Living Entrepreneurship Blog / Babson Entrepreneurs

Perfecting a Platform and Pitching PerkZilla: B.E.T.A. Challenge Winner James Cantoni

In 2015, sophomore James Cantoni ’17 pitched SmartR, a platform that enables websites to automatically adapt and improve themselves, as a B.E.T.A. Challenge Semifinalist. At the Semifinals event, he shared a sign up form to capture leads. Lead generation was critical at the time for SmartR. On a tight budget, James needed a way to grow his audience without dumping money into ads. He looked around and didn’t find a solution, so he built what he needed for his business. Little did he know, he would be pitching PerkZilla, an iteration of that same signup form, as an alum at the B.E.T.A. Challenge Finale in 2019 and would win $20,000. Reflecting on the experience, James said, “It’s full circle.”

James Cantoni pitches at the 2019 B.E.T.A. Challenge Finale.

What transpired between these two B.E.T.A. Challenges? Seeing a “diamond in the rough” back in 2016, James dug in, building a plugin and attracting co-founders Jeremy Gislason and Simon Hodgkinson. Together, they turned the WordPress plugin into a platform, grew the team, logged over 7,500 development hours in 2018, and are now planning a public launch for the latest version of the platform. At the B.E.T.A. Challenge Finale, James described the journey, the milestones achieved, and the mission: “We want to inspire people to do amazing things for their business, with our tool behind it.” Today, you can have a working campaign to drive customer referrals up and running on the PerkZilla platform in less than 5 minutes.

How did James celebrate winning the alumni track of the B.E.T.A. Challenge? With a plate of chicken nuggets at the Cheesecake Factory in Chestnut Hill, staring in disbelief at the $20,000 check. The next day, James was back to the grind, with an early wake-up call and a deliverable deadline by noon. James comes to this work ethic naturally. His parents owned their own promotional marketing business, so it has always seemed normal to James to live the entrepreneur’s lifestyle. At age 7, his dad was taking him along to Chamber of Commerce meetings.  At age 13, he was building circuit boards. From that point on, he has never stopped building and innovating in business and in tech.

James Cantoni (center) celebrates with Babson Alumni Association Vice President Patrick Baird ’11 and Blank Center Executive Director Debi Kleiman.

James’ approach centers on executing the tasks in front of him to the best of his ability. And with this, the B.E.T.A. Challenge and its focus on defining and achieving milestones were instrumental. As James explained, “The B.E.T.A. Challenge held me accountable in my day to day life… It pushed me to get it right and get it done.” Even in the week leading up to the Finale event, the team hit milestones, finalizing widgets and launching the PerkZilla presale. They are not letting up post-win: They are preparing for the public launch in May and for a rigorous development schedule through August. Their goals are ambitious, and James is passionate, committed, and completely relentless: “The B.E.T.A. Challenge will transform the business, it will make a major difference in the trajectory of the business, but I still have a lot of work to do.”