The Internet has been shaped by a series of bright, young entrepreneurs whose ideas changed everything. Peyton Fouts hopes to be the next one.
On his 25th birthday Wednesday, the Lexington man is launching OuiBox.com, a multi-platform Web site with a unique writing tool Fouts developed. It harnesses Internet search engines to research papers as you write them.
Fouts said he has spent five years creating OuiBox with help from about 100 consultants, lawyers and programmers around the world. He thinks the site could become huge, and a group of experienced local investors agrees. Members of the Bluegrass Angels investment group have invested several hundred thousand dollars in the company.
"I wanted to make a system that would change the world," Fouts said. "Not just change it, but better it."
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OuiBox is a free site that brings together a user's e-mail, Facebook, Twitter and YouTube accounts, plus has its own social network, news, calendar, photo, music, video and blogging applications. Each application is branded with "oui," the French word for "yes."
The main application is OuiWrite. In addition to searching for relevant sources as you write, the software can automatically format a paper in MLA, APA or Chicago style and create footnotes.
"For math you have a calculator, and for English you have OuiWrite," said Fouts, who is initially targeting middle, high school and college students. The site includes software that lets parents set limits.
Fouts has a pay version of OuiWrite for legal research, and he hopes to earn money from selling related iPhone apps and limited advertising. But most revenue will come from getting a cut of purchases users make from online retailers through the site. Fouts said he has spent years negotiating agreements with most major retailers. A portion of OuiWrite's cut will go to charities, especially those that help orphans and abused children.
Fouts recently formed a board, and OuiBox's first director is Bart Van Dissel of Lexington, one of the Bluegrass Angels investors. He is a former Harvard Business School professor and former management consultant with the prestigious firm McKinsey & Co.
Van Dissel said OuiWrite initially attracted him to the company. After showing it to his two college-age children, he recalled, "they immediately said, 'I've got to have this.'"
In addition to OuiBox, Van Dissel said computer code that Fouts developed and is patenting to more accurately track online purchases made through the site could prove profitable for the company. Others have already approached them about licensing it, he said.
Van Dissel said Fouts is "very different" from other technology entrepreneurs he has worked with. "Most don't have the combination of creating a grand vision and the focus and detailed knowledge and discipline to make it happen," he said. "I can speak directionally at a very high level and he gets it immediately."
Fouts grew up in Lexington, one of six children of a lawyer and former teacher. He was home-schooled until the eighth grade, then went to Lexington Christian Academy. Fouts said he got the idea for OuiBox the day after he graduated from the University of Kentucky at 19 with degrees in English and communications. He also had studied computer programming.
Fouts said he sleeps about three hours a night and spends most of his time developing OuiBox on seven Apple computers in his Masterson Station home, where he lives alone. He relaxes by building Lego structures and volunteering as a youth group leader at Southland Christian Church. Faith has been a driving force for Fouts. "I told God that if He gives me the ideas, I'll make them happen," he said.
Last fall, Fouts threw a party at Lexington Ice Center for the Southland teenagers and a couple hundred of their friends to recruit them as OuiBox testers.
"They have been a valuable sounding board," he said.
Fouts has hired Miss Teen America 2010, Katie Himes of Cynthiana, as a celebrity endorser. He has hired YouTube bloggers to promote OuiBox online. And he is giving away several iPads to people who register and tell their friends.
One potential marketing strategy is enlisting school systems as partners, with OuiBox's charity cut of purchases going to those users' schools. In addition to generating revenue, the strategy could help ease concerns teachers might have about OuiWrite. Van Dissel said he recently approached the Fayette County Public Schools and is waiting to hear back.
Fouts hopes to have 100,000 OuiBox users by Christmas and a million within a year, which Van Dissel thinks is "highly optimistic." That kind of traffic would require a big increase in rented server space — and millions more dollars in second-stage investment to pay for it.
"I feel that this is my calling," Fouts said of OuiBox. "My main goal right now is to get students on there and wow them. If I'm not wowing them, I'm not doing my job."