Entrepreneurs launch social networking site

photo Staff Photo by Jake Daniels/Chattanooga Times Free Press Michael Brooks Jr., left, and Marshall Brock talk over a technical issue at their Market Street office space. The team is working on the beta release of LifeKraze, a Web site that rewards users for being physically active.

A recent college graduate sporting a Batman mask types away on his computer. Another munches on Honey Nut Cheerios while bouncing a miniature basketball on his desk, the tiny hoop hanging just feet away.

A pingpong table, dart- board and big-screen television adorn this uncommon workspace on Market Street, where the team members of LifeKraze spend their days.

The brainchild of Ben Wagner, David Nielson and Michael Brooks Jr., LifeKraze is a social networking website that launched in limited beta testing on Jan. 11.

The site isn't quite Facebook and it isn't quite Twitter, Wagner said.

"Facebook is who you are. Twitter is what you say. LifeKraze is what you do," Wagner said.

He said he saw a gap between what happens when someone is online versus when they're offline. LifeKraze hopes to put a spin on that void by encouraging users to live positively-whether through diet and exercise, building their network of friends or just making healthy life choices.

"We're not trying to replace anything," he said. "But we see this gap, this opportunity, for LifeKraze to be something positive."

For about a year, the LifeKraze team has developed the idea, pitching it to local and national investors to raise $1.25 million in capital-about 85 percent from Chattanooga investors-to get off the ground.

"For a few months, that was just our primary focus," said Wagner, who began the project as a senior at Covenant College and now works as LifeKraze's chief executive. "We were out there making pitches-driving to Chicago, Ohio, flying to New York-trying to raise funds. We were just a couple of kids with a piece of paper and a smile on our face."

Jonathan Yagel, who heads the site's marketing and creative strategy efforts, said it's been important to develop strong local interest for a project the team hopes will have national reach.

LIVE LIKE IT COUNTSTo sign up for a LifeKraze social networking account, visit www.lifekraze.com. Users sign in with their Facebook, Google or Twitter account information.LIFEKRAZE ADVISORY BOARDSam Smartt Jr.: retired vice chairman of KencoS. Michael Warren Jr.: investorAnthony Tucker: Covenant College director of the Center for Calling & CareerWard Crimmins: owner of The Crimmins GroupTim Robertson: chairman of Bay Shore Enterprises.Source: LifeKraze

"It takes a lot of detail to get all of the legal pieces in place," said Nielson, president of the company and son of Covenant College President Niel Nielson. "Raising money is a big part of it. It takes a lot of work, because people don't give you that money very easily."

Set up in a similar fashion to Twitter, where users can follow or be followed, LifeKraze users can earn points for their positivity by posting what they're doing-a run, finishing a tough book or even getting engaged-and receiving points from their followers.

Those points can then be redeemed for discounts or free items.

Yagel is working with national brands that "offer top-quality products" to get the redemption portion of the site going. Wagner said some prize opportunities already are lined up and they're close to rolling out the redemption feature.

Web developers Evan Owen and Rob Scott said their main focus is working out any kinks in the site and ensuring it moves quickly as more users sign up. They said users can create accounts using their Facebook, Google or Twitter information for an easy way to log in, relying on social networking tools most people already are using.

As of Monday, 1,677 of the 2,000 beta accounts had been created, according to the LifeKraze website.

"We've kind of grown organically," Wagner said. "We haven't spent any money on marketing, so initially we started real local. It just snowballed from there and we started getting people in Africa and Singapore. ... It's cool to see the random places where people are signing up."

The LifeKraze team will be heading to Austin, Texas, in about two weeks to be part of South by Southwest, an annual music, film and interactive conference and festival. They hope it will increase the site's exposure and bring more advertisers on board.

Wagner said he doesn't believe in projections-though the site is already beating the initial ones-and he doesn't have a goal for the amount of users he wants the site to attract. He does, however, want to increase the user base continually and give users "a better experience and a better product."

Contact staff writer Brittany Cofer at bcofer@times freepress.com or 423-757-6476.

Like the Chattanooga Times Free Press on Facebook and follow us on Twitter for updates all day long.