Fargo startup launches rTown: a mobile app for small towns

When the city of Wahpeton approached Ray Berry and his team at OmniByte Technology about building a custom mobile app for their community, they fell into a familiar predicament. The cost to build a custom mobile project is upwards of $50,000. For a city of 7,500 with a tight budget, this is just not feasible.

“Mobile apps are simply too expensive,” Berry said.

rTown_AndroidHomeBut the conversation sparked an idea. What if, Berry thought, there could be just one platform that individual towns could customize to their needs? This would eliminate the need to re-build a custom mobile app over and over, while diminishing the high prices. Berry brought this idea to the OmniByte team last December; this week they are unveiling the result. They call it rTown.

rTown is a mobile app template built for communities from 5,000 to 20,000. It’s a single platform that can be customized to fit any town, and features pages for calendar events, local businesses, lodging, food, shopping and attractions. The app is administered by someone who works for the city, and they can choose the color they’d like to use, and input photos and information for each page.

“The whole goal was for it to be simple and easy to maintain,” Berry said. “Small communities don’t have an IT staff for their city, or their visitor’s bureau.”

The app was built over the summer as a project for Omnibyte’s interns: Jordan Pansch, Sam Mayer, Isaiah Nicolai, and Laura Mitlyng, lead by OmniByte’s senior software engineer, Adam Griffin. rTown is currently in beta mode and available for iOS and Android.

Wahpeton agreed to be the first beta users of the platform, and currently have their own custom app. They chose to make it purple, and the home page displays their motto, “Discover the Wonder.”

“Wahpeton is so happy to have this,” Berry said. They already have a second beta tester as well in Blooming Prairie, MN, population 2,000. Berry said he hopes to expand throughout the Midwest region before scaling rTown to a national level.

Berry sees rTown as especially useful for small towns that have a big event that draws crowds to the area. Growing up in Towner, for instance, he remembers the annual 4th of July week-long festivities where “the population swells.”

“They [small towns] want to be able to talk about what’s happening in the town and have an app, rather than just paper materials,” Berry said.

rTownWebAdminPortal2

While they don’t have a set pricing down yet, Berry plans to operate with a SaaS model using a monthly subscription. He said he hopes to be able to offer it for a monthly subscription that’s “in the hundreds” rather than thousands.

“It is removing costs as a barrier to technology,” he said. “We want to make it a reality that a town can have a mobile app.”

Berry’s primary work is with Omnibyte Technology, a company he and his two co-founders quit their jobs and started last year. In addition to mobile apps, OmniByte creates web and automated solutions. Since they started they have hired five employees and have expanded their headquarters in the NDSU Research and Tech Park.

Berry attributes much of entrepreneurial motivation and success to the community support found at events like 1 Million Cups, and in the people of Fargo-Moorhead. rTown, he said, is what he considers a gift back to the community.

“The community invested in us,” he said. “Now we want to give back.”

Come and learn more about rTown this Wednesday at 1 Million Cups, from 9:15 – 10:15 AM at the Stage at Island Park for 1 Million Cups Fargo.

Photos courtesy of Emerging Prairie and OmniByte Technology.

Marisa Jackels