San Diego Business Journal

In Grimm’s fairy tale of “Hansel and Gretel,” the two young protagonists drop breadcrumbs along the path to find their way home from a trek in the dark forest.

Unfortunately, birds eat the crumbs, and the pair becomes lost and stumbles into the clutches of a blind witch.

Well, three young entrepreneurs have come up with a new twist on the old breadcrumb strategy.

With seed funding from Qualcomm Labs, the team launched downtown San Diego-based Breadcrumbs, a mobile phone app for the Android operating system that tracks users’ daily activities with a detailed timeline and places visited.

The startup team consists of the co-founders, Joel Drotleff, Tim Horton and Damian Rodriguez and employee Sean Dominguez, who does the marketing.

The tracking includes such activities as stops at bars and restaurants, as well as such chores as food stores and the dry cleaners.

Pitching Advertisers

Currently the team has been out pitching potential advertisers on the product, based on the concept that retailers will direct market coupons and discounts to users of Breadcrumbs who frequent the advertisers’ establishments.

“We have the prototype out, and so now we’re getting ready to use the app with businesses in San Diego,” he said.

Merchants who have been signing up are able to use the platform for three to six months free of charge.

“The very first business we pitched was the hardest sell of all of the businesses we’ve pitched,” he said. “He had a lot of tough questions, and all of these scenarios, and how it could go wrong, but we’ve had a two out of three success rate since the first.”

They said they set a goal of signing up 10 businesses in the month of February, and had 14 by the end of the month, after ratcheting up the goal to 20.

They started out with restaurants, and then began expanding to businesses in other categories, such as beauty salons and tourists attractions.

“We think it works well for different kinds of businesses,” Drotleff said. “The core of the idea is to look back on your day, and where you’ve been and what you’ve done.”

Selected for Incubator

The startup is currently one of the businesses under the aegis of the EvoNexus business incubator located downtown.

The three co-founders met at Startup Weekend San Diego in June, which served as a venue to test out the business idea.

And they came up winners.

Later, Breadcrumbs beat out dozens of competing teams to land a spot in the incubator after having won a number of competitions sponsored by Qualcomm Labs, which also gave them $50,000 in seed capital.

The team will come up for review in April as to whether they can stay an additional year or two in the incubator, or whether they have to leave.

Drotleff said the team is seeking $500,000 in angel funding, which would be used to pay the salary of a software designer on a full-time basis and increase marketing.

“Once we can get him on board, we can move a lot faster,” he said.

‘Hack-a-Thon’ Winners

Liz Gasser, vice president of business operations for Qualcomm Labs, which funded three of the five companies that entered the EvoNexus incubator last fall, including Breadcrumbs, said Drotleff and his partners caught her attention last year while they participated in several hack-a-thons using the company’s Gimbal software platform.

The platform, which is offered as a developer’s kit, keeps track of how mobile devices are used, including relevant “context triggers,” such as geo-location and interests as divined by what the user is dong, such as audio and image recognition.

“They won two of the hack-a-thons, and we were enamored with their initial concept,” said Gasser. “They’ve gone through a couple of pivots, but I think they’re finding their groove, and their really playing on that intelligent check-in angle that they are currently pursuing.”

“They’ve honed in on recognizing where you’re at, and trying to do interesting things with that,” Gasser said. “We think the app will bring a fair amount of value to users, and opens up the value of one-to-one marketing. I feel very optimistic about the company.”