In Focus: MemoryFox connects communities through storytelling

MemoryFox is a Buffalo-based startup dedicated to preserving the stories of individuals and communities. Founded by UB graduates Chris Miano and Lindsay Macaluso, the company offers a platform for collecting, recording, and sharing multimedia, such as audio recordings of someone recounting a story, along with photographs to illustrate it.

Chris Miano grew up in the suburbs of Buffalo and spent eight years in the Army before returning and enrolling in the MBA program at UB. His time in the military had a significant influence on his experience creating MemoryFox. As a captain and commander, he felt that it was important for everyone under his command to have a stake in their success. “You get more out of people when they feel that sense of efficacy—that they matter, and people care about them,” he said. “So I was really big on getting to know people and giving them an opportunity to say what their story was, and to create a unified story for the organization, to give people that sense of connection.”

Upon returning to Buffalo, Miano sought to learn about his grandfather, who had served in World War II but passed away when Miano was young. He discovered that his family had some medals and pictures, but little context for them. “I don’t know too much about him,” he said ruefully. That started him thinking about his father’s stories about growing up in Buffalo, and he realized that those stories, too, would one day be lost if no one made an effort to preserve them.

Initially, Miano used voice-to-text software to try to record his father talking, but that didn’t work well. “It completely jumbled up all the names,” he laughed. But, he thought, “the recordings are pretty cool, and that has value.” Back then, he was using a recorder that he had bought for the purpose, and he found it aggravating to work with. After each recording session, files had to be downloaded and organized, and only someone relatively tech-savvy could use it.

Meanwhile, Miano was entering business school. He met another student, Lindsay Macaluso, and they discovered that they shared similar concerns about preserving family history. She was attempting to record her own family’s stories, but struggling, because her relatives were spread out over the country. She needed a way to collect their stories remotely. The pair realized that both of their problems could be solved with a single app, which they spent the rest of their time in school developing. “We started reaching out to retirement centers and nonprofits, and people loved it,” Miano said. That success, as well as Miano’s conception of his Army unit as bound together by a collective story, inspired the pair to revamp their software to be easier for organizations as well as individuals to use.

One obstacle Miano faced was his early reluctance to promote the app. “Sales is looked upon poorly in the Army, because lives are at stake,” he explained. “So you can’t lie. You can’t create false hope. You have to be very rigorous and very honest, because everything matters. But (with) entrepreneurship, you’re also selling a vision of the future, and that was a difficult thing for me to overcome…. I think military members have a difficult time with that, that sales aspect.”

His breakthrough came when he began to meet with potential clients. At that point, the app was still in development. Without being able to demonstrate how it worked, he had to sell the idea of it. Once he began to see how excited the people he met with were, his outlook changed. “People are afraid to sell, and that’s a pretty normal human thing, I think,” he said. “But once you get over that, you’re like, ‘Why didn’t I do this earlier, why did I waste my time worrying about all this other stuff when I should have just been out there getting feedback?’”

UB also provided an encouraging environment. Blackstone Launchpad at UB gave him access to the guidance of Program Director Hadar Borden and Executive Director Tom Ulbrich. “I miss going over there all the time, but eventually you gotta graduate,” Miano laughed. The company is currently working with Deb O’Shea of Launch NY on seed funding, with the goal of generating enough revenue to self-fund.

The company is now five strong—all Buffalo natives who were drawn to the mission of MemoryFox. The current version of the app is a prototype. The next step for the company will be to secure funds to develop a smoother app and website interface, as well as an expanded platform. Along with features such as the ability to showcase stories for a network of subscribers and accept donations, these changes are expected to make their product more viable for community-reliant and commercial organizations. The company expects to launch the revamp this summer.

Miano enrolled in business school with the intention of educating himself and getting a job, not inventing an app and becoming an entrepreneur, and he talks with frank wonder about his experience. “If I had one lesson that I wanted to impart on other people—and I always talk to my old soldiers and tell them this—it is, you would be amazed at what you can do…if you dream it and really put in the work. The problem is, it’s really hard,” he chuckled. “It becomes your life’s work, and that’s a huge commitment. But if you’re willing to dive in and do that, and you are that crazy and you need to be that, it can scratch an itch that will make you very happy and will make you very fulfilled.”

Read more articles by Jen Wellington.

Jen Wellington is a native of New Orleans and a recent transplant to Buffalo. She holds a master's degree in fine arts from Columbia University. In her free time, she enjoys foraging wild mushrooms, picking banjo, and playing with her dog, Gumbo.
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