It’s been a big year for Blooom, the Leawood, Kansas, based finance-tech company.
In addition to taking home a $50,000 grant from LaunchKC during Techweek in September, the company has just been crowned the first-ever winner of the "One in a Million" startup competition, presented by the Kauffman Foundation's 1 Million Cups program.
The grand prize — $10,000.
“This means so much me and to the entire Blooom team ... I do have a little chip on my shoulder and something to prove that there is talent and innovation that comes from the Midwest,” Blooom co-founder Chris Costello told Steve Kraske on Up To Date.
His company has risen quickly in the two years Costello since started it with co-founders Randy AufDerHeide and Kevin Conard.
From Basement to Park Place
Like many tech-startup stories begin, Blooom’s journey starts in a basement. Hey, at least it’s not a garage.
“The early meetings were in [co-founder] Randy’s basement,” said Costello.
That was back in 2013. Costello previously worked managing money for the very wealthy, but something had always bothered him about his job.
“Younger people or people without a gazillion dollars largely were left out of access to quality financial advice,” he said.
He says there are 90 million people in the United States with a 401(k) or 403(b) who would never get in the door to a qualified financial advisor.
Blooom is targeted at those people. It manages a person’s 401K portfolio online through a series of algorithms using simple language with little cost to the client.
Costello and his co-founders quickly grew from a staff of three to business of almost 20 employees and a new office — at the Park Place center in Leawood.
The company’s growth hasn't slowed. Zach Anderson-Pettit, Blooom’s "jack-of-all-trades," said they started their marketing campaign less than a year ago. This week, Blooom announced it had clients at all fifty states.
Still waiting for that “breakthrough moment”
Despite coming out on top in two major startups competitions, Blooom’s co-founders hesitate to claim that they’ve made it.
“I think that you ever really have that feeling. You always are thinking about potential concerns and what could go wrong and why this may not work,” Costello said. “You’re never really comfortable.”
For now, their biggest challenge is getting people to actually care about their 401(k)s.
“People are generally apathetic when it comes to their retirement,” Costello said.
It’s an issue that will be difficult to overcome, though the team is toying with some marketing ideas, think — “15 minutes could save you 15 percent.”
“Maybe Blooom might say, give us three minutes and then go back to forgetting about your 401K. We’ll take it from there,” Costello said.
Lisa Rodriguez is associate producer of KCUR's Up To Date. You can find her on Twitter, @larodrig.