Start-Up Brothers Got Their Start at TJ
In 2009, Sam Odio, TJ ’03, headed West to pursue his tech dreams, where he went through Y Combinator, the best-known Silicon Valley start-up accelerator, and started a company that was acquired by Facebook. At least that’s the short story, as told by his older brother, Daniel (below), the other serial entrepreneur in this high-powered TJ family.
The longer story begins at TJ, where in his senior year Odio founded OdioWorks as a budget competitor to Geek Squad and similar computer consulting firms that at the time were charging $70-$80 per hour. His older brother Daniel was instrumental in encouraging him. As Odio puts it, Daniel said, “‘Sam, we’re going to do this in a day. We’re going to get this company registered. We’re going to get you some press. I’m going to teach you how to market your business. You’ll take it from there.’”
Odio brought the computer consulting business with him to UVA, sold it, and keeping OdioWorks as the name of the parent company, started DinarProfits.com, a currency exchange business so profitable that it paid for his education — concurrent Bachelor’s and Master’s degrees at UVA’s McIntire School of Commerce — and gave him the capital to start his next venture.
Odio’s breakthrough success, Divvyshot, was a photo-sharing site for high-resolution photos, launched to 1,000 users in March, 2009. Divvyshot was heralded as the cleanest photo sharing site of its generation when it was acquired by Facebook a year after its founding. However, Facebook was looking for more than the technology. “Buying Divvyshot is a talent acquisition for Facebook,” TechCrunch explained in its April, 2010 article on the deal. “Founder Sam Odio and the two other Divvyshot team members will be joining Facebook and working on Facebook Photos, which is the largest photo-sharing service in the world.”
After only a year at Facebook, where he implemented facial recognition tagging, among other innovations and improvements, Odio left to start his next business, Freshplum, which he founded with a partner in 2011. Google Ventures-backed Freshplum gives online businesses an alternative to promotional codes shoppers use to obtain discounts. In contrast to those codes, typically used by existing customers or those likely to purchase without the discount, Freshplum’s promotions offer exclusive discounts to visitors who look like they wouldn’t otherwise make a purchase.
In 2014, online advertising powerhouse TellApart acquired Freshplum and its team so it could deliver those personalized offers through retargeted Facebook, display, and email ads that follow potential customers after they leave a shopping site. According to a July, 2014 TechCrunch article, “Freshplum figures out who to target with what deal, and TellApart tracks them down across the web.”
Daniel Odio, TJ ’94, attended UVA’s business school nine years ahead of his brother. After spending a couple of years using his fluent Spanish and Portuguese to help General Electric open offices in Argentina and Brazil, he decided to start his own business. He founded both a tech-savvy commercial real estate brokerage and a residential brokerage that disrupted the DC area industry by offering generous rebates to buyers.
After selling the real estate companies, Odio co-founded an app platform startup called PointAbout, which with its product AppMakr built the Washington Post’s first iPhone app, Newsweek iPad app, and many others. It was at that point that Odio realized he would need to follow his younger brother to the West Coast in order to more easily attract venture capital.
AppMakr’s growth led to Odio’s most recent startup, Socialize, which created a “Social SDK” (software development kit) that allows app developers to add social features to their mobile applications such as likes, comments, shares, and ways to view other users’ in-app activity. This not only allows users to connect with each other but also connects the app with its user base. ShareThis, which was providing the same service to web developers but lacked a robust mobile platform, acquired Socialize in March, 2013. Odio is now Senior VP of Strategic Partnerships for ShareThis, where he continues to work with his Socialize team, and Socialize is now in over 900 apps, with over 67 million users.
“TJ was absolutely instrumental to me. I had all sorts of ‘start-ups’ when I was at TJ,” Odio said. For example, he purchased and resold parking spaces in nearby residents’ driveways, and purchased and resold candy to fellow riders on his Herndon bus. Several years ago he made a couple of appearances at tjSTAR (TJ’s research symposium, which often features alumni), where he gave students simple resale ideas they could implement in order to find out whether they too were cut out for business.
Now, Odio is hoping to be able to give back in a more significant way, by helping to organize seed funding and mentors for would-be student entrepreneurs. He recently started a conversation on the TJHSST Alumni Facebook page to encourage entrepreneurism at TJ. “Here’s my opening idea: What if a bunch of alums became LPs to a ‘microlending’ 8th period club at TJ?”
Anuraag Yachamaneni, TJ ’16, Co-President of StartupTJ, responded immediately, followed by Mayank Jain, TJ ’12, whose coding event start-up, Pilot, began with HackTJ (see June 2014 issue). Jain brought in Robbie Clark, TJ ’12, who is forming a club at UVA to educate students about the venture capital process and invest in early startups from the UVA community. Odio immediately set up a hackpad (similar to GoogleDocs), invited a dozen alumni entrepreneurs, including his brother, added Anuraag, Clark, and others, and the conversation began. From the looks of it, Odio is making things happen again, this time for TJ.