Metro, Business

Pixie Dust Labs Sprinkles the Startup World with Lighthearted Apps

The best ideas are born out of a need to follow one’s passions. So when Salah Abdo LGSOE ’16, entered the professional world after playing basketball for Boston College in 2012, and professionally in Dubai in 2013, he was upset to find himself struggling to meet people interested in playing a pick-up game.

But after  a conversation with his friend and fellow professional basketball player, James Valladares, the two discovered that they were suffering from the same problem despite their different locations, and the seed of an idea was born.  

Throughout 2014, their idea evolved: they wanted to create a platform that would find and connect people in the same area for games of pick-up sports.

The two entrepreneurs created the mobile design studio Pixie Dust Labs (previously Wildcat Initiative), and reached out to the network around them for advice about the world of startups and mobile applications.

Eventually their seed of an idea became their first mobile app, Jump In, which informs users of activities taking place in the area around them. Jump In went live last June, less than a year after their first idea was born.  

But the startup world had captured Abdo and Valladares, and they didn’t stop there.

Abdo, who sees Boston as the second coming of Silicon Valley, highlights how fortunate Pixie Dust Labs is to have access to the Boston community.

With resources like as the great minds of professors at institutions such as MIT, Harvard, and BC, just a phone call away, Abdo was able to easily reach out to the generous network around him for guidance and advice.  

“We got Jump In out there, and then we just kind of got hooked,” Abdo said. “The startup world is such a fascinating and unique world with so many people. Once you get involved, it’s so exciting because there are so many opportunities.”


James Valladares (left) and Salah Abdo LGSOE '16 (right)
James Valladares (left) and Salah Abdo LGSOE ’16 (right)


One of those opportunities was Shot Lab, the tool that Abdo and Valladares never had during their basketball careers.

Shot Lab is a mobile app that allows players to easily keep track of their progress and set goals for their playing.  

And with their increased experience and insight into the world of startups following the launch of Jump In, the two were able to expedite their creation process and launch Shot Lab in just three months.

Abdo and Valladares’ dream tool became a reality, and as it was embraced and promoted by some of the players on the Celtics, it became visible to the public eye.  

The duo continued on, eager to grow Pixie Dust Labs further. They stumbled across the idea for their latest project during what is an everyday conversation for former professional athletes.  

“One day James and I were reminiscing about 5 a.m. workouts in college … waking up in the morning is miserable as it is, so we thought about what would have made that process a little easier,” Abdo said. “Having been in the startup world for some time, we need an app that eases waking up for athletes, where you can wake up in the morning to a different image, something that inspires you.”

Their simple idea, easing the universal pain that is waking up in the morning, has been their most successful yet.

The app, #Alarm Clock, links a conventional alarm clock with Instagram, allowing users to wake up to an image that inspires them and brightens their early morning.

Users can link this image to a particular hashtag, or even a specific Instagram profile that they follow.  

Abdo said that the app has been a particular success with college and high-school students, who can wake up to Instagrams from their favorite celebrities, or pictures from the profile of someone that they are currently dating.

#Alarm Clock even features unique alarm tones, like the sound of a ball going through a hoop followed by the cheers of a crowd, or the soft murmur of a Paris café, which allows users to personalize their wake-up experiences even further.  

#Alarm Clock takes advantage of a certain trend that Valladares has observed in the startup world—an increase in effective social integrations. Valladares noted that Venmo, for example, has become popular because it turns sending money to someone into a social experience.

And as Abdo and Valladares become experts in the startup industry, they better recognize these trends within the startup world and understand how to temper ideas that arise from their passions to the customer base they cater to.

“With each idea, we knew the market that we were catering to … our audience are folks that are millennials, and millennials are easily distracted,” Abdo said. “If they can’t figure out your product in seven seconds or less, they won’t use it. So that’s our inspiration: whatever we do, can folks figure it out in seven seconds or less? And if the answer is no, we reconsider that particular project. So that’s where the lightheartedness comes from.”

This lightheartedness that Abdo highlighted is a common theme in the products that come out of Pixie Dust Labs.

The former athletes are able to effectively appeal to the passions that inspire each individual, and they clearly understand the modern need to connect with the world around them in as simple and clear a way as possible.   

But Abdo and Valladares both admit that life in the fast-paced startup world is not without its challenges, with Valladares pointing to the changes in what investors look at in an app’s monetization strategy, and Abdo underscoring the industry’s competitive nature, and lack of clarity regarding what exactly creating an app entails.

Given Abdo’s and Valladares’ ever-increasing savvy in the startup world, those challenges should present less and less of an issue in the future.

Valladares said that Pixie Dust Labs plans to expand, developing not only its own products, but also helping other innovators with designing mobile applications.

As the duo works on projects that appeal to larger markets, Pixie Dust Labs will reach a larger and larger customer base.

Featured Image by Pixie Dust Labs

April 14, 2016