Most of Dayne Rusch’s peers in the University of Wisconsin-Oshkosh College of Business attend classes to learn the fundamentals of running a business, but the 22-year-old senior is already living the experience.
The Two Rivers native devised the idea for his startup sitting in his first business class in college. His professor was discussing how businesses use social media, and it got Rusch thinking that while businesses turn to HootSuite to manage their accounts, fewer robust tools were available for individual users.
Built on a desire to encourage people to spend more time experiencing the real world instead of a virtual one, Pyxsee is designed to give users a quicker, more efficient way to navigate social media.
“I got to notice more that people are glued to their phones,” Rusch says. “It’s almost sickening. You try to hold a conversation, and no one can hold a conversation anymore.”
Researching in preparation for launching the app, Rusch says he began to track how much time he spent on social media each day. He was chagrined and surprised to learn on a typical day, he logged two to three hours. Today, he still uses social media but says that figure hovers closer to 45 minutes a day.
Pyxsee aggregates all major social media platforms into one app that allows users to navigate through the sites with a couple swipes and quickly and get back to more meaningful experiences. Rusch says the parental control features have become the app’s real star, however.
The young entrepreneur won two pitch competitions in one week in November, focusing his presentations on the parental features. Rusch took the top prize in the UW-Oshkosh Culver’s Business Model Contest, winning $10,000 in cash and $8,000 in in-kind services.
Two days later, Rusch tied with Madison-based startup GymDandy to emerge on top of the Early Stage Symposium Elevator Pitch Competition in Madison. He had just 90 seconds to sell the judges on his business. Publicity, not money, was the prize at the competition, but Rusch says that carries an equal value, as he connected with potential investors.
Pyxsee, available now on the Apple app store, allows parents to monitor, control and limit their children’s social media usage. As Rusch began to research kids and social media, he learned its use is associated with the release of dopamine in the brain, lending the activity an addictive quality.
“It may feel like you’re only on it for 10 minutes … but you’re on it for an hour, and that’s just what Facebook wants,” he says. “They keep pulling you in.”
Rusch says similar apps allow parents to shut down their child’s phone, but that negates the whole reason many parents give kids phones in the first place — to stay in contact. With Pyxsee, parents receive a code when they sign up, which they send to their child. Parents can then track their child’s phone.
Parents can monitor how long their child has spent on social media, set time limits and block use at certain times of the day — during dinner or school, for example. To get around children using the sites independent of Pyxsee, Rusch says he’ll provide tutorials on how to block access using parental controls already built into the IOS family plan.
The app, which boasts about 10,000 users, is free, and parents pay $2.99 per child per month or $50 a year for the parental control features. Rusch is looking at incorporating other revenue streams into the app.
The learning curve, though, serves as experience that’s helped shape Rusch as a young entrepreneur. “I feel like I’ve learned more through doing this startup than I have my whole college career,” he says.
Nathan Litt, account director at Quill Creative, serves on Rusch’s advisory board. He says he wanted to assist to provide moral support as well as to show others in Rusch’s position the help and resources available in the region.
“He’s a very sharp guy, really motivated, really hard-working,” Litt says of Rusch. “I’ve never really seen him exhibit disappointment or frustration. Whether it’s Pyxsee or going forward with something else in the future, I think he’s going to be successful.”
Rusch is working to secure additional funding to roll out the app for Android devices. He’s seeking more investors and feedback from parents to continue to improve the app. He’ll graduate in May and continue developing Pyxsee.
“I like working for myself and hustling, not really having to rely on anyone else,” he says.