Taylor Mingos: As Founder of Shoeboxed.com, Grad Starts a "Consumer Revolution"

Graduation Year: 2007

Degree at Duke: Bachelor of Science

As an undergraduate, Taylor Mingos ('07) was the first student at the Pratt School of Engineering to officially participate in the Duke-in-Berlin program's special engineering option, in which students take an intensive year of German and enroll in engineering-related courses at the Technical University of Berlin. Immediately after graduating with a triple major in electrical engineering, biomedical engineering and German studies, he led a diverse team of 16 back to the vibrant European city, where they spent the summer working around the clock in a modest apartment to start what they call a "revolution" in online shopping.

Launched on July 24, the new web venture known as Shoeboxed offers a free online service that automatically tracks and organizes users' online purchases in a clear and tabular format, according to the site. It also gives users a greater ability to reduce spam in their personal inboxes by diverting countless store notifications and receipts out of their inboxes and into their Shoeboxed accounts. The Shoeboxed platform can also support the management of offline receipts. And, although Mingos' team is keeping their plans for further shopping solutions under wraps for now, he said "this is just the beginning."

Already, the roster of registered Shoeboxed users is growing, Mingos said. Their goal is to reach 11 million Americans —representing 10 percent of online shoppers--in the next three years and ultimately expand to other countries as well. The site has received an overwhelming amount of support from investors and has been featured by some high-profile weblogs, including Mashable and Rocketboom, Mingos said.

"Mashable is a big deal in the internet world," Mingos said. "We had hoped to be featured maybe six months from now, but we've already met that goal. It's been a total adventure."

Evolution of an Idea

Although Mingos had considered engineering from the outset, the Kansas City native initially enrolled at Duke as a Trinity arts and sciences student. He said it wasn't until after an electrical and computer engineering course that he decided to transfer into the Pratt School. "I like that engineering gives you an analytical skill set that you can leverage in any field," Mingos said.

Eleven advanced placement credits and an overloaded course schedule made it possible to switch to an engineering focus in his junior year and still finish on time, even with the semester in Germany and many late nights spent working out his Shoeboxed idea.

His study abroad in Berlin ultimately led Mingos to his first taste of what a web startup entails. He worked as an intern on a site called studiVZ.net that he describes as the German equivalent of Facebook. He was there during the venture's earliest days, joining right when they started publicly marketing and trying to grow the site, which is now the number one web destination in Germany, he said.

After recognizing that online shopping had plenty of room for improvement, Mingos really got serious about his Shoeboxed concept last winter, during his senior year of college. He spent hours nightly on the project, incorporating skills learned through his engineering courses to develop a proof-of-concept that it could work. "I treated it just like another set of coursework," he said.

Prior to graduation, Mingos began a "talent search" at Duke for other students that could bring their expertise to the project, including other engineers as well as computer science majors and budding marketers from countries including Guatemala, Brazil, Jordan, Germany and France. The global nature of the team wasn't by design, Mingos said, but rather "reflects the diversity at Duke."

Getting folks to dedicate their summers to the cause—for no pay—was easy, Mingos added. "I really didn't have to convince anybody," he said. In fact, interest was so strong that he ended up having to turn people away. The opportunity to spend time in Berlin, a place renowned for its scientific and engineering achievements, was a big perk for the team and allowed Mingos to capitalize on his connections to the startup world in Berlin.

Still, he said, "I really didn't know in the beginning that it would be a serious, full-time job. I didn't realize that until this summer."

Words of Wisdom

Mingos' number one piece of advice to current and future students with similar entrepreneurial goals: "Don't be afraid to put your idea out there." And once you do, he said, aggressive marketing is key. "Make sure you have good technology and a plan to put it in front of people."

With the summer ending, the team has moved back to Durham and is opening a Shoeboxed office in town. "Durham has great resources," Mingos said. "The Duke student body is amazing. I want Duke students to have access to us and us to them. Research Triangle Park is also a huge boon."

Originally published Fall 2007