How Two Loyola Grads Launched a Successful Tech Startup

Alex Bullington, ’14, and Greg DiNardo, ’13, turned their interest in sports, social media, and data into the mobile app Arbit

By Claire Hoffman, '07

Arbitrium in Latin means “the power to choose.”

The term is the inspiration for tech startup Arbit, a Baltimore-based mobile app created by two Loyola graduates.

Alex Bullington, ’14, and Greg DiNardo, ’13, started the company as a way for brands and celebrities to connect directly with consumers through social polling. Brands can use the free app to post side-by-side photos and ask fans their preferences for products, movies, fashion items, and more.

Bullington had long been interested in the way athletes, celebrities, and brands use social media to interact with their target audiences and get real-time feedback. Which is why in 2015, while watching the NBA finals, a question popped into his head: “How cool would it be if fans could vote on what shoes Steph Curry was going to wear before a game?”

Bullington turned to his roommate, DiNardo, and they immediately hatched the idea for Arbit. “We both had business backgrounds, and I knew how driven Greg would be and that he was looking to take a chance on something,” explains Bullington.

The two are used to working as a team. They were both accounting majors in Loyola’s Sellinger School of Business and Management, and both played for the men’s soccer team. After college, the two became CPAs while rooming together in Fell’s Point—and they shared a dream of starting their own company.

“We felt like we were both called to do something more [than accounting] and get out of our comfort zones,” says Bullington. “We spent countless nights brainstorming different ideas.”

Bullington and DiNardo continued to work full-time jobs while developing Arbit—then called This That—on the side.

“We would come home from work every night and sit on the couch and just brainstorm for hours,” says DiNardo. “Then we’d watch an episode or two of Shark Tank.”

The men credit Loyola’s soccer team for giving them the discipline, ambition, and teamwork skills needed to start their own company.

“Greg and I both are extremely disciplined when it comes to our budget or how we manage our time,” says Bullington. “It was a pretty grueling couple of years while we were playing soccer—and doing the accounting major really added an extra layer of discipline as we learned to balance the curriculum and do well on the field.”

DiNardo also credits their Jesuit education at Loyola as a reason why their business has been successful.

“The honor code and Jesuit principles taught us a lot about ethics,” he explains. “[At Arbit,] we’re basically managing other people’s money. It would be really easy to take that for granted, but we understand that they’re taking a risk on us. Loyola really instilled that sense of ethics in us.”

Before they were able to manage other people’s money, though, they both used all their savings—about $15,000—to get Arbit off the ground.

Bullington ended up quitting his full-time job in late 2015 to focus on developing the basic prototype for Arbit, which launched in January 2016. “We both had nothing left, so we realized we had no choice but to start pitching other people,” he says.

But potential investors were a bit skeptical about the two young men, says DiNardo. “The initial funding was definitely the hardest part. We had some investors back out at the last second. It would have been really easy to give up, but we had to move on and find somebody else.”

Eventually, a friend referred them to professional basketball player Steve Blake. The two sent Blake a mock-up of an Arbit poll that paired him against another former Maryland Terrapins player, asking readers to vote on who was the greatest point guard of all time. Blake responded within 48 hours—and ended up investing and sharing the concept with his friends. “It was a snowball effect from there,” says Bullington.

While Bullington was devoting his days to their new company, DiNardo continued to juggle his job at a venture-capital firm—an experience he says helped Arbit obtain a level of professionalism.

“[My day job] really helped me learn more about startups,” he explains, advising all aspiring entrepreneurs to start their careers in a typical office environment. “You learn the structure of an office and learn from others and see the day-to-day operations of a business. And for us, we learned we didn’t want to do that for the rest of our lives, which drives us.”

DiNardo eventually quit his full-time position this past May, and Arbit continues to grow. The company now boasts more than 100,000 users, including five NBA players as well as actors Mark Wahlberg and Katie Leclerc. The Arbit staff currently counts six full-time employees—including both an iOS developer and an Android developer—plus three interns. And Bullington and DiNardo have plans to keep expanding; the co-founders hope to secure 10 big brands by the start of 2018, and build up the app’s analytics so Arbit can charge brands for access to consumer data.

Some recent successes should help them achieve those goals. In early 2017, Arbit was named one of six finalists for the Emerging Technology Center’s Accelerate Baltimore program, for which they received $25,000 in seed funding. And in July, the company was given a $100,000 investment by TEDCO, Maryland’s technology development corporation.

Arbit is currently attempting to raise $300,000 through a MicroVentures and Indiegogo campaign. “This will be a huge step forward for Arbit, as we’ll get a ton of marketing and PR from being listed on their sites,” says DiNardo. “We’ll basically double the amount of capital we have raised to date.”

Investments in the campaign can be made here.

Through it all, DiNardo and Bullington men remain connected to the school where they met and learned to follow their passions. They now work full-time out of their shared apartment in the Homeland area near Loyola’s campus, and regularly conduct business from the University’s library.

They also enjoy being able to keep in touch with former mentors, such as Peter Lorenzi, Ph.D., professor of management.

“I took his management class sophomore year,” says Bullington. “He was probably the first person that got me really into thinking outside the box when it came to business. The class was about building teams and empowering people, and that’s not far off from what Greg and I do on a daily basis.”

DiNardo has some advice for Loyola students who want to follow in their footsteps: “Push for your passion. If you think your idea could be something, don’t go halfway in. You have to sacrifice a lot, but if you really feel passionate, you have to take a risk—especially when you’re young.”

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