Alums turn idea into livelihood

Alumnus Luke Nunnally is often seen with his Macbook Pro in Bodega Bean working on his website Belboard.com. He sips a Red Bull as he and his business partner and fellow alum, Eliot Barcak, discuss the next sale for their company – a business they began as students at UMHB.

Now they own the biggest local websites in both Belton and Waco.

Nunnally saw that Bell County really didn’t have an outlet for local advertising. He came up with Belboard to fit that need.

“When I was a junior here, I found out about Nami (a local Japanese restaurant), and it’s really great,” he said. “There is no excuse for you to be a junior and not know about it.”

The concept of Belboard is simple. The site has a large grid that is covered with ads of local businesses. Every time registered users click on ads, they are sent to that business’s home page. But Belboard randomly makes some ads lucky – meaning some clicks will get users anything from a free California roll from Nami to one of the promoted “Big Ticket” items – like an Xbox 360.

Luke Nunnally (left) and Elliot Barcak are the minds behind sites Belboard, Wacoboard, and TAMUboard. Each site is a hub for local advertisers and allows users to win prizes for clicking on links. In this photo illustration, three of their sites are overlaid on the counties they cover. Photo Illustration by Evan Duncan

Belboard sells the ad blocks to  businesses that will normally get a spike in Web traffic shortly after the ad hits the site. Every click means more Internet traffic for the advertiser and more relevancy for Google searches than before.

Sites with more traffic show up higher on searches than less visited sites.

Getting their page to the top of Google search results is a marketing goal for most businesses.

The idea has been so successful that the alumni also have sites in Waco, Wacoboard.com; College Station, Tamuboard.com; and even a satellite site in Athens, Georgia, Athensboard.com, due to a partnership with the University of Georgia.

The coffee shop is an ideal location for the Belboard guys to get work done. They spend much of their time traveling between cities where they operate sites, and a local space with free Wi-Fi is perfect to meet with business owners who may be interested in a chunk of Belboard’s space.

UMHB Associate Professor and Chairperson of management, entrepreneurship and marketing department Dr. Barbara Dalby sparked the idea for the site in Nunnally. She was teaching about The Million Dollar Homepage, a site that an English student broke into pixels and sold to universities to raise money for his education. The website made $2 million dollars in two weeks.

“I noticed Luke was in the back of the room, and he was asking questions,” Dalby said. “By the end of class, he had bought a domain name on his iPhone.”

Nunnally was nearing graduation, in 2007 and, like many students, was starting to worry about what was next.

“I didn’t have a job. Elliot didn’t either. I was engaged and planning to get married in June. I needed to figure out something to do,” he said.

They started planning the site shortly after Dalby’s class. As with any business, sacrifices had to be made to get it going. One significant sacrifice was the big wedding Luke and his  wife, Meghan, had planned.

“Elliot and I knew a lot of the business owners here, and we told the business owners what the site would do at Thanksgiving – It launched in January,” he said.

“(My wife and I) had 480 people invited to our wedding. We sent out 420 uninvitations. We used that money to pay for the programmers to launch this website…. Meghan is a really cool girl.”

The site has been a success ever since, although the company had several setbacks. Nunnally and team have been persistent – not only in sales but in defending their company from people hoping to take it from them.

Now the site has been integrated with Facebook – meaning more exposure and more clicks. KXXV weatherman Conley Isom is an avid Wacoboard user, and the site changes his status when he wins.

Nunnally said a major car dealer, “spends more than $2 million a year (on advertising) between three businesses. We are his number one source of Web referral traffic, and he spent less than $1,200 with us.”

Nunnally said he provides the best source of advertising and price available.

“Last Monday we got 17,000 clicks for the day on Wacoboard. There isn’t anyone else getting clicks a day like us.”

That impressed the University of Georgia so much that they began leasing the technology so business students can work on their own site – Athensboard.com. Nunnally and Barcak donate 90 percent of the revenue of the site back to the college.

Senior business major Matt Wilson knows what it’s like to work for Belboard. He is one of two UMHB interns hired by the company. Nunnally hopes to focus back on Belton and get more advertisers. That’s where Wilson comes in.

“I do a lot of cold calls and selling. I talk to vendors and make the ads. It’s great experience and really fun,” Wilson said.

“We have started a whole new season of selling here. Now we have two new UMHB interns, and we are about to start a call center here in Belton. Probably next quarter we will start a ‘click store’ …  If (a restaurant)  says you can buy a burger for 300 clicks, you can redeem those clicks there,” Nunnally said.

Though some think users will tire from the page, Nunnally deflects criticism saying, “Nothing ever gets old about getting something for free.”

Author: Evan Duncan

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