Thrower had already run an event planning business for over seven years, launching such as the first annual Ubora awards this year, which drew more than 1,500 nominations and more than 5,200 votes to honor black-owned businesses in Charleston, Dorchester, and Berkeley counties.
She picked up the phone and called every nominee.
Thrower talked with CHASinnovates about continuing that hands-on approach while connecting black-owned businesses to customers of all stripes, and also connecting them to each other.
How did you figure out what gaps you could fill in order to make an impact for black business owners?
I worked with about 10 local business owners to find out what some of their obstacles were in gaining new business, how they go about getting found in the community, just asking basic questions like that.
That’s how I learned that people wanted things like turn-by-turn directions to their place. They also wanted connections to all of their websites in one place and needed options for booking appointments and adding photos and videos. And they needed an easy way for customers to leave a review, send them an email or call from within the app.
How many iterations of the app did it take to get it to the point where it is now?
I would probably say maybe 30 or 40 over about seven months, because I’m picky about things like layout and visuals. I just wanted it to be very clean and user-friendly. I did all of the branding for my website.
Do you worry about differentiation from similar apps?
Kharis Connect is not a new concept. There are other apps out here nationally, but guess what? They're not doing what I'm doing.
They don't have the same purpose that I have. So, you have to be able to identify those things for yourself. I have to be able to offer the creative solution to that problem. And you can't do that without research.
Besides bringing a business’ entire digital presence into one spot, plus their physical presence with geolocation, what else did you find you had to innovate yourself?
The creation of community is what makes Kharis Connect different and lets business owners know this isn't just an app. We have 230 businesses, and that's a big deal in Charleston to be able to find it in one place. Because if you went to Google, good luck.
Does the Kharis community exist offline, too?
Oh yes. We've been meeting in person quarterly. I have a partner that I do my networking events with, Troy McClain, Jr. It’s great being able to build a space where you're engaging with each other.
I love being able to create partnerships. For example, I've been working with two of my members. Chef Chrissy Keith owns Vined vegan restaurant, and hated her soda machine.
Then I have another member, Alisha Magwood, who owned Fusion Smoothie and Food Park. I got them together over lunch. Now Chrissy has gotten rid of her soda machine and Alisha provides a co-branded fresh juice.
Since you’re already plugged into a business network, is it safe to assume getting folks to adopt the app was not your biggest challenge?
Oh, no. It was an extreme challenge. It still is. It's not easy. That's why a lot of these other apps that have launched nationally have a difficult time. They gain traction, but it only goes so far because you need a sales team. While people hear it and they think it's a great idea, the time that goes into actually doing it is it's not easy.
I literally go and knock on people's doors: Hi, I'm Karen, and then they're like, "No, I haven't heard of it. Is this real?" So, I have them go to the Google Play store and download it. Then they’re like, "Oh my god, it’s real. Does this really work?” Then, “Oh my God, this really works.”
So, you go through that. It's not easy convincing people to embrace something new that they don't believe happens in our community. And that we can do it at that level of excellence.