Internet Start-up Displays Iowans' Votes And Dreams

01/02/2008 06:33 pm ET | Updated May 25, 2011

DES MOINES--Someone should have seen this one coming.

"I support Joe Biden because he's the best-looking candidate," said one Iowa woman, who recorded her caucus presidential preference on the new earfl website (

Anyone who registers online (free) and then dials the earfl phone number can unload whatever happens to be on their mind - for up to three minutes.

Earfl then records, stores, and allows users to share their stories - with the public at large - or with just friends and family members. It's cool. It's easy.

I tried it out and immediately recorded an audio story. However, when I tried to upload a mug shot of yours' truly, apparently my photograph file was "too large" for the website's normal capacity.

The bugs are still being worked out on earfl, an Internet startup company that just finished putting up their first version of their Web site "only five minutes before the Biden campaign began promoting it on their Web blog," said co-founder Manolo Espinosa.

"We rushed the Web site online just in time for the Iowa caucuses to build some early momentum and national awareness," said Espinosa, a San Francisco resident, not exactly accustomed to the frigid Midwest winter weather. He ran 10 minutes late for our morning appointment because his GPS navigator was frozen. Fair enough. I was 30 minutes late - this is a busy day for political journalists.

Last week, I received a phone call from one of those political consultants who seem to know everyone on the campaign trail and when he told me there was a new business in town - and in the nation - that records audio stories and that they were trying out their business model during the Iowa caucuses, it caught my attention.

Espinosa is an experienced Internet start-up dude. He has spent 10 years in the burgeoning Internet industry and his latest job was as a top manager for Kodak's on-line photography service. That's when he perceived a need for another kind of Internet business.

"All you could do was upload photographs, but there wasn't a narrative that really told the story behind the photographs in the way we really talk - in stories," said Espinosa.

Whallah! A new business was born.

You want to hear a first-hand account of the Armenian Holocaust told by a survivor?

When he was only 6-years-old, he saddled up the last horse he could find in his village, put his 3-year-old sister atop the sturdy creature and traversed the dangerous mountains to escape. He lived to tell the story on earfl:

How about the best Christmas story submitted to earfl?

Earfl presents touching stories of American diversity, devotion, love, humor, and just plain goofiness, told in first person by 'real' people as opposed to people like me - a mere reporter telling someone else's story.

I especially liked reading the political views of Iowans planning on attending their caucuses.

Here's one of a first time caucus-goers, many of whom will determine this election:

At the Drake Diner, where we met for a quick breakfast and a few bad cups of coffee, Espinosa followed up our meeting by handing out business cards promoting the Web site to a group of five Iowans munching on pancakes.

The suburban minister Espinosa chatted-up included his wife and three teenagers; all of whom were working for different candidates, Republican and Democrat. They were only too happy to have a chance of winning an i-Phone by recording their stories on earfly. My sense is that this is one smart guy standing in front of me and hawking his business card to these total strangers.

Espinosa's cards are printed simply with their logo of a large crow holding an 'e' in his/her mouth proclaiming: tell!

Leave voicemail, leave a recording about your vote. Let the world know! You could Win an i-Phone by recording your story.

Why did you vote for Hillary or who did you vote for?

earfl has set up a local phone number - 515-322-1477 - for Iowans to record their opinions, stories, and caucus experiences:

#101 - for stories about the caucus

#102 for Democrat candidates

#103 for Republican candidates

Armed with an Amherst College undergraduate degree and a master's from the Kennedy School of Government at Harvard University, Espinosa, along his two co-founders of earfl, spent nearly a year researching the market for their new Web site.

It's an intriguing concept for a new business that has yet to roll-out their marketing plan, but now they have a product to sell with their website and hopefully, gaining some traction, after they secured their first 'Angel' venture capital this past summer.

"We're hoping this Iowa test will give our financial backers confidence. It will also give us and our customers experience with the site. There's still more content and additional improvements we'll be making based on the reaction here, but so far, it's been very positive," says Espinosa.

The Iowa caucus will not only help choose the next president in 2008, but could also launch a fledgling Internet company that will have its own story to record should they be successful in driving users to their site.