Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Local company, entrepreneur build mobile app

One trip too many through the fast-food drive-thru served as the inspiration for entrepreneur Dan Ballister’s new mobile app.

“I had what I call the ‘cole slaw moment,’” says Ballister, creator of the Drive-thru Dining Guide

smartphone app, which highlights healthy eating options at 30 major fast-food places.

He had just finished a workout, and hit a nearby place for lunch before heading back to the office. Thinking healthy, he got a diet coke, a grilled chicken sandwich – and the cole slaw, instead of fries.

He also grabbed the nutritional guide – and discovered the slaw turned out to be one of the worst things he could order, due to the mayo and high fat-gram count, Ballister said.

So through his company, Pure Genius Productions, LLC, he created a print guide listing healthy breakfast, lunch and dinner combinations. The guide includes calorie counts, fat grams and saturated fat grams, and sodium content.

While Ballister found his guide fun to read and comprehensive, he thought a mobile app version would better serve busy users accustomed to keeping a smartphone in their hand for information.

But how do you build an app? “I am not at all an expert on things like that,” Ballister says.

“I wanted to work with a local company on the app. I didn’t want to work with somebody oversees. I wanted to meet with somebody in person.”

That’s where Skookum Digital Works in Charlotte came in. Creative director Josh Oakhurst said it was a “no-brainer” to Ballister that his paper guide absolutely needed a digital counterpart.

Going for a tailor-made app is a choice more entrepreneurs and small businesses are making as a way to raise their profile, boost sales and get their services in the hands of more users. In Wednesday’s ShopTalk section inside the Charlotte Observer, Caroline McMillan writes about a local Charlotte restaurateur who worked with business partners to build a restaurant-management app now used more than a dozen Charlotte restaurants.

“Many businesses don’t have technical people on staff and just assume problems are problems and it’s just something they have to live with,” Oakhurst said via email.

“We can use technology to solve every internal and external problem a business owner may face. Everything including productivity, morale, sales and profits can be increased with creative software solutions.”

Ballister’s Drive-thru Dining Guide app debuted last month. Ballister, former director of communications for Time Warner Cable in Charlotte, recently left town for a similar position in Louisville.

The smartphone app, available on iPhone or Android devices, is 99 cents – the cost of some fast-food meals, Ballister says. He says he invested “several thousand dollars” to create the app, because “I really thought it was a very important investment to make.”