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.
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.
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.
Congratulations to both Roomva and SimpleMills!
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.
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.
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!
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.
The ideal candidate:
Factor is looking for 1 intern; compensation to be determined.
Salivating at the idea of working with Factor 75? Contact Dorothy at email@example.com.
I’ll keep this short and sweet. Below are five things to keep in mind when starting and running a digital startup.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.”
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.
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.