What are your plans on October 22? Whatever they are, pivot and attend Marketing Edge. This one-day mega dose of inspiration and insight, also known as one of AMA Houston’s major yearly conferences, will feature top marketers from across the nation. You’ll be able to indulge in three keynote sessions, four breakout sessions, and panels with more than 20 speakers. With all of these possibilities, you can tailor your experience to your interests.
Recently, we had the opportunity to interview Alex Knoll, one of our keynote speakers at Marketing Edge. After you hear his story, we guarantee that you’ll come away inspired by this 14-year-old entrepreneur. Without further ado:
Name, role, and current company?
Alex Knoll, CEO, Ability App
How did your earlier career choices lead you to where you are now?
As I’m just 14, I have school to thank for the opportunities that have led me to where I am today as a start-up founder.
When I was nine, I entered a school competition called Invent Idaho, where I submitted my Ability App idea. I won that competition in my state and won a couple of other national competitions that gave my idea traction.
Programs that support entrepreneurial spirit are very important. Young people are problem solvers, dreamers, and are willing to take on big challenges. We want to contribute to society and try our best to make the future better for everyone on our planet.
I’m so thankful that there are more invention and entrepreneurial programs available to young people these days. It’s important to support these programs because they generate innovation. I wouldn’t be where I am today without the invention programs that were available to me. I received support, encouragement, and the opportunity to share the idea that I had to change the lives of over one billion people with disabilities globally! It was very nice to be taken seriously. I can’t stress enough how important it is to encourage young people to be inventive, fearless, and to think out of the box because dreamers and makers are our problem solvers.
What did you do at work yesterday?
Yesterday, I went to school from 7:30 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. I typically have the same routine every day after school (and sometimes before school). I spend my time reaching out to people who might benefit from using Ability App, I answer dozens of emails, I have a conference call or two, I update and add content to a couple of my Facebook pages. I work on fundraising and trying to find sponsors. I have volunteered my time every single day over the last five years to build Ability App. Working on Ability App doesn’t feel like work though because I enjoy connecting with people and trying to make a difference for people in the world.
What will you be speaking about at Marketing Edge?
I’m speaking about the importance of accessibility and inclusion of people with disabilities, not only in the physical world but also in the digital world. People often forget to include people with disabilities because they’re simply unaware of the needs of people with disabilities.
I often mention simple solutions to make our world more accessible. In the digital space, for example, how many times have you posted photos or videos on social media without posting captions? People with vision and hearing impairments use social media, too, and if you’re not including captions, you’re excluding a large percentage of the population. Everyone should have access. Everyone should be included. It’s the right thing to do!
What are ways you or your company have addressed accessibility?
I’m creating an app to help people with disabilities find accessible features at public spaces around the globe. Ability App will help people with any type of disability (cognitive, hearing, vision, and mobility) and caregivers navigate public spaces and search for specific disability-friendly features.
Ability App users will be able to research the level of accessibility at any public space like a retail store, restaurant, hotel, park, theater, etc. before leaving the safety, functionality, and security of their own home. I’ve been working on the development of Ability App for five years. I started when I was nine when I saw a man in a wheelchair struggle to open a manual door. I wondered if there was an app that could have told him what other stores around the area had automatic doors. I couldn’t find an app like that, so I started developing one. Thanks to a kind donation from Shutterfly, that I received from the Ellen DeGeneres show, I was able to start developing Ability App. Ability App is currently being beta tested in the United States in a few select cities, to begin with. I hope to expand globally!
What are ways you or your company have integrated automation into your marketing strategy?
For the most part, I’m trying to avoid automation and I have been able to communicate directly with most people. I received over 30,000 emails from people wanting to reach out to me about Ability App over the last couple of years (most of those emails came immediately after my first appearance on the Ellen DeGeneres show). I tried to respond to many emails, but it just wasn’t possible to email every person. I will always try my best to keep that personal touch, if and when possible. It goes a long way with customers and users. Our world has become too automated, in many instances, in my opinion. Direct contact with a customer is a lost art, and I believe that if a company can make time for its customers, they will stand out from their competition if their competition is just sending auto-response emails.
I know that I will have to integrate automation into my business eventually, but I will try my best to add that personal touch for as long as I can!
What are ways you or your company have been innovative in your marketing strategy?
I’ve started developing closed social media groups for my users to communicate with one another, brainstorm, problem-solve, and create an online support community that often allows my users to get instant feedback from other users when I’m not available to directly answer their questions.
How have you seen technology transform marketing?
Technology plays a big factor in marketing. Currently, for me at least, I use social media platforms to market Ability App. It’s a great way to connect and interact with my target audience.
What technology is on your 2020 bucket list?
Integrating artificial intelligence features into Ability App is on my bucket list. I would like to incorporate machine learning into Ability App to describe photos to users with sight impairments.
Feeling inspired? Hear Alex tell his story in a couple of short weeks at Marketing Edge! Join us at the Norris Conference Center from 8:30 a.m.–5:00 p.m. We hope to see you there!