CooCoo on track as transit tech start-up

Some of those behind CooCoo Inc.?s train texts Some of those behind CooCoo Inc.’s train texts and downloadable tickets, from left, chief executive Mitchell York, engineers Dana Tiemann and Brian Dwyer and co-founder Ryan Thompson. (Sept. 4, 2012) Photo Credit: Newsday / John Paraskevas

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The technology company behind the Long Island Rail Road's recent experiment with mobile ticketing is entirely Long Island-grown.

CooCoo Inc., a tech start-up in Huntington that provides transit information and schedules through text messages, was founded by Long Islanders and is funded entirely with Long Island money. The company now has half a million users, and contracts with the MTA, NJ Transit, PATH, the Boston MBTA and, since May, the North County Transit District in San Diego.

As Nassau and Suffolk counties seek to build a more tech-focused economy, companies like CooCoo are the type officials hope to continue attracting.

"It's true, we've been talking about overcoming the fact that we're not a tech hub, but we have all the ingredients we need," said venture capitalist Mark Fasciano, a primary investor in CooCoo. "We have people, capital, talent -- we just have to arrange them in the cake and bake it."

CooCoo was founded in 2009 by Brad Beshaw and Ryan Thompson, both of Northport, and Huntington restaurant entrepreneur John Tunney.

Beshaw, 49, first developed the original program behind CooCoo while working as an information technology consultant. He then showed Thompson, a family friend, and the two decided to market it.

The lack of a local tech reputation was a hurdle to getting potential investors. "Here on Long Island, because it's not known for tech investment and companies, there wasn't the audience or the reception," Beshaw said. At one point, he said, they were considering going to an incubator on the West Coast.

Tunney stepped in to offer the company start-up capital and work space, but it took more than a year before the three found investor Fasciano at Canrock Ventures, who provided further funds for growth.

In April 2010, CooCoo launched a text service to provide train schedules. Tunney says that, as Long Islanders, the founders understood the frustration of commuters.

"If I can't get a schedule, I'm upset," Tunney said. "There's plenty of times we'd go to New York for a meeting on a train, and we said, 'Wow, imagine if you knew?' "

The company is now applying to the LIRR to provide its permanent mobile ticketing platform. Half of CooCoo's traffic is generated through mobile ticketing.

The LIRR used the system for traveling to and from Farmingdale for the Barclays golf tournament in August at Bethpage State Park and sold more mobile tickets than it expected. Customers could print train tickets at home or download them to their phones. LIRR conductors scanned the tickets with a handheld device to collect fares.

Though CooCoo would not disclose revenue, co-founder Thompson said the move to mobile ticketing has been a "game changer" and "revenue potential has increased."

One area where the founders might give advice to entrepreneurs: finding a memorable corporate name. The founders and Tunney's wife, Mimosa Jones, a television show and speech writer, brainstormed for several nights. Jones came up with CooCoo, which Tunney thought was evocative of "the cuckoo clock, [and] ticktock."

Potential clients remember the name, he said: "Can you really walk into a chairman's office and say, 'I'm from CooCoo?' Yes, you can."

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