Lake View Man's Start-Up Reunites Items 'Found in Town'

A new Chicago tech start-up will reconnect you with lost items—and the Lake View mastermind behind the company is thinking big.

Lost keys. Lost wallet. Lost phone. We’ve all been there.

But one Lake View techie is hoping to solve the occasional forgetful freak-out with a new start-up aimed at reuniting owners with their missing belongings.  

Found in Town is a website focused on registering precious items—like your house keys or cell phone—online so locating them after one too many cocktails is as easy as checking your e-mail.

Six-year Lake View resident Zach Haller, 28, is the company’s founder, and he says the site is already busy hooking up users with lost items.

“You just put the key chain on your keys and the stickers on your phone, wallet or laptop. Each sticker has an ID number and a Found in Town URL on it,” Haller said. “If someone finds the item, they can use the ID number, go to FoundinTown.com and send an anonymous message to the owner. So you could say, ‘Hey, I found your phone at Protein Bar downtown. I left it behind the counter with the staff,’ and it’s e-mailed to them.”

Haller says he thinks the market for an online lost-and-found service is pretty open; forums such as Craigslist and Everyblock simply aren't intuitive or accurate enough. The lack of resources is what sparked the idea in 2009. But at the time, Haller didn't think he had time to start a business.

"I mean, there’s no reason why every single human being on Earth can’t be involved in this system. There’s nothing like it online.”

He was an immigration paralegal working in a Chicago law firm, he said. And while completing his education at the University of Wisconsin, he hadn't taken a single business course. 

But between a bit of at-home research and discussions with friends, Haller connected with a developer, and about a year later, Found in Town was born.

“Literally, the first thing I did was buy, ‘Starting an Online Business for Dummies,’” Haller laughed. “And I just started playing around with business models in terms of revenue and how it would work. I mean, there’s no reason why every single human being on Earth can’t be involved in this system. There’s nothing like it online.”

And revenue was a big part of plan. After investing about $60,000 in the start-up, he needs Found in Town to make money.

Haller says the stickers and key chains are actually promotional items, not only benefiting the users, but also the companies supplying them. Rather than handing out something like branded pens at games, companies like the Chicago Cubs could hand out five-packs of ID-coded stickers branded with the Cubbie-Bear.

Think of them as free, branded gifts that are actually useful, he said.

“There’s so much empty marketing out there right now, and people get so inundated with ads, where as this is actually a meaningful tool,” Haller said. “…When you get a set of Found in Town tags, there’s a logo on a key chain, so it’s basically ad placement. It’s just like any business goes out to buy lanyards or koozies, but instead of doing those, they’ll opt to do this.”

Along with snagging local companies—Scarlet in Boystown and Piece Brewery & Pizza in Wicker Park have already signed on—Haller says he’s working on building out Midwest college towns like Madison and Kalamazoo.

His redesigned website is launching soon and Haller has high hopes of eventually taking his venture to the national level.

“We want to do as much work on a local level as we can so we can let people understand that this could really make a community a better place,” Haller said. “There’s something altruistic about being able to help each other out when simply losing something."

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Dr. No January 24, 2013 at 02:22 PM
I don’t want my personal data getting hacked from a bar code which it eventually will. Then the thugs rob your house since they now have the keys. You may want to team up with Lifelock or some identity theft company to reduce your liability. Nice idea but not for me.
Andy Ambrosius January 24, 2013 at 02:27 PM
With this technology, because it's so disconnected and anonymous outside a notification-based code, that's pretty impossible. It's not like the service asks for your address or anything so the person can use your keys.
garry albrecht January 24, 2013 at 04:22 PM
Great idea. Hope it works! I just registered for the hell of it - not a laggard in new tech for my clients


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