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Birame Sock: Tech Entrepreneur's Innovations Blaze Path to Success

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She stands out in any room crowded with smart, savvy and successful owners of technology companies. Birame Sock is something few of the computer and Internet world’s most creative minds are: she is black and a woman.

“It’s something I never let bother me in one way or another. But, there were some times where I had to sit down and question the fact that I am just not that typical person that would start this type of company,” admits Sock, the founder and CEO of Third Solutions, Inc.

The native of Senegal most definitely is not typical, yet certainly is talented. Her current company is the first to offer multi-merchant digital receipt service. MyReceipts.com allows consumers to collect and organize itemized receipts online. It does away with the need to stuff paper receipts in bags or drawers and the aggravation of misplacing a receipt needed to exchange a purchase. Sock observed friends' problems managing receipts and did some brainstorming. She came up with her eco-friendly strategies for starting MyReceipts.  

“I tend to always look at things when it’s not as efficient as I think it could be. I start brainstorming around it on my own or researching it and then I realize, ‘Aaah, there may be something there,’” says the Miami resident.

Sock credits encouragement from early supporters, solid confidence in her ideas and the ability to work with limited resources among the gifts that propelled her to success. She launched her first business, Musicphone, in 2002. The wireless entertainment company offered the first wireless music recognition service with AT&T Wireless and Virgin Mobile USA. She sold Musicphone in 2007 for a more than six-figure profit.

“When I started my first company, it took a lot of convincing from other people for me to do it,” Sock explains. “It takes a lot to get there and you don’t have all the answers.”

She demonstrated her ability to handle a high-stakes gamble by moving to the U.S. to attend the University of Miami as a foreign student in 1993. First, she had to master English. Sock describes her family back in Senegal as proud of her accomplishments. Her mother, sister and brother are now entrepreneurs in their country.

“To be able to live with just what you need and not everything that you want, I think those are the two qualities that helped quite a bit in becoming an entrepreneur,” Sock states.

The broadcasting and computer science major developed her professional career working as a vice president and a senior project manager for other tech companies. Her selection as the 2010 Laureate North America for the Cartier Women’s Initiative Awards is boosting Sock’s stature as well as the value of her company.

 “Cartier is just an amazing organization,” she says. “And then the fact that they are recognizing women and it doesn’t matter whether it’s technology or selling goods or services. It was just for me, personally, the fact that, ‘Hey, somebody is watching and somebody is recognizing what I am doing and how hard it is to get there.’”

By the time Sock was building a partnership with Whole Foods to beta test her paperless receipts service in 2009, the U.S. and world economies had nosedived into a deep recession. Investor dollars dried up and the tech entrepreneur put off fundraising to focus on relationships.

“I had just sold my first company, so at least I had some cash in the bank. Very quickly, I realized, Oh my God, this money thing is not going to be easy because people are just not investing anymore,’” Sock adds. “But that convinced me that I needed to be smart about it; not grow too fast and try to focus on what was most important.”

At one point, Third Solutions went from five employees to one. Now, 18 people are working to expand MyReceipts at a modern office in Miami Beach. Setting up shop in South Florida initially added to the challenge of raising capital. Today, Sock’s backers include investors from Miami, New York, Boston and Chicago.

Fast Company.com lists MyReceipts as one of the 25 Women-Run Startups to Watch. The patent-pending software platform gives retailers unique tools for promoting their products online while consumers get a free, secure and paperless way to manage their receipts. The green solution saves trees and reduces retailers’ operating costs.

“People seem to believe in the concept quite a bit. Investors and retailers are all excited about it,” says Sock. “It definitely has the opportunity to become something quite big, and something everybody will know about and talk about. There are some steps we need to follow and were working on it.”

The mastermind behind MyReceipts prefers to keep her focus on the present rather than projecting how far the concept will expand. Sock expects to see the paperless receipt and marketing service operating on an international scale, but her greatest reward comes from finding joy in her work every day.

“When it has to do with me, I just want to be happy. I just want to be able to say, ‘Look, I did it. I built what I wanted to build or I’m on my way there. And I’m so happy and I still love it.’ Really, that’s what I am looking for,” says Sock.

Is she envisioning any new tech companies in her future?

“I try not to think about it,” she laughs. “I need to get this one done.”

Shoppers can choose to go paperless with MyReceipts at a growing list of stores including Whole Foods, Best Buy, Wal-Mart, Staples, Office Depot and Costco.


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