Connecting to Culture

As Christina Frazier searched for her next startup, she kept coming back to a staggering statistic: Hispanics, who make up just 17 percent of the overall U.S. population, are 30 percent of the country’s iPhone users.

“A lot of Hispanics skipped the PC, and they went straight to the smartphone,” Frazier said.

Then the entrepreneur discovered that only 5 percent of Hispanic newspapers and radio stations have a mobile app. Frazier called her husband’s old friend Ed Reyes, who was vice president of operations and marketing at the Reyes Media Group, a local business that owns Spanish-speaking radio stations and newspapers in Kansas, Missouri and Texas—including Kansas City’s own Dos Mundos.

The timing was impeccable. Reyes had priced a custom mobile app that week. They didn’t waste time. The two founded Mi Zócalo, an app designed to give independent media outlets like Dos Mundos an affordable platform to publish their material in a mobile environment. The app will be released in early 2014 in the Kansas City market.

The startup won support from the Digital Sandbox KC, a local initiative that provides proof-of-concept resources to budding businesses, including advice from veteran business leaders and help with market validation prototyping and beta testing.

“There’s a large market need in that particular area,” said Maria Meyers, the CEO of KCSourceLink and a major driver behind the Digital Sandbox KC. “It’s important not only for the publisher but also for the community.”

Helping Publishers Focus on Their Strengths

The app is designed to be used in several different cities or media markets. Mi Zócalo will find media partners in different cities to become the local affiliate or brand. In Kansas City, someone downloading the free app on Android or iPhone will see the Dos Mundos brand and Dos Mundos stories.

But that affiliate will change as consumers travel. The application uses GPS to allow consumers to stay up-to-date no matter the location.

Reyes believes the application allows independent media companies to do what they do best: Report and write about the community. Mi Zócalo handles the technical side.

That’s important, Reyes pointed out, because the cost of an app is out of reach for many small independent media groups. But it’s an essential tool for growth, he said.

“We’re making it very affordable for even a small paper in Wichita or Dodge City that has a community that needs a voice,” Reyes said.

A Dash to the Dashboard

The assistance from the Digital Sandbox helped Mi Zócalo speed up its development of the dashboard user interface that affiliates will use. The dashboard gives the system its user-friendly appeal that Reyes and Frazier believe is key for publishers.

The Sandbox support allows Mi Zócalo to debut much earlier, and that’s important.

“We have customers ready to pay us, but we can’t get the money because we don’t have the dashboard,” Frazier said.

The founders expect the app to become a gathering place as it develops, much like its namesake, Zócalo, which is the center square in Mexico City.

“It’s really the heart of the community—the place where people come for commerce,” Frazier said. “I kind of like to think of it as a farmer’s market and a Starbucks all mixed together. People come there to buy things, but they also come there to gather and talk and see what’s going on.”

And that’s exactly how Frazier and Reyes see their app.