Jan 07 2015

Dashfire Portfolio Company Artifact Uprising Acquired by VSCO

Today, we are honored to announce the acquisition of Artifact Uprising, a Dashfire portfolio company, by VSCO.  There is no singular path for startup success, just a number of right paths; most of which are celebrated as successful in hindsight. The founders of AU, Jenna, Katie, and Matty, paved their own path. In fact, had they shared their roadmap with the startup community, it would have likely received the standard “just what the world does not need, another photo book company” commentary. But AU didn’t follow the prescriptions of others. They were motivated to inspire their followers to be story tellers – to get off their devices and into their lives. And they did so by creating beautiful products that were built with purpose and passion. The products evangelized the creative community, and AU reciprocated by loving their customers with proactive support and engaging content. They infused sustainability in their products and invested back in their community, not for recognition, but but responsibility. The AU brand became both inspirational and aspirational and served as a barrier to imitators.

The Artifact team built a rocket that fueled its own impressive growth.  But AU had the self-awareness to realize that joining VSCO’s team would allow them to accelerate the pursuit of their purpose and their mission. Jenna, Katie and the AU team will stay on board and, together with VSCO, will continue to pour every bit of passion and heart into Artifact Uprising – the only way they know how. Here is AU’s perspective.  And VSCO’s.

I am grateful to have been on this journey with AU for the past 2 yearsThe effort has been exhilarating, demanding, and rewarding. I’m appreciative for the partnership we have had with Jenna and her team. Enabling AU is a true testament to the Dashfire model. And I’m perpetually thankful for Nick and my team – FarShore, Kelsey, and our investors at Dashfire – for providing Artifact the capacity they needed to blaze their own path.

Here is to bigger and better!

With Gratitude, Rick.

Jun 24 2014

Is Yo Evidence of a Bubble? Maybe not.

Tech experts and logical people alike balked at a $1 million investment in Yo last week. Yo is similar to Facebook Messenger or text-messaging, but allows users to send only the message “yo” to friends. Early pitches for the download seemed absurd– “text messaging takes nine taps to send a message, Yo takes two” read one line. Nevertheless, Yo grew. Along with the growth came a growth in possible use cases.

Possibilities from Yo’s blog: 

“Yo me at JOEYSBLOG and I’ll Yo you when I publish a new post!”

“Yo me at JENNASHOPIFY and I’ll Yo you when there is a new product!”

“Yo us at THE49ERS and we’ll Yo we score a touchdown!”

It appears that Yo has got a very real chance of taking in some revenue through an integrated marketing platform. I can imagine using Yo to get UPS delivery notification or adding my favorite retailer to let me know when there’s a huge sale. Yo creates a platform through which marketers can unobtrusively ask for attention. Having said that, Yo knew that marketers wouldn’t get onboard without some traction. So what did they do? They got some traction.

Most articles about Yo have focused on the huge amount of viral attention the app has gotten within the past week in relation to its $1 million investment. What many don’t realize, however, is that Yo launched back in April, and already had 50,000 downloads *before* the media circus. Yo got their first 50,000 users in the same way they got their last 1.08 million: viral marketing.

Very shortly after launch, Vine star Shawn Mendes posted a short video, inviting viewers to download Yo to be the first to know when he launched a new video. This was clearly planned, and clearly successful.

Yo used that customer base as a proof of concept in order to raise a seed round. From there, they leveraged their uniqueness combined with the huge raise in order to get the media’s attention.

Today, Yo stands in a reasonable position to make a marketing play. Will they be alive in a year? Only time will tell.


May 30 2014

Partner company Roomva wins Chicago New Venture Challenge

nvc 2 We’re thrilled to announce that the winner of 2013 Dashfire Launch, Roomva, won the Chicago New Venture Challenge yesterday! Roomva is an online telos (hotel) booking system for Latin American couples. With more than 600 telos profiles, it has gained significant traction in Peru, ranking as the No. 1 Travel/Leisure app in the Peruvian Android market.

Hosted by the University of Chicago Booth School of Business, NVC is a quarter-long startup competition involving mentorship from top Chicago entrepreneurs and VCs and culminating in a pitch to judges from around the country. This year, NVC awarded $30,000 each to two first place winners. Roomva shares the top award with SimpleMills, the maker of low-glycemic, paleo- and allergen-friendly baking mixes.

Past NVC winners include Braintree, GrubHubBump TechnologiesAllTuition and Matchist.

Congratulations to both Roomva and SimpleMills!

May 16 2014

Vote for Packback and Bucketfeet in the Moxie Awards

Dashfire is excited to announce two of our partner companies, BucketFeet and Packback, are finalists in BuiltIn Chicago’s 2014 Moxie Awards.

Digital textbook rental company Packback, as seen on SharkTank, was nominated for three awards: Best Consumer Web Startup, Startup of the Year and Best Startup Founder or Co-Founders (Mike Shannon, Kasey Gandham and Jessica Tenuta). Artist-designed footwear retailer Bucketfeet is also in the running for Best Consumer Web Startup.

Cast your vote here. The ballot closes June 10, and you can vote once per day!

Now in its third year, the Moxie Awards celebrates “Chicago’s most innovative entrepreneurs.” Past winners include Belly, Braintree and SpotHero, and the 2014 ceremony will take place June 19 at Park West.

Apr 06 2014

PackBack Power!

Dashfire partner Packback Books is growing like crazy. The ISU-student-founded team of Kasey Gandham, Mike Shannon, and Jessica Tenuta just launched a a full web platform, is making deals with America’s biggest publishers, and closed a deal with notorious billionaire Mark Cuban.

It all started with a vision to allow students to use and pay for textbooks when they needed them. The team reached out to Dashfire and quickly built out a plan of action, which successfully launched with hundreds of participating Illinois State students. After initial feedback, Dashfire built out a full vision and roadmap; the team was ready for the big leagues.

Packback – digital textbooks for $5 or less from Packback on Vimeo.


Kasey and Mike appeared on the March 21st episode, and successfully netted  Mark Cuban, receiving $250,000 in exchange for a 20% equity stake. Using Shark Tank as a launch board, the team has since signed deals with huge publishers and got thousands of user signups as a result of the episode airing.


Back at home, the Chicago startup community embraced and supported Packback throughout the Shark Tank process. On viewing night, 1871 Chicago hosted a viewing party for Packback at their HQ.  Their deal marked a triumph for the Chicago startup community as a whole!



Feb 17 2014

Internship Anyone?

Looking for the experience of a lifetime? Internships at startups are fast-paced and decidedly thumb their noses at the typical coffee-fetching experience.

Factor 75 is looking for an intern to assist in all aspects of its performance-based meal delivery service. Interested? Read on.

Factor Food













The ideal candidate:

  • College student
  • Able to help get the word out about Factor 75 and present the brand in a fun and energetic way—we’re looking for a fantastic brand representative
  • Willing to complete tasks that might not be specifically listed in the job description
  • FLEXIBLE—expects the unexpected
  • Enthusiasm, drive, excitement about the brand, and a willingness to work
  • Access to a car is strongly preferred

Responsibilities include:

  • Contributing to Factor 75’s Social Networks
  • Assistance with fulfillment —when we’re swamped with orders, it’s all hands on deck!
  • Taking initiative on new and sometimes untested customer acquisition strategies
  • Attending events on behalf of Factor 75

Perks include:

  • Work on a day-to-day basis with the Factor 75 team
  • Immerse yourself in the Chicago startup scene
  • Sample and have an impact on new dishes created
  • Learn by doing instead of by listening or reading

Factor is looking for 1 intern; compensation to be determined. 

Salivating at the idea of working with Factor 75? Contact Dorothy at dorothy@factor75.com.

Feb 05 2014

5 Quick Thoughts on Starting a Digital Startup

I’ll keep this short and sweet. Below are five things to keep in mind when starting and running a digital startup.

  1.  Keep it Simple- Don’t get bogged down in detail; you don’t want to spend more money than you need to, and your clients don’t want to have to wade through “fluffy” features in order to find your core product.
  2. Keep it Simple…for you—How will you manage to handle day-to-day tasks on the backend? If you take in orders, for example, how will you ship them out? If you offer a SaaS tool, how will your billing software communicate with the members-only list? An hour spent planning now can save you days of menial tasks later.
  3. Don’t Wing Development—You need to run diagnostic SEO tests to know what keywords you should be including in your copywriting. You need to A/B test often. You need to constantly change your feature list and redevelop failing aspects of your website. Sound like a lot of work? It is, and this is just the tip of the iceberg. Having said this, each of these things will exponentially increase conversion and customer satisfaction, so be sure to stay on top of everything development.
  4. Get Feedback Often—For the first several months of being in business, you need to call all of your customers. Ask them how they like your software; if they like it, ask how you can make them like it more. The first several months of any business launch involve constant iteration, and you can’t make targeted iterations if you don’t know what your customers want. I recommend Typeform for quick, beautiful surveys if you don’t have your customer’s phone numbers.
  5. Make it fun! If you and a competitor offer the same exact feature set at the same exact price but you make it more fun to purchase, customers will buy from you. It’s that simple. See: Dollar Shave Club for razors vs. your local drug store

Jan 13 2014

2 Painfully Simple Ways to Keep Your Customer Coming Back for More

Many business owners spend their time optimizing CPA, or cost per acquisition. This begs the question: what’s easier than acquiring new customers? Answer: Reutilizing old ones.  Below are two strategies every e-commerce startup can try in minutes.

  1. Ask them about their old orders: If you have a quality product, odds are that the majority of your customers will be satisfied with any previous purchases. Anywhere from a day to a year after a new customer’s initial purchase, send out a quick email asking them if they liked it. If you use an advanced e-commerce tool like Magento, changes are this process can be automated, but I’d recommend starting out with a more personal approach. By getting your customers thinking about your brand and (hopefully) positive experience, they’ll be far more likely to come back for more.
  2. Know your products, and upsell accordingly: Sell footwear? Maybe your customer would like a matching shoe bag. Meals? Perhaps dessert/drinks might be in order. Whether at the point of sale or in a follow-up email, most brands have complementary products that can easily be combined to increase sales. This strategy is tried and true: Amazon devotes the area immediately below the product picture to a “frequently bought together” section. In order to incentivize the customer to purchase, try offering discounts or a “buy 2, get accessory x” promotion.

These strategies are clever not in their innovation: major retailers have been using both for years. What makes them clever is their underutilization by new e-commerce stores; in under a day, you could increase sales from existing customers exponentially.

Jan 06 2014

5 (FREE) ways to Increase Quality Web Traffic in a Week

Many business owners view web traffic as a black box; below are five simple and proven ways to increase web traffic by real visitors in a week or less.



  1. Take a Stab at SEO—You don’t have to be an expert! Start by signing up for a free SEOmoz trial. You can then run an SEO optimization test on your website— within a few days, SEOmoz will provide a list of easy-to-understand suggestions. (Want access to our top-secret fifteen-page SEO doc? Reach out.)
  2. Content Marketing Done Right—I’m sure you’ve heard this before: you should start a company blog. When you do, do it right. As interesting as your holiday party was, you want to keep it relevant. Unless you’re Fortune 500 and the party involved dancing animals, you’re much better off providing industry-specific knowledge that will help a potential reader out. If your post isn’t making someone’s day better, it’s not worth publishing.
  3. Copywrite your email marketing—Odds are if you’re selling anything online, you already send out lots of emails. Take this opportunity to examine the quality of emails you’re sending out. If you take a page out of Appsumo’s book, you could be on the fast track to generating a bulk of all conversions through incredible copywriting.
  4. Get Serious about Guest Posting— The value of getting your content posted on industry blogs or other media cannot be overstated. Start out by looking for 5-10 of the “authorities” in your industry or brand category. Then, make a point of reading these blogs a few times. Within a couple of days, you should have a good idea of the type of content the administrators might be looking for. Send them a brief email, and try to set something up that will help them out. In the process, you might just help yourself get some new users.
  5. Twitter Marketing—If your brand doesn’t have a Twitter, it should. Twitter is perhaps the easiest way to reach out directly to potential customers. Try searching for keywords relevant to your brand, and “cold-replying” to questions or other tweets for which you think you could add to the conversation. If it’s relevant, include your website link! You’ll be surprised to see that most of your tweet replies will not only be read, but many times the user will reply to you and build a relationship.

BONUS: Link to your website in your email signature: All too often, the value of personal connections is underestimated. Link to your company in your personal email signature. This method is set and forget, and recipients might just get curious and click.

Dec 30 2013

The only way to get past the “promotions” folder: personal marketing

Last night, I got an email from Justin Mares over at EasyPost.













What shocked me wasn’t necessarily the content of the email; I had given Easypost a high rating through a survey and Justin was looking for referrals. The surprising part came at the very end of the email: “P.S. This isn’t an automated email- just working late at night after a day with family!”


Because this wasn’t sent out in a blast, the email went directly into my primary folder, and I accordingly viewed it as a conversation. I no longer spend time viewing marketing emails (filtered into the promotions folder) that come in— emails which might have included a “refer a friend offer.”


Promotions View




This strategy has two implications: first, the tangible benefit of getting into the primary folder; second, the abstract (but arguably more important) connection that can be forged through personal marketing.

The tangible benefit is clear and direct; by sending out targeted and personal emails, the end recipient will get an email in the same folder a message from Grandma or a proposal from a client might come in. While marketing for Yumvelope, my e-commerce snacking site, I have yet to find another way to slip through this filter. Even personal sounding emails that go through MailChimp or another email blast service end up in the Promotions folder.


Nevertheless, you might think, this strategy is too time-consuming. Even if fewer people view email blasts, they don’t take any time or effort and the results are far more measurable on a broad scale. To the contrary, personal marketing is by far the most measurable and profitable strategy I have adopted for Yumvelope, precisely because of this personal effort and connection forged. When users register but then abandon their carts, for example, I send out a quick one-line email welcoming them to the site and asking if they had any problems completing their order. Could I automate this? Sure. But sending the emails manually with an ability to personalize on an independent basis has increased my ROI exponentially.


At the same time, you might argue that personal marketing only makes sense with a company like Yumvelope that sells on a relatively small scale.  Easypost, however, has made it work in a big way. Despite being a Y-Combinator company which has raised close to a million dollars and doubles revenue monthly, they still find a way to interact with their customers (no matter how small) on a monthly basis.


Are you convinced? Here’s one strategy to get you started:

“The Easypost strategy”- This is going to sound counterintuitive, but start out by launching a campaign with your email list on Mailchimp or another measurable site. Easypost used Delighted, a service in beta that specializes in measuring customer happiness through email. Once you’ve launched your campaign, ask customers to rate your website.


How likely are you to recommend EasyPost to a friend?











Bring each “rating level” to a different landing page, and then prompt for an email address. (Advanced strategy: track the email address through the link to make rating a truly one-click strategy.)


As the responses pour in, reach out. High rating? Ask for referrals. Low rating? Ask what’s wrong and how you can make it better.


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