Austin Stofer is the CEO and founder of a local startup called siëo, founded at the Launch Labs at the Leatherby Center for Entrepreneurship. Stofer graduated from Chapman University in May 2017 with a Bachelor of Arts in Strategic and Corporate Communication and a minor in Entrepreneurship. Since then, Stofer has continued to pursue his passion in entrepreneurship by helping other startups start up.
The School of Communication
The School of Communication helped when it came to startups because Stofer was able to work in a very intimate environment with a lot of people. Transparency is key, and during his undergraduate career, he was able to learn how to communicate with people and gained a good understanding of the different types of communicators, which prepared him to have those difficult conversations that come with starting a business at a young age. Stofer noted that the most important things he learned through the SCC major came from both the creative side of his marketing classes along with the communication classes. He implemented the skills he learned into his company when it came to handling a team, bringing on new members, and placing them in the right positions where they can excel.
When Stofer thinks about notable classes he took during his undergraduate career, he refers to the time he took SCC 210 (Theories of Persuasion) with Jonathan Denham and SCC 310 (Business and Professional Communication) with Scott DeLong. For Stofer, taking Theories of Persuasion was like jedi mind tricks, where he learned the importance of using persuasive words such as “because” and the importance of knowing the difference between a high context communicator and a low context communicator. Business and Professional Communication taught Stofer how to communicate in a business setting when navigating hard conversations and was actually one of the catalysts to starting siëo.
During his time at Chapman, Stofer participated in the Office of Career and Professional Development’s Summit Career Institute where he was able to network, take a professional dining course, and meet some of Chapman’s most influential alumni. He also participated in 72andSunny’s creative bootcamp and won first place with his group’s strategic marketing campaign for Totino’s.
Humble Beginnings for siëo
In Stofer’s Business and Professional Communication class, he started to notice of lack of personal branding amongst students—many students did not have business cards, a personal website, or any sort of portfolio. Stofer, alongside siëo’s co-founder Matt Sandoval, came up with Ikigai Creative, a small design studio. Through that escapade, Stofer was connected with Nick Garcia, who had a startup at the Launch Labs called FLTR. Once he had stepped into the incubator, he discovered his passion for startups, and started to notice the amount of failed startups and misguided entrepreneurs. He started taking the outside perspective in, looked at all these startups, and noticed that they were all making the same mistakes. This is when he decided he wanted to create a company that helps other start ups startup—and so siëo was born.
Through interviewing hundreds of startups, mapping out the entrepreneurial journey of the early stage of companies, and identifying the five most common pain points, Stofer started tying software to each and every pain point in a grand modular dashboard. From there, he brought on Kyle Herron (SCC ’17) and started to fundraise money for siëo. When they realized they were strapped for cash, they started to self-fund a majority of their tech and consulted startups to put money back into the company. When they raised enough money to start building the dashboard, they started with an investor portal and are currently working with the CEO and founder of Rate My Professor to build essentially the Rate My Professors for investors.
Dr. Kerk Kee has had a massive impact on the strategy and growth of siëo. In their senior year, two of the siëo founders, Stofer and Herron, embarked on a course with Dr. Kee. He opened their eyes up the power of big data, and how to harness it. Herron was so captivated by the class that he went on to work underneath Dr. Kee as a part of his NSF funded research project, the OCT Group. Through Herron’s experience researching with Dr. Kee, he began to gain a deep understanding of diffusion of innovation, and how in can be incorporated into the startup landscape. He took that knowledge and fused it into siëo, with the intent of utilizing it to inspire people to recognize the rapidly changing world and how technology is shifting the economy. Dr. Kee played a big role in siëo’s inception and initial processes, but it didn’t stop there. As the company became more established, Dr. Kee saw the progress and continued to catalyze it. He connected the company to the MaGIC Symposium, the largest startup conference in Southeast Asia. Thanks to Dr. Kee, the siëo team was invited out to Malaysia to participate in the event, with Herron speaking at the conference. Dr. Kee allowed siëo to gain its first major international presence, which has led to massive expansion for the company. Without Dr. Kee and the Chapman community, siëo would not be where it is today.
Orange High School – Present
Stofer, along the rest of his team, wanted to bridge the gap between Chapman and Orange High School. He notes that a lot of startups don’t take their corporate social responsibility serious enough because they think they need millions of dollars of revenue before giving back, which actually is not the case at all. With the connections and goal of giving back, siëo taught a 14-week entrepreneurship class at OHS and ensured the class that they would aide them in starting a company before the end of the semester. After identifying the lack of attendance at Orange High as a problem, they came up with an app called Present that incentivizes students to come to school by checking in. Given complete creative freedom, the students designed a logo and siëo brought two Chapman developers on to build the app itself. With the help of 20 different partners including Blaze Pizza and Taco Bell, the app was able to launch and is currently being beta tested on Orange High School’s campus.
Siëo has continued to influence the minds of many high school students by mentoring them and letting them know that the nine to five route is not the only option. They are able to think like an entrepreneur and know that they have the option of being their own boss now that they have been exposed to an alternative route in life.
Stofer hopes that siëo can one day be the face of entrepreneurship and help all the young misguided entrepreneurs not make the same mistakes that every entrepreneur has made in the past—to learn from people who have already made those mistakes so that their chance of succeeding will be exponentially higher.
A piece of advice that Stofer has for students is to start a company, for a couple of reasons. For one, “You’re going to learn by doing,” says Stofer. “Also you’re just building up your network and building your professional resume.” He also encourages people to meet as many people as possible. He refers to college as a four-year long networking event, because those are the people that are going to be a student’s initial network once they graduate.
Check out siëo at sieo.io and the Chapman University Launch Labs at 303 W Palm Ave!