Entrepreneur sells home to support Durham-based startup Avelist

Jul. 08, 2014 @ 05:46 PM

Jody Porowski was living the American dream of owning her own home. But she also had a dream of something that she wanted more: to successfully launch her own start-up tech company.

So in April, the 27-year-old sold her Raleigh home for $276,000 to raise money for her Durham-based start-up. Her company, Avelist, has built a social media website where people can share experiences on everything from wedding planning to travel.

 “I believe in really going after what you want, and I think that life is all about priorities,” Porowski said in an interview on Monday. “For me, at this point in my life, my priority is my company.”

Porowski got the idea for Avelist from watching several friends plan weddings separately in the Raleigh area. They were all doing the same research, she said, which made her want to sit them all down at the same table to share their findings.

She said she realized it’s not just with wedding planning where people are having to constantly “reinvent the wheel” on their own.

“Any time we’re in a new situation – whether it’s traveling to a new city, becoming a parent for the first time -- (there are) all of those questions you want to ask each other,” she said. “I realized that we could build a platform online that had that specific purpose.”

Porowski came up with the idea for the company, and then recruited her co-founder Josh Jodrey. Initially, they both started working on the company as a side project while also working other jobs full-time.

At that time, she was working at Cary-based software analytics company SAS Institute. She said she was hired to work on software designed to analyze social media content for companies to help them measure and describe what people were saying about them online.

She said she had been recruited from a public relations and marketing agency in Atlanta, where she was doing work in social media marketing.

At SAS, her role in the software social media project involved categorizing language. She’s a 2009 graduate of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill with a bachelor’s degree in English.

She said the work experience gave her insight into the role of starting a business.

“When I was at SAS, I realized … that’s what a new company is: It’s seeing a problem, and filling that hole,” she said.

Porowski and her co-founder worked on Avelist while juggling their full-time jobs for about a year and a half, she said. They built a prototype website, which allowed them to raise an initial round of about $300,000 from friends and family.

That allowed them to focus on the venture full-time. And in September of last year, they launched the Avelist website. They now have posts on the site with information about buying a house, making financial decisions, weddings, parenting and healthy living.

“We cover a pretty broad use case, but it’s all related to just daily life situations,” she said.

Earlier this year, she sold her home in Raleigh to raise cash to support the company until they could raise additional capital to grow their business. She said she bought the home in 2012 to one day use it to help finance her start-up. She had paid $245,000 for it, rented out the remaining bedrooms, and invested in renovations. In one room, she put in white boards and office furniture so she could meet with the Avelist team.

She’s now living with her parents and blazing the fundraising trail. She wants to raise $1.2 million from investors by the fall of this year to continue to build out the Avelist website and to market the company.

The company’s office is on Main Street in downtown Durham. In addition to the two co-founders, they have two part-time workers and seven contractors.

She said she’s familiar with the kind of sacrifice she experienced selling her home. She said giving up something you love for something else you want more is what she experiences every day as an entrepreneur.

“I might want to get full eight hours of sleep every night, but I sacrifice because I’m working insane hours on my start-up,” she said. “I love the dream of my house, but I love Avelist more.”