LifeKraze's social network execs lead crazy lives

photo LifeKraze chief technology officer MIchael Brooks, left, and CEO Ben Wagner speak during an interview at the company offices on Market Street on Friday. LifeKraze is social networking site promoting healthy lifestyles and rewarding users for staying active.

How LifeKraze WorksA user does something and shares it online to his profile, which is visible to others in their networkThe user's friends award points based on the activity to encourage each other. For instance, they may value a 26-mile run as a 50-point activity, while winning a game of foosball could only be worth 10 points.The user, thus rewarded with points, can spend those points to earn steep discounts on sponsors' products.More activities equal more points, which equal more rewards. Users also earn points for awarding points to others.Source: LifeKrazeLifeKraze SponsorsGoodhewBulumu GranolaSUP PaddleboardLeftLane SportsThe ClymbYogamaticSkout TrailbarFit for TripsPowerade ZeroMen's HealthColor Cloud HammocksYouBarSpikeballReebokRock/CreekThree Branches HealthSource: LifeKraze

Ben Wagner and Michael Brooks wished college could go on forever.

They went to different universities - Wagner attended Covenant College, and Brooks graduated from Clemson University - but they both loved the hustle of socializing and soccer.

Neither missed many games, but after graduation they did begin to miss the jokes, the back slapping and the sense of accomplishment they felt after matches.

"When we got out of college, we lacked that element," said Brooks, now chief technology officer at social media startup LifeKraze. "You had your coaches and teammates always there to mentor you, but then we lost that."

It was soccer that brought the two together - that and a common dream to rekindle the good times through a new addition to the social media landscape.

"If Twitter is what you say and Facebook is who you are, LifeKraze is what you do," said Wagner, CEO of the 23,000-user startup.

Wagner is a clean-cut 23-year-old. He wears a polo shirt and articulates business terminology in a crisp, perfect English.

Brooks, 24, is a little more scraggly, with with a hipster aura more akin to a hacky sack-loving artist than a head programmer.

Various bouncy balls, a foosball table and discarded toys line the high-ceilinged lobby. Visitors are met by an inspirational poster with an excerpt from the late Steve Jobs' 2005 address to Stanford University graduates.

But nobody's playing with the toys right now, they're just focused on their screens.

Things are finally starting to take off for the 10 LifeKraze employees, more than seven months after Wagner and Brooks opened LifeKraze to the general public.

National partners such as Reebok and Powerade have joined Rock/Creek, SUP Paddleboard and other local companies to promote the site and offer incentives to users, and the founders have secured $1.25 million to launch their dream into the cloud.

On top of the awards they've won already, they've been nominated this year for a Kruesi award, which recognizes Chattanooga's top innovator.

There's less time for fun now. They're all business, even when they're joking around.

The two entrepreneurs still play soccer most days, but the games are mostly an attempt by the Chattanooga-based entrepreneurs to add commas to an otherwise unpunctuated work schedule.

"Even if we're outside work, we're still working," Brooks said. "We'll be playing soccer and I'll call over to Ben, 'Hey, did you finish that thing?'"

The Rise

"In the beginning, it was crazy," is how Brooks describes the first few months.

At first blush, potential investors seemed leery of yet another social media service.

"We always got, 'cool idea, stay in touch,'" he said.

But like a virus, once the idea caught on it spread. One 'yes' from an investor turned into many more.

The money got them out of their existing office, which was a coffee shop, and into the Blue Orleans building at the corner of Market Street and Main Street.

There, Wagner and Brooks, along with LifeKraze President David Nielson, finished hammering out what they call "the next big thing."

photo LifeKraze employees Jonathan Yagel, left, and Joda Thongnopnua work at the company offices on Market Street Friday. LifeKraze is social networking site promoting healthy lifestyles and rewarding users for staying active.

They filled their nights, weekends and mornings with frenzied coding and design work.

Work became life.

"People are staying up till 2 or 3 in the morning," Brooks said. "There's not a lot of structure."

That led to a "no girlfriends rule," which Wagner describes as "a casual thing," though they still encourage each other to take personal time if distractions are affecting their ability to work.

Profitable at a Million

LifeKraze's small size has enabled it to keep a flat organizational structure, sort of a senate where the founders pump everyone for thoughts and the best idea wins, regardless of the originator's title.

"If we can create something that people find useful and can't stop talking about, that's the goal," Brooks said.

Another goal is to reach the 1 million user threshold. That's when the company becomes profitable, he said.

Referrals' New Form

There isn't one big magic trick that's going to drive growth along the way, instead it's a journey of a thousand little steps, they said.

"Most of the original users were our friends, and it just sort of grew from there." Brooks said. "The first 1,000 people drove the next 20,000."

But with growth comes a need for a more sophisticated approach, including a strengthened marketing team as LifeKraze prepares to infiltrate major college campuses, then target other cities.

Developers are working on an iPhone app, and the founders are preparing to seek another round of funding to propel them through the next growth phase, Wagner said.

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