Born-at-CSU BillHero set to pilot on campus

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The team that built the BillHero app in Fort Collins includes CEO Dan Holt, back row left of sign, and Sahan Jayasumana, left of Holt.

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Entrepreneurial ideas are born to solve problems. Startup companies are born to bring those solutions to the people dealing with those problems.

BillHero is a startup born at Colorado State University to solve the problems confronting roommates splitting living expenses.
“BillHero takes the drama out of paying for things like rent and utilities on time,” explained BillHero CEO Dan Holt, a 1998 graduate of the CSU College of Business. “It is designed specifically for roommate situations, where several people are responsible for portions of a total bill. You can’t use it at the grocery store, but you can use it to pay your roommates back for the groceries they bought that month.”

BillHero is more than just a way to calculate who owes what. It’s an app that can actually pay your bills – once you link it to your checking account or debit or credit card. The underlying technology is similar to PayPal or Apple Pay, but unlike those branded, proprietary systems that facilitate credit purchases at stores, BillHero generates the same electronic check payments landlords have been accepting from banks for years.

BillHero, a free app that will be available for both Apple and Android devices, also incorporates a number of features that help with budgeting and developing good money management habits that can last long after students, who are the current target market, become working professionals. Keeping within your target spending goals earns rewards, such as badges, and the transparency of the app lets everyone know who has contributed – and who still owes their share.

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Steve Biddle, head of global retail marketing for Facebook, who sits on the board of directors for BillHero and is also a CSU alumnus, will be speaking in the Bohemian Auditorium in Rockwell Hall West on Oct. 26 at 10 a.m., 12 p.m., and 3 p.m. on “How Facebook Changed Marketing.” The talk is free, but seating is limited and available on a first-come, first-served basis. It is co-presented by BillHero and the Institute for Entrepreneurship.[/third_paragraph]

Original idea

The original idea for BillHero came from Jordan Combs while he was student at CSU, with roommates and bill-paying challenges of his own. After he took management professor Tim Galpin’s class in new venture creation, he thought creating an app for paying bills owed by several different people had some real possibilities, but he didn’t have the technical skills to make it a reality.

In 2014, Combs’ concept for Bill Buddy was accepted into the Institute for Entrepreneurship’s Venture Accelerator program, which helps students develop their ideas into investor-ready startups. Combs paired up with Tyler Scott, a CSU computer science student, to work on the programming and security side of the app.

Bill_Hero1Bill_Hero2In the Venture Accelerator, students are also paired with volunteer mentors with business expertise in the market the startup is targeting. Holt’s extensive background and experience in the banking industry made him a perfect fit to mentor Combs.

“I learned so much from Dan, not just about the legal aspects of holding other people’s money to pay the bills, but calculating costs, finding our target market, testing, pitching, everything that was required to bring Bill Buddy to market,”

Combs said. “He was pretty excited about the project, and was willing to devote extra time to it after I graduated to make it a multimillion dollar product.”

There are many ways to be an entrepreneur, including having a profitable exit strategy. Combs continued to work on Bill Buddy for a few months after he graduated in May, but ultimately decided that his best option was to sell his intellectual property to Holt and pursue other career options in Denver.

Even though Combs is not running his born-at-CSU business, he would recommend any CSU student with an idea reach out to the Institute for Entrepreneurship, which is open to everyone on campus.

“There are people there who help you every step of the way,” he said. “Sometimes your idea can be worth as much as building an end product.”

Renamed, ready for soft launch

To further develop the end product, now renamed BillHero, Holt assembled a team of developers, programmers, designers and marketers – mostly CSU graduate students and alums with experience at companies like Google and Facebook.

One of the team members is Sahan Jayasumana, who is working on his master’s degree in computer science at CSU. His own startup, GameCentrics, which also went through the Venture Accelerator, earned $15,000 in this year’s Monfort Entrepreneurial Challenge in Denver, and competed in the CSU Blue Ocean Enterprises Challenge in May. Sahan had been working at a large financial company in Denver before Holt recruited him to help build the BillHero platform.

“I wasn’t learning what it’s really like to work in a startup (in my day job),” Sahan said. “I have already been involved in things here that would have taken years to learn there. Plus I have a lot more say about what the end product will be, and everything I learn here I can apply to GameCentrics. It’s a win/win: I’m part of this amazing team building an amazing product, and I’m building my career as well.”

All the hard work has BillHero ready for a soft launch. Holt and the team will debut it at CSU before the end of the year, when students can get an exclusive download code. The first 1,000 students who download and install the app will earn $5 for creating an account and $5 for completing a survey after a bill has been paid using the app.

“This is exclusive to CSU,” Holt said. “We are a born-at-CSU company, and when we roll BillHero out nationally, we want to be able say that it was also developed and tested at CSU, as well as give CSU students a product that can help them manage their finances.”

For details, go to mybillhero.com