The idea behind Milk the Moment is, at first, counterintuitive for a mobile app: it’s meant to get users off their phones.
The app, re-launched in Birmingham, is one of seven startups now participating in Innovation Depot’s Velocity Accelerator, a program that provides up-and-coming tech companies with funding, mentors, office space and other resources.
Milk the Moment founder Courtney “Coko” Eason said that her experience at Innovation Depot – and in Birmingham in general – has her considering relocating the company’s headquarters from Nashville to the Magic City. “We’re calling it Milk 2.0,” she said of the app’s relaunch. “We’ve totally redesigned it … . It’s very brand-spanking-new, and it’s all happening out of Birmingham.”
Whenever Milk the Moment, the name of which is often shortened to Milk, is activated, users who do not use their phones are rewarded with points, which can be redeemed for various rewards, drink discounts or free desserts, for example, at local businesses such as Birmingham’s El Barrio, Brennan’s Irish Pub and Eugene’s Hot Chicken.
Eason said the idea for Milk was spawned from her time working in Nashville’s music industry, when she saw concertgoers “too busy texting, scrolling or recording the entire event rather than paying attention or living in the moment … . It was just a frustration that grew over time for me.” Soon, she realized that an app giving people incentive to put down their phones would easily translate beyond the music world to movie theaters, restaurants, schools and workplaces, to name a few.
“I realized at that moment that this was so much bigger,” she said. “I realized that I had the start of something that could really, really change the world.”
The app was initially launched in Nashville, but after accumulating 6,000 users, Eason realized that she would need more knowledge to spur the business’s growth. “I had all this traction and all this popularity and didn’t know what to do with it, how to grow from there, how to keep these people engaged,” she said. “It happened a little quickly for me, and I knew that I should have probably set a stronger foundation in some tech knowledge and some user knowledge, maybe even product-market fit knowledge, before I got too big.”
Eason applied to a handful of business incubation programs throughout the country and was accepted to several. But there was a “different culture here in Birmingham,” that drew her to choose Innovation Depot’s Velocity Accelerator program, she said. “They’re searching for people like me. I felt the connection, I felt the energy, that it was a city I wanted to be a part of.”
Despite a difference in size, Birmingham is better equipped than Nashville to accommodate tech start-ups, Eason said. “Nashville is so slow to me when it comes to the tech/startup community,” she said. “They don’t have any accelerators, they don’t have any incubators for small tech startups, but it seems like Birmingham has caught on to the importance of supporting young entrepreneurs … . I really enjoy the supportive community, and I really enjoy the high energy here for startups and entrepreneurs.”
Innovation Depot’s Velocity Accelerator program, Eason said, has “created a network of mentors and resources around me. They’re making me move extremely fast, which is good. It’s called an accelerator for that reason and they’ve provided funding, which is something that, of course, every tech startup and any entrepreneur needs in its beginning stages,” she said. “It’s been a very pivotal moment, not just for my startup but for me personally as well.”
One recent change to the Milk app has been a greater focus on local businesses. “We’ve recently started to go after local markets … . I’ve started talking to a lot of entities here to see if they wanted to be involved with the app, which a lot of them do because they get behind the message,” Eason said. “So far, we’ve got some local restaurants who have hopped onboard.” Those include the aforementioned El Barrio, Brennan’s Irish Pub and Eugene’s Hot Chicken, as well as Cantina Tortilla Grill and the Hoover location of Chick-Fil-A.
The end goal, Eason said, is for people to use Milk “on a day-to-day basis, so the app becomes more of a lifestyle tool rather than just a fun game to play.”
Depending on the outcome of the Velocity Accelerator program, Birmingham might become the permanent hub for Milk. “There are some (program participants), that receive investments afterward, there may be some that receive partnerships and other resources that keep them here,” Eason said. “(But) I do have a bit of consideration (toward) leaving the headquarters here rather than Nashville.”