango, MOI, RateMyStudentRental.com and the Rock D-Town Rock Tour.
“I’m crazy happy with my life right now. I’m 23 years old and I can’t stand not having anything to do. I may have stress on a daily basis, but it’s a stress I enjoy,” he said.
Written by Dawn Hibbard